Monthly Archives: February 2012

On the first spring(ish) days and shopping centers

So far, nothing interesting has happened this week – as the weather has been more or less like this view from my window from yesterday… Well, today it was a wonderful sunshine.

Our building intendent bravely cleaning the snow from the patio in a snow storm yesterday.

Anyway, I’ll go back to last weekend. My flu is now gone, but then I was still feeling a bit weak and we decided to “take it easy”. As normally happens when you decide something like that well also this time I ended up having quite an active weekend.

Our Saturday started by cleaning the entire house. Nothing more of that but it surely was a good thing to do, as we have been away the two last weekend and the house was “a bit” covered with dust… After this we visited 2 flea markets, a big one called Valtteri and a posh one called Kaivarin Kanuuna. I wrote about these two earlier in my blog Fleamarkets make you happy. Why?

What did we find? Well this time my boyfriend was very lucky: he found 8 good CDs for only 4,5€ in total. He even said before leaving home that he’d really like to buy a CD of Smashing Pumpkins and surprise – this is what he got for only 0,50€!

I was also lucky, as I found a pretty and warm woolen sweater for 8€. I put it on today to work and 2 colleagues commented how pretty it was. And it’s always so nice to tell that I bought it from a flea market.

In the afternoon we drove a friend to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. The lucky guy was going to Buenos Aires for 2 weeks’ holiday and I felt light jealousy… However, we got “the second best option”, as from the airport we drove to a big shopping mall nearby, Jumbo, in Vantaa. (Attached there is also a big spa-hotel Flamingo.)

This was the first time for both of us. The idea was to buy 1) a frame for my painting and 2) a birthday present for my friend. Well, it was impossible to concentrate. We wondered around and I started to feel dizzy because of the flu and my boyfriend got really hungry. Shopping malls are unreal places, they look more or less the same all over the world and everyone seems to know the “what to do””: consume, consume, consume. To make it nicer, you get some warmth, (bad) music and food and drinks for the whole family.

There was even some “entertainment.” I started to feel even sicker when I saw young women dressed in pink as Barbies who were helping little girls to pimp their Barbie with different dresses, hair etc. It was quite surrealistic to see the “massacre” of abandoned Barbies and Ken’s lying on the floor.

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A massacre of Barbies and Kens on the shopping mall floor

My Saturday night finished in Navy Jerry’s for a good friend’s birthday. This new bar near my home in Kamppi is decorated with marine style and has a good list of rum based drinks. Mmmm – unfortunately (or maybe luckily) we didn’t have the chance to taste them all! Next time it shall be… A tip: especially I liked a drink with rum, lime juice and ginger ale. (Is there a name for it, by the way?)

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A friend getting a taste of the rum list of Navy Jerry's

As if this wasn’t enough, on Sunday we went for a walk in the forest. It’s amazing, but only some 20 minutes away from the centre of Helsinki like in Paloheinä there are nice forests and nature paths to walk or to ski on. The sun was shining and it was only -1C. Perfect. Lots of people skiing around and riding toboggans with their kids – or without, as this is a good sport for people of any age. And it really makes you forget a little flu.

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Sunday is a good day to enjoy a toboggan ride and some hot chocolate afterwards..

To finish with the day, my boyfriend cooked tortilla de patatas an then we played some chess! Something I haven’t done for about… 10 years. So naturally I lost, but it was great fun. And I held on for an hour, so it wasn’t that bad!

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Simple things – Helsinki, sauna and makkara

Today I found joy in so called small things.

It felt wonderful to go out after a couple of days in bed with a flu and to notice that I can breathe again, the sun is shining and there is a smell of spring in the air already. Today I worked from the home office, as I still felt a bit ill in the morning – which means I was still wearing pyjamas at 5 pm. So I really felt the urge of going out, called up my boyfriend who works nearby and who joined me for a little walk around the centre of Helsinki.

Children with their toboggans in Koff Park "Koffari" in Helsinki. Credit: Helsingin Uutiset

Of course everything was still in its place in the city, after a couple of days of my absence, and I loved to see all the familiar corners once more. We passed Koffin Puisto (Koff Park or “Koffari”) on Bulevardi, where children were riding their toboggans down a snowy slope and continued to the West Harbour, where the big cruises were starting their trips to Stockholm or Tallinn – as they do every evening.

West Harbour near my home in Helsinki. I love the old cranes - which are luckily objects of protection today.

In the end we visited our familiar supermarket to buy soya milk – and sausages, as it was sauna time tonight. I taught my (Spanish) boyfriend how to cook sausage on the stones of the sauna. It’s easy, as every Finn knows! Just wrap a sausage in a folio, add perhaps a bit of strong cheese and throw some beer on top of it – maybe vegetables too, and voilà! In half an hour you’ll have a tasty sausage waiting for you- while you are enjoying the hot sauna. This is a very typical Finnish thing, and some people make real gourmet experiments inside the sauna…

Getting professional! I found out that one company has even created a "sausage tube" for preparing your sausage, "makkara" in Finnish, in the sauna. Credit: Sauna-aitta

While the boyfriend went to have sauna with his friends, I enjoyed quality time with myself in the sauna of our apartment – in Finland almost all the apartment building have a common sauna, and you can get 0,5 – 1 hour a week of sauna for yourself by buying a small amount for maintenance.

A happy Finnish family having a sauna in the Oulu region, Northern Finland. The feeling of euphoria is always the same... Credit: Everyculture.com

I didn’t have sausages – as I’ve decided to spend the month of February without eating meat (more about that later). But naturally I had some nice red wine from Chile waiting for me.  Ah, it feels so good to be healthy again!

Not for vegetarians. This is how makkara-lovers like it - with mustard and ketchup, of course. Credit: HK Sininen - the most typical makkara trademark in Finland!

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Smaller dreams in Turku

Last weekend I visited some old university friends in Turku, the old capital of Finland. There I spent 5 years studying my Master’s Degree, having endless coffees and beers with my more or less ambitious university and hippy NGO friends wondering what to do with our lives. Well, I guess we still don’t know…

Those were very good times, but I’m also happy to have finished with the studies, moved on to work in Helsinki and achieving so many new things in my life.

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Icicles covering Logomo, Turku Centre for Modern Art.

Going back to Turku is a small nostalgia trip to the past. The same dear friends, bars and restaurants… well, those that are left. It is also a bit disturbing to notice how everything stays the same in the city –  most of my friends still do the same things as we did back then, 10 years ago.

Some have finished their studies and are now working while others are still struggling with their thesis. Some have kids now and are “established”, building their own houses. Some just hang around and work the minimum possible to survive and lead a stressless life. The rhythm in Turku seems quite much slower than in Helsinki, even if the difference in the size of the cities is not that big.

It was good to have long talks with my friends, whom I haven’t seen in years. And I learnt an important lesson. I, who complain a lot about my career, life in general and “the little I’ve achieved in life so far”, should actually STOP complaining right now.

In Turku it is a lot harder getting a job, finding nice new friends or get a new, good boyfriend. So life can easily become monotonous and you loose your faith in that “anything is possible”. As one friend put it “my dreams are smaller than yours”. This made me wonder how can you ever compare the size of dreams? Aren’t all the dreams equally important and big – for the person who dreams them? I hope so.

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Shrove Buns – the last chance to eat greasy stuff in 40 days!

Oh no! Being ill with a flu almost made me forget what day it is today: Shrove Tuesday (Laskiaistiistai in Finnish). This means that today we go all take our toboggans and go to ride a slope (check the video of a bit longer ride in Northern Finland!) and after that the tradition is to eat pea soup, pancake and laskiaispulla –  the delicious Shrove buns! Well, I would say most of the people have skipped to first and even the second part as on Tuesdays they work etc but only few don’t want to taste a bun.

So, about the buns. Basically, you make normal Finnish buns but the fun part is that for laskiainen you can tune them according to your taste! And you can find them everywhere: in cafes, supermarkets – and offices. Today at my workplace we have buns for all the employees. Also in the restaurant near the office you can every year prepare a pulla with your favourite accompaniment – and they have quite a selection.

Tonight a friend is even organising a traditional “pulla party” at her place – and over 30 friends have said YES to pulla in the Facebook invitation. Also everyone has to tell in advance what kind of pulla they prefer. In the end, only you imagination is the limit…

In short, it’s hard to avoid a pulla overdosis today.

So how is this delicacy?

Here it is, laskiaispulla. So good - but only once a year.

There are two options on for to put inside  your pulla – and this truly divides people! You can either be strawberry jam person or almond paste person. If you come to Finland on laskiainen, you’ll definitely face with this difficult question! Also pulla contains whipped cream and some sugar on top. And, like I said, only the imagination is the limit on what to put inside your original sweet bun…

People even compete who makes the best pulla

Most of the people concentrate on eating and comparing pullas but there’s a deeper reason for Shrove festivities, of course. After today, Shrove Tuesday, a period of 40 days of liturgical fasting before Easter begins and during that time you can only eat simple foodstuffs. The Protestant Finns do not observe Lent anymore, but the Orthodox usually do. Some people use the fast as an excuse to eat healthier – maybe even I’ll try to quit eating candy. Hmm I must think about it.

Anyway, today is the last chance to eat a lot of heavy stuff, as people believed that food had to be very greasy today so that the pigs and cows would get fat in the spring. Now the tradition lives on only in laskiaispulla, I guess. And unfortunately it’s us getting fat, not the cows…

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The Art of Being Sick

I feel like the weather when I look outside to out yard full of wet snow and the gray skies above… It’s +2C in Helsinki so I guess the spring is very slowly approaching. At least the snow is falling from the roofs. A terrible accident took place yesterday near my office as a woman got killed when a icicle dropped on her head. A horrible way to day, on your home street in the middle of a sunny winter day.

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Icicles in Helsinki - pretty but very dangerous this time of the year. Credit: Yle.

Las weekend I spent in Turku, my old university city and the old capital of Finland, visiting friends and partying quite much. The result? A nasty flu. Yesterday I tried to work but today no option but to stay in bed.

What a feeling! I’ve been through flues hundreds of times during my life… All the body parts hurt, you can hardly breathe and a cactus has made its nest in your throat. Uff. Nothing new, I guess a flu is as old as the human being.

The new phenomenon is the social media with its thousands of “home doctors”. As soon as you come up with your first flu status update, people start actively commenting and suggesting treatments – I do it too. In the end, most of the tips offer nothing new, but psychologically it’s important to get them. It’s like searching up on the net the same typical advices again and again every time you’re ill: stay in bed, drink a lot, rest, wash your hands, eat vitamins etc etc.

My friends are a bit more original, though. For example, one suggested to make a hot drink with fresh ginger, honey, lemon, fennel and propolis. The other had tried, I guess with success, to make a “hard-core mojito” with some garlic, chili and avocado. It opens your nose, I guess.

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Ginger - they say it's very efficient agains a flu. And it tastes so good, heatlhy! Credit: ellit.fi

Anyway, we already have our cupboard full of medicines – most of them for our old friend, the flu. Vitamin D and the so fashionable zink (they say it’s the best thing against ful nowadays!), propolis, black current juice, ibuprofen powder with different flavours, normal honey and honey with ginger, multivitamin pills, dried blueberries and cranberries, pills for the throat and of course my Big Love: a neti pot for nasal irrigation. It really makes you feel good! Well, as good as you can feel with a flu…

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This is how the nasal irrigation goes! Looks a lot worse than it actually is.

In the end, the best tip I’ve heard so far is very simple but almost impossible to do: disconnect your computer and especially Facebook, also TV, mobile phone etc – and stay in bed without doing anything! Max activity is to read something light and preferably already read.

I’ll take up the challenge right now and move my sick body to bed – without my laptop! Let’s see what happens. But first, I’ll need some nasal irrigation.

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Is it possible to have an intellectual conversation after having a baby?

Yesterday I visited Riihimäki (literally Drying Barn Hill), which is a little – and for me quite dead – town 50 kilometres away from Helsinki.

The reason for this visit was that a friend of my boyfriend’s, a Russian lady, got married to a Finnish guy and got a baby 2 months ago. Living in more peaceful environment and getting a bigger flat were the two reasons for living the bohemian Kallio neighbourhood in Helsinki behind them and moving to this little town. Personally I’d prefer a tiny flat in the middle of at least a bit of a life on the streets and something to do. But we are different, of course.

And they got a baby. I’m always a little nervous when visiting a family with a newborn. I don’t know what to do with so young babies and I’m afraid of the moment when the parents suggest that I should hold the baby and do all the baby blablala… that’s not my thing.

Does having kids make you conservative per se? An add from 1950s.

But a lot worse is the amount of people seem to lose all their capacity to an intellectual conversation after having a baby. Even friends who used to be so free-minded, open and brave, suddenly start to be afraid of almost anything and their values go back to 1950s. Especially women. They start ironing their partners shirts, giggling and talking about the baby baby baby non stop. You know, “everything changes when you become a mother”.

It sounds so strange to me. Yes you have a baby but you are still the same person, right? But what do I know, I don’t have kids.

Anyway, yesterday was a very positive surprise. We talked about the EU financial crisis, immigration policies, drugs (whether weed should be legal) and sex – the couple visited a big sex fair here in Helsinki called Sexhibition and had quite a few stories to tell – like about filming a porno film live on the spot. And the baby was happily sleeping in his chest.

Married with children - and afraid of the world outside the home walls? Photo: Yle

This couple surely is very dedicated to their baby, so this serves as a prove that you don’t have to change and disappear in a big pink bubble, where everything outside looks terrifying and from where people who don’t have babies are sooo immature. And I’m not alone saying this as I’ve even heard some moms and dads complaining how they go crazy just sitting in the playground with other parents and where the conversation limits in baby stuff (caga, nutrition, parental tips etc.) and all intellectual talk seems to be banned.

So, thank you people who stay your “normal” selves even after having a baby!

The poor eat chips and the rich eat scallops – is it only about money?

People tend to think that Finland is a very equal country. Sure it’s true in most matters, for example when it comes to gender equality.

But it’s also true that those with less education, who are unemployed and poor die younger and are sicker than those who have a good education, job and a higher income. No surprise, but the phenomenon is still quite new here and we are not sure how to talk about it being “politically correct”.

Scallops - one of the symbols of the happy wealthy peoples' eating habits. Credit: Kala-auto

I just found out that in Finland we actually have exceptionally big differences when it comes to the mortality rate between the different socioeconomic groups. When a 35-year-old worker’s life expectancy is 74 years, his boss can easily expect to live 6 years longer. Quite a few years to spend in traveling, playing golf and enjoying your grandchildren.

Unhealthy stuff that is supposed to be so cheap - on the cost of our health?

When it comes to your health, one of the most important factors is the food you eat. And Finns are fatter than the other Nordics: only  33% of Finnish men and 48% of women are of normal weight.

Not everyone is getting fat, though, as eating habits are fast differentiating between the groups. Simplifying a bit, it seems that every day the rich eat better and better while the poor consume worse and worse products. Why?

Yes, the food is very expensive here in Finland. Some say that this is why the poor buy pizzas, chips, white bread, cookies, candy – filled with additives. But are they really so much cheaper?

OK let’s make a fast comparison:

  • A kilo of fresh potatoes: 0,75€ 
  • A pack of potato chips: 3€ 

= the healthy option is cheaper – like in many other cases!

Also our forests and lakes are full of clean superfood: berries, mushroom, fish… You just have to go and pick it.

Now the state is starting to tax harder all the unhealthy stuff. My wild guess is that this won’t make things better and Finns healthier.

I think it’s more a question of human mentality. For example, when you are unemployed and have lost your dream, what’s the point of staying fit and eating vitamines?

Food circle - all the kids remember this from the Home Economics classes. In theory at least...

The gap is widening between those who care about their health and those who are letting go. It’s normal that you don’t feel like cooking a healthy dinner if your life seems miserable. Maybe you order a pizza and to the sofa – definitely not the healthiest and probably not even the cheapest option.

Sometimes it’s a question of knowledge – even if here in Finland every kid has at least 1 year of compulsory classes of Home Economics where they are taught about healthy diet and how to cook it.

I’m of course generalizing. There are many exceptions.

And Finns are good at blaming the others. Perhaps we can blame the cold climate? When it gets -20C outside you grave for sugar and fat – you don’t feel like eating a salad but something hot and filling!

Or maybe it’s in our genes? Finns love sugar. We drink about 70 litres of limonades and sodas and consume 10 kilos of candies per person a year. Something should be done… soon.

Finns want to pick their own candies of as wide a selection as possible.

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Restaurant Day – become a chef for a day

I enjoyed my dear  – and cold – Helsinki so much this weekend! On Saturday we had Helsinki Restaurant Day, a food carnaval, where anyone is invited to open a restaurant for a day. The concept was invented by a couple of clever young guys from Helsinki – it is an amazingly simply and just ingenious idea!

The restaurants can be anything, you can check out the Browse restaurants section on Restaurant Day webpage to get a glimpse… Only the founder’s imagination is the limit. Absolutely anyone can be a chef for a day, make some exotic or traditional culinaristic experiments and invite strangers to their homes, install a kiosk on the street or organise an open picnic in some corner of the city. Some of my friends, who are lucky to own a shop, convert them into tea lounges, muffin factories or even into a Brazilian-Iranian restaurant, as one of the shoe stores in Helsinki did on Saturday.

This Saturday morning me and my friend decided to visit as many as we could of these pop-up restaurants. The only two limits were: 1) your stomach is not limitless and 2) the weather was “a bit” challenging, almost -20C…

Actually, to fight the second condition, I got an idea to fill my termo with – surprise surprise – champagne! Haha even if it maybe wasn’t the most elegant thing to do with that expensive drink, at least it helped us to stay warm all day long and it cheered us up on the windy streets filled with snow! Here are some of the delicious things we saw – and tasted, of course.

Celebrating Restaurant Day with a style. Hipster muffins at Hiphip cafe, Punavuori - the hipster neighbourhood of Helsinki.

Parmesan cake at a home restaurant in a cool old stable in Punavuori, Helsinki. The cake? It was excellent! As were the chats with the other "clients" present in this nice couple's living room.

My friend's underwear shop Punavuoren putiikki was converted into a tea lounge - with a sweet atmosphere and even sweeter cupcakes.

Warm tea to keep you going in Restaurant Day

Muffin Top - more muffins and spicy tomate soup at a jewellery shop in Punavuori.

All in all, the experience was great – once again… The carnaval is organised about every 4 months and each time it gets more popular! Also the police (who at first disapproved all this) is now looking the event through it fingers. More of this kind of spontaneous community activities, please. By the way, the next Restaurant Day is celebrated in May… Welcome!

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Cold, colder… -40C?

Finland today - cold as the colour suggests.

As most of my friends’ Facebook statuses declare: It’s cold in Finland, like in most of Europe these days.

Here in Helsinki the temperature is not as “bad” as in the Northeastern parts of the country, but we have our fair share of chilliness. Today it was about -20C, which feels like -32C because of the wind – that’s cold! Foreigners ask how is it possible to survive in these temperatures? Well, you just have to dress up properly. For example, today I was wearing all these things – and I only got frozen in the nose and cheeks:

  • a warm set of long underwear & jeans
  • normal socks and woolen socks and extra warm winter shoes with lambswool inside
  • leather gloves with lambswool and a thick woolen scarf
  • a feather jacket with a big hood
  • a winter hat like this one. (Lots of Finns wear this model, so I guess they’re either in fashion or just efficient against the cold…

My beloved winter hat. For you I still have my brain functioning.

With this clothing I almost feel ok outside – for a short time. Only the face is a problem. This morning I saw a woman (not a Muslim one) in the street wearing a veil covering ALL her face. Maybe you stay warm, but you don’t see anything!

Anyway, people here don’t tend to be afraid of the cold. In schools, children have to go skiing and skating in sports class if it’s less than -15C. And I’ve never heard that you’d get free from school or work because of the cold weather. Wishful thinking…

Helsinki some days ago - so cold but so pretty. Photo: Inka Soveri / Iltalehti

Let’s see what happens in the days to come: they say it might get colder than -40C in the Northeastern Finland! Wow!!!

I’m almost always cold, so I’m not a good Finn. Anyway, they say that a human being is capable of getting used to extreme temperatures. The aboriginal people in Tierra del Fuego, South America, can sleep half-naked outside in freezing temperatures etc. Some characteristics help you to survive in the cold.

  • Having enough fat to keep you warm (many Finns have learnt this too well…)
  • Having shorter legs and hands – the more compact you are, better you reserve warmth
  • Being a woman – we survive better in extreme temperatures
  • And avoid being tired, on medication, too old, too thirsty or  – most importantly – too long time outside!
According to researches, many mammals follow these rules. Maybe it applies to us too=? At least many Finns are a bit round and have short legs. Purely for environmental reasons…?

Enjoying the cold. Me and my friends snow-shoeing at -20C in Eastern Finland.

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Office work – more freedom, please!

Today’s 3 main topics have been volunteering, weather and – not that surprisingly – office work. (Well, I also had a great sauna, but more about that later…)

First, this morning I had a radio interview about volunteering for the national Yle Radio Suomi, as tomorrow we’ll organise an event where people looking for volunteer work and NGOs looking for volunteers meet. The idea is nice, and Finland actually is the promised country of NGOs – there is one for almost every purpose you can imagine!

The interview went fine, they said. Even if being in the studio and thinking of thousands of people listening makes you feel a bit strange…

All in all, Finnish people volunteer a lot, sometimes without even noticing: in NGOs, sports clubs, school associations, helping the old lady next door by bringing her milk from the supermarket. One in every four Finns volunteers and 50% of those who don’t would like to do something. Nice numbers, but there is still a lot to do – for a better world!

Cold and snowy Helsinki - this one is from 2010. Credit: Hannes Heikura, Helsingin Sanomat

Today’s second topic has been the weather. In brief, it’s -15C (or even colder with the chilly wind!) in Helsinki today. Luckily it’s also sunny and pretty with all that bright snow.

Stress Reduction Kit

We also have one of these at the office... just in case.

And then to the MAIN topic – work in the office! This evening I met two friends in a cafe of Ateneum Art Museum and we talked about work. We are all loaded with “interesting” tasks and projects. So we got some ideas to make our lives a bit nicer:

1. Office life. Do you know the UK series The Office? Well, it results that our respective offices (like I guess most of the offices in the world) have their “special character”. So, it would be great to film or at least record in the meetings and situations and maybe also to write a book about the a bit absurd aspects of office life. Unfortunately I guess we would be thrown out of the office before finishing the story…

Why not, if the work is done?

2. Working hours. Luckily my office is quite flexible and we are allowed to work from home – like I did today. But  we also have clock cards and our working hours calculated. It’s my first job with this system. After the initial shock I got used to it – even if I’m quite a free soul. Actually it’s nice to notice the hours slowly accumulating – and then you can have a longer weekend to compensate.

Anyway, why can’t it be so that when the daily work is done, you’d be free to go? People have different rhythms, some are early birds and some… well, are not.

3. Physical presence in the office. I’ve been seriously thinking about the necessity to stay in the office 8 hours a day. Why? I do no costumer service and all the information I need is online. So if there are no meetings, there are no real reasons for staying in the office.

I read a great blog (in Finnish) on how the sometimes archaic office rules should be updated. One of these rules is the physical presence of the employee. We would be a lot happier working from home, cafes, museums, parks, from a paradise island – wherever YOU’d want to! Especially for jobs that require creativity and concentration this is essential.

Well, maybe it takes some time to introduce these ideas but in many places they are already doing it… I really hope we’d get some changes before I get retired!

Ups

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