Tag Archives: life

Being Normal

When do people stop seeing their therapists? When do you go, “this is as far as we can go. Please wean me out of my meds and let’s have an amicable end to our relationship?” I’ve been with my therapist for more than a year now. My life has improved dramatically under his care, but I’m sitting here thinking, how long can I do this? How long can I be on meds? When does life become normal?

I do enjoy being able to talk my heart out to someone. And I find both his advice and the medicine very helpful. I was in a very dark place last year around February. Once in a while, I go back to that dark place, too. But our sessions have helped me cope with things and make it through just one more day. But a part of me hopes that one day I could be able to do without him be the well-adjusted individual I imagine most people my age are.

That, plus lately I’ve been hearing about the dangers of benzodiazepines. I know it’s probably not the benzos that made Jordan Peterson a lunatic, but looking at his latest rant, I wouldn’t want to be like him and would like to stray away from anything that might’ve contributed to his current state. He admitted to being addicted to benzodiazepines and struggled getting out of it. I missed a couple of days of my drugs one time, and I ended up with the worst headache ever and vivid nightmares. I take Xanax when needed and I don’t consider myself addicted to it, but I’m afraid that I’ll end up addicted to the other benzodiazepines I take regularly.

I actually keep a list of the changes in medication I’ve been taking just in case, which could be a sign of paranoia or obsession. Maybe I need more anxiety pills.

My wife wonders about my progress, but I think right now I’m in stasis. I’m in a place where I’m generally more okay than not okay. I get bad days where I really despise the person I see on the mirror, but there are more days which are more routine, peaceful, and I just go about with work and life. I’ll be going on a bit of vacation soon, and I’m hoping that it would help. But a part of me is a little anxious about it, too.

I used to see another therapist in Korea years ago, and she didn’t really care much about what I was talking about. She just prescribed me with meds and tried to drug the depression and anxiety away. I believe she over prescribed me because I found myself walking around like a zombie and needed drugs to both sleep and to function in the morning once I wake up. My doctor right now is much better, but I still wonder if I’ve been around for too long.

Or maybe being in therapy too long is more of a Korean thing. That’s still seeing depression and anxiety as a disease that can be healed completely, not a life-long condition that should be treated long-term. I’m grateful for all of the help I’ve received, but when my wife asks about my progress, I can’t help but ask myself, “why am I still not normal after all of this time? Why do I still need to see my therapist?”

I feel kinda guilty about it as well, because I mentioned to her that last week, I had a couple of depressed episodes as well as anxiety. I had to take Xanax a few times. This was a week when she did something incredibly generous, buying me a PlayStation 5, and thinking that would fuel at least a week of excitement and elation. And yet, the depression and anxiety still found a way to squeak themselves in to my life. She tried to make me happy, and yet I’m still in need of meds.

I just wish I was happier and things were better. I try, oh God, I try, but I still need help. But many things around me tell me that if I was happier and if I was content, then I would be crazy.

I guess the weather isn’t helping as well. I wish it would stop raining.

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The Permanent Resident

I was on a path to getting my permanent resident visa here in South Korea. For a while now, I’ve been living in the country under a marriage visa. This visa has to be renewed every two to three years. This makes sense to me because it prevents people from scamming Koreans into marriage, then getting a divorce and after settling in the country. Unfortunately, it also gives the visa sponsor a lot of power since their spouse is literally in the country based on their whim. Fortunately, I’m not in that situation, but I still figure that I’ve been living in the country long enough that I should try for a permanent resident visa.

A couple of differences before I move on. A lot of teachers and professors here are on a working visa, an E2 visa. This is for foreigners to teach in Korea for a year. I used to be in the country under an E7 visa. This is for foreigners working in other white collar jobs. Both types of visas are working visas sponsored by the employers and only allows the visa holder to work for the employer and no one else. No side gigs, no personal businesses, etc. A marriage visa is F6. This allows a person to work for any employer and any side gig or business. This gives the visa holder more freedom, but the person is naturally tied to their spouse for sponsorship. An F2 visa gives the same amount of freedom in terms of employment to the visa holder. However, the visa holder must show proof of employment as well as salary, thus tying themselves to a financial state that they must maintain when they apply or when they renew their visa.

An F2 visa is awarded on a point system. Points are awarded based on age, salary, special recommendations, Korean language skills, etc. If you accumulated over 80 points, then you qualify for a visa. I’ve been stressing out for the past couple of weeks over my Korean and passing the TOPIK test, the Korean language test, in order to get more points. However, it is notoriously difficult and even if I do get a good score, it will only award me a few points. The category most people can get points on seem to be age and salary. The younger you are and the more money you earn, the more points you get, which is frankly counter-intuitive. There are not many rich young people applying for permanent residence. And by the time one is older and earns more money, they’ve already lost a ton of points due to their age.

But then I discovered that my school, the University of Manitoba, qualifies as an Excellent school, giving me an extra fifteen points. This qualifies me for an F2 visa even without taking any language test. Perfect! I started getting my ducks in a row, sorting out my diplomas, my financial records, employment contracts, etc.

Then boom, just as fast as my hopes were raised, my hopes were once again dashed. I simply do not qualify for a permanent resident visa. Apparently, people in the country under a marriage visa cannot apply for an F2 visa. I will need an E7 visa. I had an E7 visa before, but that was during my bachelor days. An exception can be made and F6 visas can be changed to F2 visas if the applicant was working in a competitive hi-tech field like nanotechnology or something. Not me. No, not me.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

My wife suggested that maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Why can’t I be like other foreign celebrities on television who have different visas and can vote and everything. First off, with voting, it sounds like they’ve been awarded citizenship, which I really have no interest in applying for. But I decided to look anyway.

F5 is a permanent resident visa awarded to people who have made considerable investments in the country, employ Koreans, and has mastered the Korean language to heights I could only dream of. A lot of the qualifiers also include recommendations by government agencies. This is a no go.

So that’s my adventures in trying to get a permanent resident visa. If you’re an English teacher or an office worker reading this. If you’re on an E2 or an E7 visa, as long as you’re young enough or earn enough money, you could very well qualify for an F2 visa. And don’t underestimate your school even if you didn’t graduate from an ivy league institution. Your school could still be Excellent and award you with additional points.

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The Art Teacher

I’ve been teaching someone how to draw recently. It’s good to get back to my art school days and recall some of the things I learned. Shout out to Ms. Bachewich, my high school teacher who encouraged me to art school but thought that another student was much more exciting and more talented than me. And to Diane Thorneycroft, my first drawing teacher in university, a renowned artist herself. What a positive influence in my art life!

The good thing about the whole thing is that it got me back to doing the basics. For the longest time, I’ve been doing stylized small drawings. Then more recently, I’ve been doing mostly crazy busy drawings. I’m teaching someone more basic techniques of drawing as well as looking at things. God-willing, he will be drawing more like Robert Crumb in a few months.

Oddly enough, I find myself speaking differently when I’m teaching art. I sound gentler than usual and I’m speaking about “happy accidents.” Give me a few days, and perhaps I’ll stop shaving my head and start growing a beard.

Well, if I can evangelize a bit. I want more people to draw. Do what I do. Draw to keep your idle hands busy. Draw to not think of whatever is bothering you. Draw while you’re listening to a podcast or whatever. That way, you produce something beautiful while basically just chilling. Draw in order to meditate and get yourself some inner peace. There’s a science to art therapy as well as mixing meditation and art, but all I’m saying is that just the act of drawing is creating your own reality. It’s exercising control in a world that becoming less and less out of our control. It is both peaceful, empowering, and relaxing.

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Time to Show Some Work

I started early applying for shows this year. Last year, I didn’t really do to many shows, but this year, I plan to be more aggressive. With most in-person galleries out of the question due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, I’ve been more focused with publications and showing work online or either sending it to galleries overseas. What I do notice though is that North America and Europe to a greater extent is very open to international artists. There’s always opportunities for competitions, calls for submissions, and residencies. I’ve actually been accepted in a couple of residencies last year, but just before I’m about to commit, covid surges yet again and my plans have to be scrapped.

Two places I’m having the most trouble in trying to break into are Hong Kong and Japan. I’ve always loved Hong Kong. I used to go there quite frequently before China started cracking down on protesters. What I noticed in galleries is that they’re mostly interested in Chinese artists and not much else. I realize there’s a great trend for Chinese art, but what about locals looking for other artists? It’s very difficult to get my work in the city. The same goes for Japan. It seems that galleries, at least the ones looking for artists, are exclusively interested in those that make Japanese-style art or art about Japan. I don’t make either. I don’t make anime/manga, nor do I feel qualified to make any serious work related to Japanese culture. Heck, I don’t even think I make Canadian art! If anyone knows of any galleries in these two places interested in work that is more in my vein, please let me know.

It’s my mom’s birthday today. She was a wonderful woman. I’m not sure if my dad realizes how lucky he was. I know I didn’t truly appreciate her when she was still alive.

My book is almost done and am now ready for test printing and perhaps even selling them locally. With the postal services being devastated by the pandemic, it still won’t make sense for me to sell them overseas, but I still plan to meet my schedule of making another book this year. I’m thinking of printing next month once I’m less busy with my taxes and getting my car fixed. And no, I really don’t plan on making money out of these publishing projects. It’s just a way for me to mark my artistic progress.

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A Year in Review

First off, covid has gone up, gone down, and gone up again in South Korea. I got my two jabs and will be ready for my booster next month. Despite the high numbers, I managed to not catch the virus. The tracing and tracking in the country as well as the treatment has been good, so the death rate has been quite low and the numbers are believable. The country also has a vaccine pass rule everywhere, and no, it’s not tyrannical. If anything, it’s liberating to know that everyone in the establishment I go to has been vaccinated and that I will be warned if anyone got covid anywhere I went to.

This year, I started regularly seeing a therapist and have been religious with my drugs. It’s helping and I do look forward to each of our sessions. I feel like I have too much control over our sessions sometimes, but I’m glad that he’s helped with my anxiety, depression, and addictive personality. I had a public nervous breakdown last summer while I was arguing with my wife, and I vowed not to revisit that bar again nor put myself in similar situations. It’s just too triggering.

I also started to study more Korean by myself. It’s difficult, but going to class has been impossible. I miss meeting people and making friends in class, but I guess that’s part of being older. Making friends is difficult.

I haven’t gone to the gym for two years now. I miss it. I try to work out more at home and climb stairs more, but it doesn’t compare going to the gym. But it doesn’t matter really. It’s not like I’m going to the beach anytime soon. I’ve eaten way too much Burger King this year. My favorite Subway Sandwich place has closed down, and now due to laziness and me often eating lunch at my dek, I just grab a burger from the Burger King next door. In other food news, my new favorite place for dining is this Japanese lamb place in Yeonnam-dong. Good food, good price, great Japanese ambiance, friendly staff, decent sake. One of the servers is a kickass tattoo artist as well.

I used to not be a driver, but this year I became a motorist. I can’t travel outside of the country so I might as well travel outside of the city. I got a car, it’s an Audi A4. It’s already in need of some body work, not my fault, but I’m going to ignore it for now. I think it adds some character, plus, I can sense that it won’t be the first scratch my car is going to get in the next few months. In a country filled with Hyundai Avantes, it’s a bit slicker than the average 4-door sedan. But in the words of Marv from Sin City, “Modern cars- they all look like electric shavers.”

I didn’t travel outside of the country but I did go outside of Seoul and had the worst sashimi ever. Never eat machine-sliced sashimi. Aside from a lack of TLC, it’s simply disgusting.

Artwise, I’ve been consistently producing works. It’s therapeutic and very calming. It’s been very difficult to get my work shown and I imagine it’s going to be the same next year. I didn’t apply to too many shows this year, which was disappointing, but it doesn’t make much financial sense to me to send my work overseas with the way covid has devastated postal services and made sending works exorbitantly expensive if not impossible. Sales have been dismal as well, but that’s the same throughout my art career. I don’t really care much about sales. I did publish a second book last February, a plan from 2020 which I actually followed through on. Now, I’m contemplating publishing another book next year. And no, I’m not making nor buying any NFTs. The only people who are saying NFTs are good are usually ones who are already invested and shilling NFTs. It’s rare to find NFTs actually uplifting artists. And even funnier, I found a post asking, “What is a good way to print or display NFTs on a wall?” Haha!

Unfortunately, I’ve stopped gardening. I moved to a new office and I no longer have the space to cultivate plants. I’m glad to have maintained it for a while and even given out several seedlings to people. I’m hoping at least half of them are still alive. Oh, and I also learned that cherry pits are not toxic. Not two cherry pits, not thirty, not sixty. They are simply not toxic.

Family’s been okay, but I haven’t been seeing eye to eye with my dad this year. I haven’t called that often and when I do, he often frustrates me. I really should try harder, but I keep thinking why? Why do his children have to try harder to get along better with him? Why is the effort seemingly always from our side? What about him? I don’t see him making things better for himself? This is the year I gave up caring too much.

It’s late but I think the ‘The French Dispatch’ is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Wes Anderson is a treasure. I’m still upset that my bestfriend back in the 90s couldn’t appreciate the genius of ‘Rushmore.’ Other movies I enjoyed; I was surprised with Nicolas Cage’s ‘Pig’ and delighted by “The White Tiger.” I couldn’t think of anything too remarkable on television. I’ve see quite a few Korean dramas but nothing stands out. Everyone was raving about ‘Squid Game,’ but frankly, I didn’t think it was that special. Videogame-wise, I enjoyed ‘Persona 5 Strikers’ and ‘Resident Evil: Village’ the most. Otherwise, I haven’t played too many video games this year. Also, I’ve yet to get a PS5. I wish I could read more books, but most of the books I’ve been reading are Korean learning books. No fiction this year. I’ve fallen behind on Chuck Palahniuk. Music, I’ve given up on anything new. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sparklehorse and Vic Chestnutt, which I realize is not really the best for my mental well-being.

There’s been a couple of close calls, but I almost died twice this year. Each day, I’m grateful that I’m still breathing air. Tired of living, but grateful that I am. Dying is scary. Here’s to 2022, which I suspect is going to be exactly like 2020. I’ll be moving houses, renewing my contract at work, trying to get into a Speedo before summer, get into more art shows, and hopefully improve my relationships. God help me.

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Driving

I had to spend most of the day yesterday at the DMV. I don’t really drive in Korea. I think the last time I drove a vehicle was over ten years ago. The thing is, driving a vehicle isn’t really necessary if you live in Seoul. Transportation here is wildly convenient. There are buses everywhere, the subway is cheap and easy to navigate (compared to the confusing mess that is Japan’s), and taxis are cheaper than in Canada. Navigating through the city and figuring out schedules are also made more convenient by using apps.

To operate a vehicle in the city, not only will you have to worry about paying for your vehicle, gas, and insurance. You also have to deal with the notorious parking problem in the city. Koreans can also get their license rather quickly if they put their mind to it (And most Koreans DO put their minds to it when it comes to any test). Getting a license involves a written test, a car functions test, and a road test. With luck and skill, one can whiz through these. But with others, especially foreign drivers, they might get stuck dealing with the computer system in the car functions test. This is to say that some people might whiz through the test and get a license not really having enough experience driving, making the roads a bit more dangerous for other motorists.

So yeah, driving is expensive and dangerous. Add to that, Koreans are also very particular with their vehicles, not driving anything older than ten years old. If you’re not driving something that is fairly new, then you’re basically driving a hooptie in the eyes of locals.

But with the pandemic preventing me from traveling outside of the country, there’s been more pressure to get into a vehicle and drive around outside of the city, the only reason for me to own a vehicle. I’ll be getting a vehicle before the end of the year (an Audi A4), but I’m not really too excited about it. I’ve lived my life not caring about cars, and I feel like now I have no choice but be a car guy. Next, I’ll become a glamping guy. Glamping! Disgusting. The Canadian in me is dying in shame. The minute I load a $400 portable grill into the trunk of a car, I would have to surrender my flannel shirts.

Interestingly, today I learned that many famous people actually either don’t drive, never learned how, or just have a thing against driving. Norm MacDonald, Tina Fey, Javier Bardem, Elvis Costello, Kate Beckinsale, Charlie Watts, etc. Maybe owning a car and driving around isn’t really a key part of adulting.

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What now?

Over the weekend, I had a bit of a panic attack in the middle of a public argument. Personally, I find public arguments quite immature and I really hate being a part of them. I say a part of them, but usually I’m just on the receiving end, trying to calm the situation down. Being a visible minority in Korea, you’re most likely to be seen as a villain the minute something scandalous breaks. But having been particularly anxious for days now, then having a public argument after a night of drinking, I just started getting tunnel vision, had trouble breathing, and a panic sensation rushed to me. I had to run to a convenience store for something to drink and a bit of space to breathe.

I’m not sure if the Xanax is working. It’s not smart, but I quadrupled my dose the other day, but I can’t even tell if it’s working or not.

I don’t know if I’m good with people anymore. An acquaintance of mine called me a raconteur the other day, but that energy… the smiles, jokes, and anecdotes… they take a lot out of me. I can’t maintain that for a long time. And that doesn’t work too well with people who really know me. I’m still convinced that I’m only good in small doses. A bit more of me and you’ll realize I’m trash. It reminds me of something I read the other day, “I don’t know you. That’s why I love you.”

I believe it was Chappelle who observed that women in relationships create folders in their head where they file every mistake a man makes, ready to pull it out for an imaginary divorce that may or may not happen. That could very well be true. But I find that I also make my own folder of my own failings, of awful things that are said to me, of all of my blunders, and that my mind accesses it every time I get anxious, or worse, randomly in importune moments. I could be peeing in the bathroom, holding my genitals, then all of a sudden I’m sad and could no longer pee. Am I alone in this? Does this happen to others? I suppose I should save these questions for Reddit.

I’m rambling, I know. But it’s been a minute. Enjoy the art.

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A Wellness Check

It’s weird being emotionally numb. I try to feel more, connect more with the people around me, but it’s weird. As much as I try to be a better person, be a much better person to the people around me, especially the ones I love, I feel like doors are closed right on my face. Either that, or truly no positive feedback is coming my way. Am I reading people wrong, or am I just not feeling any joy recently? It’s really weird. Even my depression lately has not gone through any wild swings, but it’s just become this dull background noise.

I celebrated my birthday last week, and instead of being joyful or excited, I found myself being more anxious than anything. What the heck is going on? My medication and therapy has been working for a while lately, but recently, I’ve been in an odd place. I remember my birthday anxiously waiting for things to go bad. I was waiting for the evening to turn for the worse.

Work has been a good escape. My activities are automatic and I don’t have to think much while I keep busy. It’s when I have time on my hands that I get anxious or depressed. Art has been helping, and I’ve been making more art recently than usual. It’s not a good thing when I’m making more art.

The problem is, outside of my therapist, I don’t really have many people to talk to about these things. Either I feel embarrassed or guilty, or the conversation inevitably turns into the other person making the situation about them, like a suffering Olympics of sorts.

I’m a shit person.

……………………. No, I’m a shittier person.

Can we talk about me being a shit person first?

……………………. Sure, but you have to understand that I’m shittier.

Okay, fine you’re shittier.

……………………. Excellent. And my shitty life is all your fault.

Thanks.

It’s been a weird few days. I am extremely grateful that I don’t have it any worse. I am always grateful for the people around me and the blessings and kindness that I experience. I truly don’t deserve good things. But I’m not sure if I’m getting as much joy out of them, or maybe my joy is just being dampened by me telling myself that I’m an extremely shitty person (because I really am).

I wish my doctor would prescribe me with better medication. Either that or give me better strategies to dealing with anxiety or this state of numb joylessness. I feel like I’m just passing time. And if time passed without any major incidents, without me making things worse, then it’s a good day. How is that for an existence? Maybe I deserve that. But the people around me, especially the people I love most don’t deserve that. They don’t deserve that from me. God, please, help me get better. Help me be better,

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Suicide, it’s a suicide. II

Korea has the highest suicide rate in Asia, and depending on the year, has the highest suicide rate among the OECD countries. I didn’t really feel how significant this is until after some sad news last night and much reflection.

Last night, my friend’s mother-in-law passed away. They believe it was suicide. It’s especially tragic since my friend just got married last year, and I do remember meeting her mother-in-law in the ceremony. I noted how she doesn’t smile much even during such a happy occasion. I suspected she might not be too thrilled with the marriage at the time, but looking back now, she might just be dealing with depression. The tragic thing is, the death was days after the Korean holiday Parents’ Day. She was visited and presumably showered with love and attention by her children, and yet days later, she takes her own life.

Two years ago, someone committed suicide in my parents-in-laws’ apartment building by jumping from the 14th floor. Last year, the mayor of Seoul committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. This is the same way the former president Roh Mu-Hyun committed suicide. It’s also quite common to hear about suicide attempts among celebrities in the media. I myself have been thinking and writing about suicide more often lately, I admit, to an unhealthy amount.

Looking back to my life in Canada, it’s very hard to think of anyone who has committed or has flirted with suicidal thoughts. Honestly, as of this time, I can only think of one person. But here in Korea, it’s scary how commonplace it is, not just cases of suicide, but reminders of it. Bridges have messages of encouragement and affirmations in order to prevent people from jumping. There’s a law that makes the victim’s family responsible for paying for the recovery of their body in the Han River, making it seem like the family is at fault for the victim’s actions and perhaps adding a burden of guilt to people in order to dissuade them. Train platforms in the country have full suicide prevention barriers, not like other countries where there are sometimes none or only a waist high fence prevents accidental jumpers. Despite all of these preventative measures however, the rate is still high, and even higher in the past year due to the pandemic.

According to a report by the OECD, Koreans complain more often about “relative deprivation” than other countries. This means people compare their lives more with other people and end up being dissatisfied with their current situation. This is not unique among South Koreans, but I can honestly attest that I’ve seen this several times, and instead of viewing this as petty or just thinking “be happy with what you have,” people view this as legitimate reactions or good conversation. “Did you know he drives a BMW?” “Did you hear that his house is all paid for?” “I think he earns more money than his friends.” It all sounds extremely shallow. And of course it’s a neverending struggle. Someone will always be more successful than you.

This, compounded with financial stresses, societal expectations, relationship problems, and a negative attitude towards seeking mental help, no wonder the suicide rate is so high in the country.

Suicide is like a constant grim specter that haunts the country. It was shocking last night, and I feel like it won’t be the first time I’ll be hearing about similar deaths or attempts in the future. Get some help, everyone. Talk to someone. And be happy with what you have. There’s a heaven and a star for you.

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Gah! Art block!

It’s weird to actually have a perfectly good and normal day. Looking back, it’s rare to have an objectively good day, a day I could just repeat over and over again. Maybe my medication is finally working, but I genuinely felt that last Sunday was a good day. I wish I took more pictures of that day. The sun was out, people were nice, no depression or anxiety, things were great.

Then Monday came along and I have to deal with new problems at work. Good-bye, serotonins! It was nice knowing ya!

Thinking back, it’s hard to remember many pure, perfect days… perfect holidays that I just want to re-live over and over again. I think I’m not alone here. People have a few perfect days that they re-live in their minds. Last Sunday wasn’t particularly special, but it was just a good, anxiety-free time. And in this day and age, at this stage of my life, that’s a big deal, I guess.

Been suffering from artist’s block lately. It’s been a week now and I haven’t been inspired to draw anything. I hate this. I hate this as much as the nagging need I have to draw or make art when I’m inspired by an idea. It’s always nice to finish a piece and finally be able to walk away from it, admire it from a distance. But afterwards, there’s the gaping hole where art-making should be.

I’ve tried to force myself to make art before, to basically just power through and make something until it looks like something inspiring, but I’ve never been happy with the results. They end up looking like something that cringes me out months afterwards, which is far less time than my regular art makes me cringe afterwards. Usually, it takes two years.

Anyway, I hope the art gods are kind to me and bless me with inspiration soon. I want to make art. I have so much time I could be filling with art that no one will buy.

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