Monday, October 12, 2009

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Ask a Filipino what he or she loves most about the Philippines, and you’re sure to get a myriad of answers. There’s the wind sand beaches with sand as pillowy soft as baby powder, the fantastic shopping in both bargain centers and high-end boutiques, the romantic sunsets, the rugged mountain ranges, the list can go on and on.

And while all those answers are true, if you ask me what I love most about my country, I will tell you that I love our men – specifically, our jeepney drivers. Yes, I am serious.

My friends always tease me about my predilection to what they label as men who are “ers”: drivers, waiters, and blue collar laborers in general.

They say this is because I’m nice to ‘ers’. Anywhere I encounter them, I talk to them, I sometimes joke around with them and make small talk.

What they don’t know is that many years ago, back when there was no MRT or FX, I would commute some 15 kms every day to UP Diliman. Since this was back in the day when the EDSA flyovers were still being built, this kilometer reading translates to a travel time of about 2-2 ½ hours each way.

This went on for about 4 years during which I went through it all the hardships every commuter faces – heat, god-awful rain, waiting at a jeepney stop for long periods of time, pushing and shoving and fighting to get into a jeep when it finally arrived, the smog, the heat (jeepneys are not exactly air-conditioned) and of course, the many stops the jeepneys make along the way – which also may explain my long travel time.

There are many realizations when you ride the jeepney versus riding another form of public transportation like the FX or the MRT, such as:

> Jeepneys are painted with their own unique grafetti that are reflective of Pinoy pop culture like Katas ng Saudi, Laki sa Hirap and my all-time favorite: Basta dryber, sweet lover.

> The jeepney’s parallel seating arrangement make you may be more prone to motion sickness.

> The seat up front next to the driver, may be more comfortable because you’re sitting face forward, but it is also more uncomfortable. For one thing, it’s extremely cramped; its legroom would make economy class seem like First Class. For anther, it’s also hotter because if I remember right, that’s where something like the battery is located. You know how jeepney drivers always have a towel around their necks? Well, they literally are sitting in a hot seat.

> People in enclosed air-conditioned cars have no idea how much noise pollution they make when they honk their horns.

But the realization that stuck with me the most was that jeepney drivers, despite their notoriety as bullies lording and dangerously careening over the streets, are really some of the nicest, most generous people I have ever met.

Yes, met.

Countless times, during my 2-2 ½ hour ride to school, I would get to chat with jeepney drivers and talk to them. (I would often scoot myself to seat right behind the driver or sit up front with them. Once, I even squeezed myself on the left – hand side of the jeep where the spare tire is.)

They would ask me the usual questions like what school I went to. When I would tell them that I was studying at UP, they would always be instantly impressed, making conclusions about intelligence and academic achievement.

They would ask me what course I was taking. When I’d tell them that I was studying Journalism, they instantly made predictions about how I was sure to be the next Loren Legarda (before she was a senator, she was an award-winning journalist).

I would downplay these praises in a typical self-effacing manner. And they would reassure me that I had a bright future ahead of me. I remember one jeepney driver lightly admonishing me for belittling myself, telling me that there was a difference between showing off and simply telling the truth. “Hindi ka naman nagyayabang, nagsasabi ka lang ng totoo. Walang masama dun.”, I remember him saying.

They would tell me that I should study hard and whatever I do, never ever marry a
jeepney driver because “mahirap ang buhay”.

Always, after having chatted with me, they wouldn’t let me pay for my fare. I would insist, but they would just as adamantly refuse my payment and say that saw their own sons/daughters in me and would never ask their kids to pay them for bringing them to school. “Para na din kitang anak, bakit pa kita papabayarin nyan.?”

Others would make me promise to study hard, saying that this was payment enough.
“Sige na, galingan mo na lang ang pag-aaral mo.” [No need to pay, just study hard.]

When they would say this to me, I felt that their underlying meaning was that I had a chance at a good future, a better life; and I shouldn’t waste it because others don’t get such chances.

To an impressionable 17 year old who was not entirely sure what the future held for her, still questioned her capability and well, just wondered if she could make it in this world, their words of praise, encouragement and wisdom made a great impact on me.

But what touched me the most was their gift of generosity. They wouldn’t let me pay for my fare saying that that a free ride was the only thing they could give me in exchange for our pleasant conversation.

When you think of how much jeepney drivers make in a day, you would know that every paying passenger matters and that the saying ‘every centavo counts’ takes on a literal meaning. This made their ‘simple’ gift of a free ride all the more meaningful to me.

Seventeen years later, though not yet an award-winning journalist, I don’t have to commute anymore.

But I have never forgotten the lessons and the kindness of these jeepney drivers who safely took me to and from school in their jeepneys.

I still wish I could thank them. They probably don’t remember me anymore, but I wish I could show them that I did study hard and worked even harder to somehow make something of myself. In part, I have their faith in me and their kindness to thank for that.

So instead, everytime I encounter an er: a driver, a waiter or a cab driver, I make it a point to be extra nice to them and talk to them. I show them that I may have my own car now, but I haven’t forgotten their kindness and their free rides.

So when in Manila, check out our world-famous jeepneys, (the hop-on, hop off versions are now air-conditioned. They are a unique, colorful tourist attraction in themselves. And better yet, don’t miss the chance to chat up the driver and see for yourself why Philippine jeepney drivers belong to their own league of extra ordinary gentlemen.

This post is this blogger’s official entry to the When in Manila contest to win a free or partial scholarship to Anton Diaz’s Maven Secrets course at the Asian Institute of Management. This blogger wants to uncover the secrets of successful blog marketing so that she can publicly market her blog about the struggles and real – life dramas of being single motherhood in a country where ‘divorce’ isn’t even legal. Blog marketing and promotion is a concept that continued to remain elusive to her, despite her many attempts at trying.

For more information about Manila's other tourist attractions, log onto

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Terminal

They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the way that they deal with little inconveniences in life -- just think of how people face adversity, are daunted by hardship, or are tempted by money and power.

Well, as I found out today -- you can also add to that flight delays and waiting for an indefinite time at an airport.

Kiddo and I were coming back from our annual summer trip which we decided to take in one of our yet-to-be-discovered remote islands. That may sound very exotic -- and it was -- but it did also mean that we were cut off from a lot of the comforts of civilization like paved roads and a steady, consistent mobile phone signal.

We were going back home and had just checked in when we were told that our flight was going to be delayed for 1 ½ hours. Bummer, but not being able to do anything about it, we decided to while away the time in one of the sari-sari stores eating chips.

I thought that it was a waste to have to stay at the airport for another hour when we could have had more time exploring the little provincial town that was our home for 4 days.

Kiddo began to commune with technology and kept herself busy with her hand-held games. We decided to wait outside so that I could have access to a mobile phone signal and text, and Kiddo could munch on some chips while communing with technology.

After an hour, we went back inside the terminal to wait for our boarding call. It was unusually hot inside and we found out there was no electricity.

We whiled away the time observing people. There was a group of middle aged ladies laughing, eating and just having a good time.

There were parents fanning their sleeping children who made beds out of the airport terminal benches.

And...finally, the announcement came!

Unfortunately, when the announcement came, it wasn’t to board, but to tell us that our flight was again going to be delayed for another hour. Effectively, this made our total waiting time close to 3 hours in an airport with no electricity, no cellphone signal. No reason was given for the additional delay, but there was a feeble attempt to appease us with a snack subsidy worth P70.

Now that really riled people up and got their ire. Because on top of the waiting, the heat and being cut off from the civilized world with no mobile phone would be enough to bring out the devil in anyone. People were hot, tired and hungry.

Actually, for typical Pinoys, hunger alone is already considered a major punishment.

A lioness emerged from a very poised and rich looking young mother traveling with her husband, three kids and nanny. She lashed out at the airport attendant and said in a loud voice, “My children are sick. I could sue this airline if anything untoward were to happen to my children.” It was quite a departure from her proper and quite demeanor.

Then there was the group of 17 or so matrons who let out a collective grunt of dissatisfaction and resignedly just decided to troop to the sari-sari store to see what their P70 meal allowance could get them.

There was another Caucasian couple whose teenage son was dehydrated and weak. He was led to a lounge area with a proper couch that he could sleep in.

At the sari-sari store, people were lining up and showing up for their P70 merienda. People were demanding hot wait to boil their cup noodles; asking to have luncheon meat micowaved so they would not have to wait for it to be fried. (the sari sari store apologized for not having a microwave). And of course, there were the sarcastic jokes and complaints about the airline that kept them waiting.

Then, there was my Kiddo who simply found a way to entertain herself by being resourceful and finding things around her that she could play with. She found some rocks, cooled them off and came up with a bright idea. She decided to have an impromptu cooking show where she would demonstrate how to make a rock smoothie. Of course, she wasn't going to do this without asking me to tape it.

She watched the first episode and asked me to tape another set. She talked about cleaning rocks – she called the act of dusting the dirt off the rocks as “peppering”. She was so happy with the first episode that she asked me to tape another one and made me primise to upload it on You tube.

Suddenly, the horn blew signallig the arrival of the plane. Finally!

In the middle of her cooking show, she jumped up and down and started shouting. “It’s here! It’s here! This is the happiest day of my life.” She shouted into the camera.

So yeah, if life’s little inconveniences and adversities are a good way to build character, then I am happy and proud to see the beginnings of tenacity, making do with what you have and not letting anything get you down in my Kiddo.

When I asked Kiddo what she was making and told her it was for this blog post that I’m writing, she looked down and suddenly very quietly and uncharacteristically shy told me, "Thank you mommy for including this in your magazine.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Punctuated Motherhood


Yeah, there’s a hyphen up there.

That makes all the difference.

In grammar, a hyphen is used to connect two words with opposing meanings like:


And yes, single-mother.

Because in reality, how do you live like a single person and as a mother?

Well, if you’re like me, you live a double life.

You have twice as many roles, twice as many responsibilities and twice as many clothes.
The skirts that defy gravity along with the gorgeous 3 inch torture chambers that try to blithely pass themselves off as shoes for work.

And the toddler-proof jeans and sneakers – the only thing that will allow me to run after that little ball of energy who is also known as Kiddo…and the love of my life.

Hyphens are also known to bind words that don’t make sense alone and give it meaning; words like --


And yes, single-mother.

Because in the reality of my life, those words don’t make sense until they’re put together into my one person…albeit precariously held together by a hyphen.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home A...Loan

I sat there staring for a minute, hesitating before putting pen to paper.

I had wanted this moment for so long. The chance to call our tiny apartment ours.

I dreamed about it for so long, never daring to think about it becoming a reality.

It was one of those dreams held up high on a pedestal– the ones whose pristine state are not be altered by something as mundane as reality.

As I stared at the papers, there it was…our apartment described in detailed measurements and geographical location…and it could be mine as soon as I signed on the dotted line.

But what was this I was feeling? It was not the excitement I expected.

It was panic.

“Wait!”, I wanted to say. “Can I think about this for just a few more minutes?”

But the man before me was oblivious to my panic, going on and on about the minute details like the check, amounts and due dates.

“Terms and conditions”, he explained, catching my dazed look.

I shuddered. I shook it off in a visible motion and he noticed.

“Anything wrong?”, he asked casually.

How could he be so cold about the whole thing? So calculating and business-like? So mechanical?

Signing on that innocuous dotted line would set the terms and conditions of my life for the next 20 years.

“No, no problem at all.”, I say with a slightly defiant upturn of my nose.

I would not let him see my tattered nerves and the multitude of butterflies that were flying around in my stomach. No wonder Al Pacino said that pride was his favorite sin.

My palms were so clammy and cold – they didn’t feel like they belonged to me.

“Okay, then if you’ll just sign right here please.”

I gulped, steeled the pen in my hand and signed.

And signed.

And signed.

There were 3 copies and all pages had to be initialed.

And just like that, the little apartment Kiddo and I had been living in for the last three years was mine. It was ours for decorating as we pleased. We were no longer tenants.

It was ours….as long as I could keep up the mortgage payments for the next 20 years.

Twenty years. My god.

The last time I signed up for something that resembled “lifetime involvement” or “till death do us part”, I failed miserably.

What if I failed at this, too?

It seemed like another lifetime – these 20 years that this man so non-chalantly spoke about.

Kiddo would have moved out of the house, maybe would have gotten married and I’d still be paying for our apartment.

I was scared.

Who knows what will become of me 20 years from now?

What if I die? Who will continue paying for my mortgage? Where will Kiddo live?

Self-doubt began to creep in, emboldened by this fear.

Can I really do this on my own? Am I in over my head?

And for the first time in the 7 years since I had left my marriage, I wished I had someone – anyone -- at my side to hold my hand. I wished I had a co-pilot who could take over the wheel when I badly need some rest.

So I texted my best gay friend.

He’d be my husband by now, anyway, if only he weren’t gay.

He texted back immediately. “Don’t worry honey, the first dip is always the coldest.”

Yeah, I guess.

And as the man turned over my copy to me, I knew that I had already jumped and there was nothing to do but swim.

That was me 5 months ago.

The signing of my bank mortgage was followed by home renovation which in turn, brought on a series of events that tried my patience and grated my nerves like no other individual endeavor in my whole entire life.

It brought out a side of me that I never thought existed. People say that about love, about natural catastrophes, about having babies and other life-altering events. I’m saying it about money.

In those five months, I saw money change me. Not money per se, but the fear of running out of it, the constant threat of not having enough.

Many sleepless nights were spent going over the items that needed to be paid for and where to scrounge up the money to pay for it. In the middle of the day, I would be computing the running costs in my head. I was bargaining for pesos and cents with everyone from the contractor to the sales person at the hardware store. No amount was too small to be saved.

You know “Bridezilla” the monster bride?

What’s her equivalent when it comes to home improvement?

Someone who’s bitchy, demanding, irrational at times. Someone who’s a slave driving perfectionist.

Martha Stewart?

You could just as easily have used my name up there.

I thought that I was never the type to be consumed by money. There were times when I just threw in the towel and gritted my teeth with my losses, because I never wanted to cry over the proverbial spilled milk…

But here I was literally counting centavos.

It was tiring and counter productive, but I had no idea how else to handle a situation like this – where every ounce of success or failure would be attributed to me. I have never taken on so much on my own – alone.

More than the worries about money now, it was the ruminating and obsessing about where the money in the future was going to come from that was the source of my agony.

I did what I swore I wouldn’t do. I castigated myself for not saving enough and for my past financial mistakes.

It was a self-imposed whipping for my past sins of greed, selfishness and caprice when I could have and should have been saving for our home.

You see, I have never been good with money. I always seem to never have enough of it. Every payday, I am scrambling around for scraps of cash that may still be left in my ATM.

And renovating a house, like leaving Kiddo's father and starting a life on my own brought together two deadly sins – money and pride.

When I left my marriage, I swore that I would never let my daughter feel deprived of certain things just because she had a single mom and the other kids had two working parents and two times the disposable income.

But the core of it was I didn’t want to be pitied.

I had already failed at a marriage, I couldn’t damn well fail at life anymore.

That resulted in several years of retail therapy which wasn’t so much marked by ostentation, but more just that I was spending more than I could and buying what I didn’t need – just to prove to myself and others that I could.

And that resulted in a mound of credit card debt that I had only just recently finished paying off. And just when I did, I took on another debt – a twenty year mortgage.

I would like to think that I was able to turn a bad situation into a good one. I would like to think I was able to do better and be more because of this ardent need to show that tenacity and resilience were values that ran in my blood.

But I also know that if I had much simpler aspirations, managing my check book and credit card statement would also be simpler.

When can I live a life that is not ruled by money? Can anyone actually do that? At what point does money only drive ambition, rather than define it?

I don’t know the answer to that.

So in the meantime, I’ll just take it paycheck by paycheck. Mortgage payment after mortgage payment.

Note: Kiddo is now in the 2nd grade daughter isn’t old enough to move out or get married yet so she still lives with me. Our apartment was recently chosen to be featured in a home decorating TV show.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Letters From Your Momma

As absurd as it may sound, I have been waiting for your Dad to find a girlfriend.

In the beginning, it was because I saw it as a sign that he was over any delusional ideas of us being a family again. Then it was just an act of magnanimity. I didn’t want him to grow old alone. I always thought that he was entitled to his own happiness and being with a person who could give that to him.

And now, I hear from you that you have met one of his woman friends and are becoming good friends with her daughter.

It was weird to hear that name. It was a name from my own past. She was a good friend. When we were in university, she taught me how to drive and her old beat up car was the first car that I ever drove. She met you even before you met her. She used to visit me in the condo that I used to share with your Dad. And when I left him, she was one of those I went to, shameless and vulnerable in my wretchedness; crying and bawling.

It is a name that I expected to hear again in one way or another, but certainly not in the context of you going out of town with your dad, her and her daughter.

Perhaps in the characteristic first stage of emotional unraveling, I was in denial. Jokingly telling myself that Manila is really just too small a city and how I was relieved that now he is with someone, it’s at least someone I know and someone I can trust to love you and treat you well.

But then, it hit me. This is someone I know. This is someone I trusted. And someone I thought of as my friend.

This was someone who witnessed my humiliation and knew all too well my suffering and anguish.

And that was when a new kind of pain set in. One of betrayal and plain and simple disbelief.

How could she do this to me? It was a mockery and a belittling of everything we went through in the decades that we had shared a deep friendship.

Old wounds that I thought were just old scars were torn open. And there it was again, torturous thoughts of the past and the unspeakable ordeal short of hell, that your Father and I put ourselves through. It was hard enough to get over the fact that he could be kind and everyone else except me, but my good friend to?

True, it has been some 5 or 6 years since I had seen or talked to her, but that did not erase that decades of friendship before that. It didn’t change that she is still someone I considered a friend.

And years of absence or no years of absence, isn’t there some kind of moral code or sense of delicadeza that is being violated here?

And even if there is, who am I allowed to cry out to? And am I not striped of any kind of right to voice an objection; to cry out my uneasiness about just how wrong the whole thing feels?

But then it would be pointless. I have no rights. I have no pretensions about my own need to have a life of my own and enjoy the liberty of finding relationships of my own.

But it hurts me and it feels empty and phony for me to say that I am happy.

Because I am not.

Once again, I am reminded that I can never be completely free of your Father and the cruelty that always marked our relationship. Once again, I grieve at the thought that while my life with him has long been buried in the annals of court room decisions, I still have to live through petty inconveniences such as the thought that someone I had trusted and believed to be my friend betrayed that trust and that friendship to be with your Father.

And yes, I continue to wish your Father happiness, but question again why, it seems to be happiness attained at my expense?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Departed

In my country, 4,500 women die every year from child-birth related complications. This means that everyday an estimated 11 Filipinas die while giving life.

A woman losing her life while giving life is an irony that is unheard of in other more developed countries around the world.

Factors like limited access to reproductive health information and services and the fact that more than half of the total annual childbirths are not attended by a health care professional aggravate this problem.

Last Mothers' Day, supporters of the Reproductive Health Bill lit a candle to commemorate the departed ones.


Thousands of reproductive health advocates and supporters all over the country gathered last May 13 in a symbolic protest against yearly deaths of an estimated 4,500 mothers due to maternal and childbirth related complications such as severe hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, sepsis, and problems related to obstructed labor and abortion. The event was timed after Mothers' Day.

In an event dubbed, “Light a Candle, Save Mothers’ Lives: Support the Passage of Reproductive Health Bills,” national and local lawmakers, government officials, health workers, community folks, civil society and interfaith leaders lighted candles and offered flowers to commemorate the wasted lives of around 11 Filipino mothers who die everyday while giving life to an offspring.

“Reproductive health advocates from the cities of San Pablo, Laguna, Legazpi, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Tacloban, Sultan Kudarat and Quezon City conducted a simultaneous candle lighting ceremony to call the attention of our lawmakers on the graveness of our maternal health condition,” said Beth Angsioco, Secretary General of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN). “Its heart wrenching to note that 11 lives of mothers are wasted everyday while giving birth to an offspring and three out of four women who die each day are in the prime of their lives, aged 15-19, and come from poor families,” Angsioco lamented.

“We hope to remind all of us that flowers and gifts during Mothers’ Day are not enough. A law that will make pregnancies and childbirths safe is needed. We call on our legislators to truly honor Filipino mothers by immediately passing the Reproductive Health Bill into law,” Angsioco stressed.

Meanwhile, Ramon San Pascual, Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD) has expressed hope that reproductive health bill will pass this congress. “We are positive that this time, the reproductive health bill will see the light despite the deliberate delaying tactics of the anti-RH legislators in the House of Representatives,” San Pascual added.

San Pascual elaborates: “As of today, there are already 118 co-authors in the House of Representatives, and with the new entrants, the number is still growing. There are also legislators who said they would vote for the bill come voting period. “On the other hand, the Senate deliberation has been going on smoothly and even Sen. Aquilino Pimentel who is known to have anti-RH position has expressed his amendments so that the bill will be more acceptable even to his co-religionists,” San Pascual said.

RH Advocates staged the simultaneous nationwide candle lighting ceremonies to dramatize the call for an immediate passage of Senate Bill 3122 and House Bill 5043, titled “Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2009.” Both houses are conducting plenary interpellations of the measure.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Letters from Your Momma (The One About Marriage)

Dear Kiddo,

At some point along this road of life, you may find yourself wishing that your mother (that’s me, by the way) had somehow prepared for the little bumps and curves.

I know I did.

So let’s take it one bump and curve at a time and start with marriage. Kiddo, here are the things that I wish my mother had told me about getting married.

At least now, you won’t be able to say that I didn’t tell you so.

The whole marriage thing is a bit overrated, but the wedding is not.

There is something absolutely magical about donning a resplendent gown made just for you, walking down the aisle to meet the love of your life anxiously waiting for you. You feel like and are treated like a queen. There is a glow radiating from within you. The people invited to the wedding are well-wishers who share in this wondrous feeling of hope and happiness.

So yeah, that much is true – a wedding is really magical.

In fact, if I could, and if it weren’t going to be taken as an affront to the institution of marriage, I would put up a business that would allow women to be “bride for a day”. They would have everything from the gown, to the make-up, the professional photography, to the entourage of friends -- everything but the groom.

Don’t laugh, someone once told me that there is a certain church where weddings were booked were made by brides who didn’t have grooms in tow.

Now, wouldn’t my idea be much less trouble?

Marriage can be really bland.

I first heard this at a friend’s wedding. The mother of the groom, who was married for a good number of decades before her husband passed away, shared this piece of advice and I thought it was so…real.

When it comes to marriage, people always have something to say. They may tell you that it’s good, but only in the beginning. They may tell you that it’s hard and not worth it. These are the highs and lows of marriage and of life, in general. But hardly anyone will tell you about the in-betweens; the plateaus which can be long, agonizing and just as torturous and…bland.

There’s a difference between the wedding and the marriage.

I once went to a very elaborate and obviously well-planned wedding and remarked, “Wow, all this preparation for just one night.”

My then boss who was also a guest, looked at me incredulously and said, “It’s the start of a lifetime together.”

Uh, yeah she was right. The wedding is just a ceremony, whereas the marriage is really the rest of your life. The marriage has to be prepared for as much as the wedding.
Many get so caught up in the details of the grand ceremony that they forget to prepare for the grander scheme of things which is really life after the marriage.

Marriage is not for everyone and that’s okay.

Doing what’s expected can’t be expected of everyone. While most girls do dream of marriage and their own happy ever after ending, it just isn’t in everyone’s cards. Some people look for security and certainty of marriage.

Others are suffocated by these very things and view it more as monotony rather than security. Others will look for the companionship, but without the formality of documentation.

Bottom line, it’s not the marriage document and ceremonial act that is important, but the love, respect and companionship. Don’t let societal norms dictate the version of happiness that you want to have. Love takes on many forms. Find yours and be happy with it.

Which is really just fancy speak for ‘whatever toots your horn’.

And the best piece of advice about marriage – the golden rule, the gold standard that all other rules should be set against…do not settle. Repeat after me – DO NOT SETTLE. Whenever you feel that you want to give in and marry Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right, repeat this mantra to yourself over and over again. Make it into a chant if you have to, and repeat it until you are hypnotized.

Don’t be tempted by the prospect of a “good buy” or a “sale” where you buy something that you don’t really want simply because it’s 50% off. Remember, there is such a thing as buyer’s remorse and in a sale, there is a strict “no return, no exchange policy”.

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