Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seoul Power Play: One Less Nuclear Plant, One More Coal Plant

I almost choked the other day at the ICLEI World Congress. Not because of air quality (around Seoul's New Normal, in the mid 40s PPM), but because of the answer I received from an official about the convenient untruth I mentioned in my previous post. ICYMI (see "Cough Potato"): not only do Korea and Seoul lie when they say that most of the pollution in the capital is generated overseas, but hiding beyond China's growing fumes, they also shamelessly give in to coal and diesel lobbies.

ICLEI World Congress at the Seoul DDP - on time for the cherry blossom

The official came from the same institute as the suspect quoted in that post (NB: again, this controversial institute holds views that are not shared by all Seoul officials). His presentation, which also included a focus on the February 23 peak, was all about the city's efforts to curb pollution, and the importance of particles coming from Gyeonggi, Incheon, China, and Mongolia.

To my question how can Korea and Seoul fight against high PPM levels and at the same time open the doors to diesel cars and new coal power plants, he answered that Seoul was indeed building an new coal power plant, but with limited emissions, and outside of its city limits! So beyond the now usual 'clean coal' imposture, we were told the trick that helps Seoul magically record improvements: our city lets Gyeonggi-do carry its dirtiest footprints, and the blame that comes with them. At this rate, Seoul's objective of reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 from the 2005 level will be a breeze.

Imagine my reaction minutes later, as I returned to the DDP's main hall, precisely when the giant screens were displaying Seoul's successful campaign for 'One Less Nuclear Plant'! What's the point of cutting energy consumption by 2 million TOE (Tons of Oil Equivalent) if you build One More Coal Plant?

twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/586085207129726976

If this carbon offset made me carbon upset enough to call it a day, I can't say that I'm really surprised. After all, countries too try to export their sources of pollution and get away with it as good environmentalists... and this city already proved that it could at the same time remove ugly elevated roads and build new ones. Once more, feel good politics wins over good politics.

A lot of politicians were on stage at the ICLEI, because that's an alliance of over 1,000 Local Governments for Sustainability. They elected PARK Won-soon as their new president until the next world congress in 2018, even if he's not as fluent in English as his brilliant predecessor David CADMAN; maybe a C40-suite mayor is more likely than a former Vancouver councilor to give more weight to the Seoul Declaration adopted ahead of COP21 in Paris.

The Paris conference is expected to set new targets for the UN members in the fight against climate change, and in their non-binding Seoul Declaration, local governments pledged to do their share: cities account for over 50% of the world population (a proportion expected to reach 90% by the end of the century), and 70% of today's pollution.

Of course, as the co-author of 'The Limits of Growth' in 1972, Professor Jorgen Sanders, put it on stage, much more needs to be done than this 'toothless' declaration. In his 2012 predictions for 2052, he expects the climate crisis to hit really hard, even if politicians manage to do the minimum, which would be reallocating 2% of the GDP from 'dirty' to 'clean' activities.

I had a quick chat with Jorgen Sanders after his lecture - and this interview. In his radical views, visionary authoritarian regimes have a better chance to succeed than corrupt democracies in forcing change. Well you could mention Park Chung-hee's tree planting program as a great success, but environment was not on top of his agenda as far as industries were concerned...

Nevertheless, this ICLEI World Congress will probably be remembered as a success. And lively workshops made for an endless opening ceremony featuring too many empty congratulatory speeches, only interrupted by surreal apparitions of 'Little Angels'. It took five minutes - too late in the afternoon, alas - for a couple of ICLEI execs to break the ice by inviting each member of the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to two unknown people.

Yodeling on stage, the "Little Angels" added a surreal Pyongyang touch to the show
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/585722800767377408

Reaching out is the answer. Preferably not just to export your waste.

How to make a difference with micro-projects under USD 3,000 and 'big projects' under USD 40,000? Kirtee Shah proved it was even scalable across 19 countries at the CITINET workshop on affordable housing in urban environments (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/585617017262178305)


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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cough Potato

Yesterday, a typical summer rain poured over Seoul, following a particularly dry winter. A welcome boost for the Spring colors that already popped up across the capital.

It also toned down less welcomed color bursts, like these recurrent pollution peaks:



Ways better than the recent Everest (over 1,000 ㎍/㎥) recorded on February 23. That day, I was not in Seoul (yay!), but in Shanghai (ugh)...

The March 29 peak shown above was 'solved' by drizzling episodes on April 1s, and for a few minutes the concentration of nanoparticles went as low as 6 per cubic meter:
'Best April Fools in a long time: Seoul pollution only 6 ㎍/㎥! (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/583103343381250048)

Of course, rain only washes dust away and 'cleans' the air temporarily, it doesn't solve pollution. Typically, even after last night downpour, we were back to the 40-50s today. In Paris, 50 triggers an information flash, and 80 an alert.

Seoul posted a 5-year high of 71 ㎍/㎥ on average in March, a month where precipitations were five times weaker than normal, and sandstorms from China occurred three times more than usual ("Spring Haze Worse Than Ever" - Chosun Ilbo - 20150403):


(twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/583442562326794240)

According to Seoul Metropolitan Government, the nanoparticles come mainly from China and Mongolia (30-50%, followed by Gyeonggi and Incheon (25-30%), the capital itself (20-25%), and natural causes (4%):
Nanoparticle pollution rising in Seoul (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/554508179019550720)
So here we are, cough potatoes stuck to our sofas while airpocalypse creeps around our home, a foreign disease born in Chinese factories / coal power plants, and borne by winds made even dryer by cashmere goats turning the vast plains of Mongolia into barren deserts.

A convenient untruth, I'm afraid.

Of course, Seoul receives a lot of its pollution from China, and the situation will get worse before it gets better on that front. The worst peaks in Beijing (often after firework frenzies) give birth to lower peaks in Seoul in the days that follow. But most of Seoul's pollution is generated in Korea, and some people are doing their best to not only hide that truth, but also to undermine the effort to curb local emissions.

If you read the fine prints (mercifully not as fine as the said particles), the media are talking about incremental pollution, not the basis: "analysis shows that China will be responsible for 36.8% and Gyeonggi Province for 16.3%. Seoul itself will only cause 16.2% of the increase in the density of fine particles in the city"*. 

Last month, Greenpeace exposed the imposture: "despite what is widely reported through the Korean media, from 50 to 70 percent of particle-laden smog, which is also known as PM2.5, is generated within the country"**. And just when Beijing closes its fourth coal power plant***, and just when Paris considers banning diesel cars, South Korea is pushing a very controversial agenda, embracing diesel and planning a dozen more coal power plants by 2021.****

Obviously, local polluting lobbies are doing their job well beyond the media and lawmakers. PARK Chan-goo, head of atmospheric measurement and management at the Seoul Institute of Health and the Environment, goes as far as to imply that Seoul doesn't need to do more to curb its own pollution: "Since China is exerting such a big influence, I think this may be the most Seoul can hope to achieve through its current efforts (...). In order to achieve more results, it would be much more effective to cut down on the sources of the particles in China, Mongolia, North Korea, Gyeonggi Province, and Incheon".

Hopefully, in the same article*, we hear sounder words from YOON Chang-jin, head of atmospheric improvement for the Seoul Metropolitan Government: "Seoul’s independent efforts to reduce fine particles are extremely important in the sense that they are keeping the particulate density from exceeding critical levels. Without these efforts, particle density would increase, which could have a deleterious effect on citizens‘ health".

Needless to say, the capital is also trying to collaborate with its Chinese counterparts, even if that's more on the monitoring than on the operational level (e.g. in February 2014, "Seoul works with Beijing to combat ultrafine dust"). Again, megacities have the power and the duty to push for positive changes that are sometimes more difficult to implement at the national level.
And in case you worried about North Korea, know that they are on the same page as the South these days, and building a coal power plant in Samdung-ri, Kangdong-do "Pyongyang’s Perpetual Power Problems" (Curtis Melvin - 38 North - 20141125)


*
See also "Air Pollution: New Measures, Please", all posts related to environment.


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* "More than a third of fine particle pollution comes from China" (The Hankyoreh - 20141106)
** "Greenpeace spares China from blame for fine dust" (The Korea Times - 20150304)
*** "Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution"(Bloomberg News - 20150324)
**** "Coal plants cause over 1,000 premature deaths each year: group" (Yonhap News - 20150304)
*
See also the recent White Paper: "Megacity Air Pollution Studies–Seoul - MAPS-Seoul" (NIER - National Institute of Environmental Research - 20150225):
"MAPS–Seoul’s objectives are as follows:
① Increase the performance of the air quality model prediction by reducing the bias in model simulation, and strengthen management decisions in policy development
- Improve emission inventories, particularly for anthropogenic NOx (NB: nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide), VOCs (NB: Volatile Organic Compound, mostly from solvents and automobiles), NH3 (NB: ammonia), CO (NB: carbon monoxide), SO2 (NB: sulfur dioxide), and biogenic VOCs (BVOCs)
② Assess long-range transports of pollutants from Asian megacities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and the SMA (NB: Seoul Metropolitan Area)
- Characterize the chemical evolutions of oxidants and aerosols in and out of the SMA, including O3 (NB: ozone), NOy (NB: reactive mixes like nitrous oxide), secondary organic aerosol (SOA), and their precursors to precisely constrain critical photochemical processes that should be considered in the air quality forecast modeling framework
③ Validate aerosol and selected gaseous products of GOCI (NB: Geostationary Ocean Color Imager) and other satellite sensors to integrate satellite observational products for reliable urban and regional air quality and emission inventory analysis
- Characterize the optical/physical/radiative properties of aerosols in the SMA and surroundings to resolve the effects of air quality on visibility reduction and urban weather forcing
(...)
This plan proposes a scientific research program integrating in-situ observations with one preliminary (in 2015) and two intensive (in the summer of 2016 and the winter of 2017) field campaigns in the SMA with the use of remote and satellite sensors, and modeling platforms. This will be partly conducted in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other international scientific communities.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweeping History Under The Red Carpet

Shinzo Abe recorded his most significant diplomatic victory ever by receiving an invitation to give a speech to a joint session of the US Congress (probably on April 29, following a stop at the White House on April 28), a honor never given to any Japanese leader. Not even to his war criminal of a grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who didn't have the full audience in 1957. Not even the poor Junichiro Koizumi, who was denied the prestigious soapbox in 2006, just because he refused to stop visiting Yasukuni.

No such guarantees were required from a Prime Minister who not only advocates visits to the controversial shrine and refuses to denounce Imperial Japan abuses, but also wrote a letter of support to a ceremony honoring war criminals. 

It seems that all Abe had to do was to deliver yet another one of his trademark elusive and deceptive smokescreens.

The Washington Post published last Thursday an interview hyped as groundbreaking because Shinzo Abe said that among 'Comfort Women' were people 'victimized by human trafficking', and because he said that 'women’s human rights were violated', but if you read the full text (see below*), his Nippon Kaigi - friendly positions have not changed a bit:
  • First, regarding the key question 'are you a revisionist?', Abe doesn't answer, saying that only historians can judge.
  • Second, about the Murayama, Kono, or Koizumi statements: as usual, Abe never says that he personally agrees with them. He uses 'I' only to make clear that 'we' / 'Abe cabinet' 'upholds' them so far, and 'is not reviewing' them right now. What 'I' want, what 'I' / my future cabinets will do in the future? You know the answer, because I've already used similar wordings before trying to do something different afterwards. Unfortunately, the WaPo didn't ask the most important question regarding his own August 15 statement for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the one everybody's asking across the region: will he dump the key references to 'aggression' and 'colonization'? I can't see how such a hardcore revisionist could say unequivocally that the Empire of Japan was an aggressor. Abe renouncing his lifetime goal? Simply impossible.
Minutes of Abe Statement advisory panel confirm debate over 'aggression' mention - 20150325 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/580625172849410048
  • Third, about Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system ('Comfort Women'), Abe's crocodile tears ('immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description, my heart aches') cannot hide the naked truth: he still refuses to name the culprits and to say that the Empire and its military were involved in the 'trafficking', and he still maintains that if there were violations, they were common to many wars (in his verbiose smokescreen lingua: "Hitherto in history, many wars have been waged. In this context, women’s human rights were violated"). That's the classic Nippon Kaigi's imposture: these women were willing prostitutes, if a few bad guys organized any traffic to recruit unwilling victims, they were local thugs (e.g. Korean, Chinese people selling their own), and Japanese authorities were never involved, and that's the kind of things that, alas, happen in every conflict.
You can trust Shinzo Abe on one thing: he has never changed his core positions and ambitions, and this interview only confirms how cunning he can be. 

You can trust him: he wants to make the most of this 2015 moments on stage at the US Congress and on August 15.

The US have not only their say, but the historic duty to prevent that. 
=> "The USA And Shinzo Abe: From Ostrich Policy To Complicity?"

How much #ABEIGNomics US Congress will swallow from Shinzo Abe an indicator of how far this negationist will go in Aug. 15 #AbeStatement - 20150321 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/579158050835013633



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* See "David Ignatius’s full interview with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe".
David Igniatius:
"Is it accurate to say that you are a revisionist–that you would like to revise the picture of Japan so that it is, in your view, more accurate?"
Shinzo Abe:
"My opinion is that politicians should be humble in the face of history. And whenever history is a matter of debate, it should be left in the hands of historians and experts. First of all, I would like to state very clearly that the Abe cabinet upholds the position on the recognition of history of the previous administrations, in its entirety, including the Murayama Statement [apologizing in 1995 for the damage and suffering caused by Japan to its Asian neighbors] and the Koizumi Statement [in 2005, stating that Japan must never again take the path to war]. I have made this position very clearly, on many occasions, and we still uphold this position. Also we have made it very clear that the Abe cabinet is not reviewing the Kono Statement [in 1993, in which the Government of Japan extended its sincere apologies and remorse to all those who suffered as comfort women]
On the question of comfort women, when my thought goes to these people, who have been victimized by human trafficking and gone through immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description, my heart aches. And on this point, my thought has not changed at all from previous prime ministers. Hitherto in history, many wars have been waged. In this context, women’s human rights were violated. My hope is that the 21st century will be the first century where there will be no violation of human rights, and to that end, Japan would like to do our outmost."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kim-Park-Lee Dynasty Updates

North Korea offered their 'deepest condolences' to Singapore for the loss of LEE Kuan Yew. Rodong Sinmun didn't specify whether they were referring to LEE Kuan Yew the dynasty founder, LEE Kuan Yew the capitalist nation builder, or LEE Kuan Yew the 'democrat'. 

Meanwhile, as expected, South Korean conservatives are drawing parallels between Singapore's founder and their icon PARK Chung-hee. Of course, her daughter PARK Geun-hye will attend the funerals: 

Park Geun-hye to attend Lee Kuan Yew's funerals. As far as controversial nation builder father go, Lee Hsien Loong luckier so far - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/580173247053889536

PGH didn't attend Nelson Mandela's funerals, but she'd never met him personally. And she did meet LKY, an admirer of South Korea. Korea JoongAng Daily unearthed today the photo of his 1979 visit, between the acting First Lady, and a man who would be assassinated seven days later:


Another KJD cover with Park Geun-hye. With Lee Kuan Yew and her dad Park Chung-hee (7 days before his assassination) - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/580504028079091712
As Singapore learns to live in post-LKY times, South Korea seems to distance itself from the towering figure of its recent history. PARK Chung-hee recently dropped behind ROH Moo-hyun as the all time favorite president in the polls, and the recent inauguration of the museum in his Sindang-dong house didn't make a splash - BTW here's a virtual visit, courtesy Chosun Ilbo:



PGH has been eluding the PCH issue ever since she was elected, letting ultra-conservatives run the agenda and damage both her image and that of her father, when to the contrary she should be facing history and showing the right example to Japan and to the world (see for instance 3rd part of "Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."*).

It's even more counter productive that MOON Jae-in, who precisely embodies the ROH Moo-hyun line, has made a significant move towards appeasement by visiting the dictator's grave last month, following his nomination as the opposition leader (NPAD - New Politics Alliance for Democracy).

MOON Jae-in on Sejongno, procession for ROH Moo-hyun funerals (see "A Yellow Sea For Roh Moo-hyun" - May 2009)
The time has come for South Korea to reunite, and for South Korean politics to move on in a dispassionate way. That's possible, particularly now that pro-North Korean extremists have at long last been sidelined (even more after the recent attack on US Ambassador Mark Lippert). Silencing the ultra-conservatives that keep polluting the debate at the other end of the spectrum would definitely help.

Setting PARK Chung-hee's record straight across the aisle is both a necessity and an opportunity for the nation, and the president can't dodge that personal duty / waste that personal golden opportunity any longer.

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* BTW memo to Shinzo: do you also want to rewrite LEE Kuan Yew's autobiography? It includes his personal memories of Imperial Japan abuses, including sexual slavery.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Burying Seobu Expressway (not all car traffic, though)

Seoul eventually confirmed the completion of the transformation of the 10.33 km section of the Seobu Expressway into a 4-lane underground tunnel by 2019, between Seongsan Bridge (Yangpyeong-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu) and Geumcheon I.C. (Doksan-dong, Guro-gu)*. 


A standard road will double it at ground level, to - hopefully - take care of the local traffic, and to propose a more pleasant experience for residents and visitors: Anyangcheon will at long last be accessible through simple pedestrian crossings (from the Seoul side, Gwangmyeong residents being connected to the eastern side by footbridges), and new parks will be created, including a big one if Seoul manages to move that big, ugly garbage treatment unit. 

Overall, a greener look and feel (particularly with with these before-after pictures comparing winter and summer views!):




This clearly marks an improvement of the cityscape and quality of life in this part of the city, but not a disruption from the car-centric view. And don't expect to totally get rid of traffic noise: "vertical soundproof walls, currently installed between the Seobu Expressway and Gyeongbu Railroad Line, will be replaced with twice the amount of folded soundproof walls to reduce noise levels".

It may look a bit like Yangjaecheon, but a big part of this stretch is occupied by the Guro Digital Complex, not by mid-rise residences. In any case, good news for the district and for people working there. If sure the landowners in front of one of these crossings will find a better use of their ground levels...

Now if your start-up can't afford a Google-size campus for its staff, you can at least offer them a waterfront experience without the disgracious expressway a la Facebook (see "Zee Talk of Zee Town", "Google's Gtown wins over ZeeTown and the Large Apple Collider").


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* a Public Private Project on a Build Transfer Operate mode: "Seobu Underground Road To Be Constructed Through Private and Public Joint Agreement".

Fed up with 'Gangnam Style'? Try Paik and Park's acoustic version

You're allergic to 'Gangnam Style', and I'm with you. 

Let's unplug him. And just once, listen to this acoustic take, more on the yellow-mellow-ish, fake blues-ish side of K-pop. Also irritating at high doses, but less damaging for your eardrums:








Over 300,000 YouTube views so far

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Urban Regeneration: 27 Projects For Seoul

Yesterday, Seoul city listed 27 areas subject to 'urban regeneration', the latest portmanteau buzzword to regroup many projects introduced over the past months and years. Of course the list includes the not always magnificent seven mentioned earlier this year (see "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)"), and the most spectacular industrial sites already programmed to be converted into cultural spaces.

On paper, I can only subscribe to the five principles supporting this vast plan, in particular because they confirm the intention to dump the old 'Korean new town' model:
1) Humans are now at the center of the city.
2) Abandon the uniform destruction / redevelopment process for a customized approach.
3) Involve residents in the process from the early planning stages to the completion.
4) Abandon short-termism for an evolutive, sustainable approach.
5) Seoul focuses its investments on the community and regional vitality.

These 27 projects have been listed in 4 categories:






twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/571091284665856000


    • 5) Mapo Oil Depot in Mapo-gu (this magical industrial site covering 100,000 sqm in Seongsan-dong will become a Cultural Depot Park)


    • 6) Hangang-Nodeulseom in Dongjak-gu: at last an end to the drama? this part of the riverside and Nodeul Island have seen so many projects pass by, including with Jean Nouvel...
    • 7) Namsan Cablecar area in Jung-gu / Yongsan-gu - not far from the cult Hoehyeon Apartment (see "Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt...")
    • 8) Danginri cultural project in Mapo-gu (the Danginri Power Station becomes a park and a cultural space, and Sangsu-Hapjeong has already been colonized by Hongdae refugees fleeing rent hikes)
    • 9) Nagwon Sangga - Donhwamun-ro in Jongno-gu: we last mentioned the case of Donhwamun-ro in an October focus, and Nagwon Sangga remains a crux between the Insadong-Anguk-Donhwamun-Tapgol clusters. Over the past decade, the time capsule has shrunk to the underground market, but I love that small guitar shop at the feet of the concrete giant:




twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/572932036878454785


  • Old residential zones:
     
    • 16) Seonggwak Maeul (Fortress Village) in Seongbuk-gu: the idea is to preserve and maintain this special Seoul village by the fortress walls. Does it mean that the maeul bus won't be anymore the only coach touring this charming ring on the top of a hill overlooking the valley? Seonggwak Maeul has already become more touristic lately, but in the first place, it was not very animated, with quite a few NIMBY-ish residences.


    • 17) Baeksa Village in Nowon-gu - an all time fave, and a perfect spot for Seoul's favorite marmot (see "Over the moon")
    • 18) Haebangchon in Yongsan-gu: as if HBC's bobo-ization needed a boost from the city...
    • 19) Amsa-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Gangdong-gu: 635,000 sqm themed after history and prehistory
    • 20) Seongsu-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seongdong-gu: 211,000 sqm themed after the local industries (shoes, leather, printing...). Already a trendy spot. BTW time for a shout-out for the Place SAI team:
SAI Festival 2015 (March 20-22 in Seongsu): saifest.co.kr


    • 21) Sinchon-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seodaemun-gu: themed after the integration of university students and residents.
    • 22) Sangdo-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Dongjak-gu: 750,000 sqm themed after inter-generation love.
    • 23) Jangwi-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seongbuk-gu: 318,000 sqm themed after alleyway communities
    • 24) Settlements around Bukhansan in Dobong-gu: let's hope that won't spoil the quietest and cutest spots.
    • 25) Seochon in Jongno-gu: now almost completely gentrified, the neighborhood doesn't taste the same.
    • 26) Changsin-dong and Sungin-dong in Jongno-gu: on each side of Jibong-ro, two neighborhoods with a rich yet humble history (e.g. Changsin's sweatshops...). Seoul wants to make an example of their regeneration...
    • 27) Garibong-dong in Guro-gu: the first plans to redevelop the village date from 2003. A couple of years ago, 5 sections were defined for either destruction or rehabilitation, with a few landmarks for the Chinese community. Given security issues in the neighborhood, the multiplication of CCTV is a given, but hopefully, it seems that the focus is now on reviving street life through softer means.

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