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Daily Stories – 18 February

Everyday stories about an

expat’s life in Isaan, Thailand

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In this unique blog You will find hundreds of stories about my life in Thailand, the good and bad. Not just a list of tourist destinations but stories about REALLY living here. I hope you enjoy sharing my experiences of settling into a new country and culture as much as I am living it. 

To visit my main index page click below.

To read today’s stories please scroll down.

Building in Thailand eBook

When my wife and I bought some land in Isaan, which is a region in the north east of Thailand, and then started to build our house I wanted to record the daily events of construction life. For twenty six weeks I wrote a weekly blog update about all the aspects of the build and included as much detail as possible for others who might be thinking of going down the same path. I was surprised by the number of readers I attracted as a result of writing on this subject, many of whom followed the entire build from beginning to end. 

Based on this continued interest I thought I would revisit my original words and bring them all together under the one heading in the form of an eBook. Included in this process has been some extensive updating and expansion of many of the original posts and the addition of the many COMMENTS, which are designed to expand your knowledge and save you time or money or both!

Read more HERE and find out how to obtain the eBook.

I am loving your book – just on my second read at the moment, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything first time around (which actually it turns out I did!).  

Just a note of thanks at this point ……. I am a fairly methodical sort of bloke, but there are many issues which your book highlights which I just wouldn’t have thought about – or if I had, I may well have assumed they were “standard” building practice [U-bends, drain positioning, barge-board alignment] – if it hadn’t been for your excellent descriptions!!  I will probably still “miss” something – that’s the nature of building/design – but thanks to you, it shouldn’t be anything too mission-critical.

The income from my eBook pays for the upkeep of this blog, which is otherwise commercially free unlike so many others.

NEW: Search the blog:

My stories of the day – 18 February 2020

My life in rural Isaan revolves around three main topics of interest. Firstly there is the family farm situated about 1 km from where we live. I love learning about and sharing aspects of farming in a different country. Read my stories and you’ll become a virtual Isaan farmer in time! Click HERE

Secondly is our enjoyment in developing the best private tropical garden in Isaan. We also have a small but still beautiful garden at the farm. In this section I write about any aspects related to gardening in Thailand, illustrated with photos taken in our gardens and locally. Click HERE

And finally I share everyday stories as I see them relating to life in a small rural village. This could cover anything from personal events to festivals and local attractions. Anything that doesn’t fit into the other two headings ends up here. Click HERE 

Or of course read them all in which case just scroll down!

I am a keen photographer and all my photos are shot professionally and edited. The end result is far better than most blogs and social media and I will publish my favourite shots from time to time, which will almost be a fourth topic.

The stories I share here are reflected in my very active social media exposure and you will find me on Facebook as follows:

Tony Eastmead HERE 

Thailand Tropical Gardens HERE

Rural Isaan, Thailand HERE and;

Isaan Photography HERE.

Farm News:

Today’s Update:

There is something very peaceful about the routine of farm life – for an outsider anyway. We arrive out there most mornings at around 9:00 am to find food being prepared and vegetables being packed to meet orders. It is the ordered structure of a well run operation undertaken with good humour and a sense of satisfaction. All a bit romantic on my part? Maybe but I am sure you’d pick up on the same if you visited.

Yuan and Lud have been up for hours so this is their lunch.

A quick water of the beautiful; lettuce, which is one of the main crops being sold ATM.

Yuan grows some of the best lettuce around and it sells well.

See what I mean.

Ready to meet an order.

Freshness we rarely get in the west.

Dill being added to the order.

Cool overnight so mam is sitting in the sun to warm up.

Gaun catching lunch.

Gaun is planning to make larb fish, larb being described in Wikipedia as:

Larb (Lao: ລາບ; Thai: ลาบ, RTGS: lap, pronounced [lâːp], also spelled laap, larp, lahb or laab) is a type of Lao meat salad[1][2][3] that is regarded as the “unofficial” national dish of Laos.[4] It is also eaten in the Isan region, an area of Thailand where the majority of the population is of the Lao ethnicity, and among the Hmong people, an ethnic minority group in Laos and Thailand. Local variants of larb also feature in the cuisines of the Tai peoples of Shan State, Burma, and Yunnan province, China.[5]

Larb is most often made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork or mushrooms, flavoured with fish sauce, lime juice, padaek, roasted ground rice and fresh herbs. The meat can be either raw or cooked; it is minced and mixed with chilli, mint and, optionally, assorted vegetables. Roughly ground toasted rice (khao khoua) is also a very important component of the dish. The dish is served at room temperature and usually with a serving of sticky rice and raw or fresh vegetables.[6][7]

Any thoughts on who’s responsible for the lost shoe?

What….why look at me??????? Yuan lost her boots again last week only to have them replaced with someone else’s boots later. I think an exchange has been arranged since and order has been re-established until Dee Doh is let off his leash again 🙂

A few photos from late Monday and then an update to the update from this morning (the 18th).

For those of you who remember the small pond being filled in with new soil last week, this is the end result.

A reminder for any new readers.

Bear, Gaun’s older sister, sieving dill seeds. You can see the dried dill plants in the background. The seeds will be replanted.

The tractor was back to form a new rice paddy. The next crop will be started once the rains come (ha ha) in June.

You can see how dry the soil gets this time of year. That’s dust being kicked up by the tractor.

Eating into the pond to give extra width. Each farm plot is only 20 metres wide. Bear and Tham also farm some of Gaun’s land, as does Yuan, as she has two plots next door – an extra 40 metres.

Gaun watching operations.

Meanwhile this field has been completed. Four rows of long beans, four rows of celery and three rows of mixed.

This photo was taken at around 5:00 pm and Yuan and Lud were 13 hours into their day and still working. Here Yuan is digging holes for the posts Lud is bringing to start the timber trellis for the long beans.

This is Bear’s long bean area. No black plastic. Yuan and Lud have a bigger farming operation (they are younger and it’s all about the manual energy) so have more money to invest back into their farm. Bear and Tham will use the same trellis system as Yuan in time.

This morning the first uprights are in place. I suspect this area will be finished today and will report back.

Super neat as always.

And again this morning. Tham was doing some final levelling work by hand on the new rice paddy.

While Bear was on weeding duty.

Tropical Gardens News:

JACKFRUIT AND FARM GARDEN:

Both of these are well covered subjects but I tend to get carried away with the moment and add more photos that I think reflect some of what can be so easily (for me – thank you Gaun) achieved in Thailand.
Jackfruit I love not for their eating but their superb fresh green colour and textured skin. A work of art Mother Nature – well done. The farm garden quietly develops into another lush vibrant oasis; such a contrast to the brown dryness that is Isaan this time of year.

These two trees at the farm are producing such a massive crop of jackfruit this year.

I could have one of these as a sculpture in my home.

10/10 nature.

This is only the wash basin area at the farm but I love it because despite the tropical plants, it reminds me so much of rural Australia. Rusting iron and make-do structures thrive there as well as here.

One year on and this area gives the eyes a restful break from the brown, dust bowl outside.

Gaun’s flowers, all grown from seeds, are taking over Isaan.

You are bored of me saying it but……..there aren’t many working Isaan farms that look like this one. Lucky me.

I shared this one recently but it is sort of part of this batch so I repeat it here. Our rice hut with half of it’s feet cooling in the farm pond.

And a reminder of inside looking out.

SMALL IMPROVEMENTS:

The gardens have reached that stage where all the big projects have been done (I hope) and it’s all about maintenance and improvements.

Two golden palms, which were in pots elsewhere in the garden, have been moved to liven up this area next to the sala on the left. I just love these plants and recommend them as easy care in any tropical garden. Described as:

ABOUT THIS PALM
Golden Butterfly Palm – Areca Dypsis Lutescens Golden Butterfly Palm Endemic to sandy riverbanks and clearings in the wet forests of eastern Madagascar this clustering palm finds itself on the brink in its homeland. Lutescens makes an undeniably fantastic container palm for any porch or patio. For the tropical gardener there is no more handsome screen than mature clumps its wall of leaves from top to bottom creates a world unto itself. These are very healthy trees with well established root systems.
The growth rate of Golden Butterfly will vary greatly depending on soil type, sunlight, temperature and other factors. Lower fronds are trimmed prior to shipping to reduce transpiration and travel stress.

More information here: https://tinyurl.com/yx5h9437

Looking the other way with the new palms on the left.

With two empty pots previously filled by palms, Gaun was digging up dragon tongues at the farm this morning to fill them and place in the garden at home.

I have spoken before on Gaun’s tough approach to cuttings. She takes a machete and slashes, sticks the result in the ground, waters it and that’s about it. Works most of the time. You’d think the plant would object but here is lots of new growth happening next to Gaun’s slashing. Another easy care plant for the garden – Dracaena fragrans.

The old stem on the left and new growth happening on the right. In time this too will be chopped and end up somewhere in Gaun’s ever expanding garden empire.

These are the results of Gaun’s careful pruning (!) All taken from those plants at the farm and not one died in the transportation. Nothing special. Just literally stuck in the soil and after a droopy ‘I’m not feeling well’ time, back they bounced. More information on Dracaena here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracaena_(plant)

This area is looking a bit bare this time of year. The big leaf plants die back in the cool season (our winter) and don’t re-shoot until the rains come – although there is some growth happening now, which is Isaan spring. The hedge too is very bare, something I didn’t expect and sort of defeats the purpose of having a hedge!

We are going to buy more golden palms for the left side to give a more tropical feels and keep the greenery going during this period. I will report back.

NEW PLANTS FOR GARDEN LOVERS:

It seemed to be the day for spotting a few new varieties to add to our collective knowledge of tropical plants.

If you have ever bought a traditional Thai mattress or cushion it is filled with the product of this tree.

Kapoke. These pods contain fluffy white cotton looking material, which is used as stuffing for the items I mentioned. The problem is that if you’re looking for comfort kapoke sets like concrete. Great for Thais but less so for farang.

If you have ever bought a traditional Thai mattress or cushion it is filled with the product of this tree.

Kapoke. These pods contain fluffy white cotton looking material, which is used as stuffing for the items I mentioned. The problem is that if you’re looking for comfort kapoke sets like concrete. Great for Thais but less so for farang.

Kapoke. These pods contain fluffy white cotton looking material, which is used as stuffing for the items I mentioned. The problem is that if you’re looking for comfort kapoke sets like concrete. Great for Thais but less so for farang.

This is a dragon tree or dracaena draco (I think). I bought a few of these thinking they were low plants because when they’re young there is only the bushy bit that sits on the ground. After a couple of years they start to grow a trunk and end up looking like this. A nice addition to a tropical garden I think. More information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracaena_draco

I have mixed feelings about these trees called Ivory Coast Almond (terminalia ivorensis – I think). They are wonderful shade trees giving a thick cover from the sun. They also grow super fast.

However, they are semi deciduous and shed leaves for months over the cool period (in Isaan anyway) Oct – Jan. The attract boring beetles and branches can drop off them leaving them unbalanced in look. They also bleed resin, maybe as a result of bugs, which stains paving underneath. P.S. It might also be a Terminalia bucida – maybe someone out there knows.

And thankfully one I do know a heliconia bihai. A must have in your tropical garden. We have heaps as you can see. They flower for months, the leaves last forever, although they do die off this time of year so you’ll be doing a bit of pruning. Such a beautiful splash of colour.

They spread quickly with new shoots coming up around the original plants. You can dig them up and replant no problems. Impossible to kill.

I am going to buy some plant labels to help me remember the identifications I and others make of the plants in our garden. It’s my only hope with a fading memory 🙂

Village News:

How to kick-start the morning:

My sort of friends offer you a cocktail straight after a fresh coffee in the morning. Just to let you know that I am happy to visit anytime James and Ann. Thank you for light refreshments and chat.

How every breakfast table should look 🙂

One of more  interest to locals only.

PTT have started work on a new large service/petrol/gas station opposite the ice factory off highway 228 on the north side of Si Bun Ruang. As we already have one of these on the south side and SBR is a very small town I do wonder at some of the investment decisions made here. It will certainly put pressure on the small PT (different brand) service station that’s just down the road.

This facility will be PTT standard with a 7/11, Amazon cafe, clothes shops and I am told a bank will be on-site as well (not normally the case). Convenient for us as it’s only 1 km from home. Si Bun Ruang continues to boom. We’ll have a Global House and Makro soon.

The sort of standard presentation for PTT service centres. They are all over Thailand and make great rest stops when on a long drive.

This is the ice factory that’s opposite.

Site work started.

A brief dual highway part of the 228 heading north out of Si Bun Ruang.

The ice factory is tagged in Thai where those yellow buildings are. The PTT will be on the brown coloured land directly opposite.

The new village corner store:

A brief update on the new corner store. Today the roller doors are being installed so we must be getting close to opening. A table and a couple of benches have been added so if anyone wants to sit and have a beer to watch the passing traffic in Ban Chomphutong, please drop over.

Just a reminder that I make almost daily updates on my Facebook pages Rural Isan, Thailand here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/718761521891474/ and Thailand Tropical Gardens here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/502321073863766/. If you search for them on Facebook and ask to join you get a whole batch of other photos with stories.

The base structure is complete with windows added. Interestingly the bare windows are installed and then the glass guy comes along to do that job. Saves on breakage I guess. The concrete finish still needs is varnish finish once it is totally dried.

The roller door installer arrived. You can contact him on 085-6486417 if you are in the market for roller doors.

The ice cream man passes. A bit early in the day for me.

The roller door components being unloaded.

We were on the way home from the farm and as always part of the farm comes with us.

Yuan was horrified recently when we visited her at the street markets and I bought some lettuce from another stall. Yuan’s lettuce wasn’t quite ready to pick. A few days later Gaun came back from the farm with enough lettuce to keep me going for the rest of the year. Yuan was making a point

The doors installed. Neat.

Si Bun Ruang:

As always a mix of photos resulting from a brief drive out this afternoon, even though we only visited Si Bun Ruang town.

This is an old rice hut that has been stripped back to its frame, a balustrade added to stop the kiddies from falling over, a fridge installed in the corners and it’s good to go as a sort of garden man-cave.

One of the few renovated timber houses in our village. Nice but hot and in need of regular attention to maintain. You can see it is due for a top-up timber coat otherwise the wood will dry out and split.

Our destination was this garden centre outside of Si Bun Ruang on highway 228 heading south. They have a great range of quality plants. We were after more golden palms

Beautiful ferns but you’ll pay 1,500 baht (A$70.00) for the big ones.

Lots of more mature plants, which are more expensive but if you want the size and have the budget this is the best place to come. Run by a lovely friendly Isaan family – mum, daughter and son.

GPS Coords

This place has been finished for several months and in my estimation will remain unoccupied for the foreseeable future. Who knows I may be surprised but there’s a similar place on the opposite side of town that’s been finished for 18 months and of the six units only one is rented. The investment decision making, and presumably the bank’s involvement, is a mystery.

Of course if you can’t rent what you do is build more next door, which is what’s happening here.

And opposite to those units is this new complex, which has a better chance of making money. It is still under construction with an opening date planned for around Songkran (Thai New Year) early April. When open it will serve seafood dishes.

They must have been reading my Facebook or the blog because they have pinched my idea for a fishing basket light shade!

My garden rice hut with light – late 2018. Should have copyrighted the idea 🙂

Timber saphans (bridges) link the various structures.

They have a range of smaller salas for say a maximum of four people and then these larger family versions. Note the space under the table for legs. Good for those of you with knee problems. They are still filling the pond and this will eventually be over the water.

Some lovely large bamboo at the back.

I have said it before but Si Bun Ruang is coming along as a regional centre. Nothing world class but steady improvements aimed at the target market. This might end up a reasonable place to take visiting friends for a bit of a change.

Evidently this area next to the lake is going to be developed as a garden. A way to go!

The pond is being filled with bore/well water (what other choice?) and they are using a solar pump, which is a bit unusual.

Thailand Photography

Showcasing some of my favourite photos taken around Thailand during my time here. Last updated 16 February:

Yuan and Lud with freshly picked mushrooms.

Gaun early evening at Mae Salong, Chiang Rai province.

Thank you for reading and please leave a comment. It’s the only payment I ask for.

Tony

February 2020 – new stories

4 Comments

  1. Greg Carroll

    Hi Tony,
    Very enjoyable read as always.
    Tony In Thailand is back with renewed vigour and well and truely in full force in this post. Plenty to digest over a cup of Vietnamese coffee on my first offical day of retirement. It was planned to read your latest posts today – a new routine for me.

    Like you I often wonder about how Thai developers make their investment decisions – there are similar developments such as those you posted in many areas around Surin. Any new development stands out. So when driving past sometimes 12 months later with very few of them occupied it makes one wonder how the developer came to build there in the first place. It would have to do with the fact the cost is much less and may also be that there is far less red tape than what we are used to when building even a car port.

    You shot of the “man cave” got me thinking about converted rice huts and the ideal position of them. We have a small pond on the block we are going to build on – it will be dug out to make it more useable as a water source for the garden. At some point in the future I envisage installing a converted rice hut similar to yours, with several of it’s feet sitting in the water too. And a deck specifically set up for fishing. With a beer fridge at the back it would have to be the ultimate man-cove. It’s several years away yet, but the plan is definitely there.

    Need to get going – in the final stage of packing. The container arrives Tuesday morning as we are still about a day’s packing from being ready so I’d better get a move on.

    Your next series of posts with make pleasant reading from Ayong in Surin, in about 10 days time.

    Cheers mate

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Firstly congratulations on your retirement. Wow. Did you have a bunch of mixed emotions walking out the door or was it all bliss and happiness? Welcome to the start of your new life.

      The balance sheets of local banks might not stand any in depth scrutiny. I have heard of several examples where houses that have been repossessed have silly price tags on them and no offers are considered. While that asset is on the books at a minimum of the loan value then on paper the bank looks healthy. If the property is sold at a big loss then that is reflected badly in the balance sheet. If all those losses had to be booked in I bet it would look a mess.

      I don’t actually often use either rice huts as I don;t spend a lot of time just sitting. The only time I do is in front of the computer like now catching up with correspondence. I thought I would be living more a life of sitting, reading with drink to hand but it hasn’t worked out that way. Tomorrow we’ll drop into the farm, I have a doctor’s appointment in Nong Bau Lamphu and then we are off to check out a couple of temples, which will end up in a blog post sometime. I’m not complaining as it keeps me engaged. I look forward to booking in for a beer and fresh fish at Greg and Yuri’s place.

      Thanks for the comment. Good luck with the packing. Never my favourite occupation but another step in the journey to Thailand.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  2. Jim Busby

    Wow!! Sensory overload my friend. Lots to digest here, so I will heat up some tea, or grab a cold beer, and start my reply. If people in the US could even comprehend the level of commitment and work that goes into Isan farming, then maybe they would have a better appreciation of the luxury lifestyle they take for granted. It’s a larb lunch. So, are mama’s family of Laos descent? Dee Doh, unlike his cousin Duk Dik, prefers a little attention, and probably wants someone to play with him. Funny you mention that possibly the reason for a lack of black plastic underlayment may be due to Bear and Tham’s older age. If you are right, then in another 15-20 years, Yuan and Lud may not go the plastic route, unless a younger family member, or hired hand can assist. Jackfruit still sells for $2 a pound here, so a 10lb jackfruit will set you back a whopping $20 not processed. No thanks. It’s the national fruit of many SE Asian countries, but it’s named for a Scot. I know Yuan and Lud spend all their time working, but I wonder if, or how much, they appreciate the lovely garden oasis they now have at the farm? Can’t wait to get over there to sleep on a Kapoke mattress. I guess I will have to practice on my bare floors over here first. My friend has a Dragon Tree nearly twenty feet tall, with a 2-3ft round trunk. Be ready to give it some room. Will the plant names only be in English, or will you include some Thai script as well, or scientific names? Just be sure to buy a marker with indelible ink, which should not wear off as easy, but being in the sun, will fade. That’s quite a morning starter cocktail there. Probably more enjoyable than some lao khao for breakfast! The thing about the PTT gas station that should be addressed is the life expectancy of the fuel tanks buried beneath the station, and what measures are in place to assure no ground water leakage. Since people use ground water, that would be a bigger concern for older stations, but looking 25 years forward with this station, there may be issues. Just a thought. That of course is that you don’t first succumb to some respiratory disease from the crop burnings first. Jan’s shop is looking ready for business. That man cave/hut has a railing that would be perfect for me if I consumed too many beers from the fridge. I wouldn’t risk falling off the platform. My best friend is a patent lawyer, so we’ll go after those fish basket lighting copycats! Maybe if they filled up the pond enough, you could have tiny fish nibble on your toes while eating your lunch. Wow, there are a lot of sala lunch areas. I wonder how they plan to get enough customers to fill them all up? Yuan, Lud and Guan, always in Isan smiling mode.

    Take care mate,

    Jim

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Hi Jim. Thanks for your comment, which is almost a blog post in itself. Always happy to read your thoughts on what I write.

      I note your remark on the workload of Isaan farmers. It is a bit of a yes and no response from me on the hard work aspect. I was watching Gaun, Yuan and Lud ‘working’ today harvesting Manila tamarind fruit from the farm trees and think about your comment. It was a beautiful warm sunny morning and the three of them were focused on a job, but it was done with lots of chat and laughter. Yuan was steadily munching on some of the fruit while adding more to the basket. Hand watering is another commitment but like the forest monks who sweep leaves every day, there’s an element of calm reflection involved, which reduces the ‘work’ feel to the task. Yuan and Lud so enjoy and accept their roles that although they certainly put in the hours and have intense bursts of work, it all seems like a natural flow of tasks in each day without any feeling of resentment at the commitment involved.

      Most Isaan/Isan people are of Lao decent. Pinching information from Wikipedia this is summarised as follows:

      The Isan people (Thai: คนอีสาน, RTGS: Khon Isan, Thai pronunciation: [kʰōn ʔīːsǎːn]; Lao: ຄົນອີສານ) or Northeastern Thai people are an ethno-regional group native to Northeastern Thailand (“Isan”) with an estimated population of about 22 million.[1] Like Thais (Siamese) and Lao, they belong to the linguistic family of Tai peoples.

      In a broader sense, everyone who comes from the 20 northeastern provinces of Thailand may be called khon isan. In the narrower sense, the term refers only to the ethnic Lao who make up the majority population in most parts of the region. Following the separation of Isan from the state of Laos, its integration into the Thai nation state and the central government’s policy of “Thaification”, they have developed a distinct regional identity that differs both from the Laotians of Laos and the Thais of Central Thailand. Alternative terms for this group are T(h)ai Isan,[1][2] Thai-Lao,[3] Lao Isan,[1][4] or Isan Lao.

      Almost all inhabitants of Thailand’s Northeast are Thai nationals. Yet a majority of them (approximately 80%)[5] are ethnically Lao and speak a variant of the Lao language when at home (the Lao dialects spoken in Northeastern Thailand are summarised as Lao-Isan language). To avoid being subjected to derogatory stereotypes and perceptions associated with Lao-speaking people, most prefer to call themselves khon isan.[6]

      I don’t think that Yuan and Lud have a high appreciation of the farm gardens. I know that the only time we see Yuan at home is when she comes over to inspect our trees for ant egg nests! They have a very different view than Gaun does, who is unusual in an Isaan person in her enthusiasm for the way things look as well as their practical benefits.

      You will find either kapoke in resort mattresses or something similar. If you ever read the reviews of accommodation on sites like Trip Adviser or Booking.com you will see the most common complaint by westerners is the hardness of beds! I think I told you previously that Peng was delighted with the concrete mattress she has at university rather than the softer version in her bedroom at home. Maybe I should buy a piece of hardwood to lay over the mattress for her time with us starting next month.

      Speaking of Dragon trees we have planted them far too close together as we have with a few other varieties. I thought they stayed on the ground so it was a surprise when they started to grow a trunk. Some thinning may be required at some stage. The labels will be mostly to assist my memory, so plain English works for me. I still have the idea of opening the garden to select bookings as part of a day package, and I can be involved once I get my new visa as under its terms I can apply for a work permit. Having plant labels would then help visitors too.

      James makes the best cocktails. He has heaps of money and only buys the very best. The flavours he comes up with are multi-layered and complex, rather than the ‘normal’ cocktail, which is often pretty simple in its construct.

      Who knows about fuel tanks. Being Thailand one suspects that low-cost over long-term quality might be the outcome.

      Thanks again Jim.

      Tony

      Reply

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