A brief word before exiting the building

Tomorrow, early in the morning, I leave for Taiwan. Obviously, this trip is a Shelterbox effort; I’ll be on the ground looking for suitable places to donate our boxes. It’s not going to be easy. The mountainsides have literally slid all the way down, obliterating tons of houses in the process and leaving us, potentially, no real room to make a tent city. Besides that, the roads seem to be all blocked up, so we may have a hard time getting our boxes where they need to go.
Although I’m happy I can help, I am filled with trepidation: it’s hard to see one’s homeland wiped out like this. Thankfully, we have three team members on the ground already and it’s quite likely that I will be able to spend some of my time at the end of the trip decompressing by talking about the effort to folks in Rotary clubs who will be able to help in more ways for future disasters.
I’m signing off here. Stay safe, everyone, and keep your loved ones near.

Photo is courtesy CBS News

Photo is courtesy CBS News

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Irvine Hills hillbilly

…No, not really. My little cousin Adrianna is here this week. It’s her first time in New York. I do love showing folks around this place.
Her first full day here, we went down into the city at a reasonably late hour and met Larry for lunch. His office is in one of my favorite buildings in New York, The Chrysler building. It was so nice to see it again, and have an excuse to ride the elevators, and be in all that Art Deco glory. Clearly Adrianna was less enthralled than I was–I mean, most people would be.
Larry loves his family’s family’s history. He’s taken the extra step of letting folks in on it, which is how we got to hear about his grandfather, who lost a leg in the war and spent the rest of his life as a model for war and post-war efforts. This is Larry with a blowup of one of those ads.

Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.

Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.

After a quick lunch, Adri and I wandered up to see the U.N., where it was too hot to take photos and I once again admired the architecture (are you getting the idea that this tour is more about me than my guest?) and then we walked over to Fifth Avenue and down it for a skosh before hopping into a cab to meet Anna at Penn Station.
From there we walked down to Chelsea, admiring things in shop windows and searching for frozen yogurt, and then I took them to Brooklyn Industries and we took a bus over to Chelsea Piers for a terrific boat cruise around the lower end of Manhattan, almost up the other side to the Queensboro bridge. I didn’t know this until we got there, but it’s run by the same company that did me and Jim’s goodbye party from New York in 2005 and a Girls’ Night Out event. Love, love, love them.
Here is a nice photo of Adri, me, and Anna.
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!

When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!

Adrianna was a little seasick. Evidence is here, in this photo, and the ensuing six others, that she took of various sights from exactly this viewpoint.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.

I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.

From there we walked down the West Side Highway to get to the High Line Park, which was something I’d wanted to show Adrianna anyway, and then we walked over to meet Jim and Denise for dinner at the very nicely appointed Safran. Here’s a photo of Anna and Adri at the High Line.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.

My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.

I just loved this park. I was sorry to have missed the Renegade Cabaret, a thing started by a woman whose apartment overlooked the High Line in its abandoned glory for just about ever. When she realized that people could actually see into her apartment, right up to the laundry she was hanging on her balcony, she invited a friend over, a singer, to belt out a couple of tunes. You only get the tunes if her party lanterns are hanging out. Alas, they were not out, and we did not get our evening concert at the cabaret.
On the way back to Grand Central from the restaurant, however, we did get to see two different musical acts. This one, in an abandoned clothing retailer , was particularly charming. In fact, the fact that we were separated from the music by the glass doors made it sound very ethereal. You had to put your ear to the crack to hear it, and there were several of us, whispering so that we could get the most out of it.
Adrianna was in town by herself yesterday with a classmate of hers, so today will be my second day with her. We’re getting a nice tour of the American Museum of Natural History for an old high-school mate of mine, who’s a librarian there, so we’re both looking forward to that. And then, after dinner with said pal, we’re off to a singer-songwriter friend‘s birthday party. Yay!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The misguided search for morning coffee

It’s already 1:38. I’ve gotten very little done today except for a few critical, money-oriented errands. Sadly, none of that’s translated into actually making money. Hmm.
This week is going to be very busy: We have a visitor from California. It’s her first time in New York, so there’s a lot to do. Already the itinerary is completely insane. I think we’re booked solid, except for Thursday, which is her day in the city with her friend Jay. Sigh. And, although I’ve yet to book Sunday, I really don’t much feel like going down into the city on a weekend day, when there will be even more tourists than there usually on a summer day. Blech. Still. We’ll see what she wants to do.
At any rate, it occurred to me that I’ve not recounted any of the awesome stuff that’s happened in the past few weeks. We’ve had a few really awesome weekends, and, actually, a few firsts even for a seasoned New Yorker like me! Then again, part of the joy of living in New York was discovering new and different things every single day.
The weekend after we got back from Ironman, our friend Dave came to visit us. Although Chicago isn’t far from Indianapolis, where Dave lives, I had a notoriously had time getting down to see him. I’m really happy that Dave could extend his business trip to spend time with us over the weekend, although I’m sure we weren’t exactly the best company, being somewhat still jet-lagged from IM and more than a little confused.
We spent our first evening with Dave downtown with Peter and Alan. We ate at Arriba Arriba, which I have yet to review on Yelp because I can’t actually remember eating there: I had one margarita and it about knocked my sorry, weak ass to the ground. So here is a photo that I don’t remember taking of Alan and Peter
and one of Jim and Dave
I’d show you the one of me and Alan, but you can *see my bra* through my dress in it, so I think I will both never wear that dress with a light-colored bra again and also possibly chuck both the photo and the dress. So annoyed, and embarrassed.
Anyway. The next day Jim drove Dave and I to a place called Croton Gorge Park. It’s something like 10 miles from our house and took us something like two hours to get to, but that mostly has to do with faulty directions in Jim’s head. It was pretty frackin’ awesome. Here is the photographic evidence of the awesomeness:

I think that is me sitting in the bottom left corner.

I think that is me sitting in the bottom left corner.

The next week sort of flew by. There was some writing, some editing, a lot of panicking over life plans and other things. The following weekend we drove down to Long Beach Island to an old friend, Rich, and his wife Katie and their terrific dogs Lola and Piper. I’m pretty sure none of these photos turned out right, but here’s a couple.
Left to right: Lola, Rich, Piper

Left to right: Lola, Rich, Piper

Jim looks completely dazed but I really like the colors in this photo

Jim looks completely dazed but I really like the colors in this photo

We had fun catching up. It was just like being with family: you’ve sort of known each other long enough that all the damage has been done already. It was nice, really really nice.
I drove to New Jersey the following day to see an old friend. I have no photos of that because I spent most of the time stuck in traffic, but I got to spend the night, and spend a lot of time with my girl Anna. All good.
Last Thursday Peter had the brilliant idea of going to see a movie in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was loads of fun. Both Kara and I got there in time to stake out a nice spot, and although it got crowded, our spot was large enough to fit me, Peter, Karen, and Kara. It was perfick, although I’d forgotten, as Peter pointed out, how old and leather-like Cary Grant looks in the movie we saw, To Catch a Thief. It’s not my favorite Hitchcock, but both the company and the scenery were spot-on, even if Mr. Grant looks like a turtle (props to Peter again). Here, you witness for yourself.
And then and then…I can’t remember what all else. Oh, right. On Friday I met Aileen in the city and we had a lovely lovely picnic lunch in the park after a failed visit to the Guggenheim museum. And then there was meandering around on Madison Avenue while I wondered how I was going to fit all of the crap I have to fit into Adriana’s repertoire of New York experiences, and also whether or not I’d find a pair of shoes that wouldn’t hurt me (I did, and thank goodness, too, as the ones I was wearing were literally wearing a hole in my toe), and then we went to a wine bar, where I had this experience, which pissed me off mightily.
But that’s OK, because I was with Aileen, and I had a nice dinner with Michelle at the lovely Kellari, and then I went to the birthday party of an acquaintance, and I saw this:
Yes. The Naked Cowboy showed up. He who is running for mayor. That’s right. Perfectly nice guy. Wish he wasn’t so raunchy all the time, though. Every photo I watched him taking was of him grabbing someone else’s rear, or of the someone else posing as grabbing his rear…Sigh. Seeing as how the guy’s platform is transparency (or, in his lingo, “Nakedness”), there’s not much more to be said.
I met his campaign manager. Both he and the cowboy are perfectly nice peeps, and I am curious to see what he has to say.
Lara moved to the country, by the way, to a lovely home with its own name and everything. She is incommunicado for awhile, and I am dying to find out how she’s doing. Sigh. It’s funny how acutely you can feel the absence of people you only usually see online.
I’m sure there will be some epic forthcoming rumination on this. But for now, off to finish the book I’m reading and maybe write a book review and [oh, God, please] some work on the novel. Argh!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

a training season recap

Things I Hated About the Training Season

1. Having my dishwasher look like this every single time I ran it


Seriously, people, when your dishwasher looks like an ad for the Plastics Advisory Board, there is something wrong. Every week we were the people who lived out of sports bottles. Crikey.

2. Slugs

hgpslugslug.2.23.jpgEWWWWW. Look at it. All slimy and ooky and long. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be one of those outdoorsy people who loves everything about nature. But let me tell you, there is nothing quite as unpleasant as having something land with a large SPLAT on your leg and looking down, hoping to find a big piece of wet mulch or something that’s been kicked up by your bike tire, only to find PART OF a SLUG slowly dying on your kneecap.

This is gross. This is the epitome of gross. And I think it is highly unlikely that any of you would have done anything other than what I did, which was to burst out into hysterical tears and swipe, panicked, at the offending piece of sludge (because that’s what it was by then), and then, not being able to remove it, swerve in all sorts of curlicues all over the bike path, endangering the lives of yourself and everyone around you, including your boyfriend, who is riding near you but suddenly doesn’t want to ride anywhere near you.

Sigh. This happened to me twice. Yes, yes, with the exact same results (swerving, crying, swiping). Yuck.

3. Laundry

p6130089This is the way our laundry pile made me feel every single week. It was shockingly huge. And smelly.

4. Not being able to do this:freaky-bigWe definitely overdid our training this year. We just assumed that we wouldn’t be able to the off-road stuff we really enjoyed, and so we cut out mountain biking and trail running, and just stuck to the on-road stuff, making it very easy for us to fall into training ennuie. We won’t do that again the next time we do an Ironman. Of course, then Isabella, the lovely steed I’m riding above, got stolen from our basement, so I’ll have to find another way to ride during this mountain biking season.

5. Also not being able to do this:

p61300871and this:

sylyiYes, yes, indulgent eating and drinking. My body chemistry definitely changed. It was like, I couldn’t eat a ton of really rich food or drink a lot. The latter is obvious. But the former…I never expected it. I always figured, the more calories, the better. And you can’t argue that surf ‘n’turf is pretty high-quality. But I’ll never forget the following day’s workout, either. So, so awful. Sluggy and everything. [Ew, slugs. There they are again!]

But now I can have a couple of glasses of wine and not feel like a turd. I can eat what I want to.

6. Cooking. I love to cook. I remember wishing I had the time to do it more often. Now, I do.

Things I Loved About the Training Season

1. Efficiency. Jim and I became uber-efficient over the peak season of training. There was very little wasted time. If there was extra time, it became recovery time.

2. Feeling fit. Yesterday I walked a mile. Granted, White Plains is kind of hilly (in fact, it’s nothing like the plains we have in and about Chicago), but seriously, why did I wake up this morning with cramped and cranky hamstrings?

In all, I think that the things I loved outweigh the things I hated…if only because being efficient and feeling fit are things I want to run as constant threads through my entire life. That thing about the slug? Yeah, not so much.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Book publishing goes all Michael-Jackson on me

There’s been some hue-and-cry lately over Justine Larbalestier’s new book, Liar. It’s not because it’s about a black girl who is a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s a young-adult book about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar who may or may not have committed multiple murders.

No, it’s because of the cover, which shows a white girl.


Bloomsbury, Larbalestier’s publisher, is quoted here as saying something to the effect of, well, the girl’s a liar. You’re going to believe her about her own race? (Justine’s side of the story is here. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I suggest you take some time and read her very thoughtful post.)

I haven’t read the book (it’s not out until September in the U.S., and I don’t have an advance reading copy). But I must confess to having spent several hours thinking about this from several different perspectives.

As a Reader

I have a specific problem with seeing movies that are based on books before I’ve read the book. If I didn’t know that a book was based on a movie, I tend to quarantine myself until I’ve read the book, so that I don’t end up with too many pre-arranged images in my head. I feel sorry for those who equate Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe, and not with the angel-faced boy that Mary GrandPre dreamed up. I feel equally sorry for everyone who equates Ralph Fiennes with The English Patient, or mistakenly thinks the Czech Republic looks anything like France (“Les Miserables” movie, 1998) . The point is, of course, that when you go to pick up a book, you get to draw your own conclusions about what people look like, what the landscape looks like.

In this case, Bloomsbury runs the risk of screwing with the backbone of the book. The readers were presumably intended to draw our own opinions about whether Micah’s compulsive lying extends to a matter as basic as her identity, her race. Visuals are a powerful thing, and with one photo, Bloomsbury has made the decision for us.

I wrote a review earlier on Christopher Paul Curtis’ Elijah of Buxton, and how cheated I felt to find that the big event that’s mentioned in the jacket copy actually has very little to do with the bulk of the book. If jacket copy can have such an effect, imagine how cheated readers will be to discover that one of this book’s questions is already answered for them, and without them even knowing it. I spent the bulk of Curtis’ book wondering if I had missed something, if “the big event” was metaphor for something else; if I was less of a reader than I thought I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers comb through Larbalestier’s book after they’ve read it, looking for clues to Micah’s race that might betray the fact that she’s really white.

As a writer

My parents have always said to me that I can’t forget that I’m an Asian , no matter what happens. You can imagine the kind of effect a statement like that has on a girl trying to fit in. My friends were white, my teachers were white, the pop culture all around me was white–my parents were effectively telling me that I’d always be different. More than once they’ve said that I might *want* to be an Asian kid, but I could forget about it–my black hair and slanted eyes would always give me away. (Later, as I took classes in such high-falutin’ subjects as “The American Dream,” I argued that being American was more a matter of style than substance. Yeah, that didn’t fly, so much.) They were trying to protect my heritage–I get that. But I am and always will be an American kid.

As I grew in my fiction, though, I noticed that I was de-colorizing my books, probably as a way of fighting back. The YA novel I mentioned yesterday is about a girl, just a girl, living in New York City. The middle-grade book is about a girl with a decidedly British bent. One of my downfalls is that I almost never physically describe my main characters. I think all of this is tied up in my hangup about being Asian. At any rate, the book I’m hitching my star to, my third WIP, is about an Asian woman living in New York. It addresses all of the things I’ve learned growing up in two cultures, and I think it’s a better book, a richer book, because of the distinct issues that only a person of color might encounter. My main character is stuck between two worlds, and that makes her struggle real, and a real American story.

I can’t imagine what would happen to my thought process if my future publishers saw fit to slap a white girl on the cover of my book. I mean, the book’s not about a white girl. Why would there be a white girl on the cover? It’s apparently a very real question. I’ve worked too hard to walk the fine line of being Asian American in my writing. I’m loathe to think that my publisher could take the work I’ve put into being an Asian American writer away from me.

My heart breaks for Justine–she’s worked so hard to craft a complicated personality, only to have one important pillar of that personality–its race–swept out from beneath her.

As a person

I try not to think so much about race. A friend of mine once said, in a college class I was taking with her on journalism, “My friends think of me as Holly first, and Asian last, or maybe never.” I’ve always had what she said floating around in my head–I think putting people into a box hampers what you can learn about them.

But my parents were right, to a degree: visuals are powerful, and, whether or not we like, we often make suppositions about people based on race. But I take very special exception to being called something I’m not.

Liar is not a book about a white girl.

And I am not good at math just because I’m Asian.

And Bloomsbury is not in the right here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Bloomsbury tested the cover, but without letting focus groups know what the book was about. It tested very well. Also, there’s been some discussion about whether covers with black kids on them sell as well as covers with white kids, and whether covers with illustrations or type (the Australian version of Liar is below) sell better than covers depicting people.


I don’t care about any of that. Bloomsbury’s cover doesn’t reflect the subject matter of the book, and this makes me mad.

I don’t even know how to end this post. I think I’ll go and read some Asian-American picture books.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Crumbs in my keyboard…

…bees in my bonnet.

I had a dream last night that Jim and I were in a triathlon. It was some kind of weird triathlon/adventure-racing hybrid, though, because there was underwater bush-whacking involved. My friend Pamela was there, for some reason, likely because she has been a huge champion of us during the Ironman thing and many of my previous cock-eyed projects (she is an Iron-peep herself), and do you know what?

I found out during this weird, epic race that I had not actually ever completed an Ironman. Of course, as dream thingys go, this one was in real-time, so I had already done all the things that are required when you finish a race: told your nearest and dearest, celebrated with your friends, blogged about it, told the local paper, notified the charity you’re raising money for that you’ve done it, so they can shout it from the rooftops…It was a horrible, sinking feeling. And then I thought of Pamela, waiting for us with her camera at the next TA, and my black heart sank way, way down to my bike shoes.

I did not know what to do, especially as Jim and I were getting ridiculed and laughed at by the race directors at this point in our Iron-AR, and we were neck-deep in swamp-weed, and it was nighttime.

I guess I did the only thing I could do: I woke up, feeling out-of-sorts and not remembering why until just now.

I think all of this has to do with my work-in-progress. No, no, my work(s)-in-progress. I have three, you see. THREE! One of them, a young-adult novel, I’ve been working on since 1999. That’s a decade ago. A lot has changed about this work, and it’s actually been to editors in its first incarnation (early 2004) and agents in its second (early 2006). So it’s not exactly staid. I personally think this last incarnation is the best. But I’m calling it a WIP because it’s missing an ending.

The reason it’s missing an ending is because I had it turned into my critique group, and so had stopped work on it, choosing to wait and see what they thought of the most recent turn of changes (I went from third person to first person) before I wrote the ending to it. We’re almost there. While WIP I (call it “YA Draft”) was out with the critique group. I started WIP II, which I’ll call, for lack of a better phrase, the Women’s Literature book. I quite like this novel. It’s complete in its story arc and just needs to be fine-tuned, and then I’ll send it out to a select list of agents. I’m not really looking forward to that. But it has to be done.

WIP III was a National Novel Writing Month project. It’s a middle-grade fantasy book that rotates around some talking animals and a man-eating cabbage. It’s the reason my dog, Sprocket, has his own Facebook page. (Someone said it was a good idea to exercise thinking the way I thought my animal characters might think.) I don’t know where that’s going, although it, too, is complete in that there is a beginning, middle, and end.

Anyway. So I think my terrible triathlon dream had to do with these three books, which are all sort of looming over my head. I’m almost done with the women’s book, which I like a lot, although I hesitate to classify it in that genre. I mean, it’s about a young woman, sure. But it’s not Maxine Hong Kingston, and it’s not Barbara Kingsolver, or Jodi Picoult. It’s my own work. It’s a little bit Jennifer-Weiner, I suppose, but only in that there’s some contemporary conflict.

So, according to my dream, the rub boils down to this: I’ve been telling people I’m a writer and that I’ve been working on some fiction. And I am, and I have been. Just Google me, you’ll see. But clearly, some part of me feels quite incomplete. Best get done with these things, then, before they end up doing me in with more dreams of incomplete aspirations. (“What? You mean I never actually graduated from college? Crap.”)

I think, too, that my brain has been on overdrive. I’ve been reading a lot of good work (see the “Stuff Other People Wrote” section for some choice reviews) and really enjoying the added inspiration. I suppose this restlessness might be partially post-race blues, but I think, also, I’ve long seen several things as being on my agenda. Ironman and becoming a part of the disaster-relief community have each been long-term goals over my life; now that I’ve accomplished those two goals; perhaps I am just telling myself that it’s time to move on with the rest of the stuff too. Dispense with the to-do list, in short order, as it were. And then? After that? Perhaps non-fiction. A guide to lifelong to-do lists.

At any rate, my horrible dream has left me feeling high-spirited. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to it.

Here are some more photos from Schweiz.


I think the way one building is built into another is hilarious.

I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.

I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.

I am nuts about this graffiti, too

I am nuts about this graffiti, too, found in an underpass in Lucerne

and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.

and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.

i like this one the best, though.

i like this one the best, though.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The things they ate

During an Ironman, you consume all sorts of high-tech food. Engineered stuff, crafted to hit the sweet spot between high-quality fuel and optimized ease of digestion. If that jargon isn’t enough to make your head spin, well…you should take a look at the labels on some of the stuff I ate.
Here’s the list:
(5) Gus
(2) Trader Joe’s Sweet,  Savory & Tart bars
(2) Cokes
(1) banana, cut into chunks and consumed over different aid stations on the run.
(5) bottles of Gatorade or Powerade
I added up the calorie count…it comes to something like 1900 calories. I don’t know how many calories I burned, but it’s way more than the above list gave me. Either way, I didn’t feel nauseated and I didn’t once feel hungry, so I think I did right by myself for the glacial pace at which I was moving.

No, the real problems came the next day, post-race. We sat down to a celebratory meal with Lara, of brat-and-potatoes, chicken cordon vert for Lara, and Wienerschnitzel, I think, for Jim. Prosecco for Lara and a summery white wine spritzer for me, and we gabbed happily about the race and debriefed each other.

But as I began to wolf down my food, I realized that there was what felt like a massive lump in the back of my mouth, just where my palate met the soft part of my mouth, and it was increasingly painful. I vaguely remembered there being one other such occurrence before, and I remember Jim saying to me then that he had it too, but I couldn’t remember when or why.  I was looking at my plate, wondering if I should mention the fact that I could hardly swallow to my friends and ruin the festive mood, or if I should just glug down the rest of my white wine spritzer and hope that numbed the problem. Too late, though: my friends noticed my slowing down (also, perhaps, the glassy-eyed staring at plate didn’t help, either) and asked with some alarm what happened.

It turns out, this happens after every race during which you’ve eaten pretty much nothing but soft foods. Your body’s in shock, you see, right down to the fact that all of the dehydration, near-starvation, and sugary content over the course of one long day forces the physical reaction of an angry, swollen palate.

All of this is to say that I think my body’s only recently gone back to normal. I couldn’t eat the hashed potatoes that came with my brat that day (too many rough edges); I could hardly eat the fondue we had that night for dinner because the fatty cheese covered nice crusty bread; I was thrilled to find that gelato didn’t offend anything in my system, and that beer cooled my throat. So sad. The next day was better. We went to visit a lovely mountain via funicular train up the side of Mount Pilatus:


Me, Jim, and Marilyn on board the funicular train

and had lunch at the top, which looked like this:

crisp greens

crisp greens

and this!


Point being, there was no way I was going to let that gorgeous food go to waste, even if it was all sharp corners and crunchy things.

I still wasn’t really eating right by the time we got home, although I suspect part of that might have just been general aimlessness and a lack of focus and normal schedule. I think I’m back on track though: I’ve been eating good dinners and semi-good lunches. Had a nice burger at a BBQ with friends on Saturday evening; Friday I had shrimp burritos, but I totally neglected to eat the rice on the side, choosing instead to drink a very large margarita. Come to think of it, I think maybe the fact that the margarita was half-done by the time food arrived may have forced me to not see the rice at all. This is because of another side effect of Ironman training: I am now officially an uber-cheap date.

Anyway, I think I’m finally back to normal. I’m starving all the time and thirsty all the time, so I think my body is telling me that now I need to go back to exercising all the time. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Right. Tomorrow, it’s back to our regularly scheduled reading-and-writing based programming. I have a stack of book reviews floating around in my head that I need to process.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

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