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December 20th, 2011

Early Bird Promotion: Receive one free night in Beijing or Shanghai

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

WildChina would like to offer one complimentary night’s stay at your hotel in Beijing or Shanghai for travelers who book select themed journeys by December 31, 2011 (11:59 EST).

The following journeys apply:

China for Foodies: Explore China with local guides and a WildChina Culinary Host. Learn to make all-time favorite, kungpao chicken, in a private kitchen. Take in the sights and sounds of Xi’an’s bustling night market, where savory lamb skewers roast over coals and sweet glutinous rice steam in bamboo. Learn how to select specialty red chilies and peppercorns after witnessing professional chefs artfully prepare Sichuanese dishes. Save these authentic recipes as treasured souvenirs.

Departures: Apr 14-25, May 12-23, Sep 8-19, Oct 20-31, 2012

Chinese Treasures: WildChina Founder Mei Zhang handcrafted this itinerary for her closest friends in 2009. Travelers will explore the imperial capitals of Beijing and Xi’an, gaining access to an emperor’s childhood home at the Forbidden City, a largely un-restored section of the Great Wall and the famed Terracotta Warriors Museum. We then go off the beaten path, visiting villages and glaciers in the famed Tibetan area of Shangri-La and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lijiang. Our journey ends in China’s bustling financial center of Shanghai – the “Paris of the East.”

Departures: Apr 11-23, Oct 12-24, 2012

Ancient Tea and Horse Road: The most daunting trade route in the world, passing through the mightiest mountain range on Earth, the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road linked the fertile emerald teas of Yunnan and Sichuan to the arid landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau, serving as a vital route for isolated tribes who referred to it as the “Eternal Road.” Remaining a virtual mystery to the West for over a millennium, the Road, its history and cultures are now at long last revealed in all of its stunning diversity. Expert led by Canadian explorer Jeff Fuchs

Departure: Apr 11-20, Apr 11-23, Sep 12-21, Oct 12-24 2012

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Promotion applies to additional nights pre- or post-journeys listed only.  Departures for all journeys leave in spring and fall of 2012. To take advantage of this offer, please contact your WildChina travel consultant or e-mail us at info@wildchina.com.
First and third photo by Michael Mudd

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December 12th, 2011

When Simple Tastes Better: Local Yunnan Lunch on the Haba Trail

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

This note was written by Devin Corrigan, a WildChina tour leader & travel consultant who recently traveled to Mount Haba on an educational trip. Previously, he blogged about the fascinating lore associated with the mountain and the lively and diverse atmosphere he found in Haba village.

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During the first leg of the trek to the summit of Mount Haba, my guide, Xiao He, and I stopped for lunch in a quiet clearing in the pine forest we were passing through. I knew he had brought some food for both of us, but I had a large chicken sandwich packed in my bag in case I needed more fuel for the day.

 

Local guide Xiao He pauses to greet Naxi villagers just before the lunch break

 

As we made ourselves comfortable on the ground, Xiao He took out two plastic bags and handed me one. Inside, two massive pieces of fried flatbread that I recognized as baba were folded together, still warm. Baba, a wheat-based staple of the northern Yunnan diet, takes many forms; I’ve had it with tons of sugar cooked inside, and a pork version is popular as well. This baba was plain and lightly fried, giving it a slight crunch. A thin layer of delicious, rich oil on the surface left a pleasant aftertaste I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

He watched me eat for a few seconds and then said, “It’s walnut oil. We have plenty of walnuts! We make the oil from them and put it on the baba.”

Ziji de,” he said with a grin. Our own.


This flatbread, known as baba, is a staple of the local diet


He tossed me two hard-boiled eggs. “These are the best eggs you can eat. They are from the chickens in my village. A lot of the eggs you get in cities nowadays are no good for you – these ones are fresh, with no additives.”

He was right. The eggs were mouth-watering, with soft, dark yolks and a taste that can only be described as it had been: fresh. The seemingly endless supply of walnut baba complemented the eggs nicely, and, needless to say, the sandwich stayed put.

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December 7th, 2011

Introducing WildChina’s Newest Blogger: Chelin Miller

By: Chelin Miller | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

WildChina is thrilled to announce our partnership with Chelin Miller. Chelin is a fantastic photographer and writer, and we can’t wait to feature exciting pieces on our blog about China travel and lux-living.  Stay tuned to watch this yummy mummy take over the blogging world with her local insights and fun side trips.
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I was born and grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived until my Prince Charming asked me to join him travelling all over the world – That was 18 years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

With a background in English-Spanish translation, three daughters, a passion for good food and an MSc in International Relations, I arrived in Beijing two years ago. I’ve been exploring and discovering this wonderful land and its culture, and every single day I find amazing people and traditions. I am a passionate photographer, a traveller, an explorer. I am a mother, a wife, a globetrotter.

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To learn more about Chelin Miller, stay tuned here for upcoming blogs or see Chelin in China.

 

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December 6th, 2011

Traveler’s Voice: Tastefully restored historic sites in Hangzhou

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

This note was written by Samantha Woods, a WildChina travel consultant who recently traveled to Hangzhou on a WildChina survey trip.
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The highlight of my recent survey trip was a day in Hangzhou. Having been to neighbouring Suzhou, another ancient canal town, I was expecting hoards of tourists and a somewhat falsified ‘Old Town’ experience. What I found was tastefully restored historic sites and a genuine pride of the locals in the culture and heritage of their city.


We started in the beautiful Guo Garden, where a group of budding young architects were having a lecture on the ancient Chinese technique of garden design. Our WildChina guide, Jackson, explained how long and twisting corridors, bridges and walls create partial views of the garden that are used to give the feeling of space and make the garden seem bigger that it is. I’ve been to many parks in Beijing, and throughout China, but it was only here that I discovered that the different shaped windows are positioned so that the views behind look like framed paintings hanging on the walls. Amazing!

 

After, we had a relaxing ride in a private paddle boat on the infamous West Lake. Despite a light drizzle, the banks were lined with brides braving the cold to have their photographs taken. Lunch of delicious xiaolongbao, which Jackson boasted was even better than the ones you find in Shanghai, was followed by a stroll through the tea plantations of Longjing, home to the coveted Longjing (or Dragon Well) green tea. A 500 gram of good quality tea can cost up to 3000 RMB. A local farmer gave us a taste of the 2nd pick of tea leaves harvested in May this year, and I learnt that Longjing tea should always be served in glass, not ceramic, cups, so drinkers can appreciate the graceful beauty of the tea leaves, which unfurl in hot water.

 

Finally, we were able to squeeze in a visit to the Traditional Chinese Medicine museum and pharmacy. The exhibition is housed in a mysterious old building, and has decent English descriptions – something still lacking in many museums in China.

Inside the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum

All in all, an educational and relaxing experience, easily accessible by bullet train from Shanghai, and one which I will definitely be recommending to my clients.

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For more information on trips to Hangzhou, check out Chinese Classical Gardens Tour & our new China for Foodies launching in 2012.  As always, if you have questions, please reach out to info@wildchina.com.

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November 11th, 2011

Michelin-starred chef in new Beijing restaurant: S.T.A.Y.

By: Guest | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Next time one of WildChina’s clients is asking for a divine, over the top and 100% glamorous China dining experience, we now have a new recommendation to suggest: Simple Table Alléno Yannick (S.T.A.Y).

 

Yannick Alléno

While perusing Jetsetter’s blog a few days ago, WildChina stumbled across Gabrielle Jaffe’s recent blog posting discussing her recent dining experience. Her elegant descriptions of “lobster tart made with claw meat from France” and “poached quails egg sprinkled with caviar and served inside a coral sea urchin” sound delicious.  This restaurant is being added to of restaurants to survey for our future travelers looking for an international dining experience while visiting Beijing with WildChina…

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Source: Jetsetter

Photo: S.T.A.Y.

To hear more from Gabrielle Jaffe and her musings on Beijing, follow her on Twitter @gjaffe

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March 29th, 2011

It’s Pu-erhfectly healthy and delicious

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

A disk of compressed Pu-erh tea for sale at a tea market in Yunnan

It’s not often that one encounters a tourist souvenir that lowers cholesterol, promotes weight loss and protects against cancer, vascular disease, cognitive degeneration and aging – not to mention providing important nutrients like amino acids.

But tea is believed to have these virtues and recent research shows that certain types of Pu-erh tea from China’s Yunnan province have particularly potent levels of beneficial chemical compounds.

WildChina visits Pu-erh production areas in Yunnan on its trip ‘The Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road: An Expedition with Jeff Fuchs.’ Learning about the fascinating history of the ancient trade routes along which Pu-erh tea once traveled by horseback to Tibet is a highlight of many clients’ trips.

Another highlight is trekking in Yunnan through tea agro-forests and wild tea gardens where members of exotic ethnic minorities like the Bulang, Lahu and Akha have tended organic tea gardens for generations in the general area from which tea is believed to have first emerged.

In fact, it is believed to be these small-scale, natural growing practices which impart the best Pu-erh tea with heightened health benefits. Most tea in the world these days is produced in sprawling plantations, planted in neat rows in direct sunlight and often treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

Not so with the finest Yunnan Pu-erh tea. To start with, it is not all produced from a genetically uniform crop. As we learned recently from the excellent book Tea Horse Road, Pu-erh is produced from a dozen wild cousins and hundreds of landraces of the Camellia sinensis plant – each particularly adapted to the climate of the particular hillside, or even grove, where it has traditionally been grown.

And instead of being grown in a tea monoculture, these trees (many reach an age of a few hundred years and a height of 50 or more feet) grow shaded from harsh sunlight in a natural ecosystem with hundreds of other plant, animal and insect species.

Thriving in their natural environment, agro-forest and tea garden trees produce higher levels of the beneficial compounds that first drew humans to start drinking tea, likely as a medical elixir, some three thousand or more years ago.

A study published last year in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology¹ compared Pu-erh from both terrace plantations and ecologically friendly agro-forests, measuring levels of tea catechins, flavonoid compounds that are thought to be beneficial to human health and are present to varying degrees in most non-herbal tea. The authors found that tea from the agro-forests had average catechin levels several times higher than the plantation tea.

So if you find yourself in southern Yunnan, relaxing after a day of trekking through ancient tea gardens and sipping on a cup of Pu-erh, you can feel good about the fact that a hike isn’t the only good thing you’re doing for your health that day. And don’t forget that a compressed cake packs great for the trip home.

1: See: Ahmed, et al “Pu-erh tea tasting in Yunnan, China: Correlation of drinkers’ perceptions to phytochemistry“, Journal of Ethnopharmacology 132 (2010) 176–185

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March 7th, 2011

Foodie expert Anissa Helou visits Beijing

By: Guest | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Last week, WildChina had the opportunity to host Anissa Helou, the “internationally known food writer,
art collector, journalist, broadcaster, and one of the leading experts on the cuisines of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”  She came to get a taste of what Chinese cuisine had to offer, and here is a portion from her blog.

a penis emporium – part 2 

“So, here are my tasting notes from my penis eating adventure. As I have already said, it was not a gastronomic experience but a fun and a very interesting one all the same. We ate in a private room and had our own dedicated waitress who, as you can see from the slightly hazy picture above, was very pretty. I wondered how she coped with male customers during and at the end of meals as they get more drunk and convinced of their increased strength — to become strong is the main reason for eating penis; strong is also the name or logo of the restaurant — but it wasn’t a question I felt I could ask despite being with two lovely Chinese friends who helped me find the restaurant and once there, decide what to order, translate, etc.

“The place is relatively expensive and however much I wanted to try the many different penises on offer, I did not want to spend a fortune. So, we settled on half a hot pot (one of the few you could order in halves) with lamb, stud ox, monkey and deer penis.

“And this is how our order came, with a bright red erect jelly penis in the middle! By the way, the long white bits at the front of the picture are spinal cord.

penis emporium-lamb being dropped in soup copy

“Our waitress poached the bits of penis in a good turtle soup, kept bubbling on an induction hot plate, before serving them to us to dip in any one of three different sauces: a slightly lemony soy one, a sesame paste one and I can’t remember the third one. Perhaps because I didn’t like it.

penis emporium-lamb cooked copy

“We started with the alpha male lamb penis. The texture was gelatinous with hardly any resistance. Some pieces were softer than others and had a slightly nicer mouth feel although I can’t say I was seduced.

penis emporium-stud ox cooked copy

“Then we had stud ox penis. I liked those pieces a little better. They offered a little more resistance and had a more interesting texture. Still, it was more like eating gristle than like eating a luxurious part of an animal.

penis emporium-spinal cord being dropped in soup copy

“After that we had a slight respite and were served spinal cord which I love — I used to always order it in Lebanese restaurants in London until the BSE crisis put a stop to it being on the menu. They were nice, soft and velvety with the skin a little chewy, offering a good contrast to the melting inside. And luckily our delightful waitress did not overcook them.”

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Photos by Anissa Helou. To read the rest of Anissa’s blog, please click here.

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February 17th, 2011

Six Sips in Beijing

By: Guest | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

The following piece is an excerpt from Templar Teas reports around the world.  The author Jeff Fuchs is a writer, photographer, and expert of the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road.

Beijing and its heaving dense world of sprawling space is losing much of what the previous generation calls the ‘culture of vital fluid’ – the culture of ‘tea’. Fewer and fewer tea shops – once abundant in the alleys and upon the great roads – are to be found which makes uncovering them something for me like discovering a gift. By a sad extension of this, the uncovering of good tea itself also becomes fleeting.

In the smallest recesses one can find the odd ‘cha dien’, tea stores that still cater to locals – less glitz but more substance, as the old saying goes. Barely lit at times, one enters an informal sanctum of tea in all of its desiccated forms. Apart from the huge tea market of Ma Lian Dao in the southwest of the city which is an entire urban landscape dedicated to selling tea, it is the small traditional tea houses that truly represent a passing moment in time.

One such shop in the massive Chaoyang district near the ever-expanding Liang Ma Qiao road in northeastern Beijing, needs luck or a friendly finger pointing the way to find it. Barely three meters wide and perhaps five deep the walls are lined with canisters, cakes, urns, bricks and errant tealeaves – a comfortable anarchy of tea resides here that warms the being with sips to come. There are no hints or aromas here – it is nothing less than being consumed with tea’s wafting fragrances. It is in these tiny temples of tea that one feels close to tea in its primal and very Asian form: it is something that occupies, fascinates and feeds. In its silence it reminds that tea is also treated as an almost honored friend. Unfortunately for most travelers in the unrelenting need for convenience, it is the tourist shops that trumpet teas that are little more than cosmetic masterpieces, with little substance that will get the attention.

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Photo by Tea Templar.  To read the full post, click here.

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January 26th, 2011

Want to experience China differently? Go west!

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

As noted earlier, China is already the world’s number-three destination for international travel. Many travelers nowadays have already made one or two trips to China, but more often than not, they’re visiting the coast, possibly venturing inward to check out the Terracotta Army in Xi’an.

But China is more than just a handful of sites in the country’s east. In fact, western China has just as much – if not more – to offer travelers who are looking for unforgettable experiences.

If you’re planning a China trip this year, we encourage you to look beyond the traditional travel destinations to China’s wild west. Here are some of our picks for places to visit in China’s west in 2011:

Yunnan: Land of diversity

Western China - Yunnan Province

Few places in the world pack as much variety into one area as the province of Yunnan, which offers a mind-bog

gling variety of landscapes ranging from jungle lowlands in the south to Tibetan highlands in the northwest.

Yunnan’s ubiquitous mountains have historically isolated groups of people from one another, which is one of the main reasons that the province has China’s highest number of ethnic groups. With 26 ethnic groups including Han, Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Yi, Hani, Hui, Mongol, Naxi, Lisu, Yao, Lahu and countless subgroups, Yunnan is a rainbow of different ethnic traditions, clothing and cuisine.

The mountain towns of Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-la are home to unique cultures whose lives are still steeped in ancient traditions. Down south in Xishuangbanna, tropical weather, tea plantations, spicy food and the lazy Mekong River await.

Guizhou: Still undiscovered

Western China - Guizhou Province

Guizhou Province may not attract as many

visitors as its neighbors Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi, but it certainly deserves consideration when making plans to travel to western China. Beautiful mountain scenery and a distinctive spicy and sour cuisine are some of th

e highlights of a trip to Guizhou. But as in many other parts of China, the big draw for us is the people.

The Miao, Gejia, Dong and Yao villages in Guizhou’s mountains are home to some of Asia’s most unique cultures and friendliest, most welcoming communities. Many of our clients rank our Guizhou village immersions among their top China travel experiences.

Sichuan: More than pandas

Western China - Sichuan Province

Sichuan is one of China’s most distinctive provinces, known for its spicy food, stunning mountain scenery, beautiful women and China’s ‘national treasure’ – the giant panda.

Sichuan’s capital Chengdu is a modern metropolis set on the west end of the fertile Sichuan Basin, a region that kingdoms battled for in ancient times. Chengdu is considered the capital of Sichuan cuisine, one of the most famous and flavorful of China’s culinary traditions.

The historical importance of Buddhism to Sichuan is evident in Chengdu at the Wenshu Monastery, located in the city’s center. Not far from Chengdu lie the Buddhist holy mountain of Emei Shan and the world’s largest seated Buddha at Leshan.

Sichuan has fantastic natural beauty as well, with the mountain forests and fantastic aquamarine lakes of Jiuzhaigou in the north and gorgeous mountain scenery at Minya Gongga in the province’s west.

Xinjiang: Silk Road echoes

Western China - Xinjiang Province

Xinjiang is simply massive. It comprises roughly one-sixth of China’s total territory and boasts some of the country’s most stunning mountains and deserts.

At the crossroads of Asia, Xinjiang has been home to many different ethnic groups, from the caucasoid peoples whose mummies date back to more than 3,800 years ago to the Turkic Uighurs who moved into the region from present-day Mongolia 1,100 years ago to today’s growing Han population.

Islam is the dominant religion in Xinjiang, where extremism is rare and moderation is the norm. Due to its location on the old Silk Road, Xinjiang has also been influenced by Buddhism.

For visitors to Xinjiang, the local cuisine is often one of most pleasant surprises. Featuring rich stews, tasty breads, a large variety of noodles from flat and wide to easily spoonable diced noodles and even salads, Xinjiang cuisine is a delicious world away from typical Chinese fare.

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January 10th, 2011

Introducing Western palates to Sichuan cuisine: Fuchsia Dunlop

By: WildChina | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Sichuan cuisine is one of the most famous of China’s regional cuisines, but it’s difficult to get authentic Sichuan food outside of China unless you know how to make it yourself. For most Westerners, that’s a tall order if you don’t have a good Sichuan cookbook, which, if you do was likely written by Fuchsia Dunlop.

The first foreigner to study at the Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu, Dunlop is the author of Sichuan Cookery, released in the US as Land of Plenty, one of the most thorough introductions to Sichuan cooking around and the subject of countless raves from book critics around the world. The London-based Dunlop has also published a Hunan cookbook and a book of memoirs of eating in China.

In addition to her writing, Dunlop is a consultant for the Bar Shu Group, which operates two of London’s most highly regarded Chinese restaurants. We spoke with Dunlop about her relationship with Sichuan cuisine:

What was it that attracted you to Sichuan food as opposed to other prominent Chinese cuisines?

Fuchsia Dunlop: It wasn’t a well-thought-out decision, as I hadn’t spent much time in China and didn’t know anything about its regional cuisines. But I visited Chengdu on holiday and fell in love with the city and its food almost immediately. That’s why I chose Sichuan University when I applied for my British Council scholarship. And when I got there the food was so amazing that I wanted to learn how to cook it.

During your time at the Sichuan Culinary Institute, what was more difficult: learning to cook authentic Sichuan food or learning the Sichuan dialect?

Fuchsia Dunlop: I suppose the dialect, and also learning the specialised written vocabulary of the Chinese kitchen, were the greatest challenges. Otherwise, the teaching was excellent and I enjoyed the cooking so much it didn’t seem hard.

What are the major challenges in introducing authentic Sichuan cuisine to London palates?

Fuchsia Dunlop: I don’t think there are any major barriers: I’ve always thought Londoners would love Sichuanese food, not only because it’s incredibly delicious, but also because the bold, spicy flavours of Thai and Indian cooking are so popular. And in my experience of cooking for friends and consulting for the Bar Shu restaurant in London, the flavours of Sichuan are completely accessible. The challenges lie mostly in getting hold of good seasonings, explaining new ingredients, and choosing your menus wisely – I wouldn’t offer stir-fried rabbit heads to Sichuan food novices, for example, and I’m always very gentle in introducing people to their first taste of Sichuan pepper!

Sichuan cuisine aside, which other regional cuisines in China do you consider to be among the best?

Fuchsia Dunlop: There is so much to choose from… I adore Cantonese dim sum, the delicate flavours of eastern China, northern noodles and dumplings, home cooking almost anywhere. But as an entire cuisine, I think Sichuan is still my favourite.

In more than 15 years of eating in China, are there any regional cuisines that you feel you still have a lot to learn about?

Fuchsia Dunlop: Frankly, I still feel like a beginner! I could spend the rest of my life researching Chinese regional cuisines and there would still be more to learn. China is so huge, and its culinary culture so diverse. That’s what makes it so interesting.

What would you consider to be a perfectly balanced Sichuan-style dinner?

Fuchsia Dunlop: It would have to fulfil the promise of bai cai bai wei, ‘a hundred dishes, a hundred different flavours’, which is to say that it would be deliciously varied, with many contrasting tastes, textures, aromas and colours. It would have to include fish-fragrant aubergines, of course – my all-time favourite dish – and a refreshing, light soup at the end.

In recent years you’ve showed increasing concern about the consumption of environmentally damaging dishes such as shark fin soup and endangered species – do you think Chinese eaters are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of their eating choices?

Fuchsia Dunlop: In my experience people are more concerned with the health impact of eating polluted ingredients than with the effects of their diets on the planet and biodiversity. But I expect this to change as they become more aware of the issues. Some younger people already seem to be becoming more environmentally aware.

Fuchsia Dunlop image: Andi Sapey

This interview originally ran on GoChengdoo and is reprinted with permission. If you would like to travel China with your taste buds, check out our China for Foodies trip.

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