A Travellerspoint blog

Planes, trains, automobiles, and a hydrofoil

Xi'an to ChonQing to Yangtze River to YiChang to Wudang Shan to Wuhan to Shenszhen to Hong Kong... all in a week!

View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Seriously, the subheading was all done in a week. Talk about eeee-xhausting! We flew from Beijing to Xi'an and spent 3 full nights in Xi'an (Teracotta Soldiers. I know I talked about it, but once again, amazing because there are no records that exist of it and it was just discovered in 1974. They were built to guard emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb, and believe to be built around 274BC). From Xi'an we took at overnight train to ChonQing, a city of 10 million people with big o skyscrapers mixed in with small and ancient pagoda's. Interestingly enough (we were impressed by the skyline), the mayor supposedly claims that it has the same layout as Manhatten and is trying to build the city to be similar to Manhattan. The hot pot originated there, and basically that is a big bowl of stew with stuff in it, mostly intestines (yes, really), veggies, meat, etc. Of course with the language barrier we had to take a gamble. Lauren went to the fridge to pick something out and 1st thing she saw was brain (seriously!). She picked something that looked somewhat edible, and it was, but who knows what it was? (I learned that eating here, I try not to think about what and where the food has been. Otherwise, I may be sick!).

Anyhoo, from Chonqing we took a taxi to a bus station, then a 3-hour bus ride to Wanghao, then a 10 min bus ride... somwhere (why the 1st bus couldn't go an extra 10 min, I just don't know and don't ask anymore), to finally get to the hydrofoil to take us on the Yangtze River. The river is famous because it is virtually the only route into the Sichuan province and is a major link between Sichuan and east China. Its the 3rd largest river flow in the world. Its also known for the 3 gorges, and the 3 Gorges Dam - a big mess that has a lot of controversy about it. Basically, the Chinese gov't spent billions of dollars to build this huge dam to provide electricity for China, mainly big cities like Shanghai. What they didn't think about were the consequences affecting the surrounding environment, and the people. They flooded the river a few years ago and I guess every couple of years they flood it some more. So all these people, millions of people, have to be relocated to different areas because the river is submerging the cities. Supposedly the gov't is compensating them for this move, but can you imagine having to start your life all over again? Some just move higher into the hills, but then again, they will eventually have to be relocated. Its a biiiig mess. And supposedly, the gov't is just pocketing soooo much money from this and its the people that are suffering the consequnces. It was, no surprise, another polluted and hazy day, so it was just somewhat enjoyable. The gorges were pretty cool, and someone we met said they went before they flooded it, and it was really amazing. I can only imagine. I htink its now at 156m, and they flooded it 50 m recently and will again next year. Max I think is 175m. Here is a pict of it with the hydrofoil on the side:


Somehow, and I don't know if it was the fast hydrofoil and breathing in the super polluted air so quickly, but I REALLY felt like my I had smoked 0293480239 packets of cigarretes a day. My lungs kinda hurt a little (or maybe I'm just going crazy from being in mega pollution for so long?).

Anyhoo, that was the hydrofoil experience (basically, a super fast boat). We disembarked and took another cramped bus to YiChang. We had to spend the night there and the next day took an 8-hour bus ride to Wudang Shan, also known as a military mountain, which I don't know why because there is nothing military about it. This mountain is pretty cool because of the Taoist temples, the word is that Tai Chi was invented there, and the story of the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was set there, but it really wasn't (of course). It was constructed in the 13th century but during the Ming dynasty there was this anti-religious revolt and they destroyed many of the temples. It has sense taken 3 hundred thousand men and 10 years to restore (considering all that, thats pretty good!). We got situated in the mountain to spend 2 nights there. Of course, yet again, the 1st day it rained the whole day and was pretty darn chilly (maybe in the 30's?). Kinda miserable. So we just played cards, hung out in our heated room, watched re-runs of the Arnold Schwarznegger movie Comando 02394823904 times (seriously, why did it repeat so much?) and went for a mini hike with our umbrellas and raincoats to the Purple Cloud Temple. THAT was really neat because the temple was almost hiding in the mist and was really pretty. This is kinda what I imagined China to be like (boy, was I wrong! ha ha!). I was seriuosly expecting to see floating ninjas (like from the movie Crouching Tiger) to come out and start jumping from roof to roof. That didn't happen, but it was really neat anyway. Here is a pict:


The next day, WOW! It actually looked like it cleared up a bit! We could see more than 50 ft in front of us! So we headed to hike up the mountain, what was said to be a 2-3 hour hike. 5 hours later, we were back at the hotel. The 'hike' was basically climbing thousands of stairs (probably 3 of the 5 hours) and then climbing down the stairs into the mist:


At first it was pretty darn cool. Amazing vast mountains, fresh air, and listening to this cool Chinese opera music through speakers. And exercise! Cardio exercise - yea! I've been going through major withdrawl of that here! Very... almost spiritual at this point. Ahhhh..... how nice! So we were taking our time and climbing and climbing.

Then it starting raining. Okayy... still, not so bad. Good to be amongst nature, right? Then as we approached the top, it started raining harder, got very windy, and the temperature seemed to drop like 20 degrees. But then again we were sweating like pigs climbing these stairs and the minute we stopped, we got cold again. Then it was... how should I put it nicely, not so nice. The top was this "Forbidden City" old temple, which was pretty cool because it was TOTALLY misty, but there were like 902348239048239048 Chinese tourists pushing and shoving, and we just couldn't go anywhere, nor see anything. No joke, you really couldn't see more than 3 feet in front of you. It was soooooo misty and cloudy. So back down we went. It cleared up a bit and stopped rainy, and then I was okay again. And here we were just hiking with nothing on our backs and we see these hard working locals carrying heavy loads all on wooden beams on their backs.... and still smoking (which by the way, they smoke sooo much here and the no-smoking thing that we are used to is NOT applicable here AT ALL. They still smoke in enclosed spaces, which sucks too):


So after all that, I was tiiiiiiired (5 hours of non-stop climbing stairs will do that do ya!). Was it worth it? I guess, now that it is done with! Its just too bad with the weather but at least we still did the hike and it was nice to also get a little rest.

We then had our last meal at our favorite hotel restaurant, and then off we went to catch an evening train to Wuhan, the next destination.

Wuhan was yet another veeeeeeery dirty and veeerrrrry polluted city. Dirtier and mudier and definitely nothing to see at all. We went to a Wal-Mart as our action for the day, if that says anything. The next day we took an overnight train to Shenszhen, which is a little hub to get to Hong Kong. We walked across the border to Hong Kong, and here we are!!! Clean! Sun! Civilization! People look and dress nice! People speak English!! It seriously feels like a whole new world over here, and it is! We had a $5USD cappuccino at a nice hotel (just because we felt like we deserved it after the rough week). Soooo much easier! Soo beautiful to see water again. And the sun! We haven't seen sun since the 2nd day we were in Beijing, almost 3 weeks ago. Seriously. And people don't even look twice at us like we are freak-shows! And again, the sun!!!! Its also soo nice not to be around the disgusting spitting and hawking and what not. Ewww! Oh, another plus - Cantonese is a much softer language and easier on the ears than Mandarin.

All and all, it was a VERY VERY tough week o traveling. Very busy and very hectic. The good thing that came out of it is that I have lived and traveled as the Chinese do. We were the ONLY Westerners at a lot of places, and it was kinda funny when you get people taking not-so-obvious pictures of you. I definitely felt like I experienced China as it is. As a local, NOT as a tourist. We ate at small local shops, and had to get by with gestures and pointing, you name it.

This whole time we have been having discussions between ourselves and others about the way things work here, and we basically decided that is socialist with a capitalist umbrella. Socialist in a way that every shop sells the same stuff, all right next to each other. Example is in Wudang Shan - every single restaurant had the exact same menu. Can you believe that? I guess that takes out the competition, but its sooo repressive!! Capitalist in the goods that they buy and sell. Its very interesting and I'm curious to whats going to happen because things are changing sooooooo quickly here!!!

Generally, the people have been pretty nice and we have had mostly good experiences. The people that don't want to help don't, they just ignore you and move on. Which is fine. But the people that do go waaay above the call of duty and it is sooo appreciated when they help.

Here is a map of our week of traveling:

Posted by travellen 21:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

Haze of Glory


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Yes, I admit to seeing Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell not once, but twice (the 2nd time was on the plane connecting through Singapore from Sydney to Beijing. And yes, it made me laugh both times (Imagine that on the plane). So I thought the title 'Haze of Glory' was a shout-out to that movie and the great haze of Xi'an amongst all its glory. The weather in China is very interesting. When we first got to Beijing, we had bright sunny days and the air seemed somewhat fresh. It was definitely cloudy and overcast, but okay. Datong, which happens to be the main coal mining town of China (70% or something), was diiiiiiirty and very very polluted and smoggy. Now we are in Xi'an and its sooooo hazy and smoggy. And rainy. Yesterday (or was it the day before?) we were looking right at the sun and it didn't hurt the eye because it was so hazy. You can literally see only about 1 mile in front of you. Someone told us to look out for this Temple to orient ourselves and we were squinting and hardly could identify an outline of what we would later see to be a Temple (Which was today. Its 'clear,' aka. we can see about 2 miles in front of us). Crazy.

Anyhoo, Xi'an is most famous for the Terracotta Soldiers (also called Terracotta Warriors). It is known as the 8th wonder of the world and is an interesting story...

During the Qin dynasty, Emperor Qin wanted his mausoleum to be protected by these 'fake' soldiers made out of clay. There is estimated to be more than 8,000 of them (thousands maybe even? Lots to be unearthed). Most of them face east the mausoleum to 'protect'him and the direction that Qin thought threats would come, but the ones facing each other are the poor people that were to pray and not fight. I think it was all built around 246BC. Then the next dynasty comes along and totally trashes it - cuts off the heads of the soldiers and destroys the place. Its speculated to be 2200 years old! Crazy, huh? Flashforward to the 1970's (can you imagine how much time that is that lapsed in the meantime?!?!) when China was going through a major drought and were digging irrigation wells to get water. The leader of the village digs out a soldiers head (this is all underground by the way). What the? Sooo there you have it. The underground Teracotta army discovered. Then there is this story that the people of Xi'an were superstitious and thought he was somehow evil because of this discovery and exiled him from that region. Xi'an became more and more famous because of this great discovery and President of France in the 70's was going to come visit and he wanted to meet the man who discovered it. So then he was allowed back to be the leader of the region and finally became recognized as the man who discovered the Terracotta Warriors and of course subsequently became famous. The President also asked for him to sign something and people say that although he is 90 or something, he still comes to the site and some lucky tourists have him sign an autograph for them. We didn't see him, unfortunately (if it is really him). There are 3 pits that are open to the public to view the soldiers. It is really amazing but a LOT of work to do the excavation and to put the soldiers body pieces together. It must be an archeologists dream come true to do something like this. The biggest pit has 2000 of these pottery warriors (soldiers) and horses in a space of 4000 meters. They think there are still a couple of thousand of these soldiers that still need to be 'unearthed.' They also have tons of crafts like arrows, spears, crossed bars, carved knives, etc. Its amazing that its mostly in-tact, just fragmented. That clay sure holds up well! But good thing it was buried for all these years!

Other than that, back to the Haze of Glory, the weather has been crap, I'm sorry to say. It rained the whole day yesterday, and today it is pretty chilly. We gave ourselves the day-off to ride our bikes around the famous wall that encloses the city (what is within this wall is called the 'downtown' and whats on the outside is called the suburbs). It is the best preserved ancient wall in the whole world. It was fun, but cold and even the work-out biking mildly warmed us up. It took us about an hour and a half to bike around the whole thing, and all and all, it was pretty nice to ride along the wall. The other thing Xi'an is known for is its towers built during the Ming dynasty. The Bell Tower is by where we are staying and it was built in 1344. As with the name, there is a giant bell inside and it is rung when there is an emergency. Here is a pict of it:


Then there is the Drum Tower, that, surprise surprise, has drums on the different levels. They are both actually really cool and are special to China for the wood that it is made out of. There is also The Great Mosque, the oldest, largest, and best preserved Islamic mosque in China. Funny enough, I think we are a bit worn out from all these things we are seeing and instead of going to see it and pay yet another entrance fee, we instead (twice) ended up walking around the market area and shopped for little souveneirs and stuff. Eh, what can you do?

China is interesting because, no offense to it, but the smog and the dirt take away from the beautiful things that are here. There are definitely amazing things to see, but when its enclosed in haze and fog, it somehow takes a different effect. So this hazy, overcast weather is getting kind of wearing. Yesterday we decided to go Western and hang out at our hostel (which ended up being super fun because we met all these cool travellers) and had pizza. Gasp! I know, I know, but really, I needed it! My stomach has been randomly aching and cramping from all this oil and grease and I just was craving 'normal' food. Up till now, we have made a point to go to local restaurants for places to eat. Most of the time we have been lucky and gotten delicious meals, but a few times it hasn't worked out, which is all a part of the experience. So as most travellers do, we treat ourselves on occasion with things like pizza (which is a different form of oil and grease, but it sure tasted good!). We are definitely going to be back to the 'roughing' it now because we are next going to some small towns.

So wherever you are, please send me sun vibes! Maybe I'll feel it through you and it will brighten my day! :)

Here's a map of my travels so far to Xi'an:

Posted by travellen 02:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

"Fried chicken kidney and ox's sex organ in bamboo barrel"

Eating in China

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That and Depressing Blood Pressure Peanut were some things on the meny from a restaurant the other day. But no, I did not eat that. Instead, I ate dog. Yes, my stomach quivers when I say that but at the time it seemed like a good idea. We met a fellow American that was like "hey, lets do it!" and we were all like "Yea! Why not?! Lets do it!" and the next thing you know I'm eating Sparky.


It was actually kinda savory but I REALLY REALLY had to NOT think about what I was really eating ("it tastes like chicken.... ummm..... its just a cutlut... ummm"). If that wasn't bad enough, that next morning we went to downtown Datong, which, to backtrack a little, we decided to take a 2 day, 1 night trip out there to see the famous Hanging Temple, also known as "Temple Suspended in the Void" because it is anchored on cliff walls with wooden beams to prevent flooding that occured to previous temples that were built on the ground. Its cool because shrines exist to all of China's main religions, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. We also saw the Yungong Caves, caves made during the Tang dynasty in the 5th century that were hollowed out from top to bottom to make buddhas (to maximize sunlight and the stone. One giant buddha that measures 17m was made out of 1 stone! crazy!). Each giant buddha represents an emperor and when I say giant, I really mean giant. They were super cool! I think it was something like it took 40,000 people to work on it, and people from all over the world, Persia, Greece, India so there are a lot of their influences. One cave in particular is cool because it tells a story of the buddha as you walk clockwise around it. Here is Buddha "talking to the hand" (I thought it was pretty funny how the little buddha is holding up the giant hand):


Anyhoo, back to eating. So we somehow ended up in the 'meat market' area where cows are just hanging from the street, some chopped off heads of donkey (??), and the smell of who even knows what animals was atrocious. I have a pict I will post. Ewww! This if anything was a real taste of China. Initially we went to Datong, besides the sites, of course, because we thought it would be cool to see a 'small town.' Small town by China standards is 3 million! Dang! Beijing has 15 million, FYI. But this town definitely doesn't see as many tourists as Beijing because people were just staring at us and NOT chasing after us haggling to buy something. Anyway, we made our way back to Beijing via a sleeper train (which by the way, are pretty nice!) and went to the famous Night Market, known for its exotic foods. And yes, they were exotic/gross. Snakes on a stick, cockroaches, scropions, some animal's kidneys, you name it. At first I was thinking I would be adventerous, you know, 'when it china, do as the Chinese do." But Nyet! No thanks! I think between the dog and then the animals we saw that morning, I honestly was almost feeling sick to my stomach to try anything. So Char and I were boring and started with dumplings (seriously, how boring could we get?) and then ventured out to get some kind of unnamed meat wrapped in some kind of dough. So it was like most things here, dripping with oil, and .... somewhat tasty, but alas, I got to thinking about Sparky and if the un-named meat was dog and next thing you know, the rest of it was in the garbage. Eating dog once was good enough for me. Needless to say I left the Night Market without an appetite.

I think I'm going to be a vegetarian.

Posted by travellen 07:42 Archived in China Comments (0)

A 10K in 3:57:42 - The Great Wall of China

Jinshanling to Simatai

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Yes, to any OPRC or runners that are reading this, its a PW (personal worst) for a 10K. And yes, it took almost 4 hours to do a 10K, but my excuse is, it was the Great Wall of China!

So yes, check! Another Wonder of the World seen. Done and done. The amazing Great Wall of China, also known as Wan Li Changcheng, or "Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li, li being a Chinese measure of distance roughly equal to 500m). It stretches for several thousand miles and for anyone that is interested, it was built after the unification of China under Qin Shi Huangdi (around 221BC) as means to separate it from rival territories and barbarians. After Qin Shi Huangdi, other emperors continued to maintain and expand it as more threats arose. So from the 5th century to the 14th-16th, it was considered a priority and was continuously being built and reconstructed. Its interesting because during this time the wall was hated - it wasted the country's wealth and worked thousands to death in building it. It is estimated that over a million workers constructed it during the Qin Shi Huang time, but by the time emperor Sui came, there wasn't enough men left and they recruited the widows of the lost men. That would suck, huh? I found this interesting poem that described it:

The wall is so tall because it is stuffed with the bones of soldiers
THe wall is so deep because it is watered with the soldiers' blood.

The irony of it all is that after all that, the wall never served its purpose. Many invasions continued to occur and cross this 'defense,' and was of little use against the sea power of Japan and later, Europe. But as these things go, it did serve some good, for a route of passage for troops and goods, and more importantly, I guess it restricted the movement of the nomadic people. Or something like that.

So story goes that after the Qing dynasty, the Machus left the wall to fall into desrepair because it wasn't serving its purpose as an obstacle to invasion. It started to crumble, and now in present day its been slowly restored and repaired for tourist means. And by tourists, there are of course, millions that have tramped on it. But helloo? You can't go to China without seeing the Great Wall! We decided to pick a route that was further away from the city than the popular sites like Badaling where everyone goes, and Jinshanling to Simatai is known to be less crowded. BUT, as it happened, we were very very lucky and picked the day before a Chinese holiday to go to the wall so it was pretty empty. We did the almost 4 hour 10K walk from Jinshanling to Simatai, and were to tired to walk another 2 miles to the carpark and did a fun paraglide down a hill, which I've never done before. The great wall is beautiful and... hard work! Lots of lunging and climbing and hiking through steep steps and steep inclines/declines. GREAT to get some exercise and a nice cardio workout! It was a beautiful day though, not to hot. Most people go there in the summer when it is extremely hot, and I couldn't even imagine that. It was fun, and like I said, really really nice that it wasn't too packed with people.

So yes, now I can say that I climbed the Great Wall of China! And here it is (I picked one without me because I was gross and sweaty):


Posted by travellen 20:03 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing in a bambooshell


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Okay, nutshell, bambooshell, you know what I mean. I'm going to be lazy and sum up a few things I wrote before with some new things about my impressions of Bejing, but obviously some of this covers China in general...

-Squat toilets... something to get used to (strizan, you would DIE!). I've seen them before and I know its not that big of a deal, buuuut... its still not so pleasant.
-the spitting and burping. Also something to get used to (ugh! Its sooo gross though!).
-the history - amazing! I was bad and didn't brush up too much on my ancient Chinese history before I came, but I've been learning as I've been going. We already went to Tian'nan sqaure, the Forbidden City (amazingly big. There are many monuments for the 24 emperors that lived there over a span of 500 years and they have mini dragons and animals at the edges of the roof of each monument. The more animals to you have, the more 'higher-up' status you have. i.e. 9 vs. 3 (for the 'lower-class' concubines), the Temple of Heaven, the life of many emperors, the communist revolution, and .... how much the people still love and worship Mao. Oh, we went to see his mausolem, by the way. Cool to see him embalmed, I guess he is risen twice a day for public viewing, then he goes back below ground to his refridgerated room. I saw Lenin in Moscow, and they both look like wax figures. Still kinda cool. But yea, the many many temples we are seeing are super beautiful and colorful.


-Olympic Fever! They are definitely getting ready! 08/08/08 (the number 8 is a lucky Chinese #). I think its going to be REALLY cool, but yes, things are mega under construction here and most sites are still unfinished. I'm REALLY curious to how everything is going to pan out. They are not exactly customer friendly. Either they shove things in your face or they completely ignore you. More often than not, just ignore you. And its not exactly English-friendly either. We will see what happens. I have a sad feeling that things are just going to get more and more expensive (actually, I know they will. I bought a pin and keychain and it was TOTALLY overpriced. Its just the beginning I suppose!).
-Pollution - not as bad as I thought! We've had mostly sunny/overcast days. Today was the 1st day it rained... of course when we rented bikes for the day. Bangkok was 23094823904823904328904 worse and some other cities I've been to. I think the Olympic athletes will survive! I'd say if anything its hazy, but breathable.
-The Art of Bargaining - now this if fun, but emotionally draining. You really have to be in the mood. A few travelers that we met in Aust and NZ gave us some tips to just have fun with it, NOT to get angry, and this definitely has been true so far. You can pretty much guarantee that you will be given a price at least 50% higher than what its worth. Usually more. So you start the bidding. Kinda depending, but basically I've been started wayyy under and then trying to get a compromise maybe 60-70% of what they say. But then again yesterday I bought a Mao watch (he he, I had to!) for 20 yuan when he originally asked for 150 (which is like less than 3 dollars). It is actually fun, and its a lot of acting (gasping, looking shocked, shaking your head). You finally reach a final price where both of you are smiling. Then you walk away feeling good about yourself.... until the next block when you see the same exact thing you bought for 1/2 the price you bargained for. D'oh! Then you can just see the salesperson being like "haha! sucker!" But I try to think that I'm feeding their family, and its like $1 anyway. Which speaking of,
-Cost: SUPER CHEAP! Even though we are mega getting ripped off, its still dirt cheap (hostel room, $5/night, lunch: $2 for the 3 of us).
-Haggling: Annoying, but once again, I've seen worse (Eqypt). In super toursity areas, people just follow you around, but most of the time its like "lady! Looky looky! You want shoes? Good price special for you." Yea, whatever.
-Food: Pretty darn good! We've been doing some pointing and hand gestures, but so far we have been pretty lucky! And its been helping that we learned a trick to take a pepto tablet at the start of the day to coat our stomachs and (hopefully) try to prevent some future stomach probs. So far its worked! But yes, its very oil friendly... maybe thats why it is so good!
-The architecture: its kinda interesting. Still some very communist boring looking buildings, but then there are also some very modern looking structures. Especially for the Olympics they are builiding some crazy interesting modern structures/builings by some famous Swedish, Swiss, and English architects. Kinda Cool. Of course none of it is done yet.
-Bikes! Bikes! Bikes Everywhere! Its not as bad as Amsterdam, but there are a LOT of people on bikes and you have to tone your ears to the bell and to not be run over by one. Between bikes and cars, it seriously does take us 1/2 an hour to cross the massive 8-lane streets! BUT, Beijing is VERY VERY bike friendly - meaning that they have a separate mini aisle separated from the cars for bikes only. We actually rented bikes today and went around Beijing and its a pretty efficient way to get around... but also dangerous. I think I almost died like 10X.
-the bad english. Pretty much 80% of the time, things are spelled wrong, and said wrong. Basically, it just looks cool to write things in English, no matter if it makes sense or not. Its just funny. First your like, "uhh.. what?" Then you kind of have to take a sec to decipher it... then it still doesn't make sense. Menu's and signs are also pretty darn funny too. I'll try to post some up later.
-Noise and crowds: Definitely noisy, buuuut not as jam packed as I thought. When you got to Chinatown anywhere in the world, its usually packed with people. Here, well, its a little more spread out. Crowded, but nothing unbearable and different than any other big city. Definitely not as bad as I thought.
-And to refer to what I was writing about earlier, yes they still love Mao, and yes, there is a little part of me that thinks this blog is really being censored. We will see!

Oh, here is a Giant Panda. Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute!!!


Posted by travellen 00:48 Archived in China Comments (0)

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