A Trip Down Memory Lane – Studio Ghibli & Miyazaki Hayao

The studio Ghibli is known for its dynamic films that portray three dimensional characters that all overcome an essential problem in their life. The films themselves are timeless portrayals of courageousness, loss, and love. Miyazaki’s films are at once, fascinating and dynamic.

The Ghibli exhibit is located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, which is a western city of Tokyo. You can’t purchase tickets onsite – all tickets must be purchased before you get to the museum. According to the Ghibli website, you can purchase online from the JTB Group and online Lawson tickets. If you’re in Japan, any Lawson convenience store should have tickets available for purchase.

Entering the Exhibit

Your foot crosses the threshold with ease, but you pause anyway in an attempt to capture the magic all at once. The exhibit has been around since 2001, but you never got the chance to see it. Fast-forward some decades later, there you are, standing just inside the exhibit with a ton of Miyazaki movies under your belt. You can’t believe it. You’re finally here. There’s an inviting life-sized Totoro behind a bar filled with yummy looking pastries. As you enter even further, you’re wowed by the dozens of film posters covering the wall.

Because taking pictures at this point is not allowed, you are forced to live in the moment. The size of the museum is quite small, so you’re constantly aware of other visitors. Even though crowds are usually a hassle, this crowd isn’t. As a matter of fact, you surmise, this sort of experience reinforces everyone else’s positive feelings about the exhibit. In this place, everyone is a fan of Miyazaki, his films, and studio Ghibli.

Additional Information

In addition to features already mentioned, there are the floating ships, the music, and the cat bus. The ships hanging from the ceiling are a wonderful sight. The giant ship made the biggest impression on me. With faint music in the background, the presence of this ship is powerfully evocative. It looks as if it was taken right out of Laputa. The existence of this animated ship and the cat bus further excites a fan’s nostalgia.

Overall, the Ghibli exhibit is a place where all types of people get together and share in the experience of reliving old memories and admiring Miyazaki’s animation and directing skills. From my observations, pleasure is derived from the commonality found among visitors, the many pictures on the walls, and the interactive features, such as the cat bus and the giant ship. These features are an intricate part of the exhibit, as they create lasting impressions.

For specific information such as directions and ticket prices, check out japanwalkersea.com. This is a good resource for people wanting to travel extensively within Japan.


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Reading The Moon Chaser by Alexa Kang

The Moon Chaser, by Alexa Kang

PJ Review Score: 4.8/5


3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 

Alexa Kang is the author of WWII and 20th Century historical fiction. Her works include the Rose of AnzioShanghai Story (of which Moon Chaser is a spin-off) and Eternal Flame. To learn more about Alexa Kang and her works, visit her website.

Overview

The Moon Chaser is a historical novella within The Darkest Hour anthology about a woman named Yuan Wen-Ying during the Japanese invasion of China. The story is both lighthearted and intense, switching masterfully between cute jokes and tear-jerking scenes.

It takes place in Shanghai from the third-person perspective of Yuan Wen-Ying. Wen-Ying comes from a wealthy and respected family. Due to the harshness of life during the war, her family loses their power. The story picks up in 1944 with Wen-Ying heavily involved in the Tian Di Hui – a rebel group that aimed to undermine Japanese occupation on the mainland.

Analysis

Yuan Wen-Ying is a strong and empathetic character. Although she lost everything in the war, it’s clear that she’s an invaluable asset to the Tian Di Hui. Throughout the story, there are moments when Wen-Ying thinks about how different life was just a decade before. The memories are vivid and add depth to Wen-Ying’s character.

As far as female leads are concerned, Wen-Ying is a refreshing character. She’s honest and true to herself and her values, which makes her quite relatable despite being a woman who lived in the 20th century. Alexa Kang didn’t feel the need to alter Wen-Ying’s personality to make her more relateable, thereby maintaining the historical integrity of Wen-Ying’s character.

Wen-Ying faces several conflicts through the story, both internal and external, involving her ultimate mission and the man she can’t seem to ignore, Masao Takeda.

Critique

It’s clear that Alexa Kang cares about historical accuracy, which is something I respect a lot. Historical fiction done right is when a captivating story is created from non-fictional elements, such as the war itself, the toll the war took on food supplies, the Tian Di Hui, and so much more. As both a fan of historical fiction and a history buff, I was pleasantly surprised by Alexa Kang’s skill and attention to detail.

The book can be purchased via Amazon.


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No More Hallelujahs

by Mark Kodama

photo credit: pixabay


No More Hallelujahs is a beautiful and ruminative work of memory and emotion and of lost chances and hopes by poet Ann Christine Tabaka. It is her tenth book of poetry.

Although at times melancholy, the twenty-one poems of the chapbook seem to me to be an honest and truthful look in the rearview mirror of journey we call life. They are great stories that speak to our deepest selves.

One of my favorite works was “Be Who You Are,” which takes the standard cliché on being authentic and standing it on its head into a wonderful paean on aspiring to be something greater than oneself:

“Be who you are” they say.
But who I am
is not who I
want to be . . .
dream to be . . .
need to be . . .
I desire to be so much more.

I also enjoyed the haunting rhythmic sadness of “Beyond the Pale”

Truth that tells beyond the telling,
A past that fades beyond the past
Turning away from myself,
I hide within my skin.

Here is “I Remember Her” about the author’s mother. I love the wonderful details:

She held no malice,
spoke no hate.
though tortured was her lot.
She faded from existence
just as she arrived,
alone and unnoticed
by all but me.
I remember her
standing there
with outstretched arms.

Perhaps that should be all of our epitaphs in these days of celebrity worship and narcissistic self-gratification. We all can aspire to making this a better world in more modest ways and it would be an additional bonus to be at the same time truly appreciated by at least one person.

Here is another piece called “Forgotten Man” that I found particularly moving. The use of metaphors and the imagery was absolutely magical:

Dust motes dance on sunlight
streaming through a dingy window.
Rusty mailbox, empty, always empty.
Cadaverous cobwebs mocking
back at him from a peeling wall.
He sits alone in his room, sifting
through dim memories of a once
vibrant life. His wife is gone, adult
children too busy to visit, friends
moved far away. Yet in his hands
proof that his life was once
real . . . .”

If you love poetry I think you will love this chapbook. I close with “Lessons Learned”

I live my life in lonely solitude,
Remembering what could have
been, if only I knew then . . .
never let go of what you love.

The chapbook is published by Allen Buddha Press and available through Amazon.

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Short Story Lovers: the Inner Circle Writer’s February Magazine is Full of Fresh, Exciting Stories

Reviewed by Mark Kodama


I just finished reading the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine’s debut edition released by Clarendon Publishing House in February, 2019.  It is the best single magazine edition I have ever read on the craft of writing.

The magazine was written by the Inner Circle Writers’ Group and edited by Grant P. Hudson.  The magazine features articles by Steve Carr on his life as a writer of short stories and getting published, Dennis Doty on avoiding the shredder, Warren Alexander on writing humorous pieces, Gary Bonn on character development, and Samantha Hamilton on commas and a critique of two poems about London by Grant Hudson.  The magazine also has a nice review on Southern writer Eudora Welty by Copper Rose and a poem about poetry by Shawn Klimek.

Steve Carr lives in Richmond, Virginia and has recently published four short story anthologies: Sand, Heat, Rain and The Tales of Talker Knock.  Carr seems to have done everything: Army and Navy, playwright and author.

He recently released his book Getting Your Short Stories Published. “For most of us, there’s a place we fall in love with – South Dakota was that place for me.  While in classes, I was studying English literature and theater; outside of school whenever I had a chance I was hiking the plains and forests of the western part of the state.  The images of the scenery and thefeel of South Dakota has remained with me from that time . . . .”    

The magazine, brimming with stories and writing advice, also features unforgettable stories by David Bowmore and Jill Kiesow, as well as by authors previously mentioned. These are modern contemporary writers of the fine art of telling stories.  My very favorite was “The Coyotes,” by Kiesow – a short story that equals any story done by the ‘short story masters’ Jack London, Steven Crane, Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Alan Poe:

“She almost smiled, but it was too solemn of a rite, this holy gathering of magical creatures: part modern dog, part antiquity, part madness.  These resourceful individuals were those tricky enough to escape man’s reach but still feed on his land and take advantage of his backbreaking work. Opportunistic bastards, her husband and neighbors called them.  Miracles of nature, Celeste would counter, clearing her throat and forcing herself to stand taller under their disapproving glances.”

Master storyteller Gary Bonn’s short story Still Alive: “He is watching Isbell.  She’s been here a long time and has settled in completely.  She’s racing through the water, plunging over a fall, crashing among the rocks, shrieking with laughter – showing the other children what to do.  Showing off kindly.  She becomes the motion, the speed, the roces at one moment chaotic and in the next ordered.  Tangled and untangled.”

There is also great art by Anja Hata and Grant Hudson who drew Macbeth in a Marvel comic strip-like form and sketched the author J.R.R. Tolkien.  While some purists may be offended by seeing Shakespeare in comic strip form, I loved it.  It is a great form to make Shakespeare accessible to the masses and especially to children and child-like adults.

For those that love the word as I do, you will be pleased to know the art of the word is still alive and embodied in the works of these very gifted writers. The magazine is available on line at Clarendon Publishing House.  I cannot wait for the second month to be published.  I hope that the Inner Circle Writers’ Group can sustain what it has started.


Reading Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Spoiler Alert: Although this review contains some spoilers, the book is a treasure trove of metaphors and symbols; you’ll no doubt be captivated once you begin reading.


Chinua Achebe masterfully guides the reader to the Lower Niger region of West Africa to experience the beauty and despair of tribal life and the tumult that accompanies the arrival of Europeans, which is all filtered through the experience of the protagonist, Okwonkwo.

Okwonkwo is one of several respected chiefs in his village of Umuofia – one of a dozen or so villages that make up the region. Okwonkwo has three wives and eight children: Ekwefi (second) , Ojiugo (third), and an unnamed first wife.

Okwonkwo is a fierce warrior. He’s also a hard-worker, being driven by a keen fear of becoming his father. His dad, Unoka, was what some in the village called an agbala, or a man who has taken no title. In this case, Unoka had no title because he was practically destitute and could not provide for his family.

Okwonkwo remembers Unoka was a talented musician who occasionally played music in neighboring villages, but he was nothing more than that. Every time he earned, he’d quickly squander it, forcing young Okwonkwo to teach himself how to become self-sufficient.

“If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine…”

Things Fall Apart: p. 4

Okwonkwo, though excelling in every facet that makes him a successful man, deals with completely unexamined emotional trauma that surfaces occasionally in the form of abuse of his wife and children, a stammer and unpredictable flares in temper. In spite of this, Okwonkwo is a likeable character. The reader retains hope that somehow Okwonkwo will come to understand himself and his trauma.

Abruptly, Okwonkwo is forced to exile himself and his family for seven years due to the sudden and accidental murder of a clansman. The seven years he spends with his mother’s tribe in Mbanta are filled with slow, but impactful changes. Rumors of white men and murder spread, then white men and church courts, and then suddenly, Okwonkwo sees the horrifying decline of his people’s way of life.

Okwonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect…the prospect of annihilation. He saw himself and his father crowding round their ancestral shrine waiting for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes…and his children [all] the while praying to the white man’s god.

144

Nwoye’s Mother brings to mind flickering images of the ‘long-suffering’ mammy – an old black woman with deep waves of wrinkles on her face, a light hand tremor and soulful dark eyes that have seen everything; in spite of whatever trauma she experienced, Nwoye is clearly a pillar in the family, however silent her role may be.

Her oldest child is Nwoye, who has disappointed Okwonkwo due to his laziness, a love for ‘women’s’ storytelling and an inclination toward feeling – something that Okwonkwo thinks is womanly.

Eventually, a few years after the first European missionary arrives in Mbanta, Nwoye converts to Christianity to the dismay of his family.

“You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people.”

162

The story ends soon after this shocking turn of events. As Okwonkwo watches life as he knows it fade, he’s forced to take action. But the action he decides to take is something I’ll let you read about on your own. Things Fall Apart is highly recommended for your bookshelf. If you have a favorite metaphor or symbol in Things Fall Apart, go ahead and share in the comments!


Reality,  by Alan Fleming

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Take a Seat Guys, Historians Say World’s Oldest Author Was a Woman

Photo Credit: This brilliant photo was created by Rori for her 100 Days, 100 Women project. I highly recommend checking it out!


Mesopotamian civilization developed in Western Asia thanks to the resource-rich valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Women and Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia

For centuries, history (the discipline) was dominated by a bunch of old, posh European guys with tons of biases. They studied ancient cultures through the lens of their era, largely ignoring the many types of roles women played throughout history.

From excavation sites dating back to prehistoric times, we encounter female figurines that emphasize breasts and hips. Some scholars believe that these figurines may have been fertility goddesses, suggesting that many early societies worshiped ‘mother’ goddesses.

While ancient Mesopotamian peoples worshiped a pantheon of gods, there were a number of important female goddesses whose powers also revolved around life and fertility.

In ancient Mesopotamia, individuals existed to service the ‘state,’ which in turn serviced the gods. Everything within the city practically revolved around the gods – Inanna, Enki, Marduk, etc.

The temples were stocked with food, which was a direct result of their ability to farm. Along with farming and the maintenance of this sort of society, came the need to have specialized offices, such as scribes (as evidenced by contracts, payrolls, and vouchers that have survived).

In addition to the maintenance of the state itself, families were created for monetary and political protection. The first main purpose of marriage was to have children, which would secure the family line and consolidate control over property.

“In a world where governmental protection of the individual was minimal, it was essential to have the support of as strong a family as possible…hence, the more children, especially male, the better.”  

D. B. Nagle on importance of family.
The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History

Childbirth was invaluable to societies that were constantly threatened by unpredictable weather, foreign invaders and diseases. Therefore, the ability to have children was both practical and precious.

Under “Marriage and Children,” a set of laws provided protection to a childless woman whose husband would divorce her:

“If a man would divorce his wife who has not borne him children, he shall give her money to the amount of her marriage settlement and he shall make good to her the dowry which she brought from her father’s house; then he may divorce her…” 

“Marriage and Children,” The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History

This quote illustrates the importance of childbirth and the legal protections a woman received. Although lack of a child was a justifiable reason for divorce, this law allegedly ensured the woman received a fair sum. This woman also had the ability to re-marry. 

I know. It sounds pretty bleak, but this is kind of amazing. Compared to, say, ancient India, where women didn’t have many options after their husbands died. They could either commit ritual Sati or remain a widow. Better options didn’t exist until after Buddhism spread (~500 BC).

The World’s Oldest Author, Enheduanna

I’ve made a point in reading some of the oldest works by the oldest writers. My list ranges from the ancient far east to the west and encompasses many classics. I’ll write up a list soon. On that note, if you have any recommendations, I welcome all!

The fact that information on Priestess Enheduanna’s life (2285 – 2250) has survived thousands of years is testament to the political and literary legacy she created.

She was the daughter of the great king and conqueror, Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279). She was sent to Ur and fused the Akkadian beliefs with Sumerian beliefs. She wrote hymns that reconciled cultural and personality differences among the gods. She was apparently so successful that high priestesses after her became the link that legitimized following dynasties!

She wrote around 40 short poems on general life, war and religion. Her most famous works are: ‘The Exaltation of Inanna,’ ‘The Great Hearted Mistress,’ and ‘Goddess of Fearsome Powers.’

Excerpt from ‘The Great Hearted Lady”

The Great-hearted Mistress, the Impetuous Lady,
Proud among the Anuna gods [annunaki]
and pre-eminent in all lands,
the great daughter of Suen [moon god],
exalted among the Great Princes [a name of the igigi gods]
the Magnificent Lady who gathers up the divine powers
of Heaven and Earth and rivals Great An [sky god],
is mightiest among the great gods — she makes their verdicts final. The Anuna gods crawl before her august word
whose course she does not let An know;
he dare not proceed against her command.
She changes her own action,
and no one knows how it will occur.
She makes perfect the great divine powers,
she holds a shepherd’s crook,
and she is their magnificent pre-eminent one.
She is a huge shackle clamping down
upon the gods of the land.
Her great awesomeness covers the great mountain
and levels the roads.

Poem Source:
Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/), Oxford 1998–2006.


Reality
by Alan Fleming

Reviewing The Source of Betrayal by Akwasi Maru

PJ Review Score: 3/5

3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 


Akwasi Maru is a multi-genre author, poet and doctoral student. He’s also a father, husband and Fire Captain. Mr. Maru has memberships in several nonprofit organizations that grant youth scholarships and engage in community charity.

Overview

The Source of Betrayal is a recent release by author Maru, published February 1. The story takes place mostly on or near a college campus in Maryland. The main character, Jarrod, is a star basketball player who is obsessed with a girl he met in his first year with whom he shared one class.

The Source of Betrayal is no more than 120 pages. Author Akwasi Maru starts the story with a prologue. The events in this section take place eight years into the future. Jarrod is the only character in the prologue identified by name, other than an old woman named Mary. It’s clear that the author’s intent for the prologue is to add depth to the story.

The story follows Jarrod’s life as he maneuvers through several obstacles, all of which seem a bit overblown or bizarre. He suffers tragedy time and again due to the poor and irrational choices he makes throughout the story.

Jarrod is also an amateur poet, writing heartfelt poems on his tablet throughout the story.

Additional Details

The Source of Betrayal is a heavily narrated dramatic romance with very little dialogue, which makes it read more like a stream of consciousness or fairy tale, than a realistic romance novel.

The characters in the story are all objects that rely heavily upon the interactions between the main character Jarrod, and themselves. Outside of these interactions, there is little development of these characters.

Comments

Alana Dubois, the woman Jarrod thinks he’s fated to be with, is a tortured character that deserves a voice. She’s surrounded by a few characters, including the main character, whose sole purpose is to take advantage of her in some way. Additionally, the lack of emotional depth between Alana and Jarrod is unfortunate, especially since the story is apparently about their relationship – but the story is quite compelling.


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The End of Gabriel’s Tale

Read the beginning of Gabriel’s tale.


Gabriel, the Civil Rights Lawyer’s Tale

III. The Appeal

“At Ed Johnson’s father’s behest,
Two black lawyers took his request
Parden knew they would be threatened
His prosperous practice destroyed.
But Parden was a Christian man,
He prayed to his God for wisdom.
Pardon agreed to bear the cross,
It did not matter what the cost.


If it meant his violent demise,
The lawyer would not compromise.
When the attorneys tried to file
A motion for a new trial,
Judge McReynolds demanded they wait.
The next day the judge said they were too late.
The judge tried to block their appeal,

By disparaging their zeal,
Their arrogance to think they knew
As much as the white man in his view.
But the lawyers filed an appeal,
Refusing to buckle and kneel.
The state high court upheld the court’s decisions
So to the federal court they petitioned.
Charging due process violations.
Enshrined in U.S. Constitution.

Ed had rights to a trial that was fair,
Not one held in an inflamed air.
A mob tried to attack the jail,
The trial court in its role did fail.
Lawyers had no time to prepare,
The trial venue was unfair,
Non-white jurors were excluded,
Judge and prosecutor colluded.


Ed Johnson was forced to confess
By torture and under duress.
The temper of a juror flared,
A mistrial should have been declared.
Here on earth the laws made by men.
Are only as good as the men.
Parden’s home was threatened with fire.
Thugs sprayed his house with gunfire.

People – black and white – saw Ed Johnson
Well wishers whose hearts he had won.
Those friends were the children of God,
And a trickle became a flood.
Two days before the date of his death,
Ed was given one last request.
He asked to attend church service.
To thank the Lord for His good grace.

Three hundred made the pilgrimage to jail.
Even in jail God’s love prevails
The courtyard of the jail was filled,
Into the lobby the believers spilled.
The special congregation sang hymns,
Read biblical scriptures and psalms.
After singing the Sweet Bye and Bye,
Ed declared “I’m ready to die.”

Young Ed Johnson had been transformed
By his faith in God, he was reborn
All his hatred was swept away
Tomorrow would be judgment day.
He asked that Miss Taylor be healed
That the Lord’s love be revealed.
We are all the children of God.
He had faith in the power of God.

He denied he was guilty again.
He repeated “I am not that man.”
At service end, he was baptized.
And by his faith his soul was saved.
By purity of righteous heart,
He would enter the narrow gate.

The federal judge denied their petition,
Citing lack of federal jurisdiction.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was made,
Powerful forces came to their aid.
Their voices were heard from on high.
Justice Harlan listened with an open mind.
The astute hand of providence
Gave Ed Johnson a final chance.

The great dissenter stayed execution.
To decide Ed’s rights under the Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case.
And its specified time and place.”

IV. The Lynch Mob

“But injustice would blight the land.
Public officials had other plans.
Upon receipt of the high court order,
Sheriff Shipp stripped the jail of jailers.
And moved all the other prisoners,
Leaving Ed to the murderers
Hundreds of townsfolk stormed the jail,
Bent on seeing mob justice prevail.

Judge McReynolds watched from the courthouse,
As the mob descended upon the jailhouse,
Sheriff Shipp abandoned his post.
Ignoring his duty to the utmost.
Police officers led the violent mob,
Law and order supposedly their job.
A white minister called the police.
Demanding a stop to the mob’s caprice.

His lone voice in the wilderness.
An unanswered plea for justice.
The mob led the lone defendant
In a procession malevolent,
The lynch mob seemed to go berserk,
And lynched Ed Johnson on the trestlework
Of the Walnut Street Bridge
Ed kept his dignity to the end.

Johnson proclaimed his innocence
Blessed his enemies’ insolence.
For two minutes, his legs danced in the air
As the mobs and onlookers stared.
Vigilantes began shooting.
A bullet cut the rope, his body falling,
Ed was still moving but nearly dead.
One man shot five bullets into his head.

An old black woman waded through the crowd.
“Is he dead, white folks?” she said aloud.
When a man said yes, she eyed with a dare,
In defiant reply, she said “Well, I swear.”
As she turned her back and left from the line,
One man pinned on Ed’s corpse, a sign.
“Justice Harlan, get your n****r now.”
Such was their insidious vow.

A police man from the crowd there.
Cut off Ed’s finger as a souvenir.
A fitting end to these sad events.
Monsters who sought to harm the man,
Could not touch good Ed Johnson’s soul
For good are raised up, evil brought low.
The finger of justice was beckoning,
There would be a day of reckoning.”


V. Judgment Day


“The Supreme Court began its investigation,
Into the city’s depredations.
Federal agents descended.
Laid charges against those that offended.
Twenty-four men were arrested.
Sheriff Shipp’s guilt was suggested.
Sheriff Shipp was in contempt of court
Shipp and six others were thrown in prison.

Public officials across the country
Could not give free reign to bigotry.
In future Supreme Court decisions,
Our Bill of Rights protections

Were incorporated into the 14th Amendment,
And applied to local governments.
Though Styles Hutchins and Noah Parden,
Never practiced law again,
Their courageous fight was a victory,
That changed the course of history.

Progress requires we take a step backward,
Before we can move forward.
These two courageous men,
Fought for justice with voice and pen,
They faded into obscurity
Leaving behind a lasting legacy.

There may be things as miracles,
I have never seen them in any court.
Justice is administered by men.
The aspirations of a nation
Where the people are sovereign,
Depend upon its citizens.
Euclid said there is no royal road to geometry.
The same could be said for justice in a democracy.

Progress oftentimes comes at a price.
Someone somewhere must make a sacrifice.
Cry if you must, shout if you will,
Then wipe away your tears.
Summon your courage.
And begin again.”


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