August 31, 2013

Struth! Greeks pissed with drunken Brits

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IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says mayors of a number of popular tourist centres in Greece are considering establishing out-of-town tourist zones to which to shunt rowdy British holidaymakers.

The mayors of Zakynthos, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Kos are meeting in October to look at the feasibility of the zones, and how they can be registered and policed – and most importantly if there are other towns willing to "host" such holidaymakers whose alcohol-fuelled behaviour has been reported to make holidaying Aussie louts look like Little Lord Fauntleroys.

The matter came to a head last month when a 19 year old Britain was stabbed to death on Crete during an alleged boozy brawl; another 19 year old, a London university student, has been charged in connection with the death

While the mayors say they are determined to rid themselves of British louts so the more law-abiding can enjoy the amenities their towns offer, the Greece National Tourism Organisation has slammed the idea of zones for drunk and rowdy Brits as "completely ridiculous." 


David Ellis

IF you believe everything you read you'll know that the Moon is in fact nothing but green cheese, it's inhabited by rabbits, can be responsible for rampaging werewolves and temporary lunacy down here on earth, and that once upon a time a cow jumped over it.

As well, those supposed landings on it by Americans were nothing but a monumental hoax, orchestrated by NASA with Hollywood's help to prove America was thrashing Russia in the space race.

And that it wasn't an American man named Armstrong who was the first person to supposedly walk upon the moon, but a Chinese lady named Chang'e, who floated all the way up there eons before America was ever heard of….

But forget all that: what is truth, is that the mythological great journey of Chang'e is now reason for one of Australia's biggest annual events, the Cabramatta Moon Festival that draws 90,000 fun-seekers to this Sydney suburb one day every September.
Because according to Chinese legend Chang'e and her husband were immortals who lived in heaven, where one day the 10 sons of the Jade Emperor mysteriously transformed into 10 suns, scorching the earth below.
To stop the earth being ruined, the Jade Emperor sought help from Chang'e's husband, the great archer Houyi – whose solution was, with his mighty bow, to shoot down nine of the sons-cum-suns, so sparing the tenth to be the universe's only remaining sun.
Anything than happy that while the earth may have been saved nine of his sons were now dead, the Emperor furiously banished Houyi and Chang'e to live down there on earth, worse still, as mere mortals.
And seeing Chang'e's now-great misery over her loss of immortality, Houyi decided to seek-out the earth's mysterious Queen Mother of the West, whom he knew held the magical Pill of Immortality.
Eventually successful in his mission, he brought the Pill home, with instructions that he and his wife would need one half each to become immortal once more. He then placed the Pill in a case for safe keeping, and while he had warned Chang'e that she was not to open it, curiosity got the better of her and she did open the case and discover the pill.
But then hearing her husband returning to the room, Chang'e in panic swallowed the entire pill… causing her to start floating off into the sky, and re-immortality. Although Houyi craved to bring her back to earth, he could not bear to shoot an arrow into her, and Chang'e floated aloft until landing on the Moon.
Lonely without her husband, she found company in the form of a jade rabbit who manufactured elixirs…their lives leading to the mythologies of Japan, Korea and China, about rabbits living on the Moon.

And today, every September across south-east Asia, millions of people celebrate the Moon Festival, the actual date being the equinox when daylight and darkness are of equal length, and this year occurring on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.

In Australia the Cabramatta Moon Festival is recognised as one of our biggest and brightest Asian cultural celebrations, attracting around 90,000 visitors, Asian and Western alike, with this year's on Sunday September 15th running from 11am to 8pm, and coincidentally the 15th such Festival.
The streets of Cabramatta, that boasts Australia's largest Vietnamese community, will erupt with colour, activity and culinary delights, culminating with a massive evening fireworks display. Highlights will include such favourites as noodle eating, prawn peeling and moon-cake eating competitions, lion dancing, cultural performances and a lantern parade led by the "Moon Goddess". 
Headline acts will feature popular children's entertainer Peppa Pig, and Alvin Quah the 2010 Channel 10 MasterChef contestant and TV identity.
Peppa is a loveable, cheeky little piglet who lives with little brother George, Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig and will provide entertainment throughout the day, and meet and greet visitors – particularly the kids.

And Alvin Quah is still one of Australia's most loved personalities to come out of the MasterChef series; known for his animated, witty and vibrant personality, he is on a mission to make the cuisine of his birth-country, Malaysia as renowned as that of China or Thailand, staging two Malaysian cooking demonstrations during the Cabramatta Moon Festival.

Visit for more information.



[1] LOVING it: part of the 90,000 crowd who throng to Cabramatta's Annual Moon Festival.
[2] WHAT'S an Asian festival without a lion dance?
[3] TV's popular Alvin Quah will stage to Malaysian cuisine cooking demonstrations at this year's festival.
[4] PART of the annual street parade, traditional Asian lantern.
[5] STREET stalls by the dozens.
[6] FIREWORKS spectacular will wind-up this year's Cabramatta Moon Festival on
     September 15.
[7] PEPPA Pig a cheeky favourite with the children.

(Photos: Fairfield City Council)

August 19, 2013



David Ellis


WITH some 35 years of travel scribbling behind us we're pretty much used to jumping on the web and doing our own thing when it comes to getting there and doing that, but with an over-sized wish-list and conversely under-sized time-frame for a recent trip through Southern Africa, we opted for once to get everything put together for us by an Africa-specialist travel agent.


And on the advice of industry mates we settled on Bench International, who we were told have been selling Africa in this country for far longer than we've been scribbling.


It was a good move: a bevy of consultants who rolled-off every possible travel option by planes, trains and automobiles – plus a few by houseboats as well, and where best to stay in a mix of Budget to Best – also knew we were after a private game reserve at which we'd be assured an encounter with the magical Big Five of lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino.


Fiona Orton, Bench's Product Director, suggested Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand Wild Tuin bordering the south-western corner of famed Kruger National Park. Just an hour's flight from Johannesburg, it was again a good move: Sabi Sand has been a game conservation area since 1898 and today covers 65,000 hectares on which an extraordinary 850 species of animal, bird and aquatic life abound on thirteen private game reserves, including Sabi Sabi (that's actually four distinctly different-styled groups of luxury private lodges.)


Arriving mid-afternoon, we were soon off on their 3-hour evening safari aboard an open Land-Rover with sharp-eyed Ranger and Tracker, as nocturnal animals began to stir and day-feeders started to settle.


Almost instantly we were up-close – on occasion almost literally eyeball-to-eyeball – with more animals from A-to-Z than at times we could scribble down and capture on fumbled cameras… including numerous sightings of four of the Big Five (all but the elusive leopard.)


But a 6am safari next morning totally rewarded our Sabi Sabi stay with hippo and crocs in the river, elephant, giraffe, kudu, zebra, buffalo, rhino, warthog, a pack of endangered wild dog, impala, baboon, absolutely countless bird species, even the fragile-looking, timid and not always seen steenbok, a couple of cheetah and several lions...


And yes, in the shade of a thornbush, a magnificent leopard drowsily settling down after a night's hunt, kill and feast on a massive 4m rock python: just 18 hours after arriving at Sabi Sabi, we'd captured all Big Five on one 3hr game drive – our Ranger, Marcus Hack pointing out that with no hunting here for generations, the animals today are totally relaxed and unperturbed by human presence.


Then back at our Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge it was time to put the feet up for a few hours in one of the 13 individual, concealed lodges sculpted into low slopes, and accessed by almost-hidden corridors from the reserve's pathways ensuring absolute privacy.


These hidden, palatial retreats are vast in size with king-beds, private plunge pools, million-dollar views over the surrounding bushveld, outdoor showers as well as spacious indoor ensuites, and unique natural wooden sculptures that capture the essence of the bush… have we, we ponder, found here our Africa heaven?


And at the main lodge complex, indoor/outdoor dining overlooking a waterhole that attracts constant wildlife activity at which to marvel, views across the bushveld, a library, art gallery, even a meditation garden… and a 6000 bottle underground wine cellar.


Plus the most wonderful 5-star dining including local specialties such as dukka-spiced loin of kudu with hummus flavoured potato mash, cous cous and gremolata-crusted linefish, bass with porcini mushroom and an unusual oxtail crust, caramelised onion and gorgonzola tart, or a lamb and feta burger… and to finish, decadent chocolate Ferrero Rocher cake.


Then to complete the night, a chat and nightcaps under the stars with fellow guests around a roaring fire in the outdoor boma whose walls have been sculpted from tree roots. And when time to return to our hidden lodge, a ranger to accompany us – for it's not unknown to have for wild animals roam through here at night…


For details about the unique Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge experience and other Africa holidaying opportunities, contact Bench International on toll-free 1300AFRICA or go to






[1] VAST-sized guest suite at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. (Sabi Sabi PGR)

[2] PEACE in the wild: guest's private patio with plunge pool overlooking bushveld. (Sabi

     Sabi PGR)

[3] MILLION dollar setting: water feature off corner of indoor/outdoor dining area at Sabi

    Sabi. (Sabi Sabi PGR)

[4] SHARP-eyed Ranger Marcus Hack and Tracker Louis Mkansi lead guests to huge

     diversity of Sabi Sabi's wildlife. (David Ellis)  

[5] NOW that's up-close… eye-balling an elephant on the reserves bush road. (David    


[6] IT'S a yawn – more tourists just when a man wants to have a sleep. (David Ellis)

[7] THIS leopard had just finished dining on a 4m rock python on Sabi Sabi Private

     Game Reserve. (David Ellis)


August 12, 2013

Struth! Morris for mayor - in between cat naps

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says our pollies should take note of what's just happened in the Mexican city of Xalapa – in the Mayoral elections there, an unusual candidate for wearing the Mayoral robes that we told you about several weeks ago, was Morris the cat – and we've now learned that bizarrely, he scored himself 12,000 votes.

It was enough to put him 4th in line for the Mayor's job, and well ahead of seven other candidates including the representative for Mexico's most influential left-wing party, the PRD… not to mention Tintan the dog, Maya another puss, Tina the chicken and a donkey named Chon.

Morris' campaign included TV appearances, his own T-shirts, and photo-shoots with prominent newspapers and magazines.

Plus he also earned himself 150,000 "likes" on Facebook.

The two university students who nominated Morris for Mayor of this city of 420,000 residents said they'd done so because they believed he fitted the profile of most politicians… running his campaign on the basis "he sleeps all day, and does nothing."

Wild hunt for Africa's big five

David Ellis

MOST who head off to Southern Africa armed with bravado and binoculars, do so in the hope of bagging in their cameras the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino.

Not all achieve their goal. For those whose holiday packages see them contained to the safely beaten track of the national parks, up-close sightings of beasts large and small can be the electrifying moments of a lifetime, but seeing all Big Five in limited time in these places is never assured.

For those who've booked themselves into private game reserves, however, sightings can be more up-close, more productive in terms of animal sightings, are more likely to include coming upon those Big Five.

In fact some private reserves even boast a money-back guarantee you will see their Big Five.

Elephants abound irrespective, and it's not unusual to be stopped on the road in a national park or private reserve by several score of these lumbering beasts, that never appear to be in any kind of a hurry.

Buffalo sightings are also frequent, and eagle-eyed rangers and guides will invariably reward you with a good few rhino sightings, and a lion or three to rack-up the pulse-thumping gasp-factor. Plus abundant giraffe, zebra, kudu, hippo, warthog and, well, you name it… South Africa's Kruger National Park, alone has an extraordinary 851 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish in its near 2-million hectares.

Which should be enough to sate the lust of the keenest of game-spotters.

But what of leopards? Leopards are the hardest to complete your Big Five slide-show, the more-so in national parks where tourist vehicles cannot venture off-road to access the deeper bush areas where these beasts prefer to seek shade by day to sleep off a previous night's hunt.

In fact we've a mate in the travel industry who says that in an astonishing near-20 visits to Kruger National Park, he's never spotted all Big Five during 2-day forays into the park.

In the private reserves, however, it's the operator's land and they can do what they like with it, bushwhacking their way off roads and tracks in their 4WDs in search of the most elusive of creatures – leopards included.

On a visit to Southern Africa earlier this year we had three days in Kruger National Park followed by a couple in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, and while we had sighted four of the Big Five in Kruger on numerous occasions, those elusive leopards had remained true to their reputation.

But on a late afternoon's game drive of our first day at Sabi Sabi we had sighted lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino within an hour of setting out from our lodge in an open LandRover, and those four plus many more species several times over the next couple of hours as day-feeding animals began to settle for the night, and nocturnal predators started stirring for their hunts.

And a 6am start next morning rewarded almost instantly again, with elephants and rhinos, giraffes, warthogs, wild dogs, buffalo and countless screeching birds sighted within virtually minutes of leaving the lodge… Sabi Sabi is home to some 200 animal species indigenous to its area on the edge of Kruger National Park, and over 350 bird species.

Our Game Ranger at the wheel and Tracker perched on the front of the LandRover constantly chatted back and forth about tracks and spoor sightings, and radio messages flooded in from other early morning vehicles of sightings and leads… including one that had our Ranger quickly gunning the LandRover in the direction of deeper bush.

And there we came across the last of our Big Five – a magnificent leopard sleeping in the morning shade of a thorn bush, having we learned from another vehicle, killed a 4m rock python the night before, devouring a third of it and leaving the remainder draped high over a branch of a nearby tree for us to marvel at.

We'd achieved seeing our Big Five on one game drive less than 24 hours after arriving at Sabi Sabi.

And as exciting as the remainder of that 3hr morning drive would be, sighting that leopard would be a certainly hard act to follow.

NEXT WEEK: Sabi Sabi – out there at the front of the pack.



[] GETTING upclose with a lion in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
[] MOST elusive of the Big Five: a leopard in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
[] GRAND herd of elephants in Kruger National Park.
[] GIRAFFE continue feeding Kruger National Park, oblivious to tourists around them.
[] THIS elephant takes precedence on the road in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
[] MAGNIFICENT fish eagle takes-in his surrounds in Kruger National Park.

(All photos: David Ellis)

August 10, 2013

Struth! There's no sataying some people

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that on a recent flight with Malaysia Airlines from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, a passenger near him complained to the flight attendants that "he had paid a lot of money to fly Business Class, and did not expect to have to eat with his fingers."

When it was explained to him what the snack was, he still demanded that it be re-presented to him "the right way" –   with a knife and fork.

The attendants returned with his request, but politely pointed out that  "it as a traditional Malay dish, satay is always served on small wooden skewers and eaten with the fingers."

The passenger remained unimpressed, but David says Malaysia Airlines obviously pleases its other regular "front end" guests: it serves an amazing 20,000 a day of its famous little satay sticks in Business Class on flights world-wide, using its own recipes for beef and chicken marinated in shallots, turmeric, garlic, galangal and lemongrass, char-grilling and basting them over mangrove wood charcoal in their ground kitchens before treating them to a smothering of spicy crushed peanut sauce – and serving with a side of refreshing cucumber, onion and a cube of rice cake.

And yes, for it's bands of loyal followers in Business Class, the airline invariably has enough of its satay appetisers on board for seconds. (No need to guess who put his hand up for those seconds!)

August 06, 2013

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Oman

Nestled by the Persian Gulf to the North, the Indian Sea to the East and Yemen to the South, Oman has long been part of the ancient trade routes, assisting in the transportation and trade of rare gem stones, frankincense, East African gold, feather and wood goods, and spices from the Far East.

Then it comes as no surprise that Oman has had four sites recognised by UNESCO for its importance to history and the evolution of mankind. The Sultanate of Oman has taken great care in their preservation, with even limitations to tourist visits to maintain its conservation.

Each site will make you feel transported back in time, marvelling at the engineering ingenuity, trade know-how while shivering at the level of mysticism present even in today's modern day Oman.

1. Nizwa Falaj Daris - Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman

The Falaj Daris is the biggest falaj in Oman, and one of the five collectively listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2006. Nizwa's former prosperity was due to its plethora of water supplies, with over 134 aflaj (plural for falaj) in the Nizwa wilayat (village). One hundred of these are still in use today, while also providing for a great picnic location for both visitors and locals.

Falaj Daris includes five aflaj irrigation systems and is representative of some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. The origins of this system of irrigation may date back to AD 500, but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2500 BC. Using gravity, water is channelled from underground sources or springs to support agriculture and domestic use.

The fair and effective management and sharing of water in villages and towns is still underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values and guided by astronomical observations. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the site reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Threatened by falling level of the underground water table, the aflaj represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use.

2. The Land of Frankincense: Shisr, Sumhuram, Al-Balid, Wadi Dawkah.

This group of archaeological sites in Oman represents the production and distribution of frankincense, one of the most important luxury items of trade in antiquity from the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions to Mesopotamia, India and China. They constitute outstanding testimony to the civilization that from the Neolithic to the late Islamic period flourished in southern Arabia. The Oasis of Shishr and the entrepôts of Khor Rori and Al-Balīd are excellent examples of medieval fortified settlements in the Persian Gulf region. The official UNESCO citation reads:

"The frankincense trees of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ports of Khor Rori and Al-Balid vividly illustrate the trade in frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries, as one of the most important trading activities of the ancient and medieval world."

Full day tours are available to book from Salalah in the Dhofar region.

3. Archaeological sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn

The zone encompassing the settlement and necropolises of Bat is the most complete and best-known site of the 3rd millennium BC. In a restricted, coherent space, the necropolis of Bat bears characteristic and unique witness to the evolution of funeral practices during the first Bronze Age in the Oman peninsula. This predeceases the ancient burial rites of the Ancient Egyptians.

Historical sources recount that the country of Magan was the principal extraction centre for copper, which was exported even to far-away Mesopotamia, as early as about 3000 BC. The appearance of a more strictly hierarchical social organization (as attested to both in the settlements, where circular defensive structures contrast with rectangular houses, and in the necropolises, where the arrangement of funerary space is more complex) goes hand in hand with higher living standards and social changes linked to a trade economy.

4. Bahla Fort

The immense, ruined Bahla Fort, with its walls and towers of mud brick on stone foundations and the adjacent Friday Mosque with its decoratively sculpted prayer niche (mihrab) dominate the surrounding mud brick settlement and palm grove. The fort and settlement, a mud-walled oasis in the Omani desert, owed its prosperity to the Banu Nebhan tribe (Nabahina), who dominated the central Omani region and made Bahla their capital from the 12th to the end of the 15th century. From there they established relationships with other tribal groups of the interior. Bahla was the centre of Ibadism (a branch of Islam), on which the ancient Omani Imamates were based and whose influence can be traced across Arabia, Africa and beyond. Bahla Fort can be visited daily on any itinerary in and around Nizwa.

The diversity of Oman, its richness in history and the raw beauty of nature, provide for an enlightening journey through the heart and soul of Arabia. With daily flights across Australia and New Zealand with Etihad, Emirates and Qantas, Oman has never been more accessible. Inquire at your local travel agents for more information or visit

August 05, 2013

Never been there, but I've heard it's good. TripAvisor critics tell.

TripAdvisor reviewers give their honest opinions of places they've never been to, stayed in or eaten at.

Just because you never went there shouldn't preclude you from chucking your two bob's worth in should it? No.

"TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers" they trumpet, people who know what they talking about because they've heard it from a friend of friend.

You think we're kidding. Check out these disarmingly honest reviews.

- Don't cheat on TripAdvisor. Want know how to write a TripAdvisor review?


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David Ellis

WHEN it began over eighty years ago passengers were never led to believe there would be much in common between the time their train from Adelaide was scheduled to arrive in the little Northern Territory town of Stuart, and the time that it did, in fact, get there.

And even when it finally chugged into Stuart on one occasion in the 1930s not a couple of hours late, but a couple of weeks late, rather than the driver and his crew being condemned as bungling fools, they were lauded as heroes of The Outback.

It was because their train had become trapped by floods in the middle of nowhere – and driver, fireman, guard and cook had waded out daily and shot wild goats trapped on islands in the flood to feed their 90-odd stranded, and hungry, passengers.

The narrow-gauge line from Adelaide to Stuart (later re-named Alice Springs) was begun in 1878, but somewhat like those timetables, took fifty-one more years to get there.

And prior to the first train's arrival into Stuart in 1929, for many years it terminated at Port Augusta, passengers continuing on from there by road, while freight was transferred to camel trains operated by Afghan cameleers. Seeing the dust of the camels in the distance, owners of Outback properties would radio word to others up the road that "the 'Ghans are coming."

Thus the new train simply became the more-modern 'Ghan,' the first steaming into Stuart in the first week of August 1929 two days after leaving Adelaide. And although hours behind schedule it was declared to be officially on time – it had, after all, arrived on the day promised.

And such delays were soon common-place.

Steel rails would often buckle so badly in the 40+ daytime heat, that train and passengers would sit and wait for hours until the lines returned to normal in the cool of night.

Drivers would also see rails simply parting before their eyes after voracious termites chewed through hardwood sleepers. So spare sleepers were carried aboard – and passengers would pitch-in with crews to speed-up impromptu emergency repairs.

Kangaroos and emus, drawn by the still-warmth of the rails on cold nights, would also be mown down in the darkness in their scores causing more delays – one journalist writing of seeing The Ghan arrive in Alice Springs "with more kangaroo fur and emu feathers plastered over the front of the engine than the Australian Coat-of-Arms.

Then there was that day in the 1930s when the usually dry Finke River erupted in flood, trapping The Ghan between the raging river before it, and the countryside going underwater behind it.

After more than a week, the stranded train ran out of fresh food, so the crew went daily goat-hunting: for five days crew and passengers alike lived on goat and tea for breakfast, goat and tea for lunch and goat and tea for dinner.

On another occasion when The Ghan got into Alice Spring days behind schedule, an Adelaide newspaper noted: "Timetables for this train are more a matter of hope than fact… not only is the hour of arrival indefinite, so too the day…"

The government-operated Ghan was sold after nearly 70 years to a private company, Great Southern Railways and in February 2004 the first journey was made linking Adelaide to Alice Spring and onwards to Darwin – over 125 years after being first mooted.

Today the 2,979km trip from Australia's southern coast to its northern shores takes 2-nights/3-days and is hailed as one of the worlds' great train journeys. And it runs now on a new standard-gauge line, the original narrow-gauge route being abandoned in 1980 because of regular flooding – and concrete sleepers are used the whole distance to thwart those pesky termites.

The Ghan's weekly services departs Adelaide on Sundays and Darwin on Wednesdays, with additional weekly services June to September. There are three classes of travel: Red with Day/Nighter seating and café meals and drinks available for purchase, Gold with compact sleeper cabins, and Platinum with more-spacious lounge-style cabins.

Gold and Platinum also include restaurant-style meals, soft and alcoholic drinks with meals and in a lounge car, and off-train excursions at Alice Springs and Katherine.

Details and prices from travel agents, or toll-free 1800 703 357 or visit



[] THE GHAN winds its way through the famed Red Centre.
[] STARTING the day well with a hearty breakfast in Gold and Platinum Class Queen Adelaide Restaurant.
[] OUTBACK Explorer Lounge for Gold and Platinum Class passengers: standard beers, wines and spirits are included in the price here.
[] DAY/NIGHTER seats in budget Red Class carriages.
[] GOLD Class sleeper compact and cosy at day's end.
[] PLATING-up delicious meals in the spotless galley for guests in The Ghan's Queen Adelaide Restaurant.

(ALL Photos courtesy Great Southern Railways)

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