An October Mystery: Gremlins at play?

I am having a bit of a mystery at present.
 The English Language Resource Center  has a 5-gallon jug water dispenser which has 2 levers:  one for hot (to make tea or instant coffee) and one for cold. In China, we can’t drink water from the tap so many offices have water dispensers and order sanitized water to be delivered.  I have my own water company that I use and I decided to use them for my resource room.
I ordered 2 jugs to get us started.  One was placed on the dispenser and the unused jug beside the dispenser.
During the 1-week National Day holidays, the jug was completely full. No one used it. But when I returned, the 5-gallon jug was empty!  No one uses that room or has keys for the room except me, Zuri (the  Peace Corp volunteer), 2 department administrators and the one used by my volunteer students.
It is a huge mystery as to what happened to the water.  I asked all the key folk and no one knows.  I am pretty certain my students wouldn’t be in the room and lie about it.  Most of them were gone for that week, anyway.  The administrators never go into the room but just hold onto the key for emergencies.  That leaves me and Zuri.  I use the room but Zuri rarely does so . . . .
Where did the water go?!
Someone suggested that maybe the dispenser was broken and all the water had dripped out but in that case, there would be water all over the floor.  5 gallons is a lot of water to drip out.  Don’t think it would evaporate that fast.
My explanation?  I think we have some little American  gremlins who hid themselves in one of those boxes of supplies sent from overseas.  They currently have set up residence someplace in the room.  I bet they have a wonderful time once the lights go out.  They were probably thirsty after the holidays, having a full week of being cooped up in there with nothing to do but run around, party and enjoy themselves.
Ornery little things!
I’m  keeping a close eye on the second jug, now in place on top of the dispenser.  We’ll just see what happens.  Halloween night is fast approaching.  Who knows what mischief those wicked critters  will get themselves into?!
In the meantime, here are some photos from last Monday evening.  It was a rainy , cold night where those not busy attending night classes pretty must stayed inside their dorm rooms, huddled under blankets and doing homework.  While  numbers were slim, those who came had a great time, as you can see.

Little Andy is my teacher’s assistant. I put him to work in the Center stamping “Great!” on homework papers which my seniors completed last week.

Uno is a favorite game for all of us.

My volunteers take over instructing others how to play the games we have available.

One of our teachers brought his son to the Center and ended up watching one of the movies rather than playing a game.

Bruce Li, my co-teacher, is here with his son. He is teaching him vocabulary by drawing pictures.

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New Competitive Swimming Pool Opens in Luzhou

Last winter, a nostalgic swim in my old swimming pool at Eastern Illinois University

If you don’t know, I am one of those die-hard swimmers who never did get rid of the swimming pool bug.  After many years on a swimming team growing up, and also swimming with my university team, I still get excited when I find a new pool.

Luzhou has been a challenge with swimming pools.  Most are winter pools, meaning the water is cold all year round.  This is a sport, winter swimming, which the Chinese love.  Not me!  For my winter swimming ventures, I had a wetsuit that I wore until the water temps hit 60.  Not even the wetsuit could keep me from freezing.  And since there are no hot showers in such pools, there is no way to really warm up after you get out unless you sprint around the pool deck several times.  And even then, it’s still pretty darn cold!

I have waited for 17 years for a heated, competitive pool to land in Luzhou and one finally did this summer.  July 1st was the grand opening.  It is located in a beautiful park area on the other end of the city.  While a bit far, it’s well worth the daily visits I’ve managed so far.

A Christian Sister, Looking Out for Me

Choir member, Huang (red shirt) talks to another choir member during one of our rehearsals.

Not only do I now have a gorgeous pool to swim in, but I received a substantial discount in purchasing a year membership all due to church choir member, Ms. Huang.

Ms. Huang and I sing together in the Luzhou Eternal Love choir at the Luzhou Protestant Church.  She is also an avid swimmer, like myself, and teaches swimming lessons at the Medical College’s outside pool during the summer.  While I was home for the holidays, she texted me that there was a special discount for winter swimmers at the new pool.  Did I want to sign up?  The deadline was fast approaching and 60 swimmers were needed to get the discount.

I was in America, however, and there was no way for me to do this from where I was. Huang , however, was kind enough to fill out my application form and even pay the amount for me, trusting that I’d pay her back when I returned in August.

Sure enough, all was taken care of by my Sister in Christ, Huang.  When I returned, I picked up my yearly card and paid Huang my discounted amount which I never would have received had it not been for her diligence in helping me.

As you can see, swimmers look after one another, but more especially in this case, Christian swimmers.  A huge “thank you”, Sister Huang!  You really made my day.

From Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your weekend.

 

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The English Language Resource Center Finally Up and Running!

It’s been awhile since a last update.  What with the school year starting, daily pool swims, organizing new lessons for the freshmen, and currently a 1-week holiday from Oct 1 – 7 (dubbed Golden Week) commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic of China, just hasn’t been a lot of time to write.
What my main time-consuming efforts have entailed has been the English Language Resource Center which, I am proud to say, is finally under way to regular use.
The Plan and Set-Up
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After returning to China in mid-August, I spent the entire time getting the English Center in working order.

 

My Center plans for the beginning of the semester included: Hosting a grand opening for teachers and leaders, having regular “Open Door” hours 2-3 times a week, enlisting student volunteers to help clean, monitor and assist in the room, and creating a classroom material development section.That particular area I hoped to constantly supply with free materials (English reward stickers, construction paper, glue, markers, crayons, tape) for the 3rd year English Education majors to use during their weeks of practice teaching, or what we in the States call Student Teaching.Many create their own visual aids but have to pay for those out-of-pocket.Not in the Center.All materials would be free, with plenty of space for our future English teachers to develop their teaching aids with advice, suggestions or help from others.

 

With such plans in my head, I’ve spent the last 6 weeks getting those into a reality situation.

With funding from UMW groups and others, I purchased a very nice flatscreen TV.  A tabletop printer/copier will follow soon.  I also picked up a few other furniture items that I felt were still needed, stocked the Arts and Crafts area with lots of extra supplies and the sticker drawers, free for all student use, are overflowing.
I also brought quite a few books in my suitcase back with me to stock the shelves but I really need more.  Seems the children’s illustrated storybooks are a great level for my students and visitors who are non-English majors.  I will be working on those additions over the next few years.
The First Intro Visits:  Seniors First
My 3rd year (senior) classes started Sept. 3 in which I teach Activities in the Classroom.
That first week was my big introduction to the English Center.  I had students divided into groups and mandatory visits which included filling out worksheets of all the Center had to offer.  My 140 seniors were required to find things in all the different sections of the room that I set up.  Once they finished the sheet, they could hand it in and go.
I thought most would hurry up to get out of there as they have things to do but . . . . so many stayed and spent a lot of time enjoying the room.
One Thursday, I monitored the room from 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. and the next day, I was there from 2:30 – 7 p.m.  No one wanted to leave!
One comment made by a senior on her worksheet was this:  “I feel like the room is a sea of English.  There are so many books, magazines and games to play.  It is wonderful!!”
My Freshmen, Yet to Come
While the school year started for underclassmen on Sept. 3, the freshmen were still in the process of orientation, which includes doing military training for 3 weeks.  This is mandatory for all college and high school freshmen.
A local army base is used and sends young soldiers to be the sergeants to direct students in this sort of thing.  Basically, the new students march around in their departmental platoons early morning to late at night on the sports’ field.  They learn how to function well  in an environment that has a lot of freedom (more than they’re used to). They are instructed how to independently live on their own, how to work together as a team, get along with others, be united as a class and take their studies seriously.
Of course, I’ve been eager to meet my 150 freshmen but that had to wait until Sept. 24.  And after that week, we now are having another full week of holiday time before we can finally start up in earnest on Oct. 8.
I haven’t had time to show the first years all that the Center has to offer but will be doing that in a week or so.
Center Volunteers 
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In the meantime, the day before the holidays, I enlisted the help of Ice (seated, center), the president of the English Association, to find me volunteers who are free Monday evening, from 7 – 9 p.m., to help me with our first Open Hours of Center visiting times.

I have an eager group of young people who have already signed up for being in the room with me to help when students appear to see what we have to offer.

We start on Monday, right after the holidays.  I’m not sure how many will come or if many will come.  It depends on how much the word has gotten out but I do hope we have a good turn-out.

We had a great crowd for movie night, as you can see below.  I showed Mrs. Doubtfire for Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a holiday devoted to family reunions.  It fit in well with the theme and even if their English wasn’t up to it, the English subtitles and the acting itself made up for those with poorer listening skills than others.
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In Closing
Here is the slideshow of the Center.  For all who have helped stock this with supplies, many, many thanks for all your contributions!!

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Farewell to Our Little Lao-lao: “再见, 小老老. 我们会想你.”

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It was a sad departure for my mom and me yesterday.

Not so much for the mother-daughter farewell  as I head back to China, but more for the loss of our Chihuahua, Xiao Lao-lao,  Little Old.

Despite my best efforts, and those of our veterinarian, Little Lao-lao had to be put to sleep on Thursday.  In China, we call this 安乐死 (ahn-le-suh).  The literal translation is “peaceful death” or “safe death.”  Such a nice way to say “euthanasia” and one that feels more appropriate for our little guy.

Our veterinarian office has a special room for owners to say goodbye to their furry friends.  This is where I found myself on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.  In a small lounge room, equipped with comfy couch and  plenty of tissues, the staff laid out a blanket for Lao-lao.  I took my seat with the dog, wrapped up in his blanket, and waited.

My stoic demeanor came close to collapsing when the staff came in, one by one, to say goodbye to our little dog and ask if I needed anything before he was put to sleep.  I was truly touched by their concern and understanding.

Thank you so much to Farm and Family Veterinary for everyone’s sympathy and hugs during that difficult moment.  I especially appreciated Dr. Ericka Yeley, who quietly walked me through the entire procedure to make sure I was fully prepared, then made sure I had plenty of time to say goodbye, both before and after, without feeling rushed.

Everyone’s process is different when euthanizing a pet, I’m sure.  Ericka’s many years of experience as an animal caregiver certainly showed.  She was a wonderful comforting presence throughout and I am deeply grateful.

Lao-lao’s Speedy Little  Gait Missed About Town

I imagine Lao-lao’s absence will be noticed in my area.

Everyone knew Lao-lao.

For 9 years, his fame has spread throughout Marshall, not only due to my articles about him in my hometown newspaper, but also my mom’s weekly column, “Walk with Me,” in which she muses on her thoughts while walking the dog.

Lao-lao and my mom have always been seen together, winding their way along sidewalks, across streets and down the center of Archer Avenue or around the courthouse.  He’s been carried into the library  and even the post office, if my mom needed to quickly mail a letter.  At the United Methodist Church, Pastor Richard Lewis and office manager Kelley Ray knew Lao-lao well as he’d pop in for visits every so often whenever my mom, Outreach Committee Chairperson, had some church duties to fulfill.

Where most dogs were excluded, Lao-lao received a pass as an honorary Marshall resident and citizen.  No frowns, scowls, side-looks of annoyance or “No dogs allowed, please!” came from any of our Marshall folk.

Lao-lao was always welcome.

I can’t paint the rosiest of pictures by saying Lao-lao was the friendliest of dogs, however.  He had somewhat of a nippy disposition in his old age, one which had him giving toothless snaps at those he didn’t like.

Even my mom and I had a few of those if we petted him too much.

He’d squawk and trill his discontent on many occasions.  We labeled these uniquely, startling Lao-lao vocalizations as his “Stop messing with me!” cues and we took them seriously.  We left him alone and let him snuggle deep down into his blanket, happy to be ignored until it was walking or feeding time.

Despite his crankiness and odd idiosyncrasies, we still loved him.

Farewell, Little One!

My mom and I will miss our little guy dearly but we know he is safe and sound, nestled deep in the arms of Buddha — the best sort of heaven a Chinese dog can ever hope for.

Here’s wishing you Ping An, Peace, Little Lao-lao.  You will be forever in our hearts.

 

 

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A Taste of Home

It happens to all of us.

While traveling either in country or abroad, there comes a point where we crave some specialty food item that comforts and soothes.  We all have our favorites, be it fresh Illinois sweet corn for those in the Midwest or, for me in China, difficult-to-get Kraft macaroni-and-cheese or Kellogg’s pop tarts.

For people worldwide, a taste of home matters.

When I brought to the States a Chihuahua rescue from China, a broken-jawed, starving, toothless little thing I stumbled across on the streets of Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu, I sometimes wondered if he missed the smells, sights or tastes of his native land.  After 9 years living in America, did Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old) even remember his home country much at all?

The answer to that question came quite clearly while I was recently visiting my hometown for my summer vacation.

Visits to Marshall, Illinois, for Holiday

When the Chinese college I teach at dismisses for summer break, I always spend at least one month in Marshall with my mom.  We enjoy our summer catch-ups:  eating out, discussing in-depth local and national news reports, watching together our favorite TV programs, walking Lao-lao early mornings or late evenings and taking short road trips to nearby tourist destinations.

It was the day before our planned 6-day journey to House-on-the-Rock (Spring Green, Wisconsin) that it happened:  Lao-lao got sick.

Leaving Our Little Boy Behind

Looking back, I see his illness had been creeping up on him for a few days.

We noticed his eagerness for walks started to wane.  He began eating less and less.

The day before our trip, he turned to his comfy basket where he snuggled down deep into his blanket and wouldn’t move.  Getting up seemed agony, and walking onto the back deck, then down the stairs to the grass to do his business, had him wobbling and swaying unsteadily on his weak legs.  We began carrying him outside, setting him on the ground and watching him quickly use the toilet, then stand there shivering, waiting for us to take him back inside.

We had already scheduled him to be a week in our vet’s clinic, which kennels dogs as well.  What we hadn’t scheduled was us dropping off a sick dog into their midst.

Dr. Ericka Gives Her Expertise

The morning we were leaving, we delayed our departure to the afternoon so I could have Dr. Ericka Yeley examine our ill little canine and give us her input about treatment while we were away.  He had a slight fever, which she addressed by prescribing antibiotics.  A blood sample was taken and sent off to the lab, the results of which would be the next day.

“Leave him here while you’re gone.  We’ll take good care of him,” Ericka assured me, “Call us at any time and we’ll give you updates.”

Off we went, rather worried and eager to call the next day for his lab reports.

The results weren’t good: His liver enzymes were elevated, and he’d lost a whopping 1 pound since he last visited in March.  On a 5 1/2 pound Chi, that’s a lot.

The voice of Hailey, the vet assistant, sounded somewhat bleak as she gave us this news.  And Dr. Yeley likewise seemed hesitant to give us too many words of encouragement about his recovery.

Daily Reports and Our Return to Marshall

Our 6-day road trip was peppered with calls to the vet’s and worries in between sightseeing.  The day before we landed back in Marshall, we heard that Lao-lao’s meds were kicking in and he was beginning to eat but not on his own.  He needed to be primed first with hand-feeding but at least he was trying.

I was so anxious to pick him up that I didn’t even bother to swing home first. On our return Sunday evening,  I made a straight shot from entering Marshall on Route 1  to the vet’s.

Although closed, high schooler Sara was taking care of the housed animals for the day, which she’s been hired to do as a part-time job.  Pick-ups during non-business hours (such as Sundays) are usually not allowed but because we are good clients, and due to Lao-lao’s special circumstances, Dr. Ericka gave permission for our Chinese immigrant to come home.

Poor little guy was still weak and disoriented.  He didn’t even recognize me once his cage was opened.  After a few hand-smells and a pet, though, he knew he was going home.

He Won’t Eat!!

I was convinced once back in our care, he’d bounce back right away.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Lao-lao had no interest in food at all.  His softened dry dog food was a bust.  His favorite turkey  and ham lunchmeat nibbles were ignored.  Freshly cooked chicken tenders, cut into edible pieces for a dog with few teeth, remained in his dish.

At the Walmart, I picked up several different brands of wet food (not cheap!) in the hopes one of them would hit the spot.  All had to be blender-pureed, which I did with care and great confidence he’d lap up one of them.  They certainly smelled good, at least to me!

But Lao-lao didn’t share my opinion.  He barely sniffed at the food, lapped up his water and swayed his way back to his basket bed.

After using a syringe to get his liquid meds into him, I began using another syringe to feed him the pureed selections thinking that would stimulate his hunger.

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Even after several feedings, he still wasn’t interested in continuing on his own.

At Wits’ End

My mom and I were giving up.  Lao-lao was close to 13 years old.  Maybe it was just his time to go?

 

This is the sad story I passed along to our Marshall Chinese restaurant owners, who are from Fujian Province.

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The married couple speak little English and miss their Chinese magazines and snack foods, so I bring those with me to treat them  on every visit back to Marshall.

The two sympathized with me concerning the dog before sending me home with free stir-fried favorites of mine:  chicken and broccoli from the buffet, egg rolls and fried sugared donuts for my mom.

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Needless to say, I wasn’t much in the mood for food as I felt so bad for our little dog.  After all my efforts at feeding him had failed, I felt disheartened and hopeless.

A Taste of Home

I entered our house with my carry-out food items, the smell of which filled the entire downstairs.  Chinese food odors do tend to linger for quite a long time after being placed in a room.  Americanized Chinese restaurant items are no different.

As I plopped the bags on the kitchen counter, Little Old suddenly appeared in the doorway.  His ears perked high.  His dull eyes brightened.  His nose twitched.

After 10 days of not wanting to eat much of anything, was our little guy  hungry?

I picked out the tender thinly-sliced chicken, washed off the overly-salty soy sauce, shredded the meat into serving sizes suitable for a toothless dog, placed the moist mound into his dish and waited to see what would happen.

Lao-lao stumbled his way on wobbly legs to his bowl.  I backed away so as not to disturb him.  He sniffed the offerings, took a careful lick with his tongue, somehow managed to shove a small helping to his back gum area, managed to chew a bit and swallowed.

He paused, thinking.

It was apparent something familiar was rotating around in his canine brain, and whatever it was, he wanted more.

I have never seen our immigrant Chi go at his food as quickly or ravenously as he did that Chinese chicken.  I imagine memories of a distant China, ones that included leftover meals from his previous owner, came wafting back in full swing:  irresistible, tantalizing, impossible-to-ignore.

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After finishing off the sizable amount I had prepared, he started in on the pureed stuff after which came a big drink of water and a dapper trot back to his basket bed.  He hoisted himself up and over the rim, dug around in his blanket, snuggled deep into the bedding, gave a huge sigh of contentment and went to sleep.

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The Epilogue

It’s been a month since Lao-lao’s near-death illness, and 10 days since Chinese chicken was introduced into his diet. Since that time, I have been going down to the Chinese restaurant to pick up more stir-fried meat favorites which I’ve been freezing to chop up later for Lao-lao’s feedings.  The restaurant owners love to hear my Lao-lao stories over and over again:  The little Chinese  immigrant who craved his native favorite– stir-fried chicken slices in soy sauce, woked up hot and fresh by the hands of those who knew best how to prepare a little taste of home.

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The English Language Resource Center: Up and Running!!

It’s taken 15 years, but this past semester finally had the English Language Resource Center trickle into being.  

       I had plenty of help this time around instead of going it on my own, which I had at one point considered. I was advised, however, to let the school finance the Center so as not to create any embarrassment on the leaders’ part that their foreign teacher did this without their help.

       I completely agreed with that suggestion.  It was decided I would provide the resource materials with my US network of friends (that’s all of you!); the school would provide the furnishings and office equipment.

      Teacher Huang and Teacher Chen were my go-to guys in this venture.   They helped to complete school monetary request forms, receive official stamps from departmental offices, apply for school credit card use, accompany me on four trips to different office furniture stores, arrange for delivery of items and lastly, assist in moving things around for eventual room use.  I next invited students to help me clean, after which we stocked the shelves, cabinets and drawers with the many games and fun items so many of you have sent over the years.  All those boxes of supplies I’ve been dragging around for years are no longer taking up space in my apartment.  The contents have found a home!   

      In April, Zuri (our school’s U.S. Peace Corps teacher) and I were finally able to open the Center for our weekly English Corner night.   We also added private activity gatherings for our own students on other days of the week.   

      English Corner was especially well-attended, including not only the college students but some of our teachers who brought their children.  Among the kids, the card game Uno was a favorite along with Barrel-of-Monkeys and the Arts-and-Crafts area for drawing or coloring.  

      The college kids found the Center a great place to relax, spend time with their foreign teachers, browse through the displayed English books and magazines and enjoy playing language games not available in China.   

As you can see from the pictures below, we’re off to a great start!

Plans for Developing The Center

      My Center plans for the next semester include: Hosting a grand opening for teachers and leaders, having regular “Open Door” hours 3 times a week, enlisting student volunteers to help clean, monitor and assist in the room, and creating a classroom material development section.  That particular area I will constantly supply with free materials (English reward stickers, construction paper, glue, markers, crayons, tape) for the 3rd year English Education majors to use during their weeks of practice teaching, or what we in the States call Student Teaching.  Many create their own visual aids but have to pay for those out-of-pocket.  Not in the Center.  All materials will be free, with plenty of space for our future English teachers to develop their teaching aids with advice, suggestions or help from others.

       There are only two items I still wish for:  a flat-screen TV for showing English language movies (downloaded from the Net or chosen from my over-1,000 DVD collection) and a table-top printer/copier.  Discussions are underway if the school will provide these or not. I should know by October, after which I will decide how to proceed if the school feels it’s not within the budget to do so.

Here in the States:  Gathering Items to Take Back

I mentioned in the previous entry that I am currently in the States for my summer holiday.  I have  two weeks to go and am already stocking up on more games to take back with me to China for the Center.  I have collected some holiday banners from the Dollar Store and am cruising the Walmart kids’ aisles, thinking what games to add to the activity cabinet.   Such fun to be able to do this in person.

Closing with a Big Thank You for the Supply Gifts and Donations

While back, I have spoken at 2 churches (Morton UMC in Morton, IL and Mt. Carmel UMC in Mt. Carmel, IL) which I missed last summer.  Both congregations were very generous in donating items and funding for the Center so I am not only able to buy things but ship them back as well.  As some might know who have sent me things before, the cost of mailing is very, very high.  No longer does our US post office have surface mail available.  Everything goes airmail.

It ain’t cheap, folks!

What doesn’t go into the suitcase will be going  toward the postage of boxes headed for the post office.

But most exciting is I now have enough to purchase the TV and printer on my own!  If the school deems it necessary to cancel the request I’ve already placed for those two things, the gift money I have received will go toward getting them on my own.

Many, many thanks to you who have helped make that possible. Can’t wait to get started in stocking the room with more for the students to use and enjoy.

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A generous donation from Tremont UMC and Morton UMC (shown here at the church, including Pastor Gary Feldman to the left) has given me enough to see all my “wish list” items complete the Resource Center upon my return. Thank you all!!

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Striving for Most Excellent Vocational College Status

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   Note:  I am currently enjoying some vacation time in America with my mom in Marshall, IL.  The semester has been crazy-busy, which has made me a bit lax on postings.  Let me update you a bit on some happenings from China, … Continue reading

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