Canadian nuances

Canadian nuances – Part 7: The grizzly arrival

I remember tossing and turning the night before I left Vancouver. The morning I left was a mixture of brew great coffee/pound down some Ritalin/panic slightly/jump on the bag until the zip merges.

Bad weather circles these big changes. Much like the ripple a fish makes. Will your reward be a fierce archetypal mammoth that exhausts you…or will it be an overgrown flea  – an inflated ending – that brews inside the heart of moody clouds? I digress…

I left in the rain. I paid a cab, and slowly inched towards the yellow submarine. Coffee thundered in my chest, bees and butterflies bounced inside my head like giddy popcorn struggling to get comfortable. I remember driving down Main street. It was 5:30am. The sun was asleep along with the sensible. I watched the rain give the street an unconscious hue.

This was a street I wouldn’t see for a long time. I worked on this street. I cried in the rain. Found friends. Caught snatches of banter. Felt the golden face of the old clock watch over me…an invisible parent on a drunken night. Now I couldn’t mourn for this street or myself. It seemed very far away behind the taxi window, stained with rain.

I arrived at the bus station. I stood in line. I glanced nervously at strangers hoping their story mattered as much as my own. I was leaving home after a frantic week of planning, rhythmic drinking and watered down goodbyes. The anxiety made me drunk. I wasn’t falling over…just everything was in a haze at the station. Conversations flickered past without a glance.

I weighed my bags, paid the extra cash, dragged the dead weight to bus 19. Cabins of steel lined up, perhaps they were saluting me? I think I saw at least two throw a palm over their face muttering “didn’t someone tell this dude to pack less?”

On the bus I watched a movie on my laptop, read a chapter from my book, stared at the mountains and stowed vodka into my flask to oil the joints. It’s nothing to really write home about. The chaos happened, naturally, when I was one hour away from Banff. The moment I felt chuffed about the first 13 hours, collided with a jarring thump under my seat. A passenger in front of me jumped up a minute later and scuttled towards the driver like a frightened cockroach.

We stopped. There were mutters from passengers about us hitting a deer. Planting a murky syllogism in a leader’s head only leads to more marbles dancing across the floor. The driver pulled the bus over, checked the side of the bus and didn’t see any visible signs of trauma.

He tossed a coin inside his head, and continued. Burnt mechanical popcorn crawled through 52 nostrils. Shards of worry and an warning beep drummed faster than the fear in our hearts. We pull to the side of the road for the second time. The young driver stands up to talk to us.

A sense of shame clouds him. He forgets to use the bus intercom and starts muttering something to us. I’m two thirds from the back, I can only assume the first 6 people understand him. Myself and two other passengers raise our voices and ask him to use the magical microphone. We get told there’s a problem with the brake line. We now have a 3 hour wait. A shorter version would be something like this…

The bus dies. Bad news. 3 hour wait. The air conditioner died an hour before the loud thud.  Driver gives up and turns off the engine. Silence. The Wi-Fi dies along with the electrical outlets and we can no longer charge our phones. Now the cry of the 15 month old baby punctuates the situation. Many get up to smoke. We open the emergency windows for air. I walk outside and share my mickey of vodka (neat) with a gaggle of smokers. I tell them it’s neat. No one complains. We stare at the throbbing sunlight on the mountains, the beauty seems so far away now. The vodka paints a smile on me and I hand out a couple of my granola bars like Oprah trying to disrupt that sombre stares. I fall asleep.

I get shaken. I am barely awake. The driver is busy saying too many words that I can’t process. Others ask more questions my consciousness stirs. My Québécois sidekick tells me something like “we’re getting on the rescue bus. grab your shit.” I give a slight cheer, and redemption pulls me into the new bus. Clean, leather scented, warm…all the signs of salvation. I juggle a few things and pound my bag into the overhead slot. Two elastic bars fuck with me. Drum roll please…

A new driver emerges. He’s older, something inside me relaxes. His hair looks like a burnt cigarette. We’re on our way soon. Great. The old bus has an “airlock system” and our baggage is trapped. I’m told we have to wait a few hours for it. One driver says my luggage is headed to Calgary and I must go there and get it. The rescue bus driver tells me it should arrive in Banff (my destination) a day later.

17 hours later I get off the bus. I say goodbye to strangers, and walk into darkness. I have a laptop, coffee grinder, French press (coffee plunger), no coffee beans, a heavy laptop, the clothes I’m wearing and a lonely bag of trail mix. I sit at the bus stop to wait from my brother. My knees applaud the brisk wind. I’m wearing shorts, of course. I feel incredibly sober again.

I spot a bobbing flash-light. I’m not sure if it’s a security guard, or a tourist riding a drunken bicycle. A beaming face emerges. The beady eyes of a brother, an old friend, a bouncy critter with a deeper heart. We fling our arms around each other after four years. We laugh. We separate. Seconds stagnate and we stare. We soak up the soul that lingers behind the eyes.

We embrace again. Holding, smelling, feeling, being.

Brothers.
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Canadian nuances, Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 7: That African Twitch

It’s cold. (Well, only 5°C but you forget…I’m a wuss with warm tropical blood.)

My backpack is crammed with groceries. It has the weight of a dying child. Each hand holds two more shopping bags. It’s around 10pm. I’m tired and starved. All I want to do is get home and throw food at my face until a gravy coloured smile emerges.

I’m walking up Yukon street and my steam-engine breath is pumping ahead of me. My eyes catch those of a girl walking towards me. She looks young. A brief guess puts her as an older teenager or in her earlier 20s.
She sees me and a train of words comes rushing out of her mouth.

“Hey, can I ask you a favour?”
“Wh-”

“Do you have a phone on you?”
I freeze for a second. My hands loosely hold the two shopping bags ready to release them. My eyes scan the road behind her. No one there. My brain blurts to the saner part… Are there two guys in the bushes behind me?

I still feel skeptical of parting with my phone on command. I ask her why. Another torrent of words hurtles towards me. She was trying to find her friend’s place blah blah blah. She was from North Vancouver, she felt lost. At this point my Canadian brain says… This chick’s too stressed out to create moving bushes.

I ask her the address. She tells me. I know it. I point to the street behind me that I had just crossed. This doesn’t seem to be enough to quell her bubbling questions. I shrug and pull out my phone. I open up Google Maps and punch in the address she gave me.
“Oh wow, you’re actually looking it up. I’m so sorry to do this to you…”

“Nah, shit happens,” I reply. The red balloon thingy mushrooms on the screen and I see where she was meant to go. Turns out she was only 250m or so away.
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I feel like such an idiot.”

A gloved hand flies up to cover her mouth. An embarrassed laugh trickles out into the night air. Within seconds she scampers away again.

I bend down, and pick up my shopping bags again. I chuckle to myself. Those goddam bushes.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances, Rantings, Uncategorized

Canadian nuances – Part 6: Wading through sludge

I spent my New Year’s Eve in an empty house. The warm kiss of sherry coating my lungs, and the gentle sigh of a dog narrating my thoughts. It was lonely, but perfect. Quiet moments give us time to reflect. On everything, really.

I babbled to a few people on Facebook, my thumbs thundering against the glass face of my phone. I checked the time 23:34…shit, time to leave. I threw on my headphones, slung my bottle of sherry back into my bag, began my ascent through the ice and sludge. The succulent anger of Slipknot thundering threw me.

I approach the SkyTrain. Reach for my wallet. Seconds after my hand collides with its porous body, my eyes dart to the sticker adjacent to the turnstiles Free Ride on New Year’s Eve. 8 P.M. until 5 A.M. A smile creeps over me. “Thank you Canada,” I mutter to myself.

I get off at my station. A few of my heavy metal anthems are now slithering across my playlist. I start headbanging and beating drums like invisible ghosts in the air. Somehow this doesn’t seem like enough. I kick up a bit of snow and do an Irish jig in the middle of the street. (It’s like a version of Riverdance you should never watch. Trust me.) A thought came to me this morning as I began etching out the events of last night. I think I’ve fallen in love with this country. Or perhaps it’s fallen in love with me? I don’t care which way you slice it.

During the summer of 2016 I had a romance with a beautiful Japanese girl. I see an interesting parallel between loving a person and loving an environment. There’s the initial awe of something new coupled with anxiety of being able juggle the complexity of it all. Maybe one has an angry parent buzzing in their head saying “You’re in a new country / relationship now. Don’t fuck it up!”

Initially being in Canada felt like wading through sludge. There’s so many details, -isms, directions, slang and faces thrown your way, all that’s left to do is slowly wade through it. The sludge. Now that I’m two and a bit years into being “settled”, there’s less sludge. I can still see parts of it, others haven’t found me yet.

Where am I going with all this? Well, you remember the earlier analogy about the lover? A tipping point comes in any relationship. It is when you let your guard down. You express yourself, and run with it. It feels like flying. It tastes like freedom. That was exactly how I felt a few hours ago, churning up snow and dancing like dyslexic spaghetti.

Yeah…I may have looked like a fool, but I’m cool with that. Man must frolic, and so should you!

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Canadian nuances, poetry, Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 5: When the smoke clears

Vancouver. It’s the afternoon and you take a stroll downtown. You notice a certain smell. In fact it’s hard to avoid the sweet scent of marijuana. It drifts through the sunny streets like an unconscious cloud, eager to throttle addicts and adolescents. In many ways, the west coast (of Canada) is seen as a little more mellow, crammed with hippies, riddled with bohemians, gypsies and stoners…of course. You decide how rebellious you are at the end of the day.

When I first heard I was moving to Vancouver and closer to consuming some high quality Mary Jane, my ‘inner rebel’ leapt up and gave the addict an invisible hi-five. It was similar to the feeling when you may win a prize of some kind, and you hear the announcement crackling over the intercom. Now I’m going on a tangent. Lemme fast forward to my first encounter with this cloud.

I arrived in the blustery wind and rain. This was spring. The first night I booked myself into the cheapest hostel in Vancouver. Yes, you heard me. I get into this burnt out building. I walk up the staircase. The first thing that I notice is graffiti, along with a collection of gouges, scrapes and manic doodles. I get to the counter and pay for two nights. The rotund guy behind the counter doesn’t even ask for my ID, all he needs is a $10 deposit for the key to my room. I hand him the money and he gives me a brown sheet for my bed and an old, gross blanket to keep me warm. I never receive a pillow. Soon after arriving one thing has become apparent, nothing in this place is clean.

My first night in Vancouver I was jet-lagged, in a grimy hostel and alone. (I flew in with my parents, but they had gone to live in another part of the city). I felt like a turtle who’d been flipped on his back. I was scared and bewildered with only about $100 to my name. Another thing…who do you trust? The don’t-talk-to-strangers mantra your parents banged into your head from birth, vanishes quickly.

Anyway, in my nervous state evening approaches and the anxiety quivering inside me propels my legs forward. I search for a place to buy food. I remember this next part so clearly I can almost reach out and touch it. I walk around a local park downtown and green clouds hit me. It’s a tempting scent and my first idea is to follow the smell because ultimately every stoner gets the munchies. This plan fails because I end up at a coffee shop of sorts where everyone inside can bring their own product (i.e. marijuana, of course) and light up. Ultimately they order some cake and other sugary treats staring at the patrons behind glass doors.

After exploring the place and talking to the stoned barista, I remember I’m hungry and leave. I end up asking people too many questions and I soon arrive at a grocery store. Days after this happened a bizarre thought crept over me – it was easier to buy pot than it was to find food. I kid you not. You have to walk past a pub to see people drinking, but smelling is for free. Most days you don’t have a choice.

For those reading this, I can sense that unspoken question on your lips…have you tried it? Yup, I have. I might be more accurate if I said the weed smoked me. I prefer operating with a clear mind and I’ve stayed away from it for many months. I also find it interesting that there is a certain amount of denial that goes with every stoner. I’ll give you an example…

There are many marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver. Let me rephrase that, medical marijuana dispensaries. The deal is you first have to go the the doctor, complain about some ache or pain or symptom and receive a letter. You take that letter to certain dispensaries who will issue you with a plastic card with a picture of you and your mug on it. This becomes your golden ticket to bounce from dispensary to dispensary at your leisure.

Now where does the denial part kick in? Well, medical marijuana…ahem, er, really? That’s like the doctor prescribing cigarettes because you have a cough. Okay, perhaps not the best analogy, I admit. There are tons or dispensaries, but I don’t see many sick people. Yes there may be some medical benefits that come from this plant, although the dispensary business I see largely as a “smokescreen” for recreational users to get a free pass. I don’t get it, maybe that means I’m not a stoner then? If there’s one thing I’d indulge in, that would be copious amounts of craft beer. Chances are it won’t offend the person I’m sitting next to, and I’m more likely to find new friends.

But wait there’s more…
After being in the country for a little more than a year, a new president came to power. I’m told this was a good thing because Stephen Harper – the previous guy – was an annoying sod. So the new party in power are called The Liberals (or Liberal Party, don’t quote me because I avoid politics like the plague). In addition to them being less like Harper, they also claim to legalize pot over the whole of Canada. This time they’re pushing for the recreational use of the drug. Part of me also thought “is the law really the thing stopping [the stoners] in the first place?” Some say it takes one to know one. Hmmm.

Okay folks, it’s time to muscle up and find a conclusion of sorts. This post is looking more like an anti-marijuana rant every minute. Maybe it is? Perhaps the best way to end this is with a poem I wrote about that first filthy hostel I stayed in. Here’s it goes:

 

clouds

i turn
the doorknob
walk up old stairs
bruised and worn down
knuckles of a fighter

“the cheapest hostel in Vancouver”
the advert said
i agreed out of ignorance
i pay for two nights
the man behind the counter
slaps down a key
hands me a pillowcase
and a brown sheet

he turns to leave but stops
“you need a blanket?”
i nod and receive
something a dog slept
in for days

i walk into the tv room
a cloud of marijuana
cloaks me like bad weather
five guys stare at the screen

he darts a look at me
then back to the screen
he sips his beer and shrugs

i wave briefly
only one of them notices
a young Chinese guy
lights up a bong

a thick cloud builds up
in the glass chamber
he inhales
empties out
the unconscious tunnel

he coughs and moans
his thick red hair
too limp to dance

he stands up
fondles his bankie
like an old photograph

he wanders
out the room
looking for food

 

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances, Humour

Canadian nuances – Part 4: The Dance of Gentlemen

If you’ve ever encountered a Canadian, or at least heard of them, you will hear a variety of things. Apart from them growing enraged over games of ice hockey, and drowning their pancakes in maple syrup, you will be told something to the effect of “They’re a friendly and polite bunch of people.” Today I’ve decided to go on a little rant about the politeness of these snow-covered creatures. Coming from a country where the rules blend into guidelines more often than not, when I’m suddenly forced to follow procedures without question…it can feel like the proverbial nail is skating down the chalkboard. I’ll give you an example…

After first arriving in Canada I figured out where the nearest bottle store was from my house. Why? (Because without it life has fewer colors in it). The first time I visit I grab a six pack of stout, I get to the counter and the older gentlemen behind it grabs my beers and enquires “Do you happen to have I.D. on you?” I counter the question with a dumbstruck expression and say to the guy that I’m not a teenager. I’m told that regardless he needed to see my mug on something otherwise by law he couldn’t sell it to me.

I soon realize my arguments are as effective as walking the streets of Vancouver minus an umbrella. I decided to walk the two blocks back to my apartment, grumbling as I go, to sequester my beer ticket. I arrive home and I can’t find my PR card (i.e. permanent residence card). I rummage a little and decide my passport should suffice.

I return to the bottle store again, gripping my beer ticket like a weapon of the first world. I hand it to the same gentleman. He takes a good minute scrutinizing my picture and then comments “the photo is a little blurry.” I shrug and tell him, “You asked me for ID. That is all I have.”  He nods and allows the purchase to continue.

You may wonder why did this ordeal drove me to write several paragraphs. The answer is in my home country from the legal drinking age of 18 and upwards, I never once was asked to present my ID before buying alcohol. Never. In fact it never crossed my mind to have my ID on me when buying beer. This is one example of the Canucks having a high regard for the law, now I’ll move on to illustration I have dubbed “the dance of gentlemen”.

I have explained a little earlier that one of the primary values of Canadians is to be considerate of others. One of my Canuck house-mate mentioned to me, “that is what makes a civil society”. Despite many of my rants I do agree with this principle for the most part, although it does seem rather weird at first. When first arriving here I would start to cross the road and a car would be approaching. Sometimes the car would go as far as reversing slightly to ensure that you had enough space. Yes, you heard me.

Automatically reversing cars is one example of Canadians being considerate and giving you your personal space, here’s another. After the first eight months or so I remember making friends with a great guy called Conrad. His parents were visiting from New Brunswick and the five of us (Conrad’s wife included) were off to go eat at a Chinese restaurant. We had all done at least 30 km cycling around the city that day. We’re walking on the side walk towards our chosen restaurant, the and dance of gentlemen was about to ignite.

For some reason I reach the door first and hold it open for the masses. Conrad’s parents and his wife accept my gesture and shuffle passed. When he gets towards the door he gestures for me to go first. I tilt my head slightly and do a similar no-after-you motion with my free hand. This is paying the price of chivalry. It is the dance of gentlemen. The reason you do it is because if you end up being the last person to enter the building, you win! If you’re lucky a small flicker of colonial pride may kindle in your eyes for a second.

It’s silly and stupid. Perhaps even pathetic. I’m sure if you’re a man you’ve found yourself doing the same dance. I’ve found myself doing this a lot more in Canada where manners, aren’t merely nice-to-have but are expected. You know what? I think I like it…especially if I’m the last guy with trundles into the pub with pride.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances

Canadian nuances – Part 3: Everyone comes with an EULA

We all learn things through small bits of information. When you’re thrown into a foreign land, this becomes apparent after the enormity of the situation sobers you up. Perhaps it takes the probing of a curious mind to come to that conclusion? Sometimes it’s these little fragments we see a culture from, the small window of insight we’re given. Before I get even more cryptic on your ass, it’s time for a story…

It begins with a story of firsts. My first full time job was being a salesman at a hardware store. My first task was to trundle over to Tim Hortons and buy the staff coffee. My first lesson? Answer: not knowing what the Hell people are talking about.

After one dropped phone call and a brief argument about who was paying, I receive a Tim Hortons coffee-list. I beamed at receiving this task. I’ve bought coffee for plenty people in the past, how hard can it be? So I scan the various hieroglyphs on the coffee-list. My brain collates the L’s and M’s, the number of coffees that take sugar…and then Zach happened.

All he wrote were the words “Orig. L double double”.
“Hey Zach, you didn’t say how many sugars you wanted?”
He says he did. I scan the list.
Nope, I didn’t see it. He continues to explain to me saying “double double” just means two milk and two sugars.

I managed to get everyone coffee that morning and I had a new tool in my arsenal. I had “learned” the language. Remember that part about learning through small pieces? Well this is it. No one said to me “you have to learn how the Canadians order their coffee.” About two years prior to coming to Canada I had cut sugar out of my diet, purely in an attempt to get healthier. This fact deteriorated rapidly after acquiring a new magic power that involves sugar. I remember once or twice going into a Tim Hortons and that letting those two words float out of me like a sigh of relief. I could feel a smile wash into me much like a glug of Dark Roast, but better. I had figured out a teeny part of this cultural algorithm.

On another note, have you ever semi-completed one side of a Rubik’s Cube…and then put it down to smile at you? There’s no time to dig into the rest of it right now. And it’s not worth it. Right now it’s just fine the way it is.

By now I’ve got that other part of your brain ticking…what is this heading all about? This is much harder to articulate to someone than a mere coffee order. Before my fingers run off into the story, let me clear up an acronym that may look familiar to some and strange to others…

Have you ever found yourself shouting at your computer late at night? There’s been at least one occasion where you installed a useful piece of software, and moments before the install process starts you’re asked that one crucial piece of information…do you have a little time to spare to read 34 pages of the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA)? If you’ve ever scrolled through 30 odd pages in 2 seconds and clicked yes and I Agree so heavily your mouse felt a little assaulted in the ordeal, then my friend, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, it’s all the things there could ever go wrong with this electronic beast in front of you. The point I’m trying to make is many Canadians I’ve encountered understand the general laws of society, sometimes they will even tell you. What they don’t realize is when this first happens it annoys the living %&@#! out of you…

Before I rant about the law abiding ways of a Canuck I guess I should put this into a bit of perspective, and give you a little something about the laws in the jungle (i.e. South Africa). This is also a good time to mention that all of my banter packed in my series titled Canadian nuances is based entirely on my experiences. These are just my views and it does not make my feelings and interpretations synonymous with all South Africans. This is just the way I see it. This is looking like the start of my own EULA now…best I continue and avoid it.

In South Africa, Durban, most people don’t obey the law. Obviously I’m not pointing at rape, murder, heists and other heavy weight crimes. I mean the little things. There’s little respect for people in traffic, and there’s a ton more visible road rage among other things. Being a storyteller it’s hard to talk about Africa without leaning too much on the savagery and chaotic energy that often erupts. My point in a nutshell is there is no respect for the other guy on the street. None. The other day I had to pinch myself and realize I had never seen a vehicle jump a red traffic light the entire time I’ve been in Canada. (1 year and 3 months I calculate at the time of writing).

Yes, so it does start to sound crazy. Guess what? It is. I can remember giving a mental sigh after learning that Canada is a law abiding country, and so are its citizens (for the most part). I knew that sticking to the rules based solely on principle would be a tough pill for the Bohemian in me to swallow. At first it was…

On a frosty winter’s day and I’m working outside the hardware store. I’ve been given the task of hanging a banner off the awning at front of the store. I’m armed with zip ties and a ladder. The icy air invigorates me as I climb the aluminium frame. I’m about halfway through the process. My back is turned to the street and I’ve almost fed the pointy end of the zip tie through the little hoop at the top…and then it happened.

A middle age Canadian was walking down the street at a brisk pace. He is about to pass me. He aims his head in my general direction and says “you know you should have someone holding that ladder for you.” I flick my head to where the sound came from, but it seems Bert The Blameless was already out of earshot. I had just been hit with 30 pages of the Canadian EULA.

Soon after this incident I had another disturbing thought creep into my head. “If almost all Canadians stick to the law, does this turn some men into little whiny bitches?” Thankfully this was not the case. Someone was waving consequence in my face before I had taken the time to figure out the storyline. Technically Bert was right that in the workplace having one man on a ladder is not safe practice, blah blah blah. It’s a weird thing that Canadians have somehow internalized this “common law” and aren’t afraid to tell you so. On the other hand…if I was given the gift of being put back in that same situation I would fail the resist the urge of climbing off the ladder and punching Bert in the face.

Allow me promote this law abiding business in a better light and bury my face-punching fantasies. If you’re using a SkyTrain in Vancouver, which is a pretty efficient train that travels above ground, things can get very busy at rush hour. They could get worse if you fail to follow three pieces of logic (when you’re waiting to board).

1. Wait for the doors to open
2. Wait for the arriving passengers to get off first.
3. Enter the train when the tunnel of faces dissipates.

It’s a simple process. You arrive and then wait for your turn. Lump on a few deadlines, a garrulous smart phone, a gallon of Starbucks igniting the synapses and then patience can evaporate. Fear not my little infidel, this is exactly when the EULA becomes effective! I’ve often heard people say to those impatient people forging ahead onto the bus “you should wait for the others to get off first.” This is when it really makes sense.

I’ll be bold and say I like the idea that says, if a person is acting against the rules just to calmly say to the imbecile in question “look this isn’t the way to do it”. It seems like I’ve spent over 20 years fighting against laws that didn’t hold a sense of integrity. Now to just accept the way things are feels like a release. Maybe the real reason was I felt like I needed to fight against the laws inside of myself? Hmmm…it does raise a few interesting questions in my own head. I can take a step back. I’ve found a real rock to rest on, phew.

Now I think it’s about time I stare at the Rubik’s Cube lying partially completed. Sometimes you just need to stare at the best “answer” you’ve put together at that time. Sometimes that is all we have left. One day I will feel my haphazard collage smile back at me. I’m okay with that.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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