Memories of Visits Past

Highlights of Bacolod visits past:

  • 8-peso jeepney rides to San Sebastian Cathedral
  • Don Salvador Benedicto.  Visiting the architect’s house and listening to disco music blaring over the dark, silent hills.
  • Celebrating her first birthday ever in Bacolod:  Manong Freddie cooked the most delicious adobo.
  • Taking the Daku Balay secretaries to dinner at Negros Museum Café
  • Punta Taytay
  • Hearing mass in Santa Fe on Dear Departed Dad’s birthday, March 3
  • Meeting Bong Bong, the flower arranger from Sum-ag
  • Discovering L’Fisher Chalet, making it her nest
  • Discovering the Visayan Daily Star
  • Discovering Munsterrific
  • Discovering Bacolod rum
  • RORO to Iloilo, seeing the church at Jaro
  • Visiting La Carlota, seeing a mountain of brown sugar
  • Visiting Mambucal and seeing the trees covered with what self at first thought were fruit pods, but turned out to be sleeping bats
  • Masahe:  It always amazed self that such tiny masahistas can deliver such powerful, bone-grinding strokes
  • Being at Café 1925 in Silay:  While she was in the CR (comfort room), she experienced the full extent of the Zack star power.  There was a whole series of “Hi, Zack!  When did you arrive?” utterances.
  • Driving back to Bacolod from Dumaguete, at night, in hard rain
  • Meeting Clarita, who cooked for self’s family when they lived in Dasmariñas
  • Pancake House on Lacson Street
  • Siquijor
  • South Sea Resort, Bantayan Beach, Dumaguete
  • Tita Lily’s birthday, watching the dancers hired for the occasion
  • Watching, with Zack, Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang (perhaps one of the worst Filipino movies self has ever seen)

Self’s “Nest”

Highlights of the current visit:

  • Masskara:  The Parade of Dancers, the Parade of Giant Puppets, the crush and chaos of the crowd on Lacson Street on Saturday, midnight
  • Lolo Gener’s 129th birthday, celebrating it on the roof of the Daku Balay.  Seeing Manong Eddie dance.
  • Encountering Fredo again (He used to drive for self’s family when she was in college)
  • Trying out a handgun at the Bacolod Handgunner in Robinson’s Mall
  • Artisan Piaya from the Bacolod Organic Market (This was the yummiest piaya self ever tasted)
  • Best coffee, hands down:  Kanlaon coffee, at the Negros Museum Café
  • Having her first ever eyelash perm (Que landi!)
  • Seeing malunggay leaves and impulsively wanting to plant her Santa Fe lot with malunggay trees
  • Thrilling to Dreams From My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance, by President Obama
  • Finally having the opportunity to wear the green jeans she bought several months ago, from her current favorite clothing store, Alys Grace in Menlo Park

This trip, self finally appreciates the freedom of not having a driver.  She gets to stay in her hotel room all day without feeling the least bit guilty.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Deep Memory

Yesterday, a taxi driver tried to take advantage of self by pretending he didn’t understand the directions she gave him, and ended up taking her in the opposite direction than the one she wanted to go.

He took her to a street with no residences, no restaurants, only warehouses, and self berated the man for pretending he didn’t understand when he knew very well that Imay’s, the restaurant she wanted to go to, was on 6th street.

She stormed out of the cab and jumped into another cab, but the man was quick and chased her down and yanked open the door of the second cab and began yelling at her that she owed him 50 pesos.  The second cab driver looked completely ashen-faced and sat there, as if under a spell.

Self noticed that the first cab driver had a very ruddy face, and hair that wasn’t combed, and she wondered if maybe he was high or something, and she tried to look back at his cab to see if she could make out the license plate.  Then, when she saw that the second cab driver wanted her to get out of his cab, and because she was afraid of being alone on the street with this maniac, she ended up giving him 100 pesos, the smallest bill she had.

After that, she got to a cousin’s place, and then to another cousin’s place, and it was at the second cousin’s place that she found herself speaking Ilonggo for the first time in decades:  “Waay sang suga,” she said, and she doesn’t know why she remembered that particular phrase, which means, “There are no lights.”

She can understand Ilonggo very well, and in fact she understood every word of what Joel the driver said when he was chatting on the phone (and he was always chatting on the phone — perhaps to his Master, Ida, though perhaps it was not Ida but his wife.  Or perhaps it wasn’t his wife but his girlfriend).  But speaking — she was always hesitant to speak.  She’d end up speaking Tagalog, usually (and this astonished her as well, because she doesn’t get to practice her Tagalog at all, when in California, but in Bacolod she can speak it with some degree of fluency)

Just because you have money doesn’t mean you have power.  You have to be deeply rooted in a place to be able to exercise power.  At least, this is so here in Negros.

Today, the people in the hotel let her substitute something else in place of the usual longaniza, tapa, tocino, danggit, corned beef with eggs and/or plain or fried rice.  She had breakfast rather late, as first she had to go to Munsterrific to get more “load” for her cell, and get a copy of today’s Visayan Daily Star.  She got to the restaurant just as the breakfast crowd was thinning, and she was able to have sliced fresh manggo, two pieces of hot pan de sal, and eggs.  Of course, she also had brewed coffee.  She began reading a travel magazine she’d borrowed from Café Uma, and read an article about the wonders of Bohol.

The first time self visited Bohol was with Ying.  Sole fruit of her loins was just starting high school.  We were with Niece G and Ying’s son, Franco.  It was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful time in self’s life.  On the boat to the resort (which was on a small island, just a short distance from Bohol), son was so excited:  we saw pods of dolphins.  It was the first time son had seen dolphins that were not swimming in a tank at Sea World.  Ying, observing son’s delight, turned to self and said, “I think Andrew loves water.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Still More of Self’s Adventures in Bacolod

Self looks at her books, all the ones she brought from California, and is suddenly filled with regret.  She brought a lot of them.  She brought a lot of literary journals, too:  The Tampa Review, Salamander, Manoa.  She’s barely made any inroads into this wealth of reading material.  Heck, she hasn’t even been able to watch much TV!  Soon it will be time to pack them all up and go home.  Perhaps she’ll be luckier, next time she visits.

Sheesh, it is super-hot today.  Self doesn’t feel like opening the blinds, not even a crack.

Wednesday, she returned to the Daku Balay.  She knows she distracts the secretaries from their work, with her chatter, but she can’t seem to stop.  Finally, out popped the million-dollar question:  ” ‘Day, how old are you?”

Self was speechless for a few moments, then responded, “How old do you think I am?”

And one of the ladies, it might even have been Edalyn, said:  “Late 50s?”


Self was so completely mortified.

Today, self encountered one of those taxi drivers who claims to know her father, Oso.  He ran for Congress back in the 80s, everyone seems to remember him for that.  Some taxi drivers even go so far as to maintain that they voted for him.  Well, self’s Dear Departed Dad ended up seventh place out of a field of eight, so she’s not sure how much to trust these drivers’ memories.  She knows her Dad made it a point of honor not to issue a single bribe, and this might have partially accounted for his poor showing.  People probably thought:  Swapang!  They might have thought:  Oso lives in that big white house, and he doesn’t want to share his wealth, he wants to keep it all for himself.

The taxi driver said he used to work as a security guard in the family resort, “the one that’s owned by the Parreños now,” he said.  And what resort is that, self asked.  “Santa Fe,” the driver said.

“That resort is not owned by the Parreños,” self tartly informed the taxi driver.  “It’s owned by the family corporation of the Villanuevas”  (of which, self might have added, “I am a shareholder, equal to every single one of my cousins.”)

“Didn’t your lolo also own a taxi service?” the man said.

Yes, self replied, he did.  She remembers summers, being told by the relatives to ride only in the cabs that said “GV & Sons.”  And when she did take one of those GV & Sons cabs, they would take her and her siblings anywhere they wanted to go, for free.

The city of Bacolod was like Disneyland.  No, better than Disneyland!  It was hers, theirs, everyone’s.  No one got angry at self, no one tried to take advantage of self, she felt Bacolod was a place where she belonged, truly belonged.

Now she knows what Obama means when he writes how he felt after his first miserable attempt to organize a political rally.  Thirteen people showed up, and Obama “sat there, roasting like a pig on a spit.”  That was when he realized that “in politics, like religion, power lay in certainty —  and that one man’s certainty always threatened another’s.”

Chapter Eight ends with this:

I realized then, standing in an empty McDonald’s parking lot in the South Side of Chicago, that I was a heretic.  Or worse —  for even a heretic must believe in something, if nothing more than the truth of his own doubt.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Further Adventures of Self in Bacolod

Yesterday, self was in a rather disconsolate mood.  This traveling can be somewhat exhausting.  She’s been to so many places, already, this year:  India.  Scotland.  Amsterdam.  Paris.  London.  Bacolod (twice).  Perhaps she should call it quits and cool her heels back in the ol’ US of A, where right now she imagines all the houses on her street decked out in Halloween witchery:  bedsheet ghosts hanging from trees, spiders dangling from eaves, pumpkins with glowing eyes lining the driveways.

She received several rejections (which normally doesn’t slow her one bit), and was wondering how much more she could eke out of her Bacolod experiences before she totally runs out of cash.

One e-mail, though, was from a travel magazine, inviting her to contribute.  Hmmm.  Self checked the originating address.  An American magazine!  That means she might get paid in dollars!  Woot hoot!  She read the rest of the e-mail and learned that the editors are unable to pay contributors just yet, they are in the very early stages of the project, perhaps later when they start pulling in a profit, and so forth (What is the point, self wonders, of being a Bacolod heiress/princess if one has constantly to be on the look-out for paying jobs?)

Here are the things self managed to do this morning:

  • She caught a Bata/Libertad jeep to San Sebastian Cathedral (Fare:  8 pesos) and heard early morning mass.
  • She grabbed a taxi and directed it to the Daku Balay, intending to pay the fare with some borrowed cash from family funds (which, you know, are bottomless.  And they might as well pay her rather than bribe the driver.  She could just offer, you know, to bribe herself and keep them informed of all her future whereabouts.  This would eliminate the middleman —  the driver —  and permit direct transfer of goods from producer —  self — to consumer, Genen Family Corporation.  Wouldn’t you say this was a brilliant proposal, dear blog readers?  She wonders why it didn’t occur to her sooner!)

Would you believe, when she got to the Daku Balay, she found that the offices were closed because, according to a very confused security guard (He had an armalite hanging from one shoulder, very scary), it was an official holiday.  What official holiday?  Ramadan.

“Are we Muslim?” self burst out.

“No,” he said.

But the guard looked so confused —  evern perhaps a little terrified —  by the presumably wild look in self’s eyes that she didn’t have the heart to continue grilling him.

So OK, Bacolod celebrates Ramadan now.  That’s interesting.  Will wonders never cease?

She then tried to borrow pesos to pay the taxi from the lone secretary who’d wandered in, but the poor woman was on her way to visit her relatives in La Castellana and though she did not have the strength of will to resist self’s demand for taxi fare (Perhaps this would qualify as a friendly-type mugging), self felt sorry for her and decided instead to knock on cousin Mae’s door and borrow some cash.  Luckily, Mae was already up.  Self then excitedly informed her that she was going around in a taxi.  Mae said she was going to the funeral of a man who’d been murdered last week (owner of the Eastview Hotel).  Self was on the point of asking if she could come along, as she’s never been to an actual Bacolod funeral, and this one would no doubt be packed because of the unusual and violent circumstances of the man’s demise.  But then she thought that if she did ask, this would be just one more piece of evidence pointing to her supposed derangement.  So she bit her lip.  Though it disappointed her mightily to do so.)

Then self directed the poor taxi driver, who swore he used to know her father, Oso, to the Organic Market close to the Negros Museum, and had him wait while she had her fourth cup of brewed coffee of the day, and consumed one but-ong (10 pesos, or about 24 cents).  Never mind that this was actually her second breakfast of the day.  Before taking the jeep to the Cathedral, she’d had a breakfast of corned beef and scrambled eggs.  Hmm, hmm, hope self can still squeeze into her Economy plane seat for the flight back to California!

Self’s breakfast at the Bacolod Organic Market, where they sell 10 different kinds of rice, all manner of organic coffee, and pumpkins/squash.

She also bought a package of “Artisan Piaya, made from Muscovado Cane Sugar.”

Her last e-mail from sole fruit of her loins said:  “Hope things are fine out in Bacolod.”  Hmmm.  That mildly sardonic tone, that’s pure son, right there.  She wondered if he’d been reading her blog.  Naaah, probably not.  But his senses are very fine-tuned (just like self’s).  Self swears, she could be contemplating a coconut tree and son, all the way in California, will know exactly what her state of mind is.  She could have told him he would make an excellent psychologist, he got so much practice with her, when he was growing up.  Dearest Mum used to be-moan the fact that sole fruit of her loins switched from being a Chemistry major to being a Psychology major.  “It’s because of you!” Dearest Mum would say.  Well, of course it’s because of self!  She has many friends who seem very happy in their domestic arrangements, and then will confide that one or more of the progeny went into Psychology.  Aha!  That is the number one tell-tale giveaway to “All is not as it seems”!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Future

In the wee hours of the morning, self tried to get a massage, and all the masahistas in the hotel were booked.

“Our first opening is in two hours, ma’am,” the front desk told self.  “Try and sleep.”

Recently, a friend told her that what she remembered about self from a visit five years ago was how self began each and every day with reading her horoscope.  It’s sort of like feng shui, only astrological.  Or like having a fortune teller, only without paying.

Her horoscope for the day (It’s hilarious) goes:

An unexpected influx of money is coming your way today, but it won’t be enough to make a huge difference in your life.  Consider donating it to a charity, a needy person you encounter during your day, or just a super efficient server at your favorite restaurant.

Today, self will be in Café Uma, arranging for her “Welcome to Bacolod” (two years late) party.  The last time she was planning such a thing was July, last year, and her lawyer advised her that it was too soon.  She had to cancel the whole thing, and it was mighty disappointing.

A few days ago, self walked into Café Uma, for the first time in a long while.  She started thinking about her party again.  She left a message for the owner, JoMari Gaston, saying she’d like to book the restaurant.  At this point, Mr. Gaston must be thinking:  It’s that crazy California woman again.  When is she ever going to give up?

Well, it’s almost a year and a half later.  Self is once again in Bacolod.  This year, she’s been to India, seen the white-capped peaks of Dharamsala, encountered southern Scotland and fell in love with the city of Edinburgh.  Went to Amsterdam for the first time in decades.  Arrived in Paris and discovered Montmartre.

She saw Christmas decorations going up in the hotel lobby and decided:  The time for celebration is now!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The U.S. Presidential Race (Seen From an Island)

Self is a Democrat, and the proud mother of another Democrat.

She never told son which way to go, never discussed politics with him.  Not really.

But just before she left for Bacolod, while waiting to board her flight, she texted son, “Hope Obama wins.”  And he texted back right away, “I do, too.”

(She’s pretty sure Niece G would say the same.)

The elections are two weeks away, and the race is very tight.  In the chaos of things happening “over there” (The World Series, Lance Armstrong, the opening of “Paranormal 4,” Halloween, and so forth), self didn’t get to think much about who she wanted to win:  Obama or Romney.

She had a very cynical attitude about the presidential debates (which she caught here in Bacolod) and watched them mostly for theater.  Of course, they were hugely enjoyable, but she could have killed Obama for flubbing the first one.

In the meantime, things were happening to her in Bacolod, too:  Self diligently read her Visayan Daily Star, went to Daku Balay, saw cousins, experienced her first Masskara festival.  Dearest Mum and Dear Bros came to Bacolod, and even though self was moving around all over the city, she never bumped into them.

She learned how to make do without a driver.

She consumed all kinds of Bacolod delicacies:  piaya, dulce gatas, fresh lumpia.

Her neck flared with pain, as it always does when she is under stress.  But massages here are bargains compared to “over there,” so she has them every day.

She finished reading Three Cups of Tea, googled updates on Greg Mortenson and the controversy over the facts in his book.

She began Obama’s Dreams From My Father.

She began to love Dreams From My Father.

Truthfully, she’d always found Obama a bit too aloof, too intellectually abstract, too detached.  Obama as President is very different from Obama the Campaigner.  But, damn if she doesn’t find in his book the validation of her own beliefs about herself, about identity, about family.

Here’s a section from pp. 110 – 111:

Look at yourself before you pass judgment.  Don’t make someone else clean up your mess.  It’s not about you . . .  I had stopped listening at a certain point, I now realized, so wrapped up had I been in my own perceived injuries, so eager was I to escape the imagined traps that white authority had set for me.  To that white world, I had been willing to cede the values of my childhood, as if those values were somehow irreversibly soiled by the endless falsehoods that white spoke about black.

*     *     *

Who told you that being honest was a white thing?  Who sold you this bill of goods, that your situation exempted you from being thoughtful or diligent or kind, or that morality had a color?  You’ve lost your way, brother.  Your ideas about yourself —  about who you are and who you might become — have grown stunted and narrow and small . . .  How had that happened?  I started to ask myself, but before the question had even formed in my mind, I already knew the answer.  Fear . . .  The constant, crippling fear that I didn’t belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn’t I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing judgment . . .  it had been just about me.  My fear.  My needs.  And now?  . . .  I saw that what bound us together went beyond anger or despair or pity.

*     *     *

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there.

Okay, Obama, your book kills me.  Whoever wants to know the kind of man you are should read this book.  Pull off the win, please.

Reflections, Happiness, Memory

The Lovely Ladies at Daku Balay. Last time self saw them, their uniforms were brown. Self thinks blue is much more flattering.

The living room of the Daku Balay. The house was transformed into offices several decades ago.

The wall facing the main driveway is curved, and has a row of thin, rectangular windows.

This house has seen so many things.  Self remembers the time two older cousins, Elenita and Pat, were teenagers there —  she remembers being enthralled by them, by their record collections and by the boys that came regularly to visit.

She also remembers a room just to the right of the side entrance, that reminded her of an aquarium:  it seemed constantly bathed in diffuse blue light.  Her Tito Anong and his wife, Tita Alice, lived in this room and were already invalids by the time self got to know them.

Self realizes she forgot to do the one thing she had intended to do, when she went to the Daku Balay this morning:  she wanted to look at the basement.  It’s very deep and dank and the lower level is filled with shallow, stagnant water.  When she was a child, it used to give her such a thrill to imagine the secret, nefarious activities she was sure had taken place there.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.





Ever since self put two and two together and realized that Joel Larraga, who drove for her in Bacolod, was being paid by Ida Jinco, secretary of Genen, the family company, to spy on her, she’s been in a storm of fury.

It’s so bad, she only gets a few hours sleep a night.

If there’s one good thing to come out of all this, it’s that self’s open nature is still intact (though perhaps tempered, now, with new caution).  Not once did she ever yell at Joel, not even if he was late.  And she was generous, too, giving him more money for lunch and dinner than he probably ever received in his life, and clothes and food for his young daughter.  And self is not going to change now. 

Self thinks that Joel kept up his surveillance for the better part of two years.  Maybe he wasn’t taking bribes through the entire period, but most certainly in the past year.

Can you imagine the family corporation, in which self holds shares equal to each of her siblings, paying someone to spy on one of its own???  What kind of people are these?

Self even knows the exact moment when Joel dangled his last bit of information about her to Ida, in exchange for cash.  It was the first week in October, when self told Joel she was coming.  She didn’t give him an exact date, some small part of her wanted to keep that back (thank God).  Somewhere between the first week of October and her arrival in Bacolod in the second week, he must have gone to Ida again and said something like, Do you want me to keep spying on her?  Look, she’s coming very soon.

He must have contacted Ida at least one more time, because he saw self arrive in Bacolod.  He even texted her, for goodness’ sake.  When the agreed-upon date to start was almost upon them, and when she tried to fix a time for Joel to come fetch her that day, he never picked up his phone.  This was confounding because —  well, because self paid Joel well (she thought) and she also knew he was poor.  But of course, she never figured (until much later) how much extra he was getting paid by Ida.

And anyway, self arrived right in the middle of Masskara, when Bacolod is awash with tourists.  Joel could probably make just as much or more driving for a foreign tourist.  And at least the foreign tourists go to bars and other “fun” places.  But when driving for her, poor Joel was stuck going to such boring places as the Patag Valley (for research for her World War II novel), or to museums like the Balay Negrense.  She remembers when he drove her to Hinoba-an, he looked around him at the rather plain cottages of the Happy Valley Resort and muttered, “This is not a nice place.  There are much nicer places.  Like in Sipalay.  Why did you choose this place?”

She marvels at the way Joel was able to get something out of the family corporation, something she’s never managed to do with such ease.  Of course she would rather have had the family give the money directly to her, rather than pay Joel, because maybe if she’d had a choice about the places she wanted to visit with that money, just maybe she might have chosen Paris over Bacolod.  Maybe.

She overheard Joel once asking Ida if Ida could suggest a way for him to borrow 30,000 pesos (about $722).  He claimed it was the money he needed to pay Blazing Star Employment Agency, for his wife’s contract to work in Dubai.  Wow, if he had asked self right at that moment, instead of Ida, self might have given it to him outright, without having to make him earn it.  Because self believes in helping the poor!  And there is such a class imbalance on this island!  And the poor man (before he became a driver) used to eke out a hard living as:  a tricycle driver (They call them sikab here), a traffic policeman, and a waiter.  Hmmm, now self wonders if all the stories he told her were true.  Was he ever really a tricycle driver?  Was he ever really a waiter?  Or were those professions he invented because he saw how moved self was by poverty?

A Manila friend invites self to get out of Bacolod and stay with her.  But hang on a second, there is also family in Manila!  And to self, now, family = disgust.

Kyi says, “Go back to America, your true home!”  No, America is not self’s true home.

The events of the past two weeks are so not about what her family thinks of her.  It is what she thinks of herself.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Corrosion of Hate

Still so fascinated by Dreams of My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance, by President Obama.

The man writes beautifully.  His book appeared when he was the U.S. senator-elect from Illinois.  It is not co-authored.

It keeps her engrossed until very late.  Then she falls into Advil-PM induced sleep.

The section she has just finished reading is Chapter Four (bloody great chapter).

Towards the end of the Chapter, Obama’s (white) grandparents have an argument about an incident involving the grandmother at a bus stop.  Obama’s grandmother was accosted by a belligerent man, and now wants her husband to drive her to work so that similar incidents do not occur.  Eventually it comes out that the belligerent man was black, a detail that sends Obama reeling.  He copes by driving to the house of Frank, an African American man who’s a friend of Obama’s grandfather.  The “Stan” mentioned in the passage is Obama’s grandfather :

“You can’t blame Stan for what he is,” Frank said quietly.  He’s basically a good man.  But he doesn’t know me.  Any more than he knew that girl that looked after your mother.  He can’t know me, not the way I know him.  Maybe some of these Hawaiians can, or the Indians on the reservation.  They’ve seen their fathers humiliated.  Their mothers desecrated.  But your grandfather will never know what that feels like.  That’s why he can come over here and drink my whiskey and fall asleep in that chair you’re sitting in right now.  Sleep like a baby.  See, that’s something I can never do in his house.  Never.  Doesn’t matter how tired I get, I still have to watch myself.  I have to be vigilant, for my own survival.

Frank opened his eyes.  “What I’m trying to tell you is, your grandma’s right to be scared.  She’s at least as right as Stanley is.  She understands that black people have a reason to hate.  That’s just how it is.  For your sake, I wish it were otherwise.  But it’s not.  So you might as well get used to it.”

Frank closed his eyes again.  His breathing slowed until he seemed to be asleep.  I thought about waking him, then decided against it and walked back to the car.  The earth shook under my feet, ready to crack open at any moment.  I stopped, trying to steady myself, and knew for the first time that I was utterly alone.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

More Pics of Masskara 2012

You have to be out there, on the street. You can’t experience Masskara from the safety of a car or from behind the windows of a restaurant.

At some point, you just think:  Wild!  Go wild!  Go!

Thank goodness for the Bacolod cousin who knew just where to go to catch a piece of the action.

Doesn’t this remind you of an outfit worn by Katy Perry to a recent awards show?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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