So far, so good

What for should I ask more

Sunday, July 20, 2008

TBR16: Of physicians and physicists

Sir, I mean no disrespect but I hated Physics.

I never quite understood what- to me- are abstract concepts like torque and acceleration. The myriad formula and mathematical equations did not help. So it was with a heavy heart that I enrolled for Physics 71 class in that fateful summer of 1999 in UP Diliman. I took it as one of my science electives for my BS Psychology degree but more importantly, it was said to be a requirement for medical school which I planned to begin attending the following year.

Spending summer studying Physics wasn’t really how I envisioned the beginning of my last year in Diliman will be. But looking back now, Physics helped me become not just a good physician but a better Filipino as well.

I enrolled in your Physics class, you a (then?) young professor who acted as adviser of the organization I was a founding member of. I hoped to get through the class with much ease, what with my “connections” with you. As summer weeks spent in school are wont to do, they dragged on, terribly slow. It being a 12nn-2pm class (if I remember correctly) didn’t help one bit. In short, the class was a mega-struggle for me.

Until one day, a group of student activists doing an RTR (room to room) requested permission to speak to our class about the Visiting Forces Agreement or the VFA. It was around this time that much debate was taking place whether or not the Philippines should enter into such an agreement with the United States. The VFA aims to set the guidelines, among other things, for the conduct of members of the US armed forces while stationed in the RP. The recent event surrounding Daniel Smith and Nicole has served as a test case for the VFA. But I digress.

You allowed the ED (educational discussion) to proceed and gave them about 15 minutes of our precious class hours for the discussion of VFA. Afterwards, you shook hands with the students as they left the room and thanked you for the time you gave for the ED. I must admit I was a bit baffled. Not too many teachers would allow an ED in their class, especially during summer class. The schedules are tight: they have to fit a semester’s worth of classroom activities in just four short weeks.

Apparently, one of the ED proponents who visited us was a classmate of yours who, for one reason or another, is still to graduate from the university. You then subtly juxtapose your life with those of the students who just gave us an ED. This juxtaposition remains with me to this day.

You graduated on time, with a degree in Physics, magna cum laude- if I’m not mistaken. You already finished your Masters of Science degree, graduating with the best GWA in his batch of graduate students. At that time of our class, you were already working on your Ph.D. You taught in the UP- for a pittance (I now know this for a fact, sir). While your classmate, is still, well, a student, possibly overstaying his welcome in the university, occupying *space* and squandering university resources invested in him in the process.

As you were teaching in the UP, you shared that you were also helping develop a textbook of basic Physics for Filipino high school students- in the vernacular. You were not brandishing Manila paper signs blotched with red paint but the textbook you were working on was your simple, concrete contribution to Philippine society, helping bring empowerment through science education.

Thanks to you, I came to realize that not all activists are on the streets and not all those on the streets are activists.

I always thought that I was less of a UP student because I can only think of one rally that I joined. It was a rally- just a picket actually, considering that there were just 20 or so of us students who were “encouraged” by our Kas II teacher to participate in the protest in front of Quezon Hall- against the Commonwealth Property Development Plan (CPDP). Let’s just say that UP almost had a mall for a next door neighbor had the CPDP pushed through. I hasten to add that my voice in the protest is but a teensy-weensy bit in the larger community effort to reject the CPDP. ANYWAY…

I always thought that I was less of a UP student because I was not the typical activist, much to my mother’s relief. But your 20 or so minute spiel one summer day almost a decade ago propelled me through medical school, my work in Gawad Kalinga, and my work now in the UP. It boosted my belief that I can practice my own brand of activism and help effect positive change even if I don’t march in the streets and hurl invectives against government, opposing the latter on every occasion.

Inspired in no small terms by you, my erstwhile Physics teacher, I opted to value the investments in me by my parents and the Filipino taxpayer by graduating on time, both in my undergraduate as well as my medical degree. I opt to work with underserved communities even with the prospect of leaving and living abroad. I do on occasion also post on walls Manila papers that contain, rather than angry slogans, lessons on hand washing or hypertension, etc directed to community health workers.

Sir, I sat in your Physics class 9 years ago thinking it will be the worst summer yet. Sir, you have not have succeeded in purging me of my dislike for the subject matter that you teach. Dr. Chris Monterola, I still hate Physics but because of *that* day in your class, I love the Philippines more. I will be always grateful.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Say NO to violence against women

The United Nation Development Fund for Women or UNIFEM, led by Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman, has launched a campaign urging the public to Say NO to Violence against Women. This advocacy campaign has its roots in the fact that one in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. And we can help to put a stop to this by lending our names and voices to Say NO to violence against women.

UNIFEM East and Southeast Asia Regional Office is actively promoting the campaign to show that we in this part of the world do care for survivors of violence around the world. Add your name at to demonstrate that you are among an ever-growing movement of people who demand that ending violence against women be a top priority.

Please email this campaign to all your contacts or post it in your own blogs. UNIFEM will handover the signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2008, to support his efforts.

Thank You for YOUR support!

* Re-posting this campaign from an email of one of our professors, Dr Anthony Cordero, Director of the UP Manila Center for Gender and Women's Studies

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Life according to… ABBA (Mamma Mia! The Movie)

After allowing a string of blockbusters (e.g. Sex and the City, Indiana Jones, The Incredible Hulk, among others) to come and go in local cinemas, my sister coaxed all three of us (my brother in law included) into watching MAMMA MIA! yesterday. If I only knew how wonderful this movie was earlier on, I would have gladly fallen in line on the first day! Simply put, the movie is a fantastic visual and auditory spectacle, light enough for you to forget the time and just have a *great* time, but (ABBA-)intensive enough for junkies to go ballistic.

(This Mamma Mia movie review reveals a few minor details about the film, FYI.)

Set on a small Greek island, the story revolves around the lives of 20-year old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep). As they prepare for Sophie’s wedding, a curious series of events ensue when Donna’s erstwhile free-spiritedness catches up with her in the form of three ex-boyfriends, each of whom was invited by Sophie, thinking that she’d finally meet her dad in one of these three men. Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stelan Skarsgard) come back to the Greek island, thinking they’d be *just* attending the wedding of their ex-girlfriend’s daughter. A happy melee ensues as Donna’s former backup singers Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), Sophie’s bridesmaid, her fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper), their friends, and the whole population of the island join in the family’s journey of love, freedom, and self-discovery, punctuated by wonderfully placed, endearing, enduring ABBA songs.

In not so many words, I love the movie!

The plot seemed too Pinoy for comfort- but I guess that’s one of its strengths: that the storyline is outrageous bordering on real, like what most Filipino movies and teleseryes embrace. But the story was given life by such wonderful actors, most notable of course is Meryl Streep, who effortlessly sheds her Miranda Priestly persona to embrace the uber- rambunctious character of Donna- innkeeper and mother of the bride. She just shines and owns the movie! My sister and I were trying to figure out who else could play her part: Diane Lane? Dianne Keaton? Nah- Meryl Streep nails it- every song, every tumble, every stomp of her platform shoes, every time.

Also showing her onscreen mettle is Sophie aka Amanda Seyfried, formerly a Mean Girls compatriot of Lindsay Lohan and a mainstay as Bill Paxton’s daughter in the groundbreaking HBO series about a polygamist family- Big Love (I *heart* this series!). She exudes freshness and subtle innocence, spiked with a feisty streak that convinced me that she IS Donna’s daughter. That her voice is SO easy on the ears is an understatement.

The rest of the cast are old reliables: classic Pierce Brosnan suaveness, impeccable Colin Firth dramedic timing. I have to admit the other main characters are recent blips on my very limited movieworld radar- but the Dynamos Aunt Tanya and Aunt Rosie render Donna more human and helps unravel her true soul.

Now, the songs.

First off, I thank my parents for their love of music, for always sharing with us “their” era and song choices. Else, the full impact of the movie would have been greatly muted (no pun intended). We grew up with many an ABBA tape and CD at home; my sister and I know at least the chorus of a good two-thirds of the songs sang in the movie. (The CD of the soundtrack which we bought as soon as we exited the cinema contains 17 songs used in the movie, but there are 1-2 songs sang in the film that weren’t in the CD. The CD is a blast, by the way! Consider getting it, please!)

The songs were PERFECTLY placed- they captured the emotions and thoughts of the characters in the scenes they were sung: joy, giddiness, delight, frustration, anguish. The actors molded the songs into tools to display these thoughts and emotions. I never knew ABBA churned out a HUGE repertoire of songs that depict a wide range of human situations, from a parent letting go of a child about to venture into the adult world (Slipping Through My Fingers) to an overt declaration of availability to the world (Take A Chance on Me). The songs seemed very well placed- they enhanced the storytelling without obscuring key details and plotlines. Watch out for my favorite scenes- the Dancing Queen sequence and the The Winner Takes It All sequence!

Vistas of the Greek island where the story unfolded exploded on screen, add to this sensory feast. The dawn/dusk scenes, the march up the white chapel, the dock scenes with the crazy island denizens and wedding party are my favorites! They framed the songs and emotions perfectly I felt like jumping unto the screen to join them or it felt like they’d burst out unto the theater for sheer joy of doing what they do. The island residents and inn employees provide nifty one-liners and sidelong glances that propel the comedy or underscore poignant points.

This movie is such a joy to watch, especially for ABBA fans, videoke junkies, musical mavens. If you don’t fit in any of those categories, the movie may seem a bit… off… considering that they break out into song not a few times in the film. This last fact seemed lost to many filmgoers, evidenced by the poorly stifled guffaws of some people in the theater we watched the movie in.

But even if you define yourself as having very minimal interest in ABBA in particular or music in general, the film offers a scintillating love story, set in a picturesque locale, with characters portrayed by a fantastic cast, framed by songs so apt they are both timely and timeless.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ayala Recyclables Fair - July 2008

Re-posting this announcement from my sister who is a part of the Ayala group.

The Recyclables Fair are held on a regular basis.
All Recyclables Fairs are open from 8 am to 3 pm

Paseo de Magallanes - 1st fridays
Goldcrest Parking lot in Glorietta, Makati - 2nd fridays
Alabang Town Center - 3rd fridays
TriNoma in Quezon City. - 4th fridays

We have Saturday fairs at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig and in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna. However these are held every other month or a quarterly basis, respectively.
BGC - July 12, Sept 13, and Nov 8.
Nuvali - July 26 and October 25.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Blog Rounds (TBR) 7: Mission I *HEART* the Philippines 2008 ed.

There’s something about being outside the Philippines that triggers a certain “nostalgia” for all things Filipino. As the cliché goes, you‘ll never know how valuable something is until it has escaped your grasp, temporarily or forever.

Mission: I *Heart* the Philippines was formally spawned in December 2006 while I was coping with jetlag in a hotel in San Francisco. I got an enthusiastic response from friends and strangers alike who came up with lists of everyday things, events, places, and personalities that often escape appreciation due to their “ordinariness.”

A year and a half after, I’m revisiting this “mission” and encouraging colleagues from the healthcare profession to journey with me. Here's what they have to say-

Doc Joey narrates how her Chinese connection has led her “home.”

Doc JA shares how the secret of Filipinos’ coping mechanism to the most dire of situations makes them lovable.

Doc Tes presents a nifty illustration of the things simple yet precious that can be best availed in the Philippines.

See how closely connected Bambang and Balut and Manny Pacquiao and the Madrigal Singers are in Doc Mel’s interesting inventory.

It is difficult to NOT find yours in MerryCherry MD’s list of 101 favorite details she likes about being Filipino.

On her third attempt to write *something*, the Pinoy Megamom has created a sumptuous litany of *everything* that makes her see the Philippines in a category all its own.

All that Hong Kong is is no match to Filipino mangoes, music, and Moalboal, if it were up to Doc Gigi to decide.

Doc Ness loves the Philippines because of, in spite of, with the hopes of...

Doc Abner maybe Down Under but he still has a lot of love for the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Using just three reasons, Doc Emer proves the point that loving the Philippines is not the least bit foolish.

QC Councilor Doray, MD share her personal take on who and what makes her proud to be Filipino.

Swim into the Bone Doc’s collection of photos and emerge loving the country more.

Operating on the premise that we have no other option but to love the Philippines, Doc Martin reminds us WHY we need to love the country while
Doc Carl offers one simple advise on HOW to show our love for the nation.

This fantastic group of people has created a powerful must-read for any Filipino who suffers from an acute or chronic bout of lack-of-love-or-hope-for-the-Philippines-itis. They have put together timely and timeless reminders on why the Philippines is such a great country and why Filipinos have a great nation, worth dying for and living for.

And as for me? Here’s why I *heart* the Philippines, in no particular order-

I love the Philippines because it is the only home I will truly have. I may transfer residence or pledge allegiance to another sovereign; the Philippines may even reject me, eject me, and have nothing to do with me. But at the end of it all, it will always be my only home, the land of my birth. Nothing will take that away from the Philippines.

I love the Philippines for its unbelievable abundance of unique natural resources, evidenced by such amazing sites like the Banawe Rice Terraces, Tubbataha Reef, and Boracay. Yet it features a lot of Philippine places that makes you blurt out- this looks like Paris or New York or D.C. It’s a happy incunabula of wild city living and tame country roads. I love the Philippines because it’s the whole world by itself.

I love the Philippines because of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; or more accurately, who and what she represents. Women are human beings in the Philippines, equal, if not greater in stature, than the males of the nation. Women in our country enjoy rights and privileges unheard of in many places. They walk ahead, behind, beside anyone, at any time; they even walk alone. They study in universities; the universe is theirs for the tinkering. They drive cars and jeepneys; they can even drive an entire nation. Yes, to *some* extent, I love the Philippines because of Gloria.

I love the Philippines because we are an opinionated country. We are almost always free to think, act, speak, look, taste, smell, feel in whatever manner we wish to do so. We can complain, we can protest, we can praise, we can laud, we can be loud. I love this country because of it has a 88 million presidents. I love this country because people here care enough to make their voices hoarse and their skin burnt and their index finger soiled by the so-called indelible ink and their thumbs sore from texting to support their chosen candidate from all shapes and types of contest. I love the Philippines because we have options and we can choose not to choose at times.

I love the Philippines because we are a land of hardy people, able to think of a thousand and one uses for the coconut tree, how to make a living by feeding people stuck in traffic with fish crackers, and converting advertisement tarpaulins into chic bags. National resilience has been forged by successive typhoons and colonizers; tough countenance and a matching faith molded by political hazards and perennial restless fault lines. The Philippines is inhabited by a population made stronger by nature and its own pitfalls a species.

I love the Philippines because the wonder and beauty of its parts exceed the grandeur of its entirety. From the gustatory delights like adobo, sisig, and balut to the massive nation-building efforts of Gawad Kalinga; from the amazing beaches of Amanpulo to the amazing musicality of the Philippine Madrigal Singers; from the resolute physicians of the Doctors to the Barrios program to the highly-adaptable business process outsourcing companies to the underappreciated Filipinos working abroad; from high school students of rural secondary schools who top international sci-tech competitions to low-budget independent films that wow the world; from the historic churches of Miag-ao and San Agustin to the grand temples of Binondo and enduring mosques of Mindanao… The list just goes on and on.

I don’t think I will ever complete this task, enumerating why I *heart* the Philippines.

I thought this task will be easy, me the eternal optimist and guy forever in love with the Philippines. I thought I would just be churning out one great Philippine item, person, or place with great ease and fulfill this task in no time at all. However, many negative socio-political issues muddle our view of ourselves and our country.

It is so easy to give in. And give up.

But as Filipinos are wont to do, we don’t easily give in and give. So far, I see, feel, taste, smell, hear enough goodness- much, much goodness- in the Philippines and among Filipinos for me NOT to give in to the temptation to abandon ship, and give up the country as a lost cause.

To give in and give up, methinks, is characteristically un-Filipino.

(Many, many, many thanks for the overwhelming response of The Blog Rounds MDs. Thank YOU for the inspiration to continue being in love with the Philippines and putting that love into action. My apologies for the uber-late posting of TBR 7. God bless us all. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!)

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Home is where the hunt ends

When I was a university undergraduate, the only way I found an apartment to live in was through word of mouth. The university office for student housing offers good, inexpensive accommodations but they are often filled up soon after the vacancies are posted. Others have to contend with off campus housing where they have no control about the type of roommates they will have. Choosing an apartment, as what much of life is- is like a box of chocolates… You just don’t know what you’re going to have.

You can make life in your new home more predictable, though, by checking out offers a novel approach to house-, apartment-, or roommate-hunting. It is an online portal that brings together place owners and place hunters where the traditional, hit-and-miss method of looking for The Right One to share a roof with takes a backseat to the possibly more instantaneous and interactive method, which may yield better matches faster.

The site offers easy to navigate pages that load speedily thanks to the simple no-nonsense layout and graphics. You can browse the available rooms and apartments in the US, Canada, and the UK by clicking on the list of cities or entering a particular ZIP code. You can make the results more attuned to your needs by entering the size of the apartment you are seeking, the amount you are willing to pay monthly, plus apartments from how far from the city you wish the search to include, choosing from among those with or without photos.

Roommate search is made easier and more, well, systematic, by sorting them by categories like age, sex, even by zodiac. You can also view the profiles of your possible roommate who chose to put up theirs and leave a message- but only if you sign up for the free membership. supports fair housing and equal opportunity so every decent, law-abiding person has the chance to find or post a home for rent.

As the world gets smaller and more people compete for seemingly dwindling resources like good apartments with quality roommates, the innovation which brings to cyberspace makes the task of matching the best home to the best tenant yield more hits than misses.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yes, it is worth it

Two years ago this week, I began my stint at the other side of the teacher’s table in the UP College of Medicine. My first major task then was what I did today, act as preceptor for a group of second year medical students who visited a health center in Pasay City and its environs. Our aim was to give them a glimpse of the local healthcare delivery system and the state of the constituents the center serves.

It was a great bonus that the students who I acted preceptor for was the same group I worked with the last year, during the first week of their class as first years. We proceeded to our present task on hand, trudging along under the hot 1pm sun towards the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Pedro Gil Station. We quickly found ourselves jostled in the packed train en route to the Taft-EDSA LRT-MRT (Metro Rail Transit) station where we were to ride a tricycle to the San Pablo Health Center.

And then it happened. My own version of a wardrobe malfunction.

Before I left the office to meet my group, my belt died. I was adjusting it too vigorously that the buckled broke loose from the belt. Despite my best MacGyver attempts, the belt died. Since I was wearing a rather lose pair of pants, I opted to secure them to my waist by using a foldback clip- that black, some-kind-of-a-mini-black-hand-bag-looking office supply. It worked.

Until we were walking up the stairs from the LRT station headed to the MRT side. The foldback clip suddenly became loose and my pants fell 1/5 of the way down my bum. I just caught it in time- before the students, who were before me, beside me, AND behind me, could see what a side of their teacher that can scar them for life.

And so I left them to fend for themselves at a fastfood joint while I scoured the mall joining the two train systems for a clothing store that sells belts. As is wont to happen, no such luck in the first two stores I tried.

The store sold a benign belt in MY size so I just grabbed it and brought it to the cashier. Only to find out that I only had 60 pesos in my wallet: I gave part of the money in my wallet for the typhoon victims in UP Visayas and I bought lunch. Good thing I had my BPI atm card, I can just pay straight from that card. But the machine won’t accept my card. Finally, my credit card consummated the sale and I was off to meet my students, pants securely fastened to my burgeoning waist.

We literally waded through a sea of humanity, crossing from the mall to the other side of EDSA. Thousands of people were making the same trek as we were, plus a thousand others were trying to get into the MRT station via a new, one-way traffic scheme. It took us almost forever to get to the other side. Once there we went right away to the tricycle station to scamper towards the San Pablo Health Center.

It was one of the bumpiest 15-minute-or-so tricycle ride I’ve ever had. It didn’t help that I was riding behind the tricycle driver and we were crossing a major thoroughfare. We safely reached the San Pablo Health Center a good hour late, no thanks to my wardrobe malfunction.

Once there, we were introduced to the local health system of Pasay by the health center doctor, Dr Sy. He explained the protocols and personnel which make the center run. The students fielded a good number of questions such as the average number of consults, types of patients seen, dealing with emergencies in the community, among others. The volunteer village health workers then shared their own experiences as partners in promoting health in the community. The group then split into five groups which toured the different areas of the barangay.

After thirty or so minutes, we all came back to the health center to discussed what we all learned in the afternoon’s session. There was a steady stream of questions ranging from BHW compensation to health and sanitation issues. But the most difficult question was not about a DOH policy or some health concerns. The question that struck me the most was this:

With all the hassles of riding the LRT, the tricycle, all the dust and the heat- is it worth it? Coming to Pasay and working with these communities?

I paused for a millisecond, and put on my self-effacing hat:

I replied, yes it is worth it.

It is worth it, I explained, because I am a person with low EQ. I am impatient. I can’t wait to improve the health system by dealing with one patient at a time. By working with communities, I can help effect wider, faster change. How? By engaging communities, like training volunteer village health workers through whom I multiply myself as a health service provider. The outcomes are worth all the hassle, when erstwhile idle mothers, wives, grandmothers now feel a certain amount of empowerment because of some knowledge or skill I have shared which in turn they are duty-bound to share with their families and neighbors.

That answered seemed to suffice for the students but it really got me to thinking…

Is it really worth it? Do the rudimentary hassles of traveling, politics, seemingly abject poverty really pale in comparison to what I gain as a, in a way, community doctor?

Yes, they do.

Especially when you hear the village health workers share that they no longer panic when a baby seems to have diarrhea because they now know how to take care of him at home. They also know when to take him to the doctor.

Or you hear them give an excellent lecture on nutrition or family planning to a group of young parents.

Or you listen to their discussion on fighting for the allowance that should rightfully be theirs as stated in the Barangay Health Workers Incentives Law.

Or they show off their skill in taking your blood pressure measurement, report on the number of pregnant women they have encouraged to go have pre-natal checkups, or lovingly chastises a patient who self medicates because of the danger of drug resistance

These are just some of the reasons I am staying in the Philippines. These are just some of the reasons I am going against my parents’ silent wish for me to join them in the US, supportive they maybe of my decision to practice community medicine here.

But I guess a major, major reason I am staying here in the Philippines is what another student shared as a major lesson he learned this afternoon: That hope and faith are currencies that may hold no value inside the classroom- but he has seen it in action with the dedicated health professionals and village health workers holding the fort in San Pablo Health Center.

I totally agree. I know that the Lord answers the prayers of those who pray for better health and more decent living conditions, especially among the urban poor. I do have faith and hope for our country springs eternal within me. The students I have been blessed to work with the past two years are a testament of the Lord’s faithfulness that He is looking after the Philippines. I know there is a steady crop of doctors-to-be who I can help nurture to be more pro-Philippines.

But until they grow into medical maturity, I have to be one of those who hold the fort for them. One of the best things I’ve heard during my stint in Gawad Kalinga is that while I pray for answers to our country’s problems, I’d like to be one of the answers to the prayer of our fellow Filipinos.

This ends my second year in the UP on the other side of the proverbial teacher’s table. This likewise marks the beginning of my third year. It’s been a great privilege to be of service to the communities of Pasay, acting as preceptor to some 400 medical students, and working directly or indirectly alongside the 600-strong faculty of the UP College of Medicine.

The Lord continues to affirm my decision to remain in the UP for now. He makes everything worth it. He has taken care of all my daily needs- from the mundane to the exotic to the most academic.

Even the provision of the right belt with the right color and right size, at the right place and right time.

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