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Talking about Ferguson to Japanese 4th graders

**Disclaimer: I did not start this discussion! Believe me, I tried and failed to stop these children.

**Disclaimer 2: Most of the questions and statements are translated sentences from myself and the JET, Japanese English Teacher, who worked with me.

At the beginning of class for every lesson I tell my elementary school students how I am feeling or what I’ve been doing lately. This is never a deep discussion by any means. Theses talks start out very whimsical:

“I’m excited about Halloween.”

“I’m sad because it’s rainy outside.”

“I went to Fujikyu Highland last weekend.”

“American lost to Germany in Fifa Today.”

It may seem lame to some but it can be one of the most engaging parts of the lesson. Students use both English and Japanese to ask questions and speak their minds on the topic. It’s a segment that can also set the tone for the duration of the lesson – for both the teachers and students.

This morning I had already read blogs from both sides of the Ferguson situation, had disputes with people I deemed, ‘in denial,’ and talked my own self in circles over these awful injustices. Needless to say, I was disappointed with the outcome this past Monday – Tuesday, Japanese time. An emotion not for the workplace and definitely not something to talk about with people who can’t really relate.

With that said, Thursday’s lesson with 4th graders was not going to kick itself off with, “I’m sad. They shot another black person in America.” Not even, “I’m angry because American police don’t handle situations like Japanese police do.”

Nope, today was, “I’m excited. Today is Thanksgiving Day in America.”

The kids looked confused; I knew they would. It was a lead in for talking about Thanksgiving Day. That was my intention. In hindsight, I assume they understood the words, ‘today,’ ‘in,’ and ‘America’then filled in the blacks with what they had heard recently about the States.

Five of them shouted,「デモ」,’demo’ AKA ‘protest.’ That set off a chain of the more informed students telling the less informed ones about Ferguson. Phrases like 「黒人の男性が白人の警察官に銃で撃たれた」(“A black man was shot by a white cop.”), 「差別」(“discrimination”) and 「なぜ?」(“Why?”) were the phrases I could pick up the most.

As a teacher, I really didn’t think talking about controversial topics that I would have a strong opinion on to students was a good idea. Especially when it just happened…I kept pushing Thanksgiving. The more I pushed Thanksgiving the more they kept asking about Ferguson.

Question: “Was the Thanksgiving holiday on that day[Aug. 24th]? That’s sad.”

Answer: “No, no. It was two days ago. Thanksgiving is today.” I made mad attempts to make the most vague and friendly-sounding response to the student’s question. You know, those “Nothing for you to worry about” answers.  “The timing is bad but people are trying not to be sad by celebrating.” Not even that answer sated them. By then, three more hand shot up asking why Kokujin, black people, were still being discriminated against in 2014. Thank god for the JET who helped translate their questions and my answers. She was willing to do so and she asked the students if they wanted to ask questions about Ferguson instead of Thanksgiving. There was a collective 「やった!」, “Yes!”

Meanwhile, the questions I’m asking myself is, “How do they know about this?” and ” Why do they want to know about this?”

Question 1: ‘Didn’t Lincoln end discrimination against black people?’

Answer: I informed the student he helped end slavery. The students collectively recalled a previous lesson where they had been taught about American slavery. I went on to tell them about the Civil Right Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination towards any and all persons. They were shocked it was passed in the 20th century and asked what couldn’t black people do?

My Answer: “They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t marry another white person. They couldn’t eat in the same restaurant as a white person. Black children couldn’t go to the same school as a white person.” I stopped there but another student asked about transportation. “They could ride together but blacks had to sit in the back and whites could sit up front. This is one of the things Martin Luther King fought for.”

Cue in LIGHT BULBS! They knew Dr. King had written his famous speech but didn’t know why he had written it. Most of them will learn once they go to high school. Dr. King’s speech is on the English education curriculum in many schools. It’s also programmed in almost every advanced electronic Japanese-English dictionary.

Question 3: ‘But America voted for Obama?’

Answer: ‘A candidate needs over 50% to win an election just like in Japan. Over 50% were please about Obama being president, less than 50% were not. Of those people there are people who don’t like that he is president for various reasons.’

Question 3 Follow Up: ‘Even for being a kokujin?’

My answer was, yes. That got me the Japanese 「え~~~~~!?」 (”EH!!”). A surprised expression of disbelief.

Question 4: Why can’t some hakujin, white people, treat kokujin like humans?

Answer: I didn’t have an answer for the student’s question but I praised her for asking it and encourage the students to try and respect others no matter who it is.

Question 5: When you lived in America, what was scary to you?

My Answer: To me the police can be scary sometimes but driving in the states is pretty scary too.

As an American living here, I am asked a lot about American politics and racism. I make attempts to stay impartial as I can when explaining about these injustices. It’s very difficult and tiring. I hope my answers to these students were unbiased. Keeping my answers as G-rated as I possibly could, the JET felt they were appropriate.

I’ve got to say, we were both blown back by their questions. Adults sometimes assume these incidents–especially incidents that happened halfway across the world–aren’t of interest to children. “It’s not their problem.” I always tell myself. I said that when Trayvon Martin happened. Police brutality and injustice against African-Americans may not be their problem but it was an amazing feeling to witness their curiosity on the subject. It was even more amazing they were 4th graders.

I know this post isn’t the best as far as good blogging goes. I really wanted to get document this moment as quick as I could. Share your thoughts if you like. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

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[UPDATED] Japanese Companies Promote Globalization While Quietly Kicking it in the Face

*Update Below*

Disclaimer: I promise this post is not going to be a ‘my point is better than your point’ rebuttal blogs from HuffPo. See the yuppie and young marriage stone throwing battles here and here then here and here.

Well Japanese marketing has been getting the attention of many western foreigners these days. First, ANA, All Nippon Airlines, had the English speaking globalization commercial. The blonde hair blue eyed Pinocchio get up worn by comedian star, Hidetomo Masuno AKA Bakarhythm, had many whites angry and equating the Japanese actor to a white actor in black face.

Well his stage name is Baka.  (log-channel.net)

Well his stage name does have ‘baka’ (stupid) in it.  (log-channel.net)

Anyway, while ANA is doing damage control, Coco Juku, one of the major eikaiwas in Japan,  has caused a bit of an eyebrow raise with some of The Japan Times’ readers. In response to an article by, Michael Hoffman, one reader, Jun Shiomitsu, added his two cents to the pot. Shiomitsu’s tie in to Hoffman’s article is a bit unclear, but I’m assuming his Angry for Coco Puffs piece was an reverse sucker punch to the face of all the Japanese-loving foreigners, Hoffman talked about. If that’s the case, Shiomitsu unveiled Japan has somewhat of a chauvinistic approach to globalization.  ANA’s CM may be the loudest approach but Coco’s little train ad reaches its bemoaning audiences in a hush manner.

I too saw this ad in question on the trains:

2014-02-19 17.22.06

Jilted Westley/ Ex- Boyfriend: “As you wish.” (Tokaido Train)

Shiomitsu is concerned at how the ad of a Japanese man seeking a global and better woman is degrading to Japanese and Western (well…white) women. I had to respectfully chuckle at this one. If Shiomitsu only knew of the relentless amount of bashing Japanese men have gotten when it comes to foreign women and Japanese women combined. Foreign women complaining about having to be the one to make the first move or about even being satisfied romantically– and I said romantically, not sexually. There are even books listing why foreign men are more desirable than Japanese men. Now, I don’t apply this to every Japanese women however the general consensus amongst foreigners living in Japan seems to be that Japanese female and foreign male relationships are more frequent than Japanese male and foreign women. But to be fair, viewing a  foreign woman as a BMW while chucking out the red stage Nissan of a Japanese woman to the curb, seems more of smack against Japanese women than it does against a western one. Hence, absence of a Japanese woman in Coco’s ad. Ouch! No wonder why foreign men and Japanese women hook up more often.

Putting the “lesser Japanese woman” aside for a sec, is it really degrading to feel like a trophy? If society paints a less than stellar looking 1% card holder as trophies for gold diggers, is it a smack to the face if such a person is content? Happy? Satisfied? On the flip side, is it insulting if the western bride is content herself? In the purpose of this ad, the English-speaking Japanese hotshot can at least look international with his trophy bride. That seems like a modest reason to want to be with a western person. Key qualifier: if both parties are content. I don’t know about you, but every Thursday at 9:00pm I have no problems with watching two white men make one black successful woman feel like one hell of a trophy. I’m pretty content with those images. Thanks Shonda!

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Oh yeah, feeling very prized indeed.  (andimdone.com)

Of course people want to be cherished for their personalities over their demographics, sure, doesn’t everyone? Getting real for a bit though: Society is painted as a Gucci bag of some pretty shallow people. Maybe it’s my western mind but the majority of advertising seems to make a women with very few beauty flaws the ultimate trophy, for men and women alike. In the end, it would have been nice if  there was more written by Shiomitsu on this. There isn’t really much to go on from an flimsy ad but perhaps he’s witnessed such complaints of the human trophies.  The scope is pretty thin here…NEXT.

Now ANA’s global ad that everyone’s been up in arms about is something I guess some westerners could feel insulted by. But blonde hair and blue eyes with a protruding nose is the ideal western look to many Japanese. No matter the height, width, or intellect, many some Japanese get star struck on those two features alone, so I really don’t get the uproar. It seems a far cry from Japan’s horrendous Sanbo blackface days. Pretty high chances it’s because no Japanese person really wanted to be black back then. Where is this anger coming from when white beauty and attractiveness is seen as a validation? Even companies in China hire white business models to walk around their offices to convince others their company has global legitimacy spewing from any and all known orifice.  With all the ego boosting ads around, perhaps having a nose rocket is more of an insult than being a shiny trophy.

Shiomitsu is on point on some things. This is definitely not a happy-ending wedding ad. All parties pictured don’t seem to be celebrating blissfully. Let’s face it, Coco Eikaiwa is trying to sell success, not happiness, and boy does Mr. Japanese Winner here feel pretty successful. There was no way this ad said, ‘Learn your true love’s language like Colin Firth did and live in international marital bliss.’ No, this was, ‘Stick it to the man by grabbing the girl first with your newly acquired English skills.’

What’s more head scratching is somewhere in Tokyo, Japanese Donald Draper thought the slogan 「グローバル時代は世界がライバル。」 AKA ‘In the global era, the world is your rival’ for a Japanese-Western wedding was a good idea. I’d get that if it were a typical Japanese business person pictured with other global businesses trying to work a deal; applying it to love seems kinda dickish.

And this bride?! I’m not sure if this is Japan’s interpretation of a submissive foreign woman or if she really wants his goods. The models on a Japanese bridal ad typically have the  wedding bliss face down to a fault. This face is a shrewd, ‘Oh, we got him good’ face.

Brideface

At the end of it all, just as Shiomitsu alluded to, this ad seems to speak more to the Japanese men with an inferiority complex. This ad isn’t for those who are excited about becoming a global nation, this is for Japanese who are stuck in companies with managers bugging them for a TOIEC score of 650 or more. Believe me when I say I’ve taught some of these students. Salarymen who are bothered by the fact that their job or good graces with the boss is in jeopardy because of globalization. This doesn’t refer to the majority of them but definitely a few. Can’t really shame them for it. Could you imagine the Americans who would have a meltdown if their companies passively encouraged them to learn Spanish? I’d say these disgruntled Japanese have handled these global changes a lot better than say Americans watching a Super Bowl Coke commercial. Well, there was the Meiji Restoration, you know that whole thing were Japan nearly imploded on itself over whether or not to open the country to the rest of the world. Maybe there is a Republic Restoration in America’s near future. Coco Juku would have access to plenty of disgruntled American’s forced to learn Spanish.

I caught Coco塾’s new 30-second spot of the Mr Success Wedding ad while watching ‘Masaka Hanashi.’ I..just..can’t.

 

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So…Katakana and The Black Eyed Peas were at a Karaoke Bar…

…and mocked all Japanese students trying to learn English.

A while back I used to teach a 2nd year junior high student. She was vivacious and confident as well as outspoken – that’s super rare for Japanese girls her age. On  random Saturday, she comes to me flashing a printed copy of Boom Boom Pow and bursts out into song. As a fellow Black Eyed Peas fan, I couldn’t help but notice all those f-bombs she was sporting in the lyrics. Yes, encouraging my kid student to sing an explicit song in a foreign language was morally questionable, but that’s for another day. My main ire was her style of singing the song: Stereotypical Japanese. I cringed when she turned Will.I.Am’s ‘Beats so big I’m steppin’ on leprechauns’ line into a comedy bit for closed minded *cough* American *cough cough* English speakers. All you ‘Flied Lice’ jokers are closed-minded English speakers in my book. *Shrug*

Anyway, she knew the words way too well to have learned them from simply paying attention to a dutiful teacher like me.  The the answer to this suspicion was…

KARAOKE BARS WITH ENGLISH SONGS!!

Well, that just brought about more questions. At the time of this surprise concert, I had taught this student English for a good year and some change, so I was pretty sure of her English reading level…definitely not at Boom Boom Pow speed on the Accelerated Reader scale. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would have been a better assumption. So…how’d she do it?

KATAKANA AND FURIGANA!!

For a country collectively eager to learn English, Katakana has to be the worse crutch for Japanese English students. It’s one of the three styles of Japanese writing (Katakana, Hiragana, Kanji) used to for non-Japanese phonetic purposes. For example, This is the word ‘katakana’ written down:

カタカナ

カ(ka) タ (ta) カ (ka) ナ(na).

Here are some other examples of Katakana:

Ice cream:

アイスクリーム

ア(a) イ(i) ス(su) ク(ku) リ(ri) ー(i) ム(mu)

Tia Haygood:

ティア・ヘイグッド

ティ(ti) ア(a)・ヘ(he) イ(i) グ(gu)ッド (ddo)

If you sound out the letters in parenthesis they sound pretty close to the original version. Katakana sounds are basically what many native English speakers hear when listening to a Japanese person speaking with a heavy Japanese accent.

Now here is the English version of Boom Boom Pow and while you’re at it here’s the video if you were living under a rock throughout 2008-2009.

This is what Japanese Karaoke Bar singers read when they sing Boom Boom Pow. *Might as well just scroll through it all, then laugh for understanding ‘3008,’ then move on. 

ゴッター・ゲットゲット・

ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ゴッター・ゲットゲット・

ゴッター・ジージージーゲットゲットゲット・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ノーズ・ブーム・ブーム・

ブーム・ノーズ・ブーム・ブーム・ポーズブーム・ブームズ・

ヨー・アイ・ガート・ザト・ヒット・ザト・ビート・ジー・ブロックズ・

ユー・カン・ギット・ザト・バス・オーバーローッズ・

アイ・ガート・ジー・ザト・ラーク・アンド・ロルズ・

ザト・フューチャー・フローズ・

ザト・ディジットル・スピツ・

ネックスト・レブル・ビズアル・シットズ・

アイ・ガート・ザト・ブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

ハウ・ジー・ビート・バング・ブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

アイ・ライク・ザト・ブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

ゼム・チッキンズ・ジャッキン・マイ・スティレズ・

ゼイ・トライ・コッピー・マイ・スワガーズ・

アイム・オン・ザト・ネックスト・シット・ノーズ・

アイム・ソー・3008・

ユー・ソー・2000アンド・レイテズ・

アイ・ガート・ザト・ブーム・ブーム・ブームズ・

ザト・フューチャー・ブーム・ブーム・ブームズ・

レット・ミー・ギット・イット・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ポーズブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

アイム・オン・ジー・スーペソニック・ブームズ・

ヨル・ヒア・ジー・スペイスシップ・ズームズ・

フウィン・フウィン・アイ・ステップ・インサイド・ジー・ルームズセム・ガールズ・ゴー・エイプシット・アッフズ・

ヨル・スタック・オン・スーパー・シットズ・

ザト・ローフィー・スチューピッド・8ビツ・

アイム・オン・ザト・HD・フラットズ・

ジス・ビート・ゴー・ブーム・ブーム・バップズ・

アイム・エイ・ビースト・フウィン・ユー・ターン・ミー・オンジントー・ジー・フューチャー・シバートロンズ・

ハーダー・ファースター・ベッター・ストロンガーズ・

セックシー・レイディズ・エックストラー・ロンガーズ・

コース・ウィー・ガート・ジー・ビート・ザト・バウンセズ・

ウィー・ガート・ジー・ビート・ザト・パウンズ・

ウィー・ガート・ジー・ビート・ザト・808・

ザト・ブーム・ブーム・イン・ヨー・トーンズ・

ピープル・イン・ジー・プレイセズ・

イフ・ユー・ウォナー・ギット・ドーンズ・

パット・ヨー・ハンズ・イン・ジー・エイ・ウィル・アイ・アムズド・ロップ・ジー・ビート・ノーズ・

ヤップ・ヤップアイ・ビー・ロッキン・ゼム・ビーツ・ヤップ・ヤップズ・

アイ・ビー・ロッキン・ゼム・ビーツ・ウァイーイヤップ・ヤップズ・

ヒア・ウィー・ゴー・ヒア・ウィー・ゴー・サッタライト・アッヂア・

ヤル・ゲッティン・ヒット・ウィス・ブーム・ブームズ・

ビーツ・ソー・ビグ・アイム・ステッピン・オン・レップレッチョーンス

シッティン・オン・ヤル・ウィス・ジー・ブーム・ブームズ・

シッティン・オン・ヤル・ユー・ウィス・ジー・ブーム・ブームズ・

シッティン・オン・ヤル・ユー・ウィス・

セズ・ジス・ビート・ビー・バンピン・バンピンズ・

ジス・ビート・ゴー・ブーム・ブームズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ロックズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ロックズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ロックズ・

ジス・ビート・ビー・バンピン・バンピンズ・

ジス・ビート・ゴー・ブーム・ブームズ・

アイ・ライク・ザト・ブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

ゼム・チッキンズ・ジャッキン・マイ・スティレズ・

ゼイ・トライ・コッピー・マイ・スワガーズ・

アイム・オン・ザト・ネックスト・シット・ノーズ・

アイム・ソー・3008・

ユー・ソー・2000アンド・レイテズ・

アイ・ガート・ザト・ブーム・ブーム・ブームズ・

ザト・フューチャー・ブーム・ブーム・ブームズ・

レット・ミー・ギット・イット・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲットズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ゴッター・ゲットゲット

ズ・ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ブーム・ノーズ・

ブーム・ブーム・ポーズブーム・ブーム・ポーズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ロックズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ラーク・ゼッド・

レット・ジー・ビート・ロックズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ゼッド・レット・ジー・ビートズ・

レット・ジー・ビート・ラーク・ラーク・ラーク・ラーク

ZOMFG! How can anyone learn proper English with that? There aren’t even ABC’s in that sucker (Ok, an ‘H’ and a ‘D,’ and done).

Katakana is basically a Japanese interpretation of English which unfortunately makes my beloved student sing like Breakfast at Tiffany’s stereotypical sounding Mr. Yunioshi instead of something more natural. Japanese American music enthusiasts may get high kicks for singing foreign songs but they aren’t necessarily improving their English skills in the long run. Picking a tremendously difficult Black-Eyed Peas song, isn’t very beneficial either.

On the not so flip-side, I try to improve my Japanese understanding through pop music. I’ll be the first one to stand up and break out a Mr. Children song or Zankoku na Tenshi no Tese in a heart beat. But I do solely read the romaji, AKA the English interpretation of Japanese language? Sometimes, if the song is difficult I’ll use it to get comfortable with the song first. However, it’s almost always better to print out the hiragana and/or kanji to research the meaning and pronunciations of the unknown words to sound more natural.

My confidence in pronunciation, speed, and voice improve when I actually understand what I’m singing. I can’t possibly imagine how Japanese karaoke singers manage to sing any foreign songs decently without understanding a word they’re saying or the general meaning of the song. It’s especially embarrassing for Japanese hip hop fans at a club singing a rap song when the song is clearly giving a ‘black’s only’ message or making reference to cultures, people, or places they’ve never heard of. You’ll never see me singing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs or anything related to the deep south or rednecks.

So my advice to anyone trying to sing a foreign song with ease and fluidity without sounding awkward and looking silly: LOOK THAT KANJI UP! Usually if the song is popular enough there is already a translation posted with. Oh? Need to know how to read that Kanji? No problem. (FURIGANIZER and Hirahira have always helped with reading kanji.

One thing I commend my former student for is taking initiative and being gun-ho about singing in English. Though Black Eyed Peas wouldn’t be the first song I’d pick for learning English at the Junior High level, it’s a start.

じゃあね! Oh and Happy Fourth!

 
 

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Japanese People: Racist? Racially Condescending? Racially Insensitive?

I’d say Japan has a history of being racially insensitive but is drastically improving.

Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has been completely obsessed with adapting western cultures from changing their traditional Japanese garbs for western suits and dresses to prohibiting that notorious homoerotic male culture.

No More Yaoi Ukiyo-e?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Japan fought tooth and nail within itself to get all Japanese on board with assimilating to the western culture. There were numerous expeditions to Europe and America to learn firsthand how to live in a modern western world. One of their observations regarding race was that those with white or lighter skin had power. This assumption backed up their own norm of dark skinned Japanese being broke field workers and light skinned Japanese being wealthy or noble or wealthy and noble.

To be honest, I can’t really blame many Japanese for disregarding those with darker skin and foreigners with dark skin. During Occupation there were a lot of bad rumors going around about black soldiers. Even prostitutes were scared to give service to black soldiers because of the assumption that black men were vicious in bed…and had atrociously huge packages. Once more, African-American and Latino-American portrayal in the media during Japan’s economic bubble didn’t help either. The most soundbites on racial equality went along the lines of, “If whites are ostracizing dark minorities then we’ll do it do because we love white image. (*´▽`*)”

But on the flip side, there are so many positive and humorous reports from other black bloggers and video bloggers about their own experiences. My personal favorite will always be Kemushichan, a very genki Japanese research student who has evolved her blog to new heights since 2006. I began following hers and some other YouTubers when I studied abroad in 2009. But, not all blogs have been positive. There are some discouraging stories for every non-Japanese race. The Dear Life Japan series, at times had some pretty discouraging observations on being a black female in Japan. Also, *giggles for this one* one blogger wrote that an older Japanese man tried to lick her hand because he thought it would taste like coffee. I’m not sure what the Japanese guy was going to expect from the coco bean looking hand but it did earn him a spot on the Black Experience board. It’s best to note that Japan is one of the most homogeneous first world countries on Earth.  It’s bound to have its bumps and bruises when it comes to hosting foreigners in its country.

So…as a black American in Japan am I really going to call the next Japanese kid who looks at me then looks the other way in fear, a racist?

YOU BIGOT!

Probably not.

まったね!

 

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