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Creative Nonfiction East Asian

Did I ever tell you that I love writing sunsets? Ever since I started dabbling in writing, I was ever so intrigued with the way the sky turned from blue to orange, rolling through with red – I loved to add the description ‘specked with gold’.

My best friend wrote a poem called ‘Sunsets With Apollo and Artemis’ because we are obsessed with Greek mythology.

It is an entail of the beauty of sunsets.

concerning sunsets.

apollo dipped beneath the mountains

and artemis rose in the night.

their meeting seemed to cause some magic

that wove colours through the sky.

pinks as warm as aphrodite’s roses,

blood, crimson as spilt in the war god’s battle,

blues as deep as poseidon’s oceans,

yellows as gold as demeter’s fields,

purples as rich as the wine god’s drink-

spun and shone and danced above

soaking gaia in a golden light,

her mountains, hills and streams

basking in the crafted bond

of the godly archer twins.

what is the music of her wilderness?

i can hear it now-

aeolus through the valley,

thunder of a fallen tree.

a song of birds,

a cry of mirth,

a trickle of water to lead

to the sea.

through fell stroke of cronus’s scythe,

apollo dropped, and artemis rose.

and the forgiving warmth of the sun god

gave way to his sister’s grave chill.

collided were the crescent moon and shining stars

in that ebony black night.

so thus, ends this tale

concerning sunsets.

Sunsets. The end of the day. A few moments of gasping breaths and admiration before the night came.

But I’m not meant to be writing about sunsets. I’m not meant to be writing about the end of a day.

I’m meant to be writing about a sunrise.

Dawn. The beginning of a new day. I suppose those same descriptions would still work. But there’s a different feeling associated with the sunrise.

There is excitement – a new day, new opportunities.

I remember watching a sunrise with our mum once. We were on vacation, and we woke up early. Sat in front of the window and saw the bright sun split through the sky over the perfect view of the beach.

Nature can be horrendous and it can be beautiful – that’s just the way it is. Our dad would explain it as Lao-tzu once did. The heart of Daoism – yin-yang – the balance that rules over all life.

You never had a chance at life. You were but a seed in our mother’s womb, devoid of a consciousness, before you were taken away. I was six years old and so excited. You might have been a boy or you might have been a girl – you could have been both, or you could have been neither.

But I desperately wanted a sister, so that is what I think of you as.

When you were gone, I didn’t understand why our mum was so upset. And I thought I was okay with it too. Being an only child isn’t bad – I get everything all to myself, I never have to fight with anyone over something as petty as the remote control.

In year one, there was a girl in my class who sat on the same table as me. She told me excitedly one day that she was going to have a new baby brother. In that moment, I stared at her, and my seven-year-old mind wished that I could transfer out of my body and into hers; all because she had something I was supposed to have, but did not.

Then, I decided that was ridiculous, I would never want to be anyone other than myself. Because you would have learn in school that there are always people who have it worse.

My situation could have been worse.

You could have been born, breathed a few moments of breath into your underdeveloped lungs and then died. Or you could have been born dead. And we would have to return home to an empty cot and toys that will never be used.

Or you could have been born completely healthy. We could have taken you home, and we could have played with dolls together and I could have braided your hair. You could have gone to school, gotten straight As, or D pluses. Although the latter would be unlikely, you would have gone to tutoring with me every week.

You could have taken your interests in the arts or the sciences. Become a mechanical engineer or a singer. You could have been my story’s first reader, or the one I would have to hide them away from.

But I guess that is the pain of what ‘could have’ happened.

Because we will never know.

You will never know how our mum spent her entire school life as class captain, and the top of her class. How her grades were so great and consistent that she was guaranteed an automatic spot in a prestigious university.

Or how she travelled the world, spent a year in England, and a few months in Belgium. Went to France and Germany and Laos and Africa.

You will never know how our dad spent his childhood catching frogs by the pond. How he tried to shoot a handmade something or other that malfunctioned and left a permanent scar on his finger. Unlike our mum, his grades were average. He would acquire his vast knowledge of Buddhism and Confucianism and Chinese history and philosophy later in life.

Yet, fate brought them both to a company in Shanghai. Upon their first meeting, they were both in the break room, and perhaps started up a chat. Our dad was eating sunflower seeds, but he put the shells in our mum’s plate – a habit he got from our grandma; why wash two plates when it could fit into the one?

They dated for a year, in which our dad did not once buy our mum flowers – something she still brings up to this day. Instead he played the guitar and sang her Cantonese songs and told her about the history of Switzerland.

He wrote her love letters too – a fact I only recently found out when we were sorting through old albums and two pieces of paper fell out addressed to our mum and scrawled in his handwriting.

They bought a small apartment in Shanghai with one living room, one bedroom, one kitchen and one bathroom. They also had a pet turtle for some reason who then went mysteriously missing.

I was conceived two years into their marriage. Our mum still brings up the day she went into labour, and they had arrived at the hospital with everything they needed – except for the necessary documents to get them admitted, which was solely our dad’s responsibility.

So guess who had to go rushing back to the apartment when his wife was in labour.

Then when I was three, mum and I packed our suitcases and boarded the plane to the other side of the world. Mum and dad spent an entire year apart because our dad couldn’t leave his job just yet. We spent that year living with our aunty – who was the reason we were in Australia in the first place.

Three years later, you were conceived.

But you left us before your life could even begin.

I don’t know what school would have been like for you because everyone goes through something different. My first day of kindergarten in a foreign country was confusion. I didn’t understand English. I shied away in the corner and refused to take off my backpack because that was how badly I wanted to leave.

The moment I took off my backpack was so phenomenal that it was documented in my kindergarten journal. I met a teacher who coaxed me out of my shell, and I eventually began to understand English and speak it.

It was at kindergarten that I met my two best friends, whom I still cherish deeply to this day.

School certainly isn’t sunshine and rainbows – there are scraped knees and fights and tears. However, I am lucky to be in a country that celebrates multiculturalism.

I should not have to be ashamed of my culture and the language that I speak.

But sometimes, I am. When we go out to restaurants and I am embarrassed when our mum has to repeat herself because they can’t understand her accent. When people purposely slow down their speech, trying to enunciate every word as though we were less intelligent.

Or when people pull up the corners of their eyes and expect me to laugh. Maybe the biggest problem is that I did laugh, because that was the only way to fit in – to make a joke out of my own culture before others could make the same joke.

And that was what told me Asian racism is a joke.

Eastern culture says that I should be quiet and reserved, to not speak up or draw attention to myself. And western culture tells me that my voice is powerful, that I should speak up.

But when I do, I am told that I should just take the joke.

You would have been like me. A Chinese immigrant raised in an English speaking environment, stereotyped into the things you should be. You should know that my maths skills are quite horrendous – ‘but you’re Asian, shouldn’t you be good at maths?’

The thing about racism is that most of the time, it isn’t direct. Somewhere along the way, it becomes ingrained in us – in the way we think and the way we act.

I will never forget the time I went on a walk with our mum. We were both wearing masks because that is what the law requires at this moment in time. We were silent. Yet as we walked past two ten-year-old boys talking in the front yard, I heard the words ‘ching-chong’ giggled after us.

The worst thing is that it wasn’t even the first time I heard that. But it was the first time two total strangers had said that to me. Before I had even talked to them, they had already made a judgement about me as a person.

That is something you would have learned too. Sometimes, people don’t know you, but they make assumptions just the same.

What’s the big deal about ‘ching-chong’ anyway? It’s two made-up words that have no meaning. But within that is the alienation of entire languages.

It is words like those that make people afraid to speak their own language in public, because they’re afraid that people will mock them. Even the ten-year-olds who have been brought up on the belief that saying such a phrase is okay.  

It is the reason why my name on the passport was changed from my Chinese one to my English one. Because our parents didn’t want me to be made fun of because of it. My friends ask me what it is all the time, and when I tell them, my immediate response is to recoil, be embarrassed, jump to a joke to save myself.

When I know that I should be proud of it. In my name, our parents entrusted their wishes; Siyue – to think, and to go beyond.

I wonder what your name would have been. I insisted on Andromeda – once again, my obsession with Greek mythology, but our mum was quick to say no to that because it was too long and hard to pronounce.

It took me a long time to understand the pain of losing you. Of missing someone that never truly lived. Perhaps, that was just the way fate wanted to have it. If so, I’ll take it.

But I will never forget the day I came home to our mum crying because you were gone.

I wonder if we would have gotten along, or if we would have been at each other’s throats.

You would have turned ten this year, and I wonder what kind of birthday party you would have had.

All I ever saw of you was an ultrasound photo – the rest is just my imagination.

You begin life with a sunrise and end it with a sunset – but your sunset came too soon, and I can only hope that wherever you are, the night isn’t too dark and lonely.

There is a lake near our house and I like to walk there sometimes. The night is lit up with street lamps, but nothing compares to the way the moon reflects off the water surface – the ripples spreading the pools of light across the darkness like molten silver.  

If you were there with me, I think you would have liked it.            

November 19, 2020 09:09

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80 comments

Nicole Zhao
07:52 Nov 20, 2020

❤️

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:33 Nov 22, 2020

Yo that poem is KILLER

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Nicole Zhao
20:37 Nov 22, 2020

thank you !(((o(*゚▽゚*)o)))

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Yolanda Wu
08:51 Nov 20, 2020

:)

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"You begin life with a sunrise and end it with a sunset – but your sunset came too soon, and I can only hope that wherever you are, the night isn’t too dark and lonely." Wow, Yolanda, this story was stunning! The fact that you wrote about your own life, just gives this story's message so much power and voice, considering these were your own experiences. I thought this story was beautiful, from the poem at the start and references to Greek mythology to the descriptions of sunsets and sunrises, and a world that needs change. You should be...

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Yolanda Wu
20:15 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Alainna! I'm glad you liked the bits about Greek mythology, and yeah, that's what I thought as well. Since I want to highlight topics like this, what better way to do it than to use my own. Thanks again!

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Of course🤍 ~Alainna

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Yolanda Wu
09:13 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you to Nicole for letting me use her wonderful poem! So, I don't often write stories about my life, I genuinely write to disappear into someone else's and escape from my own. But I've been wanting to write a story regarding Asian racism for a long time, but no good story came to mind, so what better than to use my own thoughts and experiences. All of the events I've described in the story are true - just prettied up a little with the descriptions. But just because it's my life, doesn't mean you can't give me critique, so don't be afra...

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21:46 Nov 25, 2020

Wow! This is amazing both, the poem and story. Your description was AMAZING and the message is so strong and powerful. I am literally still shocked by your writing, it is that good.

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Yolanda Wu
02:26 Nov 26, 2020

Thank you so much, Blair. :)

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03:45 Nov 26, 2020

Of course! :)

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I. F.
00:45 Nov 22, 2020

Thank you for opening up like that Yolanda, I mean wow... firstly, the writing itself was amazing, poetic. You covered quite a lot, but it still flowed really well. I don't know, some parts got me really emotional. I didn't know it was possible to write something like this, without a big central plot, so real, but you did a beautiful job. I could really relate to the fears of moving to a new country and having to learn English, it's not my first language. Again, I'm still a bit shocked, in the best way, amazing work!

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Yolanda Wu
02:07 Nov 22, 2020

Thank you so much, Itay! Honestly, it's my first time writing like this as well, it was pretty new for me, but I'm glad it worked for you, and that you could relate. Being in a foreign country when you don't know the language is something so many people go through. Again, thanks for reading. :)

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I. F.
23:20 Nov 22, 2020

Yes, you should really try out new things here, I mean this one clearly worked out so well for you! I feel like moving to a new country with a foreign language is like being tossed into the deep end, stressful but you'll learn to swim. I'm not sure why that was in my head... what I'm trying to say is that moving to a new country forced me to learn English quickly, and I'm glad I got that chance.

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Yolanda Wu
02:21 Nov 23, 2020

Yeah that's so true, I don't even remember the learning process, it just sorta happened because there was so much English being spoken around me.

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I. F.
16:11 Nov 24, 2020

Yes! Does your family ever lecture you about maintaining your old language though, cause mine does all the time.

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Yolanda Wu
20:01 Nov 24, 2020

All the time! I even have a rule where I'm not allowed to speak English at home. And I've been going to Chinese school every Saturday morning of pretty much my entire life. My final exam for it is less than a week away, so very, very soon, I'll be done!

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Maya W.
14:55 Nov 19, 2020

Hey Yolanda! It's been a while! I loved this story, it's very brave of you to put out an own story (I'd never do that, lol), especially one on a topic like this. I hope that this does well and that you'll be able to find more opportunities to write whatever you feel like writing! I also saw an animated short that this reminded me of once. I forget what it was called, but it feels worth mentioning, lol. I wrote an Icarus retelling, if you're interested in reading it. It's called Orbs in the Sky, and I'd love to hear your feedback!

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Yolanda Wu
20:13 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Maya! I was so hesitant on posting this story because I've never written about my life in this way, but I felt it was worth a shot. And of course I'll check out your story!

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Maya W.
20:21 Nov 19, 2020

Thanks! I'm glad you ended up posting it :)

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12:33 Jan 17, 2021

Hello, how did you express your thoughts, and what greatly influenced you in doing so? Can you site lines from "Sunrises and Sunsets" that support your answer? Thank you, great story!

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I Like Dogs Dogs
13:51 Jan 13, 2021

Nice story, we have a test for understanding with this story lol

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Yolanda Wu
23:07 Jan 13, 2021

Thank you!

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Elaine Entenza
20:02 Jan 04, 2021

This is a beautiful story. The most magical aspect is how you reveal yourself through heartstring-pulling dialogue with your little kin's spirit. You are a beautiful person Yolanda!

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Yolanda Wu
22:58 Jan 04, 2021

Thank you so much, Elaine!

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Radhika Diksha
15:22 Nov 27, 2020

A new story is out please do read my story and give your honest feedback on it.

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Yolanda Wu
21:45 Nov 27, 2020

Of course!

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B. W.
23:21 Nov 23, 2020

could ya check out "You'll get used to it" and leave some feedback?

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Yolanda Wu
02:17 Nov 24, 2020

Sure!

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B. W.
02:17 Nov 24, 2020

thanks ^^ im excited to see what ya think

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Kylie Rudolf
03:41 Nov 23, 2020

Please try poetry as well! I love the beginning!

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Yolanda Wu
04:08 Nov 23, 2020

The main reason I'm hopeless at poetry is because I have no sense of rhythm, lol, and I can't really convey meaning, but I really wanna get into it. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Kylie Rudolf
04:21 Nov 23, 2020

Poetry doesn't have to rhyme!

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Yolanda Wu
04:25 Nov 23, 2020

Yeah I know, I'm pretty trash at free-verse as well. Poetry and I just aren't very good friends. Love reading it, just can't write it, lol.

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Kylie Rudolf
04:31 Nov 23, 2020

Give it a go! Like the poem in your story!

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Yolanda Wu
05:17 Nov 23, 2020

That poem was written by my friend, who is way more talented in that department than me, but it's definitely something I wanna get better at!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:38 Nov 22, 2020

Beautiful, exquisite writing. I’ve been playing Hades lately so Greek gods are my current obesession, and the poem added an extra layer of awesomeness to this story. I love that there’s mention of Artemis in both our stories haha It’s brave for you to open up like this. I could never. You have my condolences for eveything you and your family has been through. Oh and every description of the moon/sun you had was stunning. Kudos 😙

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Yolanda Wu
20:15 Nov 22, 2020

Thank you for your condolences, Rayhan. Yes! I noticed the Artemis connection as well. I don't usually write stories like this, but I guess I was just in that kind of mood. The story after this one should probably be fantasy again, because I can't go too long without writing those. :)

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Radhika Diksha
03:46 Nov 22, 2020

You are a gifted writer and I feel that you are the most beautiful and brave girl I ever met. I'm an Indian but still, I come under the radar of racism, casteism on daily basis by my own fellow country people. When a stranger makes fun of you then it's kind of ok but when you are criticized by the people you love, the pain is unbearable. But you shared your pain with us and that's amazing. The pain you share is deep and I hope you receive happiness in your life. best of luck with your exams.

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Yolanda Wu
04:03 Nov 22, 2020

Thank you so much, Radhika! Racism is never okay, whether it's strangers or the people you know. It sucks when even those that share the same race as you discriminate you, I completely sympathise with you on that. Thanks for wishing me luck for exams, I've been studying all day, sighs. Thanks again for reading. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
05:14 Nov 21, 2020

Every week, you amaze me more and more with your writing, Yolanda. I'm sitting here trying to figure out what to say about this piece and all the words I come up with sound so trite compared to the depth in this. This is so moving, but in a subtle way, which makes it all the more powerful. Your writing is exquisite as always and how you've woven so many difficult topics together in such a beautiful way. The quote that Alainna highlighted in her comment is the same that stood out to me....that is one for my quote book. Is the Nicole who w...

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Yolanda Wu
05:33 Nov 21, 2020

Thank you so much, Kristin! It means so much to hear what you thought. I almost chickened out of posting this, but I decided that this is a part of me that I want to share. And yes! Nicole who wrote the poem is the same Nicole who drew Rhyvahr. She has far better poetry skills than me, and it hit the prompt, so I thought I would use it. Thanks again for reading, Kristin!

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Mimi Ly
10:18 Jan 10, 2022

Hello, how did you express your thoughts, and what greatly influenced you in doing so? Can you site lines from "Sunrises and Sunsets" that support your answer? Thank you, I love your story so much:)

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I am in tears right now. WOW. This was so good. This is totally inspiring!

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Yolanda Wu
21:32 Dec 01, 2020

Thank you so much for reading, Carolina!

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05:50 Nov 30, 2020

Wow! I expect no less from THE Yolanda Wu. I really enjoyed this, one thing I enjoy about your stories is that they involve different cultures, in this one you added Greek Mythology, with also Chinese, and you also added in different countries like Switzerland, and Australia. These were all nice and I enjoy how you don't settle for less and simply add everything in your stories. That poem made by your friend was amazing!! And I also enjoyed the whole plot of the story, I will say you jumped to many scenes and it all just came together in ...

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Yolanda Wu
06:26 Nov 30, 2020

Thank you so much, Ugochi! And yeah, I totally agree, because people don't understand it, so they think it's okay to make fun of it or joke about it. Personally, I think that unique names from your own culture have so much more meaning than just any old English name.

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06:33 Nov 30, 2020

Of course!! Aw thank youu, I'll keep that compliment in mind, next time I just want to die from the teacher saying my name wrong. But thank you that means alot!

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Yolanda Wu
07:57 Nov 30, 2020

Oh god yeah, the struggle, the amount of times I was called See-you in prep, when I still used my Chinese name. *Sighs dramatically*.

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04:33 Dec 01, 2020

😂😂lol

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B. W.
00:14 Nov 28, 2020

heyyyy

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Yolanda Wu
00:55 Nov 28, 2020

Heyyy!

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B. W.
01:34 Nov 28, 2020

how are ya?

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Yolanda Wu
01:50 Nov 28, 2020

I'm good, been pretty busy with exams.

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B. W.
02:09 Nov 28, 2020

I've been trying to work on my novels

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Yolanda Wu
05:37 Nov 28, 2020

That's so great! Keep working at them!

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B. W.
20:10 Dec 19, 2020

how are you?

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