Oslob: Swimming with the Gentle Giants

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Excerpt from Rose’s Narrative:

The sun-kissed tour guide was humming along a familiar tune from an old radio on our boat. He looked content sitting there whistling every once in a while as he waited for us to finish.

It was a pleasant morning. The sky, a perfect blue dotted by tiny cumulus clouds while the sun wasn’t too bright or too hot. The water was a bit warm too and it was indeed a good day for a swim.

The small town was called Oslob – about two to three hours’ drive away from the Queen City of the South, Cebu.

When my husband and a couple of friends told me that we were going for an adventure, I thought it was something that I can easily do. I guess after climbing the 3,366 ft Mount Arayat in Luzon without any sort of preparation, walking for more than 18 hours in darkness just to reach the peak, sleeping in a horrible tent while the temperature outside dropping to 10 to 15 degrees Celsius on a rainy November month, forging our way in an uncharted territory because the old pathways were destroyed by landslides, getting attacked by a congress of monkeys who stole the rest of our ration and then walking another 20 hours just to get to town, nothing in my mind could top such misadventure. But I was mistaken.

I thought the short seminar had prepared me for what was about to come but it didn’t.1458414_10201221847892995_2103274992_n

I was a few meters away from the boat trying to keep up with my giddy husband when I saw the shadows in the water. When I noticed that there were several of them, I looked at how far I was from the boat and had the tour guide looked my way, he would have seen the dread on my face.

When I finally felt the rough skin of a whale shark caress my back, I put my hand into my mouth to muffle a scream that wasn’t coming. When another one swiped my side, I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Although I grew up near a beach, I haven’t really learned how to swim and with my eyes tightly shut, I was imagining that the rough creatures they called “sharks” are already nibbling on my limbs.

Excerpt from Yeru’s Narrative:

“How do you feel about swimming with whale sharks?” I asked my sister-in-law, Irene, in a chat.

We just got back from Cebu City, an island in the Visayas that is about an hour away by plane from Manila, and had a great time interacting with the giant creatures and I thought it would be a great idea to bring them there once they come home from the States.

“We’ll you see, they might be gentle and all but they are still SHARKS!” she said.

And I remember Rose cursing me for putting her through another hell and I can’t help but just laugh. The truth is, we humans are more dangerous to the whale sharks than they to us. Although whale sharks have gargantuan mouths, the openings where the food passes through are too small that often, they survive on planktons. The fishermen of Oslob had to ground anchovies just for the whale sharks to eat them.

Seeing the whale sharks up close is in itself, a great adventure. The thought can be a little scary but from our experience, it was worth the dip.

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How to get to Oslob:

Option 1: From Manila, book a flight going to Cebu.

a) From Cebu Mactan Airport, rent a taxi going to Cebu South Terminal. (Cost: Php 300 – Php 500)

b) From Cebu South Terminal, look for the Ceres buses going to Oslob.

Earliest bus departure is at 2 a.m. (Cost: Php 150 – Php 250)

Option 2: From Manila, book a flight going to Dumaguete.

a) From Dumaguete Airport, hire a trike that will take you to Sibulan Port. Trip takes about 15mins. (Cost: Php100 -Php150)

b) From Sibulan Port, board the ferry that will depart for Liloan Port. Trip takes about an hour and a half. (Cost: Php100)

c) From Liloan Port, look for buses going to Cebu. Instruct the conductor to drop you off in Oslob. (Cost: Php150 – Php250)

Tips:

a) Once you’re in Oslob, there will be a community fee of Php1000 for foreigners and Php500 for locals to swim with the whale sharks. It will include a short seminar and payment for the boat you’re going to use. Make sure to tip your boatman.

b) Best time to go swimming is early morning since its normally in the morning that the whale sharks are fed.

c) After swimming with the whale shark, rent a trike that will take you to Tumalog Falls and prepare yourself to be mesmerized. I don’t have to say more. You just have to see it for yourself to appreciate.

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Bacolod: The City of Smiles

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If you happen to be in the Philippines in October, head out to Bacolod.

Why?

Because Masskara Festival is happening and you don’t want to be anywhere else.

What’s on it?

  • A 3-week celebration for merry-making and debauchery
  • The Street Dancing is crazy! Think Brazil’s Mardi Gras mashed with the Carnival of Venice with a twist of Filipino fun
  • Several of the main roads closed to give way for food stalls and drinking booths | Street Party at its best!
  • Probably, the longest rows of sumptuous inasal stalls in one setting
  • Events that can range from trade shows, motorbike racing, galas and maybe, cockfights
  • The best time to taste the local delicacies: Pinasugbo, Piaya, Napoleones, and my favorite Kalamayhati

Masskara is a portmanteau of the words mass, meaning a throng/multitude of people, and cara – a spanish word for face. Thus Masskara is not only a pun to maskara which means mask but refers to the multitude of faces that attend the event annually.

Strip down to its core, this yearly event that started in the 1980s was the government’s way of entertaining the people.

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In a survey by Moneysense Magazine in 2008, Bacolod was named the “Best Place to Live in the Philippines.,”

Outside the Metropolitan Manila Area, Bacolod is one of the emerging cities that is becoming a “center of excellence” for information technology and business process management operations.

It is also the gateway to many beautiful islands like Boracay, Guimaras, Siquijor and Iloilo.

(Photos below: Different angles of The Lagoon and the Capitol Area)

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(Photos below: San Sebastian Cathedral, two angles taken from The Plaza)

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(Photo below: A typical night scene in Bacolod)

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How to get there:

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Bacolod City is located 45-minutes away by plane south of Manila with several airlines having multiple flights going on and off the island daily.

Mode of transportation from the airport to the city proper is often by shared van (Php150-200/pax or $4/pax) or taxi (Php500 or $12).

Travel time from the airport to the city proper normally takes about 30 to 45-minutes.

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Of WordPress, travelling, and the Philippines

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Story Behind the Photo: In 1521, the globe-trotting navigator Magellan landed in Limasawa Island probably lost while looking for the “Spice Islands.” To cut the long story short, a local datu (ruler) named Lapu-lapu (representational statue shown above) and his men slew Magellan and almost all of his men. Although Magellan died, others followed in his footsteps until the Philippines eventually became a colony of Spain. The name “Philippines” came from King Phillip II who was then, the king of Spain.

 

I recently got this notice from WordPress congratulating me for reaching 10 posts. I didn’t realize that in a matter of 2 months or so, I could churn and make so much updates. (I really think 10 posts are that many, lol!).

What really makes me happy every time I check WordPress are the number of my followers and those that visit the blog. For something I originally intended for family and friends, I get surprised every time when someone from another country follows it let alone read the entries. I am yet to hear if the readers like the photos more than the writing but it is heartwarming to know that someone out there is reading or looking at what I put up in here. I now have 22 followers and somehow it felt fulfilling to know that that many are interested.

Every day, I get more excited to write something new. I work a nine-to-six job and writing an article about the places I’ve gone to is not only relaxing but meditative. I get to relieve exciting moments– and sharing the experiences felt like doing service to someone out there who might have no idea what it is like in this place or that.

Most of the blog entries I posted so far focused on Thailand and Cambodia. I’ve explained it a few posts ago that it was my first time to go abroad and it was a great feeling seeing other places than your own. The truth is, it took me this long to travel abroad because I feel like there is so much in my own country that I don’t know yet. I made a deal with myself many years ago that before I go somewhere else, I must be able to say to all that I will meet that I have seen the northernmost part and the southernmost part of my country and in some way, I already did.

I know each of us is proud of the places we come from. That sense of pride is inherent almost to everyone. In my head, I have a plan to visit as many places as possible (maybe your place is one of them) and write about them. I want to write about the things I find bizarre, the magnificent landscapes, the charming people – they are all part of my story that is yet to be written.

But before I can get that dream realized, if you are in your own journey of going places and you’d like to hear about mine, I will start posting entries regarding my own country – what you can do here, where you can go, what you will see, who you should meet, where you should eat and I will explain why you have to go there and meet that someone or see that place or eat at that place. Hopefully, this blog will be both entertaining and educational.

So, ladies and gentlemen, in my next posts, meet my country – the Philippines. I hope the things I write will prompt you to visit it one day. If you like the beach, we have 7,107 islands and our best sun is not only the one in the sky but the one in our flag that symbolizes a lot of things but to me, symbolizes best the sunny disposition of the Filipino people.

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Day 2 (Part 3) The Streets that Come Alive at Night

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The long trip from Thailand to Siem Reap, first by train and then by bus, gives us an overview of what Cambodia is like. What we saw were miles and miles of wide fields and acres and acres of farm lands but when we got to Siem Reap, the real fun began.

Siem Reap is one amazing place and the city center pretty much has everything. Because the Angkor is a world heritage site, expect thousands of tourist anywhere you go.

After our amazing dinner at Koulen Restaurant, we went to see the city center at night. And at night, all roads lead to the Night Market and Pub Street.

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The Night Market

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This is a circuitous area and you can literally get lost in aisles and aisles of stalls and small stores selling authentic leather bags to bizarre snakes in a jar.

There are stalls dedicated to clothes and souvenirs while there are those dedicated to artisan works.

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I find it amazing that the uniqueness of Cambodian culture and style has seeped through even the narrow aisles of the Night Market. It can indeed be said that Cambodians had mastered the art of carving. Art cannot just be found in the massive, well-engraved Angkor walls but superb quality works are right on the streets sold at affordable prices.

“When buying at the Night Market, make sure to haggle. They said that haggling is a skill so this is the best place to practice that. It wouldn’t hurt to haggle like it’s the end of the world. It is amazing how you can get some items $3 to $5 cheaper than the original cost.”

The Pub Street

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This is Siem Reap’s version of Thailand’s Khao San Road although that might be an unfair comparison. Restaurants of all shapes and sizes, bars of different quirks and oddity, converged in this area all in the name of serving fun and food to visiting tourists.

I think somehow, businesses at this side of town try to be as odd as possible to attract customers. I think somehow they operate with the notion that the odder their business are, the intriguing they become and somehow it makes a lot of sense. For a lot of travelers sans research, it’s hard to distinguish what’s genuine or fake in a certain culture so might as well try anything unfamiliar.

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We walked several blocks, in and out from one establishment to the next to have a real feel of the place. Interesting enough,we discovered that there’s a place (make that a restaurant )for everyone even those not willing to experiment with food. (Yep, famous fast food chains can be found within the area.)

These are some things worth taking note of:

a) Aside from Cambodian Riel, dollars is acceptable in almost all store (in fact, we found it best to transact using dollars)

b. Tuktuks just normally cost $2, more than that, you might really be going a very far place

c) The street food can be just as delicious as any restaurant offering. Just be smart about where and what you eat though.

d) It’s best to walk.

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Day 2 (Part 3) Expenses

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(We walked from Pub Street to our hotel. We were so full from the buffet that drinking didn’t appeal to us.)

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The Patient: An Excerpt

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“I’m here.”

“Look back.”

But she just kept on walking. Like she didn’t hear. Like she didn’t care.

The tiny drops of rain were freezing cold and they were as chilly as the agonizing pain in my heart that is growing heavier by the second.

“You can’t leave yet.”

Her hair were rumpled, the way she always want them to be and from behind I can see her tugging them. I can sense that she felt cold too because she then wrapped her hands around her while walking farther away.

“Look back, goddamit!”

But it seemed she didn’t hear. Or she prefer not to hear.

I can’t let go.She has all of me and to let go is to lose all of me.

 

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P.S. I know this entry is not really travel related but I have this photo that I really really wanted to post and posting it on its own seemed such a waste. I just want to do something simple and different. Don’t go looking for the The Patient: a Novel because the book just exists in my head. Anyway, hope you like the photo. Have a great day. 🙂

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Masskara Festival: Soul of a Nation

The Philippines is a country of many things sometimes it’s hard to determine what its national identity really is.

If you are one of those who’d like to fully know its people and customs, the best place to be is in Bacolod — otherwise known as the City of Smile, which is located in Central Philippines in the Visayas Region.

The people from different parts of the country gather in Bacolod every October to participate in this 3-week long revelry, making Masskara one of the longest running fiestas in the country.

No matter the many bad things this country has gone through over the last 300 years, the sunny disposition of many locals, “the ability to put on a happy face” despite the most dire of circumstance is what endeared the Filipinos to the world.

P.S. I’m still learning the ropes of filmmaking so excuse the unprofessional feel of the video.

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Rice Harvest: Something To See/Experience in Person Before You Die

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For many Filipinos, rice is the staple in every meal.  The same is true for most Asian countries. I grew up with kids who define proper meal as anything with rice on it. That means cereal is never breakfast, pizza is never lunch and mashed potato is but a dessert.

For many children of the new generation, it is hard to imagine how the rice on their plate came to be. If they are to meet my grandmother, a lifetime rice farmer, who would tell them “you should eat every grain of rice on your plate because it is equivalent to the many sweats on a farmer’s brow,” they probably won’t understand.

Children these days have grown accustomed to having everything right at their fingertips. The rice they see on their plates, to their understanding probable came out just as it already is. And that for me is really tragic and sad.

 

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For those visiting Asian countries especially the Philippines, if there’s one adventure I’d like for you to embark on, it would be to try your hands on rice harvesting or to just see one up close. I’d like for many to try carrying one sack of rice and imagine the burden; to thresh the stalks and smell the freshness of the new mown hay;  to sit with the old gals while winnowing and join kids as they eat on banana leaves; to share stories of pains, hopes and dreams with farmers who might not even experience how it is to travel far beyond the confines of their farmlands.

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There’s nothing glamorous about it. It’s not going to be as fun as mountain climbing or white-water rafting. It’s not going to be as adrenaline-pumping as sky-diving or even cliff-diving. Worst, it’s going to be about mud and dirt and the terribly hot midday sun.

But it’s going to be worth it.

 

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 One of the Philippines most respected national artists, Fernando Amorsolo, has drawn inspiration from this time-tested tradition and way of life. In his lifetime, Amorsolo has painted numbers of rice harvest-related scenes. If you see one in person, you will understand why. It is easy to fall in love to this authentic provincial scene.

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 Credits to: http://fernandoamorsolopaintings.com/

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 Credits to: http://fernandoamorsolopaintings.com/

If one is observant enough, one will notice that there is real brotherhood and camaraderie on these occasions – one that is seldom seen these days and it is something that is truly worth being proud of – not just as an Asian or a Filipino but as a human being. And that is why at least once in your life, you have to see or experience how it is done.

As for those children who don’t know the value of hard work, well, this would be a real eye-opener. We don’t have buttons to make rice. And unfortunately, nothing might be invented anytime soon.

 

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Day 2 (Part 2): Misadventures Before the Dances

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There were two incidents that made the trip to Cambodia from Thailand a little bit disconcerting although we already anticipated that there will be misadventures along the way.

The first one was the kicking vendor, who (yep) kicked Yetro, the kind gentleman who became our instant tour guide, several times because he ran after her asking for the change that the lady tried to cheat from us. The lady made a scene on the train and Yetro, standing for what was right, didn’t back down responding to the cheater with the same level of aggression she was hurling at him. Some things got thrown at us but in the end, Yetro successfully got the money back for us. It was unnerving and embarrassing but we didn’t let it distress us for long.

The second incident happened as we looked for the “official” Cambodian Bureau of Immigration.

After getting off from Aranyaprathet station, we found a tuk-tuk that brought us to Poipet for 100 baht. Poipet is where you cross Thailand to Cambodia.

“Note: 100 baht is the average rate for the 10-15 minute ride from Aranyaphratet station to Poipet. Some tuktuk will charge more but if you’re not in a hurry, you’ll find one with a good rate.”

After having our passports stamped in Thailand’s immigration office without incident, we passed through the border arch thinking that the Cambodian immigration office is just close nearby. We wasted a good 20 minutes walking back and forth looking for where to have our passports stamped. On the left side of the street is a giant casino and on the right are buildings that do not resemble an immigration office at all. It took as a while to finally find the office and somehow, it has an appearance of being a hole in the wall.

 

Note: After passing through the arch (photo below), you’ll have to walk for 5-10 minutes at the right side of the street. Eventually, you will find a blue sign with the Bureau of Immigration markings on it. It’s a little bit hard to find but following where the crowd (by crowd, I mean other tourists) goes, you will find it eventually.

Avoid accepting any assistance because it would mean paying for the services. Make sure to fill out the entry form before going to the immigration window.

 

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After having our passports stamped, we boarded the free bus that took us to the terminal where buses, taxis and vans going to Siem Reap are waiting. The terminal appeared to be abandoned when we got there but after a while, more tourists came in. The prices for shared taxis, vans and buses are posted on the wall close to the ticketing office.

Note: As of this trip (March 2014), bus fare costs $10-$15 per person, taxi costs $40- $50 (3-4 pax) and shared van costs $10 per person. We talked to other tourists and decided to share van since it was cheaper and faster than the bus.

The trip from the terminal to Siem Reap was about 2-3 hours long with one stop along the way for toilet/comfort room needs. The trip was uneventful.

Upon arriving at the van station, we hailed a tuktuk going to the town proper. It’s where we met Suni, a down-to-earth, honest-as-hell tuktuk driver who became our companion/tour guide/ concierge for the next two days.

 

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Amazingly, there are many hotels and hostels all over the town proper of Siem Reap that caters to different needs. We already have a hotel in mind but Suni explained to us that it was located at the edge of town and that it’s quite far and maybe a little inconvenient for us if we want to see Siem Reap at night.

 

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Since there were three of us, we decided to allocate $30-35 for our hotel. We selected a four-star hotel with free breakfast and swimming pool a few meters away from Pub Street.  After dropping us at the hotel, Suni asked if we have plans for the evening and telling him we have none, inquired if we would like to have dinner at Koulen Restaurant where the buffet costs $17 per person and we will be able to watch a cultural show for free.  Suni also agreed that we pay him the $30 tuktuk fee later once he already dropped us at the restaurant. We agreed on a time for him to pick us up and amazing enough, he arrived 10 to 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.

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Khoulen Restaurant proved to be a very good decision for us. The buffet served amazing and authentic Khmer food. But for those who wouldn’t dare experiment, well, you can always have the ones in the photos below.

 

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The restaurant presented several cultural dances while we were eating. An explanation was made regarding the story and the characters in the dances but because the room was too noisy, we didn’t get to her the program host properly. Despite not having any idea what was presented, I found myself appreciating the theatricality, the vibrancy and the grace put in each production.

 

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Watch out for Day 2 (Part 3).

 

Day 2 (Part 2) Expenses:

Tuktuk Fare                        Php50.00  (150/3pax) Aranyaphratet to Poipet

Shared Van Fare               Php440 / pax

Tuktuk Fare                       Php440 (1300/3pax)  Siem Reap Van Terminal to Hotel, Hotel to Restaurant

Dinner Buffet                     Php750

Hotel Fee                           Php517.00 (1550/3pax) With Free Breakfast

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Total                                      Php2197

 

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The Carvings on the Walls

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(Most of my blog entries are Cambodian or Thailand-centric lately. Excuse me for it being so. I just have to get the excitement out of my system for me to move on.)

I know that I’m not the first one to obsess about Cambodia. If you’d been there and see the ruins up close, it would be easy to understand why a lot of people will ramble on and on about it long after the trip is over.

Cambodia has gone through happier times. A time when the fields were not dying, the orphans taken cared of, and the country was flourishing. That happy time (and I could be wrong) are written on the walls, etched into the faces of beings imitating a Monalisa smile. The smirks on these beings’ faces, when I look at them, seem to hold secrets impressing on me that the past might have it better at life.

For life in Cambodia at present is very different.

There is something sad about Cambodia. Its temples are majestic, no doubt, but there is something about our whole trip that generated such strong sad, melancholic emotion.

Walking through the empty halls of the Angkor Wat, climbing the still sturdy stairs of Bayon, and even walking the well-lit streets of Pub Street, I can’t shake away the feeling that there is something wrong underneath the surface. The laughters of rowdy tourists can’t mask it. But maybe it’s just my impression. I think we just connected with some locals at a level that we got to see the place from their perspective and the impression it left on us is that at present, there is little hope.

All of us may go to the same place but each of us will have different take aways. These photos are my takeaways and on them, the past smiles at the present. Maybe because the past knows that the present can do better.

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Cambodia: The Ruins That Haunt Me

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My head is a jungle mess. I have planned out what to write but I can’t write fast enough to get them all out. So right now, I’m taking a momentary break from the monotony of my narration and instead just focus on the photos that have gotten me excited.

As the title has made obvious, these are a few of the ruins that I think I would forever remember. I used to just see them from someone else’s work and now, I have my pretty amazing collection.

I hope you will all enjoy them as much as I did.

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Let me know what you think of these pictures. 🙂

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