Lesson 1 ideal
Essay Entry #1 - What is Your Ideal Singapore? [Natasha Lai Huiling, 22]
Monday, July 20, 2009 at 11:25pm
My ideal Singapore is one where everyone thinks of others' needs before their
According to dictionary.com, a definition of the word “ideal” is “a standard of
perfection or excellence”. Singapore is not just about the land, it is about the
people who make up the nation. To make Singapore “ideal”, we have to start with
changing the people. However being such imperfect persons, each with our own
character flaws and bad habits, how can the “ideal Singapore” ever be realised?
Using the word “choice” (Ch.Oi.Ce), I shall share three steps we can take
towards realizing the ideal Singapore.
Firstly, “Ch” represents “Changing yourself”. Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone
thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” The first
step to making a difference in the world is by making a difference in your own
life. This is because you have control over your decisions. You can choose how
you want to think, speak, behave and ultimately, how you want to live your life.
So prove Leo Tolstoy wrong by changing yourself.
Secondly, “Oi” represents “Others” before “I” (self). A story was told of a
young boy who survived a rare sickness which his sister later suffered. Knowing
that the boy had the immunity to overcome the sickness, the doctor asked if he
would donate his blood to save his sister. The boy agreed and as he lay beside
his sister and saw the colour come back to her face, he asked the doctor, “Will
I start to die straightaway?” The little boy did not know that he wouldn't die
by donating his blood, but he loved his sister so much that he agreed to do so
even though he thought he would die.
Clearly, this boy put his sister's well-being above his own, and chose to make
the sacrifice. Not all of us will face such a situation in our lives, but we can
still make small sacrifices, like giving up our seat on the train or bus to
someone who needs it more than us – even if it means we have to stand for the
entire 1-hour journey. This too, is placing others before yourself.
Lastly, “Ce” represents “Caring enough”. In an era where the world is spinning
faster and people are getting busier, many of us fail to care for others. We
complain about slow service, about traffic jams, about expensive food or not
enough shoes, and wonder why things can't be more perfect for us. “Caring
enough” means appreciating your loved ones, being contented with what you have
and enjoying each moment in life. Do you care enough to make the world a better
In conclusion, remember that you can always make a difference by “Changing
yourself”, putting “Others” before “I” (self), and “Caring enough”. Want an
ideal Singapore with a standard of excellence? It's our Ch.Oi.Ce.
Essay Entry #2 - What is Your Ideal Singapore? [Kevin Tan, 20]
Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 9:17am
You leap from the plank onto a ship. It dips a little into the water as you land
– for it is in fact less of a ship than a barely floating cattle cart. Your
wife, children, parents and friends huddle by the wharf waving goodbye – perhaps
for the last time - but already it is hard to see them through the relentless
press of bodies. As you are jostled deeper and deeper into the dark, sweaty
hold, the three week journey ahead weighs on your mind. There is a one in five
chance that you will die (painfully) of disease. If you meet rough waters, the
ship will capsize. Finally, should you get there at all, you have three years of
hard labour to look forward to as payment for all this luxury.
I honestly don’t know what my ideal Singapore would look like. But when our
grandfathers took that singular leap of faith, they must have been absolutely
convinced of something - something which we cannot begin to imagine today.
Yet we must try. I would like to think that they first imagined a Singapore free
from the arbitrary arrests, inequality, and elitism of the homeland, where their
social class and lack of education mattered more than the contents of their
characters ever would. They imagined Singapore as a fresh start, a land of
opportunity where hard work would give them as good a chance of success as
anyone else – one that would house them, put bread on the table, and let them
bring their families over to a new and better life.
When they finally did, they dared to hope for a little more. They hoped for a
Singapore where their children and grandchildren would be free from the demands
of the flesh, and be able to pursue their passions without regard to necessity.
A country where they would not be slaves of a remote colonial government only
interested in enriching itself, but masters of their own fate cared for by their
own leaders. A Singapore where each of them would count; not just for the rice
they could carry or the cloth they could sew but as human beings in themselves.
Most of all, just as they never forgot the images and tongues of the villages
they left behind at the wharf, they dreamt of a Singapore to which their
offspring would boast of belonging - and which history would not sweep past but
pause and remember.
We are those children. We are in the same boat. Like our forebears, we too are
hostage to the currents and storms of the larger world, and we cannot control
when the winds of progress will swell our sails. We are fortunate that they have
so far. But when they die down, as they must, we have to remember that only our
ideals of what Singapore can stand for will push us in the direction we wish to
go - and in doing so, bring us to the promised land.
Essay Entry #3 - What is Your Ideal Singapore? [Jasline Yeow Pui Yee, 30]
Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 9:49am
A truly ‘open’ country where differing views are magnanimously received and not
mocked at in parliament by other members who often offer only sarcasm in return
for their inability to address the questions intelligently.
A less apathetic youth who goes through life with indifference demanding to know
what the country can do for him or her instead of what he or she can do for the
A government made up of both the ruling party and the non-ruling party (which I
do not condone being addressed as the “opposition party” as it is a mockery of
the political system since both parties meant well for the country and neither
seeks to do anything harmful to the country’s growth and wellbeing) holding fort
in crucial ministerial positions responsible for leading our country ahead in
economic growth and security in the homelands.
A country where its citizens are valued for their birthright and ability to
contribute to the economy and not so much because we choose to procreate in the
numbers desired by the government. Woe be the day when our jobs are taken by
others who have chosen to settle for the time being in our homelands where such
jobs could also be capably filled by born and bred Singaporeans.
A country where people are truly united like in the good old kampong days
instead of some of the superficial resident committees organising events that
often involved the same old faces, run by volunteers who are there for their own
selfish interest for free parking lots and to ensure of a spot for their
children in some prestigious school and who engage in their own petty politics
amongst one another
Essay Entry #4 - What is Your Ideal Singapore? [Huang Xinyuan, 15]
Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 12:35am
I live in a typical HDB flat secreted somewhere in a typical HDB estate, buried
somewhere on this slender island indistinguishable among all the other typical
blocks of one same prefabricated mould. Yet I live among neighbours, friends,
and family that are all but typical, for there is no one typicality; we have no
type, no category, we are who we are and all that we need to be. We are drawn
every day by the classifications of newspaper statistics, grouped in to races
and split into classes by the size of our homes, a nation vivisected so it is
easier to rule.
I belong to a Singapore that will not scrabble in the reclaimed sand, to unearth
an identity cobbled together by plastic Merlions and the glossy glare of
multiracial banners under the midday sun. We deserve a nation content with its
own neuroses and habits, a culture not subjugated to the whims of a plastic
tourist industry. We deserve a culture unmolested by bowdlerising national
policies, we deserve a national pride grown organically from the pits of our
being. Our annual charades of piety are hallmarks of uncultured nouveaux riche,
rites of orchestrated patriotism that dissipate almost immediately. We are a
nation that should aspire towards ideals but stop pretending we have already
achieved them, a nation acting its religion of pragmatism and recognizing
I belong, as you belong, as we all deserve to belong to a Singapore secure in
who we are and all that we need to be. We are a people that will wrestle back
our minds and rights to self-definition. It is our lot that we are a young
nation, though we are not blessed with the comfort of long histories fading into
legend and time. Even America was young once; in infancy her poet once
blustered, why should they not have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not
of tradition, a religion of revelation to us and not a history of theirs?
Our world is different, thus so will our nation; this freedom is not a curse of
unknown haplessness but a blank slate for us to create our future. I dream of a
Singapore that shall forge its way into this rollicking horizon, a nation among
nations. I dream of a nation build on the pillars of honesty and hard work,
democracy and daring to believe.
Essay Entry #5 - What is Your Ideal Singapore? [Crystal Ong Min Ning, 15]
Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 3:04am
My ideal Singapore is a work in progress.
In the island of my dreams, we will strive, not pretend towards multiracialism.
We will teach children to love each other, to accept that we’re same yet
different, to see into each other’s hearts and say “I love you because you’re
the best friend I can ever have” instead of “I love you because Teacher says we
must befriend those of other races”.
We will accept criticism with humility and grace and learn to improve from it.
Our airport doesn’t have to be the highest ranked in the world. It can be the
most people-centred, the one place where smiles are genuine and not merely
products of overzealous campaigns. (Or it can just stick to what it does best:
make Singaporeans returning home cry silently as they catch their first glimpse
of Changi in years through a tiny plane window.)
Parents will teach their children to make the best of the talents they have, not
force-fit them into a mould. Schools will do more than teach our children the
limitations of the real world – they will teach them to defy the status quo, to
challenge stereotypes and break new ground. The new generation of Singaporeans
won’t just conform to expectations - they will learn to think and fend for
themselves. We won’t be a nation of complainers, but of doers.
We won’t bother to try manufacturing patriotism, because we don’t need to. Let
us root ourselves here in family, culture and shared values. Patriotism should
grow by itself, watered by pride and nourished by a true sense of belonging. We
can love an imperfect Singapore perfectly.
My ideal Singapore won’t just be a country or a city. It will be home. It
doesn’t have to be the best yet, but we will be humble enough to admit that we
aren’t all there, yes, but we won’t rest on our laurels either.
We don’t have to try too hard to appear to be what we aren’t – we can set high
standards and work towards them. If we don’t content ourselves with reaching the
top, one day we just might touch the sky. (:
Essay Entry #6 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Terence Lee, 23]
Monday, August 3, 2009 at 4:37pm
Not everyone is invited to the Party
I like Singapore. It seems like a tolerant place.
Scan the streets, and people of different races and colours form an endless
meandering river. The airport seems like a pretty tolerant place as well, with
signs greeting ‘welcome’ in many different languages. We are as much a migrant
society now as in the past. We welcome foreign workers from the poorest to the
richest, and they consider Singapore their land of opportunity.
All are welcome, it seems, but it is better if you are someone like Jet Li or
Money talks in the land where the cashier machines go ring-a-ling with cash from
feisty shoppers. Politicians seem to welcome a diversity of views, but they hide
a dagger within the folds of their white cloaks.
Singapore, it seems, is torn asunder – two different paradigms, each at an arm’s
length from one another. Tolerance skims on the surface, but breaks down when
The National Day Parade is a place where all Singaporeans come together to
celebrate the birth of the nation, but since when have we seen blue shirts sit
next to white shirts? Since when has the true diversity of Singapore’s political
landscape been honoured and represented? Opposing political views, it seems, are
imprisoned not only when its representatives defame the men in white.
Even the nation’s grandest party is a political tool to entrap dissenters.
And so we move on, from the fireworks and capacity crowds and the rumbling roar
of the Leopard Tanks, to a humble gathering tucked in a corner of Mohamed Sultan
Road – the Indignation reception, which marked the beginning of the definitive
gay event in Singapore.
Activists, known for the aggressive lobbying of their pet causes, can sometimes
play nice. Yes, the PAP was invited to hang out with Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals,
and Transgendered people. Food was served, and the crowd was there. Poems were
recited, but to the same old dignitaries. Chee Soon Juan showed up, and so did
Sylvia Lim, but why not the men in white, even when it’s time to let your hair
Read the Straits Times, and tell me what it portrays of gays. Do the words “AIDS
carrier”, “promiscuous” and “pervert” not come to mind? The ministers speak of
tolerance for gays and lesbians, the bisexuals and transgender, but you hardly
hear of their humanity on the state’s paper of record.
Even as we pop the champagne and blare the anthemic national songs, I still long
for the day where everyone is invited to the Party. That is when I know true
tolerance has arrived on our shores.
Essay Entry #7 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Khairulanwar Zaini, 20]
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2:28am
The hefty man shifted his weight, the brow of his forehead glistening. It was
sunny in Singapore, always have been, always will be. They were only skeletons
now, but the new skyscrapers will soon become bodies prostrate in the sunshine
Ah, the brave new world of gold. He mused about his son’s future. Only thirty,
and already a rising star in a multinational bank. He did offer to groom Richard
to assume his publishing firm. But Richard had ambition beyond what a firm of
ten could hold.
“I’m going where the money takes me, Pa” was Richard’s constant refrain.
The man smiled wryly as he recalled his last conversation with Richard.
“Pa, you’re almost sixty. The business: a few more years, then I help you sell
it off. Then, Auntie can help you get a good retirement house in Australia!”
They were at his balcony, looking at beacons of light anchored in the water,
shining like offerings to an economic god. His reply was part melancholy, part
amusement, “But what about the party eh, son?”
Richard voice was exasperated. “Pa, why do you bother with politics? No money
la! Only get you into trouble, like Uncle JBJ.”
His old man listened quietly as Richard continued his diatribe. Politics was
futile – futile in making money, that is. The conversation was not new for them.
It used to be a sore point, but his wife mediated that.
“Ah Tung, Richard is just different la. He doesn’t like politics, he just wants
to make money – what’s so bad about that?”
Tung could accept that. He was all about choices afterall – different brushes,
Relatives and reporters always asked why he persisted. His answer was always:
for all my children – all the young people. He fancied himself the vessel of
their hopes, but the truth was that he found hope in them.
Look at their sense of wonder and promise, he would say. Their potential! Look
at what they can be: bigger than the boldest government’s ambition, bigger than
the digits on a paycheque.
His reverie was interrupted by four schoolgirls approaching him, metal tins
clinking with their footsteps.
Tung fumbled for coins as one of the girls whispered, “The opposition guy!” Tung
laughed and said, “Not today, dear! Today, I’m only another old man walking
Not that Tung believed that. He never saw youth as an age group or an electoral
demographic, but the promise of what could be. That both the young and old have
dreams more elegant than government-constructed hubs, and that their hopes tower
higher than urban-planning designs.
He looked around, dwarfed by the shrines of capitalism lining the river. In the
distant, his eye chanced upon a familiar gait. Oh, he’s here, Tung thought.
Kow was his friend. Also, a card-carrying member of the ruling party. Others
would try to decipher their friendship, to which Kow would reply, “Politics is
not meant to divide. We’re all in this for Singapore. Tung has different ideas
about what that mean, some I agree, some I don’t. But I still respect him.”
“Tung’s heart is in the right place, and for that, he is my friend.”
Essay Entry #8 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Edward Lim, 22]
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:59am
After the last elections of 2006, I noticed a series of overhead pedestrian
bridges were erected across the long stretch of road near my place. I meekly
complained to friends that the constructions of the bridges were a sore eye, and
I wished they had never gotten the idea. I knew why they had to do it: they felt
that building these bridges would potentially reduce the risk of having traffic
accidents involving us crossing the road. Perhaps it was also a product for
political brownies. Three years on, I notice that residents hardly use it -
partly because they did not fence up the in-between of the roads, and it was far
easier (on the legs) to cross directly. This for the entire stretch of bridges;
without residents, glowing brightly at night like a series of surveillance
My father falls under the category of voters in Singapore - how Cherian George
had described - that would vote for the opposition even if a pig was the
opposition candidate. My mother features under another category also mentioned -
the type that would vote for the PAP, regardless. Thankfully, it was never a
source of conflict between them, and neither of them tried to dictate our voting
decisions. Sometimes I'm disappointed about the lack of genuine communication
between the ruling party and the alternative parties. "Yes, the political
playing field is not level - it is lopsided! No, we cannot make it too easy for
another political party to form the next government of Singapore!" I think it is
only fair for the people of Singapore that we debate like mature ladies and
gentlemen, and we move forward holding our hands. That is my ideal Singapore.
I've been eating out for almost every meal for the past few months, and it will
be a continued trend unless a foster family (who cooks) comes in for me. I've
noticed that many who are working at our heartland coffee shops and hawker
centres - from the cleaner, the coffee boy to the lady cooking my noodles - are
non-Singaporeans. They are mainly Chinese nationals, with the occasional
Vietnamese, Myanmarese or Laotian. I've realised they have picked up the local
slang and nuances, but still with a tinge of their homeland accent. When I walk
around, (from home to food, then back) I notice there are Indian, Bangladeshi
and Thai nationals taking their lunch breaks along the HDB void decks. When
they're working on the upgrading of our estates and building overhead bridges,
they are usually ignored by us - temporarily forgotten. We only remember about
them when we drive on Sundays and attempt to devise another route to avoid their
"enclaves". I pay close attention to subtle prejudices and stereotypes that "my
people" - Singaporean Chinese - hold against the "other" - from someone of
another ethnic group, who holds different religious beliefs, who is comfortable
with another language other than English or simply someone who did not grow up
in Singapore. Foreigners do laugh and mock at our deliberately multi-racial
posters and banners found in every nook and corner of our island - they ask, "do
we have to try so hard?" I believe we need to be more genuine, more honest and
more candid with our communication. That is my ideal Singapore.
We often complain about crossing overhead pedestrian bridges that require you to
climb the stairs. The authorities are thorough in their investigations and
doings - they are fast to fence up the entire stretch, giving you no chance but
to climb the stairs (unless you'd like to scale over that dangerous green
fence), so they have installed lifts and escalators at certain places. Maybe my
ideal Singapore can harness that sort of mentality in building bridges between
groups of people.
Essay Entry #9 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Maurice Woo, 20]
Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 6:25am
My ideal Singapore is a Singapore that has found itself a reason to be
Forty-Four long years of sovereignty has gone us by. But truly, less than twenty
out of those forty-four years of sovereignty has been truly savored by the
people of Singapore. Asides from the early era of political struggles that
involved rank-and-file in its processes on this tiny island, no Singaporean
thereafter has ever again become aware, or felt the need to be partaking in any
local nationalistic process. It can be said that the candle of nationalism that
had once burned bravely in the darkness of the 50s and 60s, has been reduced to
a little more than a small flicker today.
Singaporeans today treat their stay in this country as somewhat a long tenancy
in an expensive rented apartment. Most of us find little hesitation to stay put
and have few qualms why we shouldn’t migrate to ‘greener’ pastures of Canada or
other liberal democracies. Despite the peace, safety, and other material
provisions of comfort offered in our nation, Singaporeans born into the era of
‘Big-Brother’ paternalistic Singapore find it difficult to feel any attachment
to the land of their birth.
If all mankind was purely materialistic, then perhaps creating a safe haven for
us to breed and feed would be sufficient to earn our wholehearted love and
loyalties. But in reality, for a nation to truly love itself, it has to have
gone through one or more of the following factors: prevail against great
adversity, create an amazing culture, or have an empowering political process.
An example of a nation that found its birth through great adversity would be the
USA – Which faced the British juggernaut and found its independence through a
bloody victory; Forging an iron blade of nationalistic spirit through the most
intense flames that will remain unbreakable through generations.
Nations of which has founded its soul upon the great achievements of its
historical culture and splendor -of which its people will never forget their
heydays even till the end of days- are none less than the UK or China.
The tiny nation state of ancient Athens-prior to foreign invasions, amazing
philosophy and cultural advance - has always been united. The citizenry of
Athens found their nationalistic unity in their individual political
participation - and as such each and every one of them personally identified in
the nation that they created and with their own voices and votes have shaped.
Seeing how the first factor would destroy us and the second one almost
impossible to accomplish in today’s globalised world, Singapore has to forge its
national unity on the basis of personal political participation. If we have a
participative political process like ancient Athens, our people will personally
feel for the house that we have created ourselves – and not feel that it’s
simply a rented apartment- and no Singaporean will flee even if the devil
himself invades us.
Essay Entry #10 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Elvin Ong, 24]
Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 8:36am
Reclaiming Our Souls
The notion of an ideal can surely be recognized as one of the ultimate
paradoxes. It strikes at the heart of men to incite great emotions of courage,
wisdom and desire, yet simultaneously kills them with the knowledge that men can
actually never live to see it, this generation or the next. For an ideal is both
inspirational and delusional, both concrete reality and elusive human
imagination, both perfect in the eyes of the beholder and flawed in the
perspective of others. Without it, men lose consciousness and struggle to find
purpose in life. With it, men can justify anything, good or evil. It is
imperative to acknowledge such contradicting characteristics of the ideal as a
beginning step towards formulating and presenting one’s opinion of his ideal.
Accordingly, the next step in the formulation of an ideal for Singapore will be
to consider and appreciate the context of today’s environment. No one can deny
our meteoric economic development since Singapore’s independence in 1965. We
should be grateful for it. A huge driver of our growth has been our attitude of
“pragmatism” throughout the years. We have justified its use because of
circumstances - that we are small and intensely vulnerable. This intoxicating
drug of “pragmatism” explains many of our politics and policy choices, both past
and present - from our economic strategies to our internal security laws. In
fact, in today’s pragmatic dog-eat-dog social-Darwinian evolutionary struggle of
survival of the fittest, this domineering civic attitude of “pragmatism” has
overwhelmingly permeated our social fabric, public institutions and bureaucracy.
But just like any other drug, it threatens to make us lose our souls and our
identity. Under its hallucinating effects, while we may be boosted physically
and materially, we have become dehumanized into numbers and statistics. Our
wandering souls yearn for fellow humans to come together to forge a true
national identity. The ideal Singapore then, must be the complete opposite to
this “pragmatism” to reclaim its souls.
The ideal Singapore should seek a return to values. Not mere values that are
conservative or liberal, but values that transcend time, space and people.
Following the writings of Plato and Marcus Aurelius, we should seek a return to
values such as wisdom, justice, temperance, fortitude, humility, generosity,
compassion, and empathy. The meanings of such values are of course contestable,
but it is only through the never-ending debates and elusive search for these
ideal values, then can we shake off the ghosts that constantly plague us. A
mature public discussion, reflection and practice of these values, can help us
yield immeasurable insights on the true Singaporean. Ironically, the seemingly
impracticality of the pursuit of such values is what is the most practical and
“pragmatic”, because it guarantees the natural production of a convincing
national identity. Cynics may demand answers to the daunting question of “How to
return to these values?”. That question is best left on another day and it
should not distract us from what is our ultimate idealistic aim – a humane
Essay Entry #11 - What Is Your Ideal Singapore? [Foo Zhou Jie Aloysius, 19]
Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 12:08am
This seems like another rags-to-riches story. Born in Malaysia, her family came
here when she was still a child. Portray the typical, dysfunctional family
background – divorced mother with four kids. Insert several obstacles in her
life – her difficulty in mastering the English language, the shifting from one
rental flat to another, and the reality that she always seems to be poorer than
her classmate. Witness how her kindness, perseverance and dreams triumph –
making a close group of friends, attending the best schools and eventually,
receiving a government scholarship.
One could see it from an opposite angle. She is a girl and doesn’t have to do
National Service; she enjoyed the world-class and heavily-subsidized education
here, and edged out local-born Singaporeans to win a scholarship. Opportunities
for Singaporeans were seized by a non-Singaporean, or “Permanent Resident”.
As dark economic times descend upon Singapore, and the controversy of foreign
talent or immigrant influx continues, some Singaporeans will feel – or have
already felt – uncomfortable that our country is increasingly ‘foreign’. A scan
through Internet chatter reveals a backlash, sometimes nasty, at the divide
between foreigners and Singaporeans. Foreigners steal our jobs, enjoy a good or
if not better life here, and worst of all, they are just not true-blue
But how do we define a Singaporean in the first place? The pink IC? Singlish?
Food? Kiasu? Ironically, the girl in the above story will be more Singaporean-ish
than me, if we use the usual list of characteristics e.g. love of durians. The
truth is that one can officially be a Singaporean citizen, but dress and speak
like an American; similarly one can officially be a PR from China, but do things
reminiscent of our immigrant forefathers.
Singapore is a country of immigrants: a unique and paradoxical fact. This
country was built by immigrants for their children, who became the locals; and
now the locals are reacting against the new wave of immigrants, forgetting that
they, too, were like their forefathers, coming here in search of opportunities.
From the poorest and smelliest foreign worker to the richest and sweetest
foreign tai-tai, they come here because of desires ranging from the economic to
the sensual. Some will settle here, and some will leave. But one thing in common
is that they came here because we as a country can help them to fulfill their
needs and dreams. They might give back to us in return…or not.
The ideal Singapore is magnanimous. For foreigners and locals, it is a land of
dreams and hopes. It is the place where rags-to-riches stories can take place,
for both foreigners and locals. The Malaysia-born girl is now a first-generation
Singaporean, taking the shape of a Singaporean in both formalities and habits.
What an irony if one day the country of immigrants turns its back on immigrants.
The ideal Singapore gladly accepts the challenges and opportunities that come
with its idiosyncratic history with a can lah spirit.
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