Ho Chi Minh City, Inside My Head, Vietnam

You wanna get personal, I’ll show you personal

67 Comments 20 April 2009

Vanity has gone out the window...

Vanity has gone out the window...

View pictures of everyday life in Vietnam

I realize that it’s been quite a while since I’ve left a personal update on my life here in Vietnam. I also realize that my last personal updates were full of struggle which left some people wondering what my future really held. Hell, I ask myself that question every day and still have no answer.

My first 4 to 5 months here were full of self-doubt, and a general dazed and confused state; I wasn’t myself and I hated it. Picking up your life in the ‘known’ to move it to the ‘unknown’ completely by yourself is something that any strong person would struggle with and any sane person would not do. And if you could all be here on the streets of Saigon for just one day, you’d understand what I mean. At least that’s what I tell myself to feel better!

But this post is not about my struggle to remain sane and strong…it’s to tell you about my last 2 months here which have been a big turn around from the first 4 months proving once again, time is the most powerful medicine there is. I got tired of fighting it all the time, and finally just accepted.

Bringing Home the Bacon:
No, I didn’t buy a pig…yet it might go nicely with my neighbor’s roosters. I’ve actually made some changes in my job, I mean jobs. I originally came here to teach ESL at a local language school in HCMC. I did that for 6 months on a part time basis, but just recently I made a big change.

My students

My students

I’m still teaching, but I’ve taken a private teaching gig with a French manufacturing corporation. I met the Managing Director of the plant and he hired me to come out to the plant and main office 3 times a week to teach the employees English. This job is much better for me in many ways; pay and schedule are the two big advantages. It’s still part time teaching 12 hours a week, but it’s enough to support me here. I love being in the corporation learning about their business and seeing a bit of the Vietnamese business culture. I find it fascinating. Plus, it has allowed me to meet and build friendships with some more local people which I always love.

I am also working part time in IT. I have been consulting for a small handbag company for the past year managing and running their website (you can check out their website at http://www.camenae-group.com/, but realize that we are completely overhauling it in a month!) and that work continues on. The most important thing about this work is that I have become good friends with the women who own the business. One of them lives in Saigon and has been a life saver for me in more ways that I can count. I’m also networking and getting asked to do other small project management gigs here in Saigon; nothing major, but they all have potential to make some much needed money.

Where My Heart Is…
No, I haven’t met a man; in fact I’ve realized that there’s zero chance of that happening in Saigon, but that can be a whole different post where I rant about how shitty it is to be a western woman here…oops…I digress. I’m actually talking about my love of the work that I do that I get no ‘bacon’ for. I guess I can call it a labor of love. I’m referring to my websites, writing, and photography.

Where the magic happens - not very ergonomically correct

Where the magic happens - not very ergonomically correct

I’ve been working a ton on Ottsworld changing some things around adding some features, etc.; which the goal of increasing interest/traffic, search engine ranking, and essentially ad revenue. Dammit…click on those ads! I’ve also been working with my biz partner, Michaela, on getting the one and only Career Break website for Americans off the ground. We have put a ton of work into Briefcase to Backpack; writing, marketing, pr, networking…what an adventure. If you want to escape from your cubicle, then check out the website and you are sure to be inspired at how easy it can all be.

Photography is going slow, but I’ve finally made some contacts here in Saigon with some talented photographers that I can work with. There’s a photography club that I’ve joined here which is a great from a social perspective and the assignments provide me some practice and focus. Notice that this work is under the ‘no bacon’ category…but it doesn’t have to be with help from people like you…remember I do sell my photography!!

So technically I’m working at 5 jobs…2 for a paycheck and 3 for the love of it and the hope of a future paycheck. This makes is really, really hard to answer the frequently asked question – “What do you do?”

Lean On Me, When You’re Not Strong…
I’ve admitted the first 4 months I spent here were the most lonely months of my life. I still have my moments, but I have met more people and made some new friendships. I’ve met other people who were just as lost as me and we’ve bonded. Put a bunch of lonely, lost people together and all of a sudden you have a group of friends; or maybe it’s called a self-help group. This has also led to me behaving like myself again; I’ve started to go out and be social. I’m back to taking on too much socially, which reminds me that some things never change. My social activities in Saigon include the holy trinity; eating, drinking, and dancing. These are three things that make me whole. Woo hoo! Granted, the nightlife is a far cry from what I’m used to. The city closes at midnight and everyone flocks to the same 4 bars; I feel like I’m back in the Midwest minus TGI Fridays. But it’s better than staying home and feeling sorry for myself!

Assimilating – Resistance is Futile
If you recall, I made a new year’s resolution to learn to ride a motorbike, and to learn Vietnamese. Both of these skills are necessary here if you aren’t loaded with expat money (and I’m a far cry from that). Plus, one of my personal goals in moving abroad was to really involve myself in the foreign culture. This is actually one of the few times I’ve actually followed through on a New Year’s resolution! I’m riding in the chaos of HCMC traffic (follow my motorbike journey on the Motorbike Diaries) and I recently started taking Vietnamese classes. The language classes have proven to be about impossible as I murder the tones and pronunciation. I actually tried to introduce myself yesterday to a Vietnamese neighbor and she had no idea what I was saying; I might as well have been speaking Dutch….hell, maybe I was. I’ve also gotten involved in a Vietnamese pastime that I’ve always had a secret yearning for – dance classes. Every week I ride my motorbike to Lindy Hop/Swing classes where the women outnumber the men and I’m taller than everyone. Regardless, I’m learning and it’s a bit of fun exercise too as I leave the class dripping in sweat. The class is actually a mixture of locals and French expats…why French – I have no idea.

With the good, comes the bad. HCMC is full of pollution, smoking is allowed everywhere, it’s hot and tropical which makes it mold. One of these things is making me sick.  Actually I have no idea what is making me sick, but I’ve unfortunately developed what the doctor thinks are allergies. This is also why I’m wearing the fashionable mask in the picture.  I’m on inhalers, and daily allergy medicine and it still seems like I hack up a lung everyday. There are no cats around, so I’m baffled at what’s happening to my sinuses and lungs. I seriously don’t think I could stay longer than a year here or I’d die.

A Place to Call Home

My narrow room

My narrow room

My living arrangements seem to be anything but normal. Since I’ve moved here my two suitcases and I have been sleeping all over; and I’m not talking about sleeping around in a fun way . I started at a guest house for 2 weeks, then to a friend’s house for a month, then back to a guest house for a few more weeks, then to a sublet a room in an apartment for 3 months – which has now turned into 5 months, and I’ll be moving my growing bags of possessions to yet another place in June. So for all of you that ask “what’s your address?” This is why I can’t answer you. I do miss having a home. Traveling around from location to location is great when you are on an around the world tour, but when you are simply trying to live somewhere – it sucks.

There you go – now you know what I’m doing, who I’m hanging out with, and where I’m living. In summary, I’m doing a lot of different things; probably too many. As for the inevitable question that everyone asks me, “What’s next?”

I have no idea. I live each month here without knowing what the next one holds; where I’ll be, or what I’ll be doing. I have to say that it’s a challenging way to live life, with no long term plan, only living in the short term. In fact, it goes against every ‘type A’ gene that I have which is probably why I still have ‘bad’ days here despite all of the good things that have been happening the last few months. I do know that this experience has made me really tough. Tougher than I ever thought I could be. I’m not sure that tough is what I was striving for as I think that all of my friends back home would agree that I need to actually soften up a bit and learn to trust people! All I can ask is to have more good days than bad and to keep following my dreams and know that good things will come.

Finally, if you like following this blog, please let me know (that’s what this comment section is for below…duh) and most importantly…TELL YOUR FRIENDS (preferably friends who like to click on ads, are publishers, or are in the travel industry!)

Your Comments

67 Comments so far

  1. Magdalena says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. David says:

    The French? How could you work for the French?! Things must be really bad out there.

    Hey, that room looks about as big as an apartment in San Francisco!

  3. admin says:

    Re: David – yes, but this apartment only costs $300 and trust me, I haven’t lived in anything this small since my dorm room at University!

  4. Angie Kalousek says:

    Yay! Sherry is back! I love the swing dancing class…I keep picturing you dancing with a little vietnamese man…fabulous visual :-).

    xo, A

  5. Amy Skidmore says:

    Sherry- you brave girl! Glad to hear things are lookin’ up!
    You can have a 6th job and help me with my real estate e-newsletter and website :). Your photography is amazing. I think you should get a job with National Geographic and I vote for you moving to a place that isn’t hazardous to your health! I love that you are learning the Lindy dance. Sounds so fun!

  6. Baron says:

    Since you asked if I like following your blog…

    Yes, yes I do.

    You’re an inspiration. I expect I’ll be laid off from work sometime in the next 4-6 months. If/when that happens I think I’ll be following you path for my own “career break”.

    And like Dave said, the French… really?

    Keep writing.

  7. Cheryl says:

    OK…ignore my email question about what you’ll be doing next! LOL … I’m now off to click on some of your banner ads and help you get some of that much needed ad revenue!

  8. Cherie says:


    Your articles, photos and site are fantastic! Let me know when you will be in Singapore next!

    Cheers, Cherie

  9. eklemmer says:

    Is the Corporate Runaway back in the corporation(s)???? Yikes!

  10. Troy says:

    You might have ann easier time breathing if you remove the pair of polka dot underware from over your face before you put on your helmet.

  11. Brian and Amy says:

    Glad to see things are tuning around for you!

    The rice terraces looked incredible, I’ve just added them to my ‘places to see before I die’ list.

    Off to click on your ad banners, keep the posts coming 😉


  12. admin says:

    Re: am I back in corporate…well, not really. Granted – I go to a corporate environment to teach – but I’m my own boss! Actually I find it quite interesting to teach in a corporate environment in a foriegn company – it’s like a little cultural adventure that you normally can’t experience if you are simply traveling!

  13. admin says:

    Cherie – just sent you a note, I’ll be in Singapore next week – May 7th! Hope to catch up with you and Philip!

  14. Colin says:

    hey, where did you get your helmet, I love it, I want a more full head helmet like that!

    where do you live? what district, I have a super nice spacious one bedroom, kitchen, washing machine, clean bathroom with huge balcony place in D4 for $400, it is only about 7 minutes to get downtown. i love it.

  15. admin says:

    Colin – OMG – I love the fact that someone actually looked at that ridiculous picture of me and thought the helmet was cool! :) I actually got the helmet up in Dalat. I told myself that I wouldn’t ride here without a proper helmet. I’m sure they have them here though somewhere. A local took me to buy mine at the market in Dalat.
    I live in District 1 – great location, but not so nice apt. I’m planning on moving out to Dist. 2 for the summer to do some housesitting. You sound like you have a sweet deal in Dist. 4 though!

  16. livinginSGVN says:

    Very spiffy helmet- where’dya get that? I noticed your remark about being a nuoc ngoai phu nu here in Vietnam- have you seen Lisa/alfpaspider’s blog: alfaspider.livejournal.com/ She talks about that a bit, too.

  17. admin says:

    Got the helmet in Dalat – a local helped me pick it out! A little warm here – but saving my brain is worth a little sweat!
    Yes – just checked out her blog…love it!

  18. Iris says:

    I love your blog! So inspiring. I REALLY wish that I discovered it before I became a Corporate American Runaway last February (traded NYC for Beijing). Keep up the great posts.

  19. kim says:

    I came, I read, I clicked. Thanks!

  20. Aimee says:

    I know this is an older blog but gave me a sense of how you are doing. I’m glad that you have re-discovered the holy trinity! You were very good at all 3 in New York as I recall… :-)

  21. Ann says:

    Hi there! I m planning to move to Vietnam soon and was wondering does the photography club have a website? Can anyone join the club? I can’t wait to have some good shots of Vietnam 😀

  22. admin says:

    Hi Ann! Good luck on your move! I hope my blog can be of some help in that regard!
    The photography club website is http://www.saigonamateurs.com/ – however it’s under construction at the moment and we are trying to change our name. We used to be called Saigon Amateurs – but that will be changing soon. Regardless – the facebook group is also called Saigon Amateurs and you can contact the leader through that and learn about how often we meet, exhibitions, etc! It’s a great group!

  23. Ann says:

    Hey thanks for the reply, I requested to join that group on facebook :). BTW love your helmet, looks really cool better than the one I had when I was there.

  24. Bren says:

    Cool site Sherry. I have been planning to move to Ho Chi Mihn City for some time now. Is it better to get a job before going or wait and search on spec? Thanx (:

    • admin says:

      Hi Bren! HCMC was very rewarding…however it’s certainly not easy in the beginning! Are you thinking of teaching ESL? If so, then I think you can do just as well showing up there, and finding a job once you get there. English teachers are in demand! That way you can get a better feel for locations of schools and who you will work with. You may even be able to work out a shorter contract than the standard year long one most schools make you sign prior to arriving. When you are there in person…all the ‘rules’ go out the window. Plus, you may even find that you can pick up private tutoring and make more money than at a school. It’s really cheap to live there for a few weeks for next to nothing while you look for the right job…so if I could do it over again – I think that’s what I’d do.
      Shoot any more questions my way – I’m happy to help!

  25. Bren says:

    Thanx for the advice Sherry. Yes I am planning to get an ESL teaching job ih HCM. It sounds like an interesting place. I lived in Shanghai for five years have met many teachers who got burned by signing contracts from overseas. Employers seem to be much more obliging and adaptable when one is actually on location in Shanghai and from what you’ve told me it looks like it’s the same in HCM too. One thing that is of vital importance to me is air conditioners
    …do most schools have them? and apartments also?

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – all schools and places I taught had AC. Also I always had aptments that had AC. If you really, really want to go and live cheaply, you can do it without AC…but no real need to do that. Sounds like you won’t have a problem adapting!

      • Bren says:

        Thanks again for the info. I’m looking forward to getting there. It won’t be until September as I still have a few months left in my present contract here in S. Korea where I work for a government school. What’s a better deal in HCM, government school or a private language place? I always like working in universities but they are usually pretty tricky to get into

        • admin says:

          I’m not a huge fan of working for private language schools…but it’s normally the easiest to find work at. If you can get into a university (RMIT) it’s better pay. It’s even better when you can find a corporate gig like mine…yet I kind of lucked into that through networking with some expat friends. I honestly wanted to start my own business where I would have set up small onsite classes for businesses serving expats. The people working at the expat businesses often had horrible English and even worse customer service skills. So I thought I could set up little 8 week classes that would cover English specific to their business/industry. You’d simply have to hit the pavement and sell the idea to a few small businesses in Phu Mi Hung or An Phu (expat communities).

          • Bren says:

            I’ll have start saving a little to cover myself for my first few weeks in HCM. Does it get humid there. The humidity wrecks me here in S. Korea. I don’t mind the heat though. I lied the weather in Thailand, it wasn’t hunmid

  26. Jenn Pedde says:

    Great post about moving and being an expat!! I did it a few years ago when I moved from NYC to South Korea and I loved your line that said, “…is something that any strong person would struggle with and any sane person would not do.” because that is 100% true! Though the benefits for the crazy one to move far outweigh the ones who never went at all. Would love to follow your journey through twitter if you’re on it – follow me at @relocationally

  27. Bren says:

    “I lied the weather in Thailand” No really I didn’t lie about the weather in Thailand! I meant to type “liked”

  28. Bren says:

    oh oh, I am sorry to hear that ): I really can’t do humid. I put up with it for a few years in Shanghai but at least the Shanghainese like air-cons unlike the Koreans who use them as ornaments. I will have to re-think HCM I’m afraid. It sounds like a happening place though

  29. John Nguyen says:

    Hi Sherry, I stumbled upon your blog and really enjoyed your post! I’m currently on Month 2 of my time in HCMC and going through what you went through :) One thing that piqued my interest was your mention of the photography club here. Would you happen to have a contact or website for that? Photography is currently a hobby for me but I would definitely like to get more serious about it while I’m here. Any info you have to share would be fantastic! Thanks!

  30. John in Houston says:

    I stumbled across your blog a few days ago… I’m getting laid off January 7th, and am planning a few-month wander from India to Vietnam… actually it started as one month in India, but I keep adding on places as I find them interesting. Your comments on couch surfing (couchsurfing.org) sent me off on a new tangent and I’m excited to try staying with some locals if possible on my trip (always so much better than boring cheap hotels!)

    You keep listing interesting links and great ideas. Very exciting stuff!

    I’ll keep reading, so please keep writing!

    I’ll start clicking…

  31. Odyssesus says:

    Good post! At first, I started I identified simply because I’m also an expat in Asia (Korea), but then you really won me over with the swing dancing! The swing dancing in Seoul is the best in the world, and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years, though I’ve only been in Korea for over 1 year. I think I even know (or, at least, met) some of the Vietnamese swing dancers when they went to the swing camp at Korea’s Jeju Island.

  32. Tom says:

    Why so many questions about the French in the comments? (ok … 2)

    Vietnam was once colonised by the French. Voila, that simple. That’s why you will see French collonial mustard yellow buildings all around Vietnam.

    As I’ve been to Vietnam myself and will go back in May, I like reading your posts =)

  33. cboulton72 says:

    I am considering a move to Vietnam in March of 2012. I want to get more info on bringing my pets, going to doctors, getting a job, etc. Any suggestions? (P.S. I have lived and worked in South Korea as an English teacher for 12 years.)

    • Sherry says:

      Hmm – I’m not sure if there is any nice website with all of that information laid out. I do know a lot of expats who have their pets there though. I had a job when I arrived teaching ESL – but my best advice is to get there, get the lay of the land and then go apply at a few places. Do you teach esl or at international schools. I know the international schools are always looking for substitute teachers. After I was there for a bit I networked a lot by joining various happy hour meetups and started to get to know the expat community – from there it was really easy to make connections and find potential work. At least that’s how it was 3 years ago when I arrived there. As for doctors – they have good expat clinics all over. I just got emergency insurance through LIberty and that was it. If I had to go to a doctor – then I just paid when I went – it wasn’t too expensive. Dentists area also pretty cheap there. There is a google groups called An Phu Neighbors that is a great discussion group of expats…that was also key to me figuring out a lot of things. That may get you started!

  34. Michael says:

    Girl! you really got guts and I admire you for it. I’ll be heading your way in August. Got a gig at the HCMC International school. Hope to bump into you.

    Chow for now

  35. Sam says:

    Great blog. I’m looking to move to HCMC from Seoul within a few months. Keep up the good work! It takes a strong person to do what your doing.

  36. Andy says:

    hi there
    im not sure if you still using this side but i was just wondering what was the name of the photograph club you joined I’ve just retired here in vietnam from the tough world of mining. will look for work later, but want to join a photo club in HCM any help would be great

    • Sherry says:

      Sorry – but they are no longer meeting – I think many of the expats who ran is moved by now. Sorry – I”m not sure if anyone started another group up or not.

  37. william says:

    well i read-it…..i have been to ho chi minh 5 times the last time 2012 and stayed 6mths. with my wife and i teach a little english.i am from washington usai am not sure if i want to live in vietnam full time the air is bad like you said one year might die from all the smoke from bikes…my wife is in good health but she coughs a lot..she has no kids 50yrs old i 63yrs old..
    i lost 2 brother’s in the vietnam war and that is what brought me to vietnam i wanted to see where my brother’s die in 1968.. not women.the women are good yes i married one she is still in viet nam. later i hope she comes to usa….i have no problem ride moto bike.food is good
    but very hot i think that is hard on your life live short life.
    bill usa

  38. wendy says:

    I m here in hcm for 4 days, been to hanoi. i fully understand the seriousness of air pollution here. Building construction, road transportation, the causes to it.. i must say i was shocked when i looked down from plane – how packed is this city. Without a bike, i gonna look around district 1 on foot.

  39. scott says:

    hi. i am moving to ho chi minh in november. you say the nightlife is lacking? there are only 4 popular bars in the entire city? i am not a big drinker actually but i do like to know that acuity is not sleeping while i do, just incase i wake up and need some attention…also, i am going to be needing someone with web development skills for a new website of mine. it could be a life changer if you’re interested, i would like to meet up in saigon sometime for a drink, and see if we can coordinate an arrangement. thanks..take care

  40. scott says:

    in ref to above……i like to know a city is not sleeping….

  41. Larry says:

    Hey great blog, I am pleased you are happier now.

    I’m moving to Saigon in January, so excited (currently live in Hong Kong). Would be great to buy you a beer and have a chat if you are around?

  42. Les says:

    Nice to hear of your exploits in Vietnam. I would like to semi-retire to SE Asia in a few years while teaching ESL, and VN is high on my list of places to start in.
    I’m hoping to be able to speak French from time to time while there, so hearing about the remaining French presence in HCMC is encouraging.
    I confess that your comments about allergies are a bit discouraging, as I have moderate allergies myself to cats, ragweed etc. Were your VN allergies to the same things as back home, or did this condition develop while you were in VN?
    Anyway, hope you’re continuing to enjoy your adventure wherever you are now.

    • Sherry says:

      My allergies were to the same things I was allergic to at home – but they seemed to be more sensitive due to the pollution there. I think you’d love it there though….an amazing place!

  43. Kiyong Park says:

    Hello, i’m a korean american looking to travel to HCMC and Phnom Penh. Very insightful about loneliness and allergies. Those two actually are my concerns. Also, I hope to teach English there, but am concerned that I will be discriminated. Just looking for some positive aspects so that I may look forward to my trip.
    Eventually, my final destination will be South Korea, but I figure the weather is better in HCMC during the winter..thanx

  44. John says:

    I would like to pick your brain. I used to teach in Korea. I now have a vn gf. I want your advice o living in and getting a job in Vietnam. Thanks so much,



    • Sherry says:

      I worked for ILA School about 4 years ago. I”m not sure what the teaching climate is like now. However at the time ILA was one of the biggest ESL schools there and were recruiting all the time but required some sort of certification (CELTA or TEFL).

  45. Mat says:

    Hi, love the blog nice one. Me Andy girlfriend are travelling Asia and are in Saigon at the moment before heading north and then on to laos and Burma but actually like Saigon a lot as it has everything. I’ve heard to teach English they pay well here I’m just stuck with good places and good long term accomodation for reasonable prices. Thought you could help as you have lived and worked here. My girlfreind has a tefl and we both have national diplomas in similar and childcare so hopefully we be ok with this. Thanks, mat

  46. joe says:

    Sherry…I’m thinking about coming to Vietnam..I’m teaching in China the last year. I was thinking about looking for a position when I get there..what are you thoughts..I’m American

    • Sherry says:

      Joe – I taught in Vietnam in 2009 – so I’m not exactly sure of the teaching climate there now – but when I was there, there were plenty of teaching opportunities. I taught at ILA – which has numerous schools in Saigon and throughout the country. Let me know what specific questions you may have.

  47. Luat Truong says:

    it is very exciting! if you need to find another place with low budget , Do not hesitate to contact me. we have many properties for rent in all districts of Saigon

  48. Sonny Boston says:

    Really enjoying reading your blog and the trials and tribulations of living in and ssimilating into a foreign culture: the loneliness, the cultural barriers, self doubts, frustration and finally acceptance. This is an experience universally shared by most expats, myself included (I am an American Vietkieu with fluency in Vietnamese\cultural exposures in more than 40 foreign countries and I still struggle to fit it sonestime!). Anyway, I am please you have finally break out of the doldrums–such an inspiration. Keep trucking and have a great ride!

  49. Sonny Boston says:

    BTW, $300 kinda high per dimension of room for even District1 (unless you’re right in the Dong Khoi area with all the swanky 4-5 $tars hotels). You can get a 60m2 brand spanking new high rise apartment in expat luxurious modern areas of D7 or D2 for 200-250 range, 350-400 with modern design furniture!!!). Have a local VN friend goes with you. Trust me, expats\foreigners get inflated prices all the time. Good luck!

  50. Eddie says:

    Great article Sherry…brings back memories from experiences of relocating several times myself, it seems to take a year to really start feeling assimilated into a new country although with practice it can take less time ;)…currently thinking of Saigon as an exit plan at the moment, great to see a blog with a healthy dose of realism!

    p.s clicked on a few of the ads, hope that gets ya a beer or 2 😉

  51. Virginie says:

    Hello ,
    I know it’s been a very long time that you published about this photography group you joined in HCM. I am looking for a group like that, do you by any chance remember the name? I would love to improve my skills.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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