A Travellerspoint blog

June 2016

Bagan Temples

semi-overcast 32 °C

After lunch, we were off on bikes to explore Bagan, a temple wonderland. This was largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, payas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. Bagan's history began in the 9th century, but massive temple construction began in 1044 with King Anawratha founding the Bagan Empire. He'd been influenced by the Mon with regards to both the script and Theravada Buddhist religion. At one time there were an estimated 10,000 structures but today there are approximately 2,200. Many were damaged in an earthquake in 1975 and some restored in 1990, but not always to historical accuracy.

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Not even five minutes past our guesthouse, down a flat dusty road, we found several temples. The structures weren't huge, but they were quite relaxed to visit given the lower number of visitors. A few vendors wanted to give their painting sales pitches and tell us about the temples. They had been damaged by smoke during the war as well as in the earthquake. Golden or red robed Buddha statues sat behind old brickwork. There were staircases up to the top to see the view of just how far the temples extended. For miles there were big, small, golden or red bricked pagodas populating the plains.

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The next paya, Tha Kya Bon, had a statue that the vendor called the grandfather Buddha. The second head poked out of the main Buddha's stomach and had been built in the 11th century while the larger Buddha that encased it was built in the 13th century.
Further back, there were more rectangular buildings from the same reddish bricks. Trees with purple flowers grew nearby. The overall vegetation was fairly sparse in terms of groundcover, just small bushes and a few trees, almost desert-like.

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We rested back in the room to ease our stomachs and beat the heat. We got a free map and figured out a good sunset temple.

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On the ride back out to the temples, we found a few more temples to explore including Htilominlo, meaning 'Blessings of Three Worlds', which was large and impressive. It was the last temple known to be built in the Myanmar style. The temple was erected because on this spot King Nantaungmya was selected from among his five brothers to become the crown prince. We wandered around inside where old faded paintings lined the arched ceilings and walls. There were sitting and standing, also old and newer gold Buddha statues.

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This temple had a staircase to the top to view the pagoda landscape as well.
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Some of the vendor's offered to take us to a photo area for a fee, but the best photos were from a further distance so we declined, sneaked our bikes around the outside wall and walked to an area where we could get our own shots.

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We continued to U-Pali-Thein which was a single level rectangular gray building that was gated off but there were old paintings inside on the arched ceilings of Buddhas and other motifs.

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We biked down to Buledi temple after failing to reach the further ones. We scaled the steps to join the growing crowd of observers for sunset.

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There were some clouds but the colour still came through quite well. There were plenty of other temples around to liven up the sunset shots and create silhouettes at times. A sleepy dog managed to climb up a few levels of the temple and joined us. There were less hawkers now than during my last visit when people offered cold drinks to bring up to the top and post cards. They had some clothing at the bottom with the large pile of tourist shoes as we had to leave them out of respect. The sun sneaked below the horizon dozens of temples and stupas in the distance.

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Our return cycle was in the dark down a dusty road that could be a bit too soft and sandy at times. At least there wasn't a parade of horse carriages to pass on the way, another popular form of tourist transportation out here. We popped back on the main road at the rental shop. It was quite nice considering how exhausted we were.

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At supper, I was feeling quite awful so after staring at the menu for far too long, I just went back to the room to sleep under the heavy blankets. Ryan finally got to try his local Star Cola and had a chicken burger from the place where we'd rented our bikes.

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References:
http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net/bagan-history.htm
https://www.renown-travel.com/burma/bagan.html

Posted by Sarah.M 12:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple bagan pagoda bike heat tha_kya_bon htilominlo u-pali-thein buledi Comments (0)

Journey Hpa An to Bagan

Buses and late nights

Our bus to Yangon left at a reasonable time of 9 a.m. and left us enough time for a bakery breakfast of tasty carrot cake, cheese cake, puri and potato curry, and banana pancakes. The whole feast was less than three dollars. We also managed to book a cheap flight from Perth to Bali in May on a great sale from Air Asia, just over $50 a ticket. Sometimes it paid off to be on their e-mail list. Ryan was quite pumped since it now felt like Australia was really going to happen. We didn't have time to book any of our more current Asia tickets, but the big one was out of the way.

At the bus stop, we waited and watched half a dozen buses go by that weren't ours. A French woman came to talk to us for a bit in very basic French. She found Myanmar a bit expensive especially the guesthouses. Her bus to Bago left before ours. Finally ours came, nearly empty and curtains closed. Not bad for 5,000 kyat considering it came with free water. I laid out my sandals to dry as I had decided to wash them last night. I'd have to be careful to grab them when I left.

The bus ride went by fast and by four or so we were in Yangon. As the taxi drivers fought for our destination, we managed to attract the attention of someone who could sell us tickets through to Bagan. The first bus only had one seat, but there was another company they called for us. One of the guys even walked us over to the bus station past the regular bus stalls. As it turned out, the food was out there too. We relaxed after the hot walk until I realized that I couldn't find my sandals. They must have still been on the bus.

I grabbed our old tickets and took off sprinting. People seemed more determined to ask me to buy tickets this time. I sailed past taxis, clothing vendors, briyani restaurants and fruit stalls before turning into the main bus station area. I prepared to ask someone, but spotted the same white bus with a blue stripe and ran toward it. There was a pair of flip flops at the door meaning that someone was cleaning and I could ask for my shoes. Then my now dry sandals caught my eye. I picked them up and examined the familiar tears and wear that confirmed they were indeed mine. I was quite lucky. It could have been a costly shoe wash.

We had to try a few places to find vegetarian meals for supper. Two orders of fries and fried vegetables filled our uneasy stomachs before the ride. On the bus, we got a water and comfort kit to add to our collection of Burmese toothbrushes and wet naps.

Along the way, we stopped at a neon lit strip off the fancy highway in the middle of nowhere. For Myanmar, it felt wildly out of place, like it would more likely fit in near Vegas. I had popcorn so gross that even the dogs wouldn't touch it. Ryan had made a wiser choice and had banana cake.

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At around 3:30 a.m. we arrived in, or more accurately outside, Nyaung-U, the main town area of Bagan. I hadn't anticipated this as last time the bus stop dropped us right in the middle of town, close enough to walk. Now we had a supposed 20 kilometers to cover to get into town. The taxi driver started quoting 15,000 kyat. We told him it was far too high and that we'd walk instead. He began to ask us what price we wanted to pay. 3:30 in the morning wasn't ideal bartering or brain activity time so walking free of hassling drivers seemed like an appealing option. After all, we didn't have a hotel booked until the afternoon as we'd assumed the bus would arrive at a better time. We had little else to do if we weren't walking.

The driver dropped the price to 10,000 kyat but we started our walk to the city. He followed us to give us the 3,000 each (according to a site online 1,500 to 2,000 is the average price) and we finally broke and gave in. He had us wait for 15 minutes to see if we were impatient enough to pay the 10,000 to go right now. After that he bumped our price to 7,000 collectively which we agreed to. We jumped in the back of a truck with bamboo mats as seats and held on for the short ride into town. Definitely not 20 kilometers.

The driver who was different than the bartering middle man was quite happy with the 7,000 which made us feel better after paying another $20 admission into the region. We'd expected that one, but it most of that money went to the corrupt government. At least the inflated taxi fare would help out a few local people.

At Winner Guesthouse, the owner had waited up for us. Unlike last time, where I had the pleasure of crashing on a mattress in the lobby when all the rooms were full, we were able to get into our room early for 50% off the normal price. If we hadn't already paid so many fees and tickets we may have said great we'll take it. Instead we hummed and hawed, contemplated sleeping outside on the lawn furniture (not uncommon with the silly bus times in Asia) then watching sunrise. In the end, we paid for the room. They gave us an extra large one with a third bed.

We slept in since biking to sunrise grew unappealing compared to the softness of the bed and few hours of sleep we'd gotten. The breakfast was small given the price of the room: one egg, 2 toasts, watermelon and tea or coffee. We found bikes with good gears and decent looking tires. Since I was still feeling cheap and unsatisfied with our hotel, we took off into town in search of better value.

Soon the $45 rooms were making ours look like a bargain until we found Shwe Na Di which had rooms with a fridge, air conditioning, and hot water for $25. We'd only save $5 a night, but over two nights that was $10 and it could go a long way out here. Plus breakfast could be better. The only problem was that we forgot money for our deposit so Ryan biked back to drop it off while I tackled more laundry.

Posted by Sarah.M 19:57 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bus bagan highway yangon nyuang_u late_arrival Comments (0)

Mount Zwegabin

The twenty four hour loud speaker voices from the temples had us up far before our 7 a.m. tuktuk to Mount Zwegabin. We had some taro cookies for breakfast and a few oranges. On our tour, there was a woman from Calgary and another man from the US. He was a bit hungover, but still wanted to climb the mountain.

We drove through Lumbini garden again then up to the corridor that led to the path to the summit. We started climbing right away while the others stopped at the washroom. We knew we didn't have much time to summit and return and wanted to make the most of it. Our other tour mates had set an 11:00 deadline and it was already 7:30.

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The first section was a challenge with a steep climb up many stairs. We kept stopping for water breaks even though it was early and not overbearingly hot yet. From that height, we could still see some of the Buddha statues below though they grew smaller and smaller with each step.

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By the time we reached the first yellow and blue two story temple, twenty five minutes had elapsed and we'd climbed a fair bit. There was a bit of construction being done but overall it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere.

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The climb continued, but grew more horizontal for some sections as we crossed a ridge. Then we climbed even higher. The countryside was beautiful with green karst mountains in hazy shadows and cliff faces lit up in the sun perfectly. Agricultural land spread far in the other direction and the roads wound around. There were dogs up this high as well.

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The last leg of the journey was hot and sunny with plenty of uphill sections. On the way we encountered a monkey or two but kept our distance. The other two members of our climbing party met us near the top, making better time. We managed the summit in an hour and 45 minutes instead of the estimated two. Not bad for two people from the prairies that rarely climb anything.

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At the summit, there were a few pagodas and small community with a coffee shop/restaurant. One of the gold pagodas sat near the edge of the mountain, overlooking the land below. There was a gong and Buddha statues as well. We took off our shoes as it was a temple and the tiles cooled our feet. Around the back, we found shade and a great view of a few other pagodas on the mountain range. Monkeys stirred below us, playing, eating, and watching until a man with a slingshot came by to scare them off.

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Many people asked to be in photos with the woman from Calgary. We and the American guy posed with a friendly monk from Yangon who spoke great English.

Monkeys did attack in the end when we started eating our corn puff snacks. We gave one to the woman from Calgary but soon a monkey came at her. She threw it away but then it grabbed at her bag. She went to scare it but it hissed at her before it took interest in the coffee glass she had yet to return to the shop. It left in the end and Ryan snatched up her things before it could go after them again. They're scary creatures.

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We had another look at the pagoda and rested more before tackling the trail down. The sun was quite hot now, but many people were making the trek up at this time. A few groups of Burmese guys wanted a photo with Ryan and I before they ran off hooting and hollering. Everyone seemed quite happy.

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At the first rest stop, we found some adorable dogs who were a little scared of us. One of the black ones came to play with and chew on my camera bag strap. Ryan and I were slower on the way down too since we kept stopping to take pictures, but we made it down in an hour for 11:15. Chatting on the way back, we got some restaurant recommendations for lunch like the chicken salad or tomato for me. The woman from Calgary had also been trekking in Nepal and spoke very highly of her six weeks there. Everyone we talked with seemed to love it, so we were itching to go even more.

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Back in Hpa An, Ryan and I headed out to Khit Thit restaurant to try the chicken and tomato salads. They were alright, pretty basic, not really living up to the hype. We wandered the market for fruit to find oranges and bananas. The rest of the afternoon was meant for relaxing, reading and lying down. We had climbed a mountain after all.

For supper we had sweet and sour dishes at Lucky and fireworks followed. Music played from the nearby temple. It was a celebration, of what we weren't sure, and we forgot to ask about it the next day as well.

Posted by Sarah.M 07:33 Archived in Myanmar Tagged monkey climb mount_zwegabin hpa_an Comments (0)

Amazing Hpa An tour: caves, temples and bats

semi-overcast 30 °C

We managed to sneak in breakfast before our early tour left. I had rice and lentils, similar to what I'd gotten in Yangon, but with less flavour. Ryan had some toast. We also had what was left of our tasty market fruit.

Our tuktuk had three others, a man from England, a woman with a British accent that said she was American and went to school there but was now living in Thailand and writing articles, and Wendy an Australian-Chinese woman who was travelling with her daughter. Her daughter had done the tour yesterday and really enjoyed it. She'd travelled around Mandalay and Inle lake as well during her time here.

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The first stop on the bumpy tuktuk tour was Kaw Ka Thaung Cave. Accompanied by a temple and reclining Buddha statue, this cave was a good starter size. There were gold robbed Buddha statues and colourful fences outside. The Buddha statues continued along both sides of the cave, usually wearing gold. If you looked up, there were thousands of small Buddhas carved into reddish stone on the cave ceiling.

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Some of the larger statues had yellow cloths around their bodies or umbrellas. Toward the back, there was a narrow pathway to more Buddhist figures including a small green Buddha statue. We ran into the British family from the guesthouse yesterday here who lived in Australia and recognized us as the ones who got the rooftop room. They found another place to stay, Golden Sky who offered tours with comfier looking tuktuks.

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Outside the cave, a procession of red-robed monk statues collecting alms led us past fields of rice, a pond, rock shrine and adorable dogs. There was another cave to reach via stairs but the pathway to it was closed off. Rumour had it that a monk found a condom there and locked it. Ducks ran around the bright green fields. As we waited for the tuktuks to go, one blasted Eminem's Slim Shady which was the last thing I expected to hear at a temple.

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Next was Saddan Cave which required a 1000 kyat donation for the long walk through the cave. Definitely worth it. There were plenty of statues at the beginning, neat when mixed with natural cave formations like flowstone and curtains. There was a Golden Rock with a face on it. Some of the small Buddha statues mounted to the walls created patterns like elephants, temples or frogs. As we went further into the cave, there was a golden stupa lit up wonderfully with the sunlight coming in and statues of monk dressed in gold.

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Luckily, the cave was lit up artificially for the rest of the walk so we didn't lose our footing. There were some man-made staircases too. We came out the other side near another small temple replica built on a rock. There was a wait to see that one.

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Through the cave arch sat a calm lake, fig tree and wooden boats to take back to the parking lot for 1500 kyat. Our paddler was a young boy. He took us through a cave area that lit up quite stunningly and through flooded rice paddy channels. The fields were bright green. The British family with two kids joked that they'd paid their driver an extra 1000 if he beat our boat. In the end, the little boy thanked the driver with the extra 1000 since they indeed won the 'race'. It was sweet to see him insist his parents shell out the cash for their joke. Many locals wanted their photos taken with the young blond kids in the parking lot afterward.

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Our third stop was the lake and waterfall at Yae Ta Khon where some local people seam and we waited an hour for our food to be prepared. That time wasn't exaggerated either. I just wanted a simple egg fried rice. We all ate in the end and we found out more about Wendy's trip.

Lumbini garden came next and it was a nice tranquil spot. A thousand Buddha statues were in rows on either side of the road as we walked. The close ones had pillars and a roof structure while the rest were left to the elements. Some retouching was being done by the locals. We got back into the tuktuk after walking the trail. Our guide pointed out the mountain that we wanted to climb tomorrow, Mount Zwegabin.

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We headed on to Kyauk Ka Lat Temple which looked pretty darn cool from a distance. Across a large manmade moat sat a tall rock. As we've noticed in Myanmar, they tend to build temples on these sites, especially if the rock looked unstable like this one.

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We crossed the bridge, went around and climbed the temple, most impressive from afar. A monk tied pieces of string around people's necks while reciting a blessing. The British boy got one but wasn't too pleased about it. Rabbits hopped around too. An ice cream vendor was set up back at the road and it was too good to pass up. I had strawberry and Ryan's was a white colour.

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The next cave, Kwat Goon, had a 3000 kyat admission charge and online we'd read that the price wasn't worth it. Wendy's daughter had echoed that sentiment to her mom. Out of eleven tourists, only two chose to go in and were out in 25 minutes. If we hadn't already been to so many temples and caves we might have considered it, but instead we snacked and relaxed.

Ya Thae Pyan cave was up a set of stairs. Some of the articles in here dated as far back as the 13th century. Other votive tablets, images and statues were donated in the 17th century. The front had a tiled floor and plenty of statues of Buddha. We walked the different levels and admired the ceiling carvings as well. Toward the back, there was a long path to follow to the end of the cave where rice farmers worked from their boats. This cave had beautiful natural formations as well.

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After braving a bruise inducing tuktuk ride our final stop was the bat cave. We walked a long corridor along the river barefoot before coming to a high temple.

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There were some stairs with very questionable welding to climb. We made it up there safely enough, though the metal would come away from the rock and itself. From the top, we sat around the stupa to watch the sun go down near the steel bridge and mountains.

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Before it got too dark, we climbed down the scary ladder and got a tour of the bat cave. Far too much feces for a barefoot tour, plus the low lighting meant we were in and out. We waited opposite the cave until the locals began to beat on plastic containers and sweep to get the bats out. Thousands or not millions flew out in a black line that slithered on past the river and toward the mountains. They flew over our heads and the lines on either side of us would converge. As the locals hit their 'drums' the bat lines would jump too. The line went on for at least twenty minutes with bats still streaming out full force before it began to thin out. We couldn't believe the number of them going out to hunt. They switched directions later on, heading all the way to Mawlamyine, a tour hour bus ride away for us, and returned at dawn.

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Although it was a supercharged tour that started early and finished late, we were really happy we booked it. It had been run through Soe Brother's Guesthouse but others ran similar ones too. It was probably the best value tour we had during our whole Myanmar adventure, highly recommend it if you get a chance. The driver also offered his services to take us up to Mount Zwegabin tomorrow, which we decided to do.

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For supper, we dragged our exhausted selves to Lucky restaurant for some tasty sweet and sour pork for Ryan and fried kale and mushrooms with lemongrass and ginger. Very tasty. We good cookie snacks from a random shop since most were closed. They'd come in handy for breakfast.

Posted by Sarah.M 11:49 Archived in Myanmar Tagged sunset beautiful tuktuk tour bat_cave soe_brothers kaw_ka_thaung_cave saddan_cave lumbini_garden kyauk_ka_lat_temple ya_thae_pyan hpa_an Comments (0)

Hpa An

Markets and Meals

sunny 32 °C

We ventured down to the Cinderella Hotel again for a bit of a brunch. Ryan had Chicken Kinbao and I had Thai fried rice. Sadly neither could hold a candle to last night's meal but they did look quite fancy.

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Getting a cab after that was fairly easy and only cost 2000 kyat to get to the bus station. From there the ticket to Hpa-An was only 1000 kyat ($1) each. The seats were tight benches. The windows only cooled the vehicle a little as there was no air-conditioning. I was a little worried about my Thai pottery getting crushed in the pile of cargo where my luggage sat. Luckily, I'd wrapped it up well and it was fine. Google Maps helped us find the street the driver had said was just had markets, but we found some cheap guesthouses and the tourism centre. It was a large and busy enough street with lots of buildings and a temple nearby.

We found Soe Brothers Guesthouse and snagged the first and only room that they showed us with a private bathroom for $18. The British family in the lobby hadn't jumped on it as it was a little grubby but our standards weren't as high. Our only issue so far was wanting more hot water, but if we timed the showers right it wasn't as much of an issue.

We went walking to check out the bakery nearby that didn't have much in stock. We crossed another busy street to the fancy supermarket where we could get snacks: Thai sesame nut rolls and another small snack. The non-perishable section made up most of the store and they had a decent amount of imported goods too. The stores were quite different than ours back home. Fresh food belonged at the markets.

Before sunset, we explored the market block around our place. The covered market had fruits and vegetables, but the deeper we went the more raw meat and stinky fish sat out. Flies buzzed constantly. We couldn't get to the end fast enough. Once our nostrils had cleared, we kept our eyes peeled for fruit, seeing only watermelon for awhile. One woman had good looking bananas for 1200 and small mandarin oranges so we got 500 kyat/ 50 cents worth.

We dropped off our purchases and headed down the roads to San Ma Tou restaurant that we'd found recommended online. It was a bit of a walk, but once we arrived they set us up with over ten side-dishes/condiments, half of which we asked them to take away because of the meat. Since the food was prepared in advanced and sat out in pots to be served, Ryan was very much onboard with a veggie set, less risk of food poisoning. We had potato and bean curry, vegetable curry and honey fried potatoes. The potatoes were the tastiest, but the curries could have been better. It was far from the best in Myanmar, as the blog we'd read had claimed, though it could have been on off day for them. For dessert, there were coffee candies, tamarind balls and coconut jaggery, which if you've never tried is quite sweet and delicious.

We walked back in the dark. The clock tower was lit up nicely. Despite being smaller than Mawlamyine, this place seemed to have more life and traffic.

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Posted by Sarah.M 06:07 Archived in Myanmar Tagged restaurant market myanmar an clock_tower hpa san_ma_tou Comments (0)

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