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Monday 22nd of May 2017

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Adoption related movies and reviews.

Twin Sisters Documentary

By the time the results confirmed that the girls were indeed twins, they were deeply entrenched in their new families. In the U.S., Mia was growing up to be a typical, all-American girl, with a bustling life filled with violin lessons, Girl Scouts, and soccer, while in Norway, Alexandra lived a quieter life in the breathtakingly beautiful but isolated village of Fresvik, population 243. As soon as the girls were old enough to understand, their families told them about their twin on the other side of the world and they began to communicate despite the distance and language barrier. When finally they meet again in Norway as eight years olds, Mia and Alexandra not only look and act alike, but are unmistakably linked to each other.

Twin Sisters is a poignant examination of our notions of family — the genetic ones we inherit and the ones we create.

Click here to view the trailer.

POV’s This is My Family

Submit your stories to POV’s This is My Family
www.pbs.org/pov/thisismyfamily

For most of us, the classic family photo with matching sweaters and look-alike smiles doesn’t quite capture our family. We want to hear real stories about your family from you.

Send us your videos, and you might receive an iPad or an iTouch! www.pbs.org/pov/thisismyfamily

Adoption Stories
http://www.pbs.org/pov/outreach
POV is featuring three films about adoption and launching a national public awareness campaign to examine issues facing adoptees and families who choose to adopt.

Simply register in our community network and we’ll loan you a copy of the film(s) for free.

Remember: National Adoption Month is coming up in November. Act now to get your copy in time!

Stand Up for Stuart Little

I took my daughter and one of her Changsha sisters to see Stuart Little a few weeks after it came out. They'd both seen it before, but I hadn't, and after reading comments on the internet alerting parents to bungled adoption themes, I wanted to see the film myself and then talk to the girls about whatever came up afterwards.

Oh, my. It's a piece of work. It wants so much to be a pro-adoption story, and that's why the mistakes it makes are so painful. Yes, it does end with a strong statement about how families don't have to look alike to be families, but the route it takes to get there crosses several minefields, some of which go KABOOM, only no one in the film seems to notice.

For those of you who remember the book fondly, as I did, it ain't the book. I read E. B. White's charming chapter book to my daughter as bedtime stories after she first saw the film, and she failed to recognize not only most of the adventures but also a pivotal character, the bird Stuart loves and loses to the great wide world.

In E.B. White's Stuart Little the title character is born into his family. He just happens to be born a mouse. It's a wonderful, whimsical tale of love, adventure, loyalty, and the strength to be gained from dedicated effort in the face of adversity. Clearly the movie mogul who insisted on adding an adoption theme to the mix couldn't handle White's childlike imagination. A mouse born to humans? Too far-fetched. Let's make it an adoption! In fact, let's rope in our myths and fantasies of adoption to add poignancy, because we know family bonds can't be secure without blood ties. Why bother to ask people who actually know something about adoption when our vision is so charmingly sellable?

The gaffs made me gasp. Let's not even talk about the couple's decision one morning to go to the New York City Orphanage, where, after a brief interview, they're invited to see the children, choose one, and take him home the very day the thought of adopting occurs to them. Oh, yes, that's just what it was like for us…

The film toys with very big adoption issues, like "the empty space" so many older adoptees speak of when they explain their struggle to construct an identity out of a life story from which pieces are missing. Stuart plunks this huge existential theme on his parents' duvet one morning, and they react like morons. OK, kids' movies often have dumb parents, but these two are much worse than dumb. They lack the most basic parental instinct-that animal rush in the blood that means you'd throw yourself in front of a tank to protect your child from harm. But of course, in the mythology of this movie, he's not their real child. Ho-hum. Take him away, whoever you are.

This is how it happens: Immediately after Stuart says he wants to know more about his birth parents-whom he and everyone else in the movie (and, lets face it, practically everyone else in the world) call his real parents-what ho! but two white mice, claiming to be Stuart's "real parents," show up at the door. And here the movie goes seriously wrong, because the filmmakers do not understand the underlying commitment of adoption:

PERMANENCE

When the fake "real parents" show up at the door (they are frauds, hired by cats, but that's another story) and demand to take Stuart home with them, the adoptive parents wring their hands, shed a bittersweet tear, and hand him over, just like that, against his will, murmuring utter nonsense about "the best interests of the child."

At that point I wanted to call up the director on his cell phone and shout: "Listen, you idiot, if ANYONE came into my house and tried to take my kid away, I don't care if they've got a letter of authentication from the Almighty, I'd punch them in the nose and call the police!" I mean, honestly, this perpetuates the worst, most idiotic myths about adoption, ones that are all too common among children themselves-that the adoptive family is only sorta-kinda the adoptee's family, and that blood claims can be invoked, rightfully, at any time and take precedence over ties of adoption no matter what, no matter when.

That ain't the way it works, but it's amazing how few grownups know that. And no matter how attached our children are, they sometimes do worry about losing their forever families (in the same way, and as inevitably, as they sometimes worry that we might die). And thanks to this movie they now share the playground with troops of fellow kiddoes who have firmly in mind the image of helpless adoptive parents handing over their child to the first creeps who come along, no questions asked-a decision the movie NEVER questions. The implication-and it's not subtle-is that if the mice had been the birth parents, then they would have had the right to reclaim their child at any time, while the adoptive parents didn't have so much as a right to a phone call. What a ghastly message that is to young adoptees! How incredibly scary!

After the movie the two girls and I talked about this a lot. How come only the fake birth parents were called real parents? Actually, Stuart has two sets of real parents, his real birth parents and his real adoptive parents. They're both real. One set brought him into the world, the other is part of his forever family. No, birth parents cannot come back years after making an adoption plan and take a child away from the forever family. The forever family is forever. What would I do if your birth parents tried to take you away? I'd punch 'em in the nose and call the police, that's what, because they're not allowed to take you away from me. NO ONE is allowed to do that. But if instead they came to the door and asked to meet you, well, that would be a blessing, and we'd be so happy to know them, if that were only possible…

There are many lesser gaffs in the portrayal of adoption in this film, but because of this HUGE misrepresentation of adoption as impermanent and adoptive parents as without claim or, apparently, motivation to defend their children, I think it's important for parents of school-age adoptees to go to this movie with their kids and talk about it afterwards. The movie is hugely popular. Lots of their classmates will be seeing it, and our kids will be on their own on the playground having to handle whatever nonsensical mishmash of adoption truth and fantasy their classmates dish up as a result of this movie. We don't help them by hiding the movie from them.

Meanwhile, if your child is ready for chapter books, read her Stuart Little. It's a terrific book.

Amy Klatzkin is newsletter editor for San Francisco Bay Area FCC and editor of A Passage to the Heart: Writings from Families with Children from China (Yeong & Yeong, 1999).

Adoption Stories on PBS

During the next few weeks P.O.V., on PBS, is airing three films that feature stories about adoption.  This is part of their national campain for adoption awareness. 

  • August 31: Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy by Stephanie Wang-Breal. The story follows the adoption of an 8 y/o little girl from China, and the ups and downs that come with adopting an older child.
  • September 7: Off and Running by Nicole Opper.  A film about an African American Child who was adopted by white Jewish lesbian parents.  She struggles with her identity, especially after receiving a response to a letter she wrote to her birth mother.
  • September 14: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee by Deann Borshay Liem.  This story is about a Korean adoptee.  She was adopted to American parents who only knew her as Cha Jung Hee.  The story follows her search for the real Cha Jung Hee.

Click here to learn more about the films and watch trailers.  Check your local listings for channels and times. They will also be available to watch online, for a short time, following their TV airings.  You can sign up for their Adoption Stories Mailing List to receive updates, special events news, and more information about their public awareness campaign.  If you are between the ages of 14 and 25, you are invited to take part in their new project: This is My Family, by submitting a 1-3 minute video via YouTube Direct  Click here for details.

Review of the Movie: Mulan

Disney's "Mulan" - A China Parent's Viewpoint

By Kathie Price

Stand aside Connie Chung and Michele Kwan! The legendary Hua Mu Lan is about to bring the role of a Chinese heroine into vogue from Maine to Hawaii.

If the success of "Beauty and the Beast," "Pocahontas," and "Little Mermaid" are any indication, Asian and non-Asian girls of all ages will be begging, whining, pleading and cajoling their parents for the "Mulan" video, t-shirts, pajamas, dolls, doll extras and other paraphrenalia that follow Disney movies into the Land of Forever.

I was surprised and excited when I heard last year that one of my daughter's favorite books about ancient China, would soon be coming to a theater near us.

Jennifer Jin loves to read "China's Bravest Girl", one of the pre-Disney books about the legendary Hua Mu Lan who helped to save her country by disguising herself as a man and going into battle. It is an anonymous ballad, written about 1,500 years ago, sung before the Imperial courts and known even today by most Chinese. A friend of ours from China remembers reading the poem in high school.

Now, through the full-length animated Disney film "Mulan," which opened June 19, all of America will know Mulan.

As the mother of a Chinese girl, I know all too well the impossibility of finding Asian-looking dolls, let alone Chinese fantasy characters in the mainstream of America. The closest Asian Super Female our kids can find is in the Hong Kong-produced videos "Boorin." But if you never opened an Asia Kids catalog, you wouldn't even know about the little Chinese speaking "Boorin."

So how true, I wondered, would Disney Studios - the makers of so many popular animal caricatures - be to to the legend, to Chinese history, ancient culture and to Chinese values which have survived centuries of invasion, intrique, internal infidels and natural disasters? Would "Mulan" be more aptly named "Pocahontas Goes To China?"

Worse, would my daughter be subjected to inaccurate stereotypes and embellishments from Hollywood's imagination?

Often disappointed by the misinformation and discrimination I've seen from well-meaning writers who think one interview or two qualifies them to be judge-and-jury for a 5,000-year-old country more than10,000 miles away, I braced myself as much as I looked forward to it.

From the black calligraphy brushstrokes that open the film to the winning ending when Mulan returns home to her "Baba," (the Chinese word for father), I loved it!

Make no mistake, this is obviously a Disney film, not a documentary. Like Pocahontas with her animal friends Meeko and Flit, Mulan has her dragon "Mushu." Her pet cricket looks a lot like Jiminy Cricket. And Shang, the captain of Mulan's conscription regiment, a strapping young fellow with a strong jaw and thick eyebrows, bears close resemblance to all the strapping young fellows of Disney animation.

The dragon is a powerful symbol in Chinese legend. Witness his presence even in modern New Year's parades. But Mushu, Mulan's guardian dragon looks more like a tiny forlorn skinny mongrel with the voice of Eddie Murphy.

Yes, it is the same Eddie Murphy of "Beverly Hills Cop" who does not even attempt to utter the sounds of a fifth century Chinese legend. We hear such jive talk as "So you git back to me on da job thing?" "You da man!" and he tells Mulan to "Kick dat kid's butt."

When Mushu presents himself to Mulan as her guardian dragon, she says he looks more like "a little lizard." and Eddie aka Mushu replies, "I don't do dat tongue thing."

Mushu obviously was created by Disney to attract more boys to the film and its products. As if a female Chinese warrior isn't quite good enough to stand on her own merits, despite the fact the legend (not the movie) raises her rank to general and an ancient grave in central China is said to be hers.

Such nitpicking aside, once you get past the first jolt of Mushu, it is precisely that kind of Disneyesque, modern American allusions that make "Mulan" fun and funny for parents and their kids. To my delight, the Chinese thread is woven well.

The gist of the ballad - which has various versions even in China - is followed. Mulan's father is getting older - mother and father both have gray edges to their black hair. China is invaded from the north by the Huns and one man from each family must go to fight. Fa Mulan decides to go to war in place of her father - to save his life.

From there, Disney invents what may have happened to Mulan. But it holds pretty true to general Chinese legends and history, from words to scenery:

- "Aya!" exclaims Mulan at the beginning of the movie when she is messes up her calligraphy and spills the ink. "Aya" is a common Chinese word used when one feels exasperated. And in ancient times, women in finer families often were taught how to write using brush and ink.

- Mulan's home, with several wings, a central courtyard and decorated front gate, was typical of family compounds of the time. The paternal grandmother lives with the family, a custom which often extends into today's China. There also are ancestral tombs on the family property, lion statues, a reflection pool and chickens to feed. All very much a part of ancient China.

- The troops in "Mulan" leave south China for the north, they pass through mountains that resemble the often-painted softness of Guilin, pass by rice paddies with working women watching their departure, then march into bigger craggy and snowy mountains. All genuine China scenery.

- As for the Huns, the barbarian invaders from the north, they did indeed plunder and conquer parts of China during some 400 years of confusion and numerous emperors in a decentralized China. Also known as the Tartars - the same people who swept across Russia and Mongolia - these rough riders never did reach into south China where Han dynasty tradition and culture remained intact.

The theme of a woman posing as a man and a soldier is central throughout the ballad and film. While it was not common practice, there are numerous tales throughout Chinese folklore of women in battle. An early scene in "Mulan" suggests what a woman's place usually was in Chinese society. As Mulan is groomed by her female relatives to meet the matchmaker she is told "Boys will go to war for you."

When Mulan's disguise is discovered (in the movie, not the ballad), she faces possible execution. Again, even as late as the early 1940s, Chinese women who even walked the streets of their village alone were often thought to be disreputable and deserving of any ill fate.

Mulan also shows a deep respect for her parents. In the beginning of the movie, she is saddened that she seemingly cannot be the "perfect daughter." Honoring her family is a foremost thought on Mulan's mind throughout the ballad and the movie, despite her nature to speak her mind. It is a timeless concept for Chinese people. In fact, it was this precise point that won the approval of one grandmother who was watching an animated film for the first time, at the screening I attended. "Families today are in so many pieces that they cannot communicate," said Anna Lee, president of Phoenix Chinese Week, an annual event during lunar New Year. "Children no longer think about their parents. In the movie, the daughter thinks of her father and family first. I think this is an important message, to bring families together."

This preservation of Chinese authenticity is a credit to Disney which hired screenwriters who researched their subject with a personal interest. Among them:

- Rita Hsiao, daughter of China-born parents, visited China for the first time during "Mulan" production, traveling with her father. She spent two years helping to shape dialogue and the story in "Mulan." Notably, she was a writer for the television series "All American Girl," a story about a Korean-American family.

- Raymond Singer and Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, who also played some of the ancestor voices in the movie, were thinking of adopting a child from China when they were assigned to work on "Mulan." They now are parents of 22-month-old Ana Ming.

Numerous Asians also participated in the making of the film, certainly good for the role modeling lacking for Chinese-American children. Mulan's voice is done by Macao-born Ming-Na Wen, who gathered acclaim for her performance in "The Joy Luck Club" and played roles in the first season of TV series "ER" and was a primary character in "The Single Guy." Her compatriot, Shang, has the voice of B.D. Wong ("Seven Years In Tibet"), who said he was "thrilled" that Disney was "... actually going to use Asian-American actors for the main roles." Other Asian-American actors in "Mulan" include James Hong (Notably from "Wayne's World 2," "Seinfeld" and "the X-Files."), Pat Morita ("Karate Kid"), Geroge Takei (TV's original "Star Trek"), Gedde Watanabe, Soon-Tek Oh and Freda Foh Shen. Other Chinese and Asian names can be seen in animation credits.

The voices, however, do not sound Chinese. If they are not flatly Caucasian-American, they are Eddie Murphy. I tend to think English with a Chinese accent or tones would have added to the characters.

The five new songs also are strictly Disneyesque and not at all true to the vast genres of Chinese music. They are admittedly quite fun, emotionally effective and memorable, but the occasional "singsong" style has a stereotypical affectation.

The artwork of the film is astoundingly sharp and beautiful, but it carries the unmistakable Disney caraciture stamp. Still, most of the people do have true Asian features. (Although one of the rag-tag "warriors" stirs up memories of the Hunchback, an earlier Disney character.) Mulan looks Chinese with a light golden brown skin tone, a slightly moon face, almond-shaped eyes - unlike Chinese Barbie who only has black hair. And whether this was intended or not, Mulan's skin tone is lighter than Shang's which would have been keeping with the tradition that girls from finer families did not go out into the sun. While Mulan is supposed to be a young girl coming of age and there is a faint wiff of an attraction between her and Shang, nowhere do we see our heroine in scanty or suggestive clothing or romantic embrace. Even when she takes a bath, she appears as a proper Chinese girl of her times.

Debbie Li, who moved to Phoenix from Hong Kong 12 years ago, said the movie seemed "more like a Japanese-made movie than Chinese," but she thought it was done with good taste and in keeping with traditions. "I'd come and see it again," she said.

As for the "G" rating, it is much more accurate than other Disney films. It is a simple story with astoundingly beautiful art animation and color. But while Disney is to be applauded for showing no blood or gore - no obvious impaling on a sword or arrow - Mulan IS involved in a war. A couple of times the music cranks up to a high emotional intensity and arrows do fly, fires do burn and the evil Shan-Yu looms a bit bigger and more menacing than anyone else.

But besides the use of illusion, the filmmakers have carefully (and wisely) interspersed humor throughout the film. Just when a dark scene could become too dark, a quip or clumsy cartoon tumble spells relief. There were several children under the age of 4 in my audience and none of them screamed, sobbed or had to be removed from the room. In fact, many of the children laughed often at some of the slapstick cartooning. If you are not sure your toddler can handle the moments of intensity, see it alone first. You won't mind seeing this movie twice.

You might even be tempted to buy a Mulan-and-horse set from McDonald's - or a tiny Mulan teaset from Disney - for your desk at work. Of best pokies online course when the video debuts around Christmas or next spring (the likely time frame), and you have memorized dialogue and songs as your child watches it again and again and again and ... well ... again, you might be ready for something new - Chinese or not!

I expect to make "Mulan" my 2 1/2-year-old daughter's first trip to a movie theater, despite her very tearful sadness over "Pocahontas" a few months ago. Jennifer can cover her eyes or we can step out briefly if she gets a bit scared. I don't mind my daughter having a courageous, selfless, polite yet outspoken and indepedent heroine who "looks" like her. For Chinese-American boys, it is well that they see strong Chinese women. I also am pleased that non-Chinese American children and their parents will get a glimpse into a culture they so rarely see.

For our family, "Mulan" has one of those goosebump connections that China-adoptive families often experience. As I read the characters' names in the credits at the end of the film, I realized that Mulan's father's name was Fa Zhou. "Fa" is Cantonese and "Hua" is Mandarin for the Chinese character for flower.

My daughter's birth town is Huazhou. It is in Guangdong, the largest province in southern China.

* * * Kathie Price and Myrl Smith are the parents of Jennifer Jin Price-Smith. They live in Arizona.

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Other viewpoints:

- For children ages 5 and up . . . the newest Disney animated film "is among its best." - "Child" magazine

- "There aren't enough stories where you feel proud to be Asian. There aren't enough Asian actors in roles that could serve as role models. I used to be really embarrassed to be Asian, I really denied a lot of my heritage. I like the idea of making this movie that's going to be around for a long time, that Asian girls can watch with pride." - Actress Ming-Na Wen, in a quote to Cox News Service

- "She doesn't look like a Barbie doll this time . . . I think that fact alone will make her a lot more accessible. That and the fact nobody will mistake Mulan for a princess." - Disney animator Mark Henn, in a quote to the L.A. Daily News

- ""Mulan differs from earlier Disney heroines ... She's not dreamy/spunky; she's more fast-talking and quick-witted. Her foray into a male domain is less to prove anything than it is to save her father. She's not trying to win medals or be a role model; she just wants to pass." - Atlanta Constitution

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Interesting Extras:

- Proverbs have always been aplenty in China, and FCC familes may want to put this one from the film in their child's life book. As the Emperor tells Mulan, "The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautful of all."

- During its first weekend at the box office, "Mulan" came in second by making $22.7 million, vs. first place "X-Files" at $30.1 million.

- A new computer-generated technology, developed by Disney specifically for "Mulan," creates the Hun hordes racing down the mountain, falling rain, flickering candles and a crowd of 30,000 lantern-carrying people.

- Some of the places to find Mulan products: Disney Store and catalog, Toys 'R Us, Nestle, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, Quaker, Aqua Fresh, Amazon.Com and WaldenBooks. Expect to find more Chinese-looking Mulans than Barbie-looking depictions of our heroine.

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Mulan's Web Site:

Point your browser to http://www.mulan.com to see Disney's Web site with six beautiful color pictures from the movie.

The site also offers "Mulan" wallpaper images for your computer desktop. You can download a vertical and/or horizonal image of Mulan on her war horse. Instructions are given to fit each kind of computer and monitor. If you have a color printer and necessary software, you can also print out the image.

There are puzzles and games as well as one version of the original Mulan ballad in your choice of English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish or German.

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Pre-Disney books

By Kathie Price

Some pre-Disney books on the legend of Hua Mu Lan aka Fa Mulan present various versions and translations of the original ballad in more traditional ways. Some, like "China's Bravest Girl," include Chinese chracaters as well as the prominent English text. Pre-Disney Mulan books have been sighted at local bookstores such as Barnes & Noble. (Note: They are not in the Disney Mulan area.)

Check around or ask your favorite bookstore if they can order direct from the publisher. You may not have to pay mail order shipping charges.

Here are a few titles to check out:

  • Hua Mu Lan: China's Sweetest Magnolia, by Xu Deyuan and Jiang Wei. (1996). 122 pages for $13.95 paperback. Available through Shen's Books & Supplies online catalog says which recommends it for ages 7 and up and says "Mulan joins the army for her ailing father. She is depicted in lifelike drawings that will charm all readers. Selected for its comic book arrangement." Available through: - Shen's Books & Supplies at http://www.shens.com/subjects/China.htm.
  • The Ballad of Mulan - China's Legend, retold and illustrated by Song Nan Zheng. 32 pages. Hardcover, $16.95. In English/Chinese. Recommended by Asia Kids for ages 4-12, which says, "With lavish illustrations portraying the rich culture of the Wei dynasty, Mulan will take you into victorious battles . . . (where) she becomes a famous general and model for countless Chinese poems, essays, operas and paintings." Available through:
    -Asia Kids catalog's Web site at http://members.aol.com/asiakid/catalog.htm or by calling 1-800-888-9681.
  • China's Bravest Girl,told by Charlie Chin with illustrations by Tomie Arai, translated by Wang Xing Chu. 32 pages. Hardcover, $14.95; paperback, $6.95. Celebrate the Child catalog says "In this adaptation, poet Charlie Chin sows us a heroine who is courageous and wise, respectful and loving, and able to meet men on equal terms. This isn't a 'blood and gore' book, but more a beautiful statement of the strength of love, family and of being a woman." Asia Kids recommends the book for ages 5-12, although the text is short enough for younger children to follow. Available through:
    -Celebrate the Child Web site at http://www.celebratechild.com/ or call 1-800-237-8400 ext. 34.
    -Heritage Key catalog in Scottsdale, for children's multicultural books and products, call 1-602-483-3313.
    -Asia Kids catalog's Web site at http://members.aol.com/asiakid/catalog.htm or by calling 1-800-888-9681.
    -Asian American Curriculum Projects books catalog. Call 1-800-874-2242.
    -Amazon.Com online books catalog at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0892391200/002-9629257-8200234.
  • The Song of Mu Lan, by Jeanne M. Lee. 40 pages. Hardcover, $15.95. "Closely translated from the ancient text, it echoes the rhythmns of the Chinese language," says Asia Kids, which recommends the books for ages 4-10. Reviewed in Publisher's Weekly. -Asia Kids catalog's Web site at http://members.aol.com/asiakid/catalog.htm or by calling 1-800-888-9681.
    -AFA Bookstore Adoptive Famlies of America catalog. Call 1-800-372-3300.
  • Fa Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior, by Robert San Souci and illustrators Jean Tseng and Mou-Sien Tseng. 32 pages. 1998. Hardcover, $16.95. Recommended for ages 4-8. A more formal, traditional look and sound for the original ballad of Mu Lan. The book has an "ancient" look. There's a brief history about the ballad in the back. Available through: - Amazon.Com, an online books catalog at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786822872/002-9629257-8200234

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