From February 2008: reading; Mardi Gras event

The first one includes a perennial topic here in Oz: our national day. And yes, I had forgotten all about reading this!

Outside the whale

19 Feb 2008

Flawed and opinionated it may be in parts, but Frank Welsh’s Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia (Penguin 2005) is proving a very entertaining and informative read. A retired London banker, Welsh has devoted himself to a number of histories, especially of various outposts of the British Commonwealth. He sits somewhat apart from our “history wars”, evincing an enthusiasm for Australia’s successes that would have done John Howard proud, but at the same time warning us in a footnote to take Keith Windschuttle with a grain of salt.

Something of his tone and approach may be gleaned from this five minute talk on ABC Radio National:

As a reasonably well-informed outsider I find the current fretfulness of Australian commentators and historians over the significance of Australia Day to be puzzling. Newspapers are full of worried questioning, argument and counter argument: does the arrival of the First Fleet really deserve celebrating? Is the country’s progress, remarkable though this has been, negated by the initial dispossession of the Aborigines – or, indeed, by the ecological damage sustained? But then, in the course of writing a history of the country, I have noticed that not all Australians share the opinions of academics or journalists, and I do not know how far their unease is reflected in the community at large. Certainly in the small town in which I found myself on Australia Day this year I didn’t see much anxiety. There was none of the strident patriotism that you would find in the United States, it is true, but rather a quiet pride in being Australian, in barbecues and brass bands, in clean beaches with a minimum of official interference, was evident.

To me at least, the problem that seems to trouble the media hardly arises January 26th 1788 was an epochal event, not only in Australia, but in world history. Australia, hitherto little more than a geographical expression, neglected by the rest of the world, began its development into a nation, and a continental nation at that, just as did France on the 14th July in the following year, or the United States had done eleven years previously. Of course the record of no country is entirely unsmirched. The fall of the Bastille was followed not only by the declaration of the Rights of Man and the eventual overthrow of tyrannical regimes all over Europe and in South America, but also by a bloody reign of Terror, in which the guillotine was erected in every French market place, and by nearly 30 years of warfare in which millions died. The American revolution prolonged slavery for a generation after its final abolition in the British colonies, but the 4th and 14th of July both commemorate days which altered the whole future of the world and which nobody thinks should be abandoned.

Similarly, I would suggest, no Australian government stupidities or neglect of difficult problems – what administration anywhere is invariably prudent, far-sighted and liberal? – should be allowed to obscure the emergence of one of the most successful societies the world has ever seen – and this is not just a prejudiced or personal view. In the United Nations Assessment of Human Development, prepared every year, Canada and Australia almost always figure in second or third place – Norway leading – well ahead of either the United States or Great Britain.

Of course countries celebrate not only their foundation or liberation – England being here an exception – but other events of national significance. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand has more resonance than either Australia or Waitangi Day. I spent the morning of 25th April last year in a rain-swept field of northern France witnessing wreaths being laid on the memorial to the Australian Imperial Force – and those who complain of Australia’s participation, far from home, in two World Wars should experience for themselves the continued gratitude and goodwill of the Picardy folk. Resistance to oppression knows no geographical limits.

Nations can also admit their own mistakes: Martin Luther King Junior Day, in the United States, commemorates the shameful continuance of black oppression; the Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, is observed in Germany as well as in Israel – and November 11th stands throughout Europe in remembrance of the major follies of the last century, from which no country can be absolved. Should present day Australians feel that a day must be laid aside to commemorate those things that ought not to have been done and those good things that have been left undone, Anzac Day, which finds the nation in a reflective mood might well fit the need. Or, if like Japan, we prefer to look forward optimistically, we might celebrate Children’s Day, which they do on May 5th, Culture Day, November 3rd and – here I should declare an interest – Respect for the Aged Day, September 18th.

But Australia Day should surely continue to be observed as a proper celebration of the world’s recognition of one of its most distinctive and attractive cultures, at least until Republic Day can be proclaimed, and that may not be for quite a while yet.

Anna Clark reviewed the hardback edition in The Age:

…Welsh self-consciously places Great Southern Land outside conventions of Australian history writing – he is English, not Australian, his approach is general, not narrowly academic – and the book certainly offers a different point of departure.

Welsh’s voice is present throughout. He frequently moves out of the narrative to give judgement on aspects of Australian history and history writing, offering his own opinions and answers with a degree of interest and authority.

Sometimes this authorial tone appears a little condescending, but it can also be illuminating. Welsh rightly argues that there has been a tendency by Australian historians away from comparative studies and his persistent attempts to situate this history within a broader context are certainly instructive. His comparisons with South Africa, for instance, expand the domestic Australian narrative to include a wider history of the British Empire.

This insistence on a broad historical focus makes the book more complex and engaging.

Great Southern Land is a strong general political and economic history. Welsh’s account of the 1890s depression encapsulates the great shifts in employment and economy, the cycles of Australian industry and the fate of the pastoral industry as part of a growing international economy. As the turn of the century approaches, he turns his attention to the movement for federation and nationalism, which he analyses with care and insight.

Welsh has a real grasp of the political sensibilities that have helped shape Australian life and it is impressive how up to date his history is. His interpretation of the conservative ascendancy over the past decade, especially his account of the rise of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party, is perceptive. And his analysis of John Howard’s dominance of Australian political life is equally compelling. Political debates over refugees and Australia’s relationship with the US since September 11 are covered, as is the recent dispute over frontier violence in colonial Australia…

I was fascinated to read that the Colonial Office in London in the early 19th century administered the British Empire with a staff of just seventy, “including filing clerks, doormen, messengers and ‘necessary women’” from “cramped and evil-smelling headquarters” at No 13 Downing Street. More than other histories of Australia that I have read, Welsh is able to relate what was happening in Australia to what was happening in British, indeed world, affairs. That is a big plus. He punctures quite a few of our romantic myths, including the green shamrock view of Australian history which has probably been more influential than the famous black armband. He is a bit obtuse on the prehistory of Aboriginal Australia, but rightly points out how fluid and conjectural much of our knowledge still is in that area.

I can forgive much of a man who writes this:

Macquarie’s Bank [of New South Wales] still exists, seemingly disguised as a frozen food store under the absurd name of Westpac.

Or Wetchex, as a friend of mine said at the time of the change, evoking condoms rather than frozen food.

AFTERTHOUGHT

This book is in fact much better as an introduction to Australian history than the dramatic if one-dimensional The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (1987) and is obviously, twenty years on, much more up to date. The research Welsh undertook is most impressive.

Well now, that’s my Mardi Gras event for this year

28 Feb 2008: WARNING — links may have expired.

courthouse After coaching tonight I caught the slow bus from Chinatown to arrive on a cold and wet Sydney night at Newtown’s rather wonderful Courthouse Hotel for the blogger meetup. That’s not our group in the picture on the right. I was late, so I missed Marcellous.

Even before I had settled into the group for an hour I met of all people someone I had taught English with at Dapto back in 1970, one of the Spender sisters, Dale and Lynn, the former a rather well-known feminist writer, the other no slouch either. It was Lynn I saw, though initially I thought it was Dale. We both contemplated the years that had flown since then with some amazement, though I have to say I am a minnow compared with what those two have done with that time. (See also When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…)

Back to the blogger meet: it was great to put a face to Panther at last. James O’Brien I knew instantly, though I had never met him before, and I discovered why The Other Andrew is so called.

Someone whose travels eclipse M’s trips in duration, if not quite in exotic destinations but he comes very close, is this person:

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I’m an Aussie who has just spent 2 1/2yrs roaming around Europe with my dog, a very large Alaskan Malamute by the name of Bondi. Our adventure began in May 2005. So far we’ve travelled around much of UK, including a week-long walk across Scotland; spent 2 months each in Spain & Paris, plus a 5 week circuit of Ireland; done a load of family-tree research; a coast-to-coast crossing of England on foot along Hadrian’s Wall path, and a side-trip to dive wrecks in the northern part of the Red Sea. Most recently we completed a 20,000km 20-country tour of Europe by car, and 3 months in Scotland.

I also discovered what the wonderful header on Dancing About Architecture is all about.

Check here to learn more about what this meet was and who was there. I imagine a relevant post might appear before long too. Topics as various as knitting, historical reenactments, and Number 96 — that site was especially referred to — were being talked about as I, noticing that it was getting dark out, decided I had to set off home, which I did via an excellent Chinese noodle shop in King Street.

Newtown at night is, I have to say, far more interesting and far more pleasant these days than Oxford Street.

 

 

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Looking back 20 years: the Japanese surfer

Back in 1998 I became a student again, part-time, at the University of Technology in Sydney.  A one-year course gave me lots of letters after my name: Grad Cert TESOL (UTS)! While I had been among other things ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High from 1996, I actually had no formal qualification in that field, other than the in-house training — and it was good too! — that I received at Wessex College of English in 1990.

One thing I haven’t mentioned publicly before is that Michael was so pissed off at my attracting a HECS debt that he insisted on paying the fees for me upfront — neither the first nor the last example of his generosity. He’s travelling in Vietnam right now, by the way, but you may recall we had lunch together in Surry Hills on just about the hottest day on record for Sydney.

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One highlight (of many) in that 1998 UTS course was a learning journal: My year with a Japanese Backpacker. You can read the whole thing there. Here is part:

19 August, 1998

I first met ‘Hiro’ a month ago at the Flinders Hotel. He had just finished an eight week English course and had to move out of his home-stay accommodation the following Saturday, or so I gathered after a very tortuous conversation. A few days later he rang to let me know he had found a place in an Eastern suburb near the Harbour. I did not hear from him again until the night before last when he rang to arrange a meeting. After sorting out that Neil was my name and not the name of the hotel, we managed to make an appointment for Tuesday at 6 at the Flinders Hotel. Our communication obviously succeeded as he turned up at the appointed time.

His English pronunciation is clear. The text of his talk is heavily reliant on content words (in the right order) but very weak on inflections and grammatical words. His strategic competence is highly developed. Conversation required intense concentration on both sides with (at stages) frequent recourse to body language, paraphrase, repetition and a Japanese-English dictionary. The month spent living with an English speaker, looking for work, and generally going about town has led to some advance in his spoken English.

He had mentioned at our earlier meeting that he would like to practise his English with me. Since he is a very handsome young man, and since I had met him in a gay bar after all, there were dimensions to this situation. I determined to explore the situation tactfully, but I have not seen any analysis of the appropriate registers and genres for dealing with such a cross-cultural situation with someone of very limited English.

His family grows flowers, he told me, and he himself wanted work in photography, art or floristry. In the context of Australian culture one might by now have been drawing probably false conclusions about his being in a gay bar. (It proved to be a false deduction: he was unaware he was in a gay bar. The delicate matter of sexuality was successfully negotiated at our second meeting.)

From the age of six he had wanted to go overseas; an uncle had been living in America at that time, and it was to America he first wanted to go, but the pictures in an Australian travel brochure persuaded him to come here. He was drawn by Australia’s natural beauty and the surfing. So he sold his car (a Subaru) and came last May.

He said he wanted to experience all things. He wanted to meet Australian men. He wanted to learn English. Most interestingly, he wanted ‘a big heart’; eventually I worked out he meant an open mind–he found Japan too narrow.

Our conversation turned to religion. Having heard a sermon at a funeral he began practising Zen meditation. Asked what he got from it, he said ‘Nothing. Nothing is good.’ In the context this made perfect sense. We looked up dharma and Tao in his dictionary and discussed them wordlessly, as is appropriate.

At the end of the evening he proposed we meet again in a month or so, hesitant to be too demanding as I had been telling him how busy I was. In parting, we thanked each other for a very pleasant evening, and the best English lesson he could have had.

His real name was Kyohiko, from Sendai, a place much affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Yes, I have wondered, but I don’t know.

Sequel: 23 March 2000

“Hiro” returned to Japan at the end of May 1999. In the last six months of our friendship we met monthly to go to a jazz bar near my home. My Shanghainese flatmate was a bit dubious about “Hiro” at first, but towards the end, as he was planning his own 12 months overseas “pilgrimage”, he and “Hiro” found they had a lot in common! The other nice thing about “Hiro” was that, while straight, he did not have a homophobic bone in his body! Makes you feel hopeful about the world

Looking back at 2017 — 11

Continuing the 2017 series with November.

What a delightful surprise! Delightful Chinese movie….

Just on spec I watched Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010) on SBS Viceland yesterday at noon. My TV guide gave no details, so I didn’t realise it was directed by the great Zhang Yimou. Summary, avoiding spoilers:

Set during the end of China’s Cultural Revolution in a small village in Yichang City, Hubei Province, China, this film is about a pure love that develops between a beautiful high school student, Zhang Jing Qiu and a handsome young prospector named Lao San. Jing Qiu is one of the “educated youth” sent to be “re-educated” through work in the countryside under a directive from Chairman Mao Zedong…

I found it totally delightful — and I shed a tear ot two! The lead actors were not only beautiful but very good in their roles.

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UNDERTHEHAWTHORNTREE
See also Hollywood Reporter:

The film’s promotion tagline is “the cleanest romance in history.” Indeed, Zhang’s touch is rarely so delicate in describing the pre-pubescent looking Jingqiu’s perplexity and embarrassment toward Sun’s advances, as well as her naivety (she thinks sharing a bed is enough to cause pregnancy). In fact, a deep sexual undercurrent rippling under their blushing complexions — when she frolics with him in the pond, wearing the red swimsuit he gave her, when he bandages her feet, or when they lie down together in the hospital bed (his hand goes straight to where it counts). That is what lends the film its beauty.

Zhou, who is a 17-year-old high school student plucked from thousands of teenage hopefuls, personifies the film — fresh as cut grass, untainted by professional training. She exudes serene calm even as the melodrama intensifies. The film unfolds mostly from a feminine perspective. As a result, Sun’s character is rendered at a remove, and he is too perfect to be more than a cipher.

Almost religious devotion to objects prevails, with a light bulb or a foot basin acquiring symbolic significance as love tokens. The meticulous evocation of period detail reflects the film’s elegiac attitude to ephemera. What it mourns most is not the transience of youth or of love, but the transience of happiness, especially when its harmless pursuit is systematically obstructed by collective ideology.

The male lead`s (Shawn Dou) biography is interesting.

Keep an eye out for SBS Viceland`s midday movies!

More from the same-sex marriage survey

There is a lot of interest in the details of the poll. While it is delicious that Tony Abbott proved so out of touch with his electorate that three out of four voted for YES, despite his vigorous Chicken Little-ing for NO, the truly remarkable thing — at first glance — is the very strong NO vote in Labor electorates in Western Sydney.

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Why was this so? Obviously there is a degree of social conservatism there that must give Labor pause. Matthew da Silva did a good post Who voted ‘No’? which features this summary:

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I have truncated that for readability: go to Matthew’s post for the full version. While there is a fairly obvious conclusion one could draw from this, compare Same-sex marriage: The multicultural communities that voted ‘yes’.

Western Sydney might have voted “no”, but multicultural Australia voted “yes”.

An analysis of electorates where more than 40 per cent of the population was born overseas shows they overwhelmingly backed same-sex marriage outside the Western Sydney ring.

From Moreton in Queensland through Reid in NSW to Gellibrand in Victoria, a clear majority of electorates with large Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Arabic-speaking communities got behind the move to change the definition of marriage.

In the top 10 electorates in NSW and Victoria where the overseas-born population is 40 per cent or more outside of western Sydney and the two “no” voting Victorian electorates of Bruce and Calwell, nine recorded a yes vote above 60 per cent….

And see My conservative Vietnamese family from western Sydney voted ‘yes’ – stop blaming migrants.

When my dad sent me a text on Wednesday morning after the result of the marriage equality postal survey was announced, I laughed. And then I cried a little.

His message read as follows: “Congrats to you guys and myself: it’s a decisive win! Abbott, shit yourself bastard!”

It’s funny because there was a time, once, where I didn’t think I could really be myself with him. I couldn’t even be myself with me.

My parents are in their sixties. They grew up in conservative Vietnam, and raised me with those values. We have gay family members, but growing up, we either didn’t talk about it, or did only in whispers….

Looking back at 2017 — 10

Been doing a lot of reading lately. More on that some other time. Meanwhile, continuing the 2017 series with October.

Reading SBHS: proud

Among the many things I have been reading lately has been the 2016 edition of The Record, the magazine of Sydney Boys High, where I was a pupil 1955-1959 and a teacher variously between 1985 and 2005. See posts tagged Sydney High.

The latest Record really impresses me, capturing as it does the transformation — much for the better, in my opinion — of the school in recent years. I really recommend you have a look for yourself on the link at the beginning of this post.

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And how about this!

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Proud of the old school! Let me quote brilliant ex-student Raymond Roca:

I would like to begin by saying how privileged I feel to be able to talk to you on this occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. It was less than ten years ago (2007) that I was sitting on the other side of this podium, just like you, and it never would have crossed my mind that I would be back here at a school assembly so soon after graduation, and particularly at an assembly on the issue of homophobia and transphobia. This inaugural event is an indication not only to how far things have come socially in relation to LGBTI equality in this country in the past decade, but also a testament to the leadership position that Sydney Boys High School has held on issues of social justice and more broadly. There are still so many schools out there where an event like this would simply not be possible. So the fact that we are all here today is a testament to you and to this school, which has always been a beacon for leadership and for a progressive, well-rounded public education accessible and inclusive for all.

I would like to talk to you today about the importance of a positive recognition of diversity…

The greatest lesson that I learnt at this school was not in the classroom – great as those lessons were – but rather in the unique and fantastic exposure to difference that I received here. An exposure to and understanding of diversity that will better prepare you to be the leaders of the future that this school is so well regarded for. Thank you.

The Record 2016 page 83 

More reading SBHS

From the previous post you could — correctly — get the idea that SBHS in 2017 is a pretty progressive place. I spoke of the school being “transformed” in recent years. And it has been, not least because of the vision and leadership skills of the Principal, Dr Jaggar. He’s had his share of challenges too. Early on in his being in the job I was involved in one of them.

What strikes me though, having thoroughly read the 2016 Record and browsed back as far as 2010, is how tradition has been preserved, indeed augmented, while embracing change.

Let’s go back sixty years: and yes, I was there. See my post 1957 or MCMLVII.

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Edgar Bembrick was the legendary Latin teacher of us mob in 3B. I was 14. He, I suspected, personally knew Julius Caesar, in fact probably taught him. In fact it appears he was born in 1890. In 2007 I wrote, referring to 1959:

Edgar Bembrick, my Latin teacher in my last year in high school — his last year too as he died before that year was over — was in some ways as boring a person as you could hope to meet, and with a face remarkably like a prune. However, there was a twinkle in the eye and an awesome reputation in his subject area: “Don’t use that crib, son; I wrote it.” He would also come into the lesson without a text book and tell us what page to turn to and would then proceed to his exposition without recourse to anything other than his memory. He once claimed to be able to complete any line of Latin or Greek verse we could throw at him. We never caught him out.

The French teacher was truly ancient, speaking a strange kind of French he apparently honed among the poppy fields of Picardy. He was quite awful, actually, so I will pass over his name.

Now English with Mr Harrison was a delight.

In 1958 I and some classmates — one Lionel Laurie among them I recall — went to Sydney University to participate in a Latin Reading Competition. My effort was no great shakes, but it was the first time I ever visited that magic quadrangle.  I was to return: Random Friday memory 18 – Latin at Sydney 1960.

Now speaking as I was of tradition. Look at this from The Record 2016. And look at the names.

On Friday June 3, Years Ten and Eleven participated in the Latin Reading Competition, held annually at Sydney University and organised by the Classical Association of New South Wales. Entrants had to recite a passage from the works of Virgil and Ovid. Students were judged by leading academics in Classics.

This year, Sydney Boys High achieved excellent results. Two students, Roy Wu of Year Ten and Sanishka Balasooriya of Year Eleven, have been selected for the final of this prestigious competition. In addition, Edward Heaney’s presentation impressed the judges and has been awarded a Highly Commended. Edward was presented with his Certificate on the night of the final in the Law Building, University of Sydney, on 1 August. Year Ten Latin presented a choral piece on the night, as normally happens when a Year Ten student reaches the final.

After their recitations, the students visited the Nicholson Museum, which currently has an exhibition on Pompeii, and then attended a lecture on the Greek and Roman Oracle, a prophetess who presented “the future” (albeit ambiguously) to those who sought her guidance.

Mrs D Matsos, Latin

But here is something 2016 offered which 1957 could not!

March 28 was a day filled with triumph. As a student who has participated in the National Chinese Eisteddfod (poetry recital) every year since 2013, I can say without a doubt that this year was the most exhilarating and competitive of them all. From the lunchtime rehearsals to the last minute alterations, every single High contestant was able to demonstrate the focus and hard-working ethic, which provided Sydney High with outstanding results.

The National Chinese Eisteddfod comprises of an individual and a group based competition. In terms of the results from the individual category, I would like to congratulate Vitaly Kovalevskiy (Year 7) who came third in the eight to twelve years age group for non-native speakers, Yeong Meng Li (Year 8) who came second in the ten to twelve years age group for Cantonese speakers, Royce Xiao who came third in the thirteen to fifteen years age group and Justin Liu who came second in the thirteen to fifteen years age group for Mandarin speakers…

Took this when I revisited the school in 2012:

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My 1987 — reposts

I watched the recent ABC series Classic Countdown with much pleasure, and frequent disbelief that it could all be so long ago now! The final episode dealt with 1987, very little of which — Countdown that is — I actually saw. I was otherwise occupied that year — THIRTY years ago!!!

My 1987: Bennett Street, Surry Hills

And in the 80s my wandering encompassed:

18. 1978-1980 Church Street, WOLLONGONG

Sydney 1981-

19. 1981-1983 Forsyth Street, GLEBE
20. 1983-1984 Boyce Street, GLEBE
21. 1984-1986 Buckland Street, CHIPPENDALE
22. 1987 Bennett Street, SURRY HILLS
23. 1987-1988 Forest Street, FOREST LODGE
24. 1988-1990 Rose Terrace, PADDINGTON

In 1987 I was teaching at Sydney Boys High, moving on for a year or so at Masada College, St Ives, in 1988.

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Me: 1986, 1988

1987

1987 First Grade Debaters: M Wong, A Marshall, P Cumines, Ms T Kenway, J Waugh, D Sekel, P Silberstein

Some past posts follow:…

Golden age–really? Really? No, not really…

Posted on August 19, 2012 by Neil…

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That’s The Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst on Australia Day 1988. I wasn’t there that day, but I sure was there or nearby on more days than one in 1988 – and 1989, and 1990… I see a number of faces I know in that shot, which comes from the Facebook page “Lost Gay Sydney”.  One is John Farmilo, whose Bennett Street Surry Hills address was also mine for a good part of 1987.  Not many years on from this John died of AIDS-related illness. I also see a Vietnam veteran there, former RAAF. He still used to wear his uniform on Anzac Day. I wonder if he is still with us? Later on – 1990 – M used to refer to him as lao dongxi. If you know Mandarin you will know that isn’t all that flattering. Oh well then: Lao Dongxi: Fortunately not common and obviously derogatory, lao dongxi (pronounced “laaw-dong-shee”) means “silly old fool.”  M was not being entirely serious. He sometimes referred to me in similar terms…

Glebe: my home 1987-1988

Here it is, and after that what I saw when I came out the front gate each morning. Just a few doors up in the other direction is the Forest Lodge Hotel.

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