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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Chiang Mai to Malaysia

THAILAND | Tuesday, 14 October 2008 | Views [1507]

Sun 5th Oct – Wanted to take it easy today and catch up with friends before heading off south tomorrow. One of the contacts I had made here was a lady who had spent four years or so setting up a dance school to teach ballroom, salsa, swing and anything else in an attempt to see what would work. Mainly set up because her passion was for dance and there was nothing here to satisfy her needs, so had to do it herself and set something up. Managed to get together for a lovely meal and chat in the afternoon. Having relocated to a number of parts of the asian continent in an attempt to forge a life, the ability to dance has become the crux of the quality of life. I am missing my dancing too in a deep and frustrating way, and feel it is one of those passions and abilities that will just fade away if I don’t get to indulge sometime soon. Here there doesn’t seem to be anything available and what there is, is a struggle to maintain. Turns out that getting the thai people involved in any form of dance is more difficult than can be imagined. The main problems being the way the thai people think as well as the way they move…or don’t to be more precise. Firstly, and most importantly, they do not like physical contact…something essential for most of the forms of dancing that we are interested in. They seem to go into panic mode when asked to hold or touch each other! I later learnt from another friend of mine that the problem is that thai people are possessive. A woman will not let her partner dance with another woman, fearing that he will run off with her. Similarly, a man will not be happy with his partner being touched by anyone else. They cannot be relaxed about this. So, the only people that would be interested in dancing are couples to dance together and with nobody else, or single people who are afraid to touch each other….not a good environment to establish a lasting dance school environment! The other thing is that farangs are almost never accepted into thai society, no matter how long you live here. You will most probably be excluded from their social circles. It does depend I guess on your attitude towards them, and my findings are slightly different to a point. Many girls will want farangs around, if not for friendship, then to pay the bill! I am sure that not all are as mercenary about this, but finding those that will truly integrate isn’t as easy as it seems on the surface.

Something I am finding out bit by bit, is that the surface appearance of some thai people, that is the smiles, the wai’ing when you meet and the apparent friendliness…can soon turn into aggression when things aren’t exactly what they want. There can be a sudden switch to venom! Many of the principles admonished by Buddhism…greed, possessiveness, lack of honesty, removal of the ‘ego’, etc are not upheld by many thai people, although they will claim to be true Buddhists. This seems to be fly in the face of appearance and the gentleness of their attitude. Within, many are very self-centered. I will add a weighting factor to this comment…I suppose that many of the people I have met in Chiang mai are moulded by their environment. Many are struggling to eke out a living here and desperate to make money in whatever way they can, and other people are a means of their survival. Friends steal from friends and can soon fall out of friends when greed of one form or another comes into the equation.

I had a lovely afternoon, spent with a very elegant and refined lady.

 

Afterwards met up with my friend Kan for the evening and went to the Garden café to listen to blues music over a drink. Kan has been lovely friend to me whilst I have been here, and I will be sad to leave her so soon. This is one of those issues with travel and the friendships you make along the way, when it comes to time to move on. Hopefully I will be back, so relaxed about it this time. I know that we all have the intention to stay in touch, but the practicalities of distance and communications make it more difficult to maintain a friendship whilst travelling.

Finished off the night with a final farewell drink at a bar I am a regular at. Learnt about a forthcoming festival in November where the sky is filled with balloons and flowers are floated on the river…supposed to be very romantic time of year to be here…if you are with the right person of course! Despite wanting to go to bed early tonight….i made it at 2am... So that plan didn’t work. It is almost impossible to go to bed early here, unless you avoid socializing with people.

 

Mon 6th Oct – After a nice breakfast at the Leprachaun restaurant I went to check up my travel plan at the agent. I had received a text from Victoria about a scam down in Surat Thani, where I am going to on my way to Ko Samui. They apparently ask for extra money to cover the last minibus section, and get a bit stroppy when you refuse, when you know you have paid an all inclusive fare through to your destination. I was assured by the agent that mine was all inclusive, so will keep my fingers crossed for no troubles.

The morning seemed to fly by and it soon came around to leaving time. I have enjoyed the past few weeks break from travelling. I have been out every night until late and met some lovely ladies who were nice company and hopefully friends for a long time. Made many contacts which provided lots of answers regarding a possible life here. As to the conclusion to whether I could make a life here? Yes it is certainly possible and there is a fair amount of infrastructure available, both in the city and also the surrounding area. The main question is more the social side of things. Most people here are expats and retired. Those that aren’t, are harder to find, and also don’t frequent the abundant expat communities or hangouts, wishing to distance themselves from that side of the city. Life could be cheap here, as long as it isn’t spent in the bars every night, where money can evaporate before your very eyes, and blow the most modest of budgets. So, life away from the bustling side of the city and isolated from the expat folk could be a bit of a social vacuum if not organized to be full of replacement activities. The dancing looks to be possible but with many issues in developing the right combination of people in the right place at the right time. One large hotel is importing a dance floor and will be holding ‘tea’ dances…not ready for that yet as I am at least 20 years too young! There might be other opportunities though. Having a partner here would be a major difference though, and there are certainly many available if one gets past the shallow people and finds someone with more depth to their character. So, It is sad as usual to be moving on, but  fortunately, I suspect I will be coming back some time, just don't know when at the moment.

 

Picked up a sawngthaew to the train station driven by the infamous Pon. the fastest lady driver in town! That lady is crazy, but safe….to a point! You are warned to hang on tightly as she whizzes along, telling you that she has had passengers fall out! The estimated 20 minutes to get there, went by in 10 minutes! Whoosh....

I was to board train number 52, destination Bangkok, which as usual left exactly on time at 14:50. I was hoping to have some company along the way and was pleased when a very talkative english speaking chinese girl came and sat opposite. Problem was that she had boarded the wrong carriage and the ticket inspectors soon moved her out. Now that would have been nice. Instead, I had an octagenarian thai lady who spoke no English opposite. Oh well, lucky I have things to occupy my time...

I had downloaded a 'Let's Speak Thai' course complete with video to my iPod for the journey....on I go... mai pen rai Khawp Kun Khrap!

It was nice later when the Chinese girl came back for a chat and coincided with meal service coming around. She worked for a shipping company in china as a translator, so spoke excellent english and was fun. A nice offering of rice with spiced mince and fried egg for 40 baht. Not long afterwards, the train staff came around to make up the beds. Seemed early at 6:30pm, but it was dark by that time. I find the top sleeper on these trains slightly better for comfort than the bottom, although the lower is 100 Baht more. Still don't sleep even with earplugs in. It isn't the noise so much, but the jump as the train bounces over every joint in the track. I also had one of the noisiest ceiling fans buzzing away all night, which was annoying.

 

Tue 7th Oct – Arrived at Bangkok at 6am. Half an hour after the estimated time. Got all day to make use of as my next train is at 17:35 down to Surat Thani. Didn't get much sleep last night and this is when I question the reason for taking trains all the way south instead of flying. Hadn't checked on the cost, but recollect that I could have flown from Chiang Mai direct to Phuket. If I had, I would have gone somewhere other than Ko Samui. Too late now anyway. A quick snack at the coffee shop on the verandah whilst I decide what to do for the day. It is amusing to look out on the large area of bodies below in various states of restlessness and sleep whilst they wait for their trains or have just arrived like I have. You can tell the backpackers from above....they are the sea of dreadlocks who have probably just been staying in the Khao San road area! At least here the atmosphere is calm. The usual group of helpers greet arrivals to see if you need any help...I like that.

Dropped my backpack into the 'Left Luggage' store (70 Baht per item) and headed out. Got a motorcycle taxi to take me to Wat Saket, otherwise known as the 'Golden Mount - Phukhao Thong'. It is the highest temple in the city and has a grand view to all sides accessed by concrete steps that spiral their way to the top. Well, I say 'Grand View'... Bangkok during the day isn't the prettiest of sights from here. In many areas it looks better from street level with the ornate wats. From here a majority of what you see are the roofs of the shanty houses intermingled with the beauty of such places as the Grand Palace in the distance. A haze was handing in the air today, a sign of a bad day for smog.

Back down to ground level and down a road that was packed from one end to the other with door makers. A beautiful smell of wood as I passed some very fancy doors waiting to be finished off. A stop off for a snack and got talking to a foreigner, who had been sent home from his work at the United Nations building around the corner due to protests causing trouble, and told not to return until they cleared. The protests continue about the re-patriation of ex prime minister Taksin to answer for his alleged crimes of fraud. Had mentioned this the last time I was here. The saga goes on and will likely continue for a long time to come. I later caught a glimpse of the news and a newspaper, showing thr degree of the riots I had been so close to. It seems to flare up a lot at present and it is a shame for it to get to this stage.

During the conversation I learnt that the guy was looking to start salsa lessons as he wanted the social contact. Amazing coincidence really. Bangkok is more cosmopolitan and hence full of english speaking thai girls as well as foreigners wanting to have a social life, many wanting to learn to dance to enhance their chance of meet foreigners. Will have to check that out more on my next visit. I had done some earlier research on this and found salsa popular, but not sure about other dance forms?

Decided to head east by water taxi for a change. Happened to be next to the 'Phanfah Leelas bridge' pier, so jumped on a boat for 12 baht towardsPratunam pier. The water in these side canals / Khlongs... This one being the San Sap khlong, is disgustingly filthy...you would not want to swallow any of it. There are tarpaulins shrouding the sides of the boats as they hurtle along, to stop the water from getting on the passengers.

Off the boat and south on Ratchadamri road to the rather oddly located Erewan Shrine. It site at the junction of the overly busy Ploenchit and Ratchadamri roads and is there because the Erewan deprtment store had to build it as part of the planning permission for getting their store. An attractively mosaiced shrine with hoardes of buddhist pilgrims praying, with the accompaniment of a group of traditionally dressed dancers and music. A cocophony of sound with the overpowering sound of the traffic adjacent, and equally overpowering traffic fumes competing with the intoxicating aromas of the incense sticks burning in high volumes. It seemed an incongruous combination, but teams of office workers obviously came here for their daily worship. At the entrance of the shrine compound, the ubiquitous sellers with cages housing finches or sparrows for the pilgrims to free their spirits...all part of the extremes of Bangkok!

Further south on foot to my favourite place to escape in Bangkok, the lovely Lumphini park. Spent an hour or so taking in the sounds of the water features on the main lake whilst watching old folk performing tai chi, parents and couples sailing duck pedaloes around the lake and people exercising. A cycling club must have done in excess of 50 laps of the park whilst I was there and still going strong.

Thought I would go via what is one of the more seedy parts of Bangkok to see what it looked like in daylight, the infamous Patpong. Dead is what it looked like! With the shutters down, no lighting and the streetsweepers out in force, it gave off an altogether different atmosphere than it's night time image. It was a surprise to still be approached by people trying to entice into live girlie shows, when the place resembled a derelict shanty town on a movie set! At mid day the skies opened up and the ensuing downpour was do heavy I had to aim for cover. Luck had it that I was hungry and so pulled into what looked to be a really nice restaurant, lovely garden setting, impeccable staff, nicely set-out tables and personal service...shame that the food was the worse I have had in a long time and the price was three times what I would have paid up north for the same dish. The moral here...looks can be deceiving!

Walked back to the railway station at Hua Lumphong via the long Rama IV road and a couple of wats with some people watching along the way.

Always amuses me when someone you don't know, usually a lady, sidles up whilst your walking and starts a seemingly friendly conversation. Where are you from?..how long are you in Bangkok?...where are you going?; I'm off to the railway station...why, she asked?....to catch a train..uh!..Do you have a ticket...yes...why, she asked?...because I need one to get on the train....why?...because I do...where are you going?....ko samui....why?...because I want to...why don't you go shopping, she asked....because I don't want to...why?...because I don't want to...I have a nice tailor shop.. I thought you would...why do you have a tailor shop I asked?....flumoxed look on the ladie's face....why don't you have a pet shop instead....even more flumoxed look on the ladie's face.... I wish you and your shop a happy future together...goodbye! Not an uncommon experience!

Back at the railway station and the residents of Thailand have taken up residence en-masse, or so it seems...bursting at the seems and bodies strewn everywhere dossing on the floor. There are some really beautiful women here...better than watching television or having inane conversations with desparate shop owners!

Train 173 departed 20 minutes little later than scheduled, which was a surprise...tut tut...upset the accuracy of the train record! Within 20 minutes of setting off and darkness had decended and unlike the train down to Bangkok, this one was full. Vendors soon appeared selling deep fried everything and rice cakes, another lady selling pure sugar in as many disguises as possible to make you sick, followed by a guy disappointed because I didn't want a beer from him. I changed my mind 2 seconds later and bought one from his mate...that's why he was disapointed!

This train was noisier than last night's. The ceiling fan that attempted to re-distribute the warm air had a bearing that was knackered, so made the worn out food-mixer noise all night. Could have ripped it from the ceiling and shoved its bearings where they couldn't rotate any more! Plus, why do they give you curtains that don't exclude any light, which stayed on all night...and flapped around too? I think overnight train travel on thai trains is fab...for insomniacs!

 

Wed 8th Oct – Arrived at Surat Thani at 5:40am...yawn! The scam I had heard about isn't really a scam. There are choices to get from here to various destinations...Phuket, Kho Samui, Kho Pha-Ngan operated by different companies. When you book a combined Train/Bus/boat ticket, you don't know what those choices are until you arrive here. For Kho Samui there are boats departing every 30 minutes from 7am and corresponding buses to get you there on time, as follows...

  • Bus dep 05:40 for 7am ferry arriving at KS at 08:15 operated by Ferry Express and cost 450 Baht.
  • Bus dep 06:30 for 8am ferry arriving at KS at 09:30 operated by Donsak Ferry and cost 450 Baht.
  • Bus dep 07:00 for 8:30am ferry arriving at KS at 11am operated by Songserm and cost 280 Baht.
  • Bus dep 07:30 for 10am ferry arriving at KS at 12am operated by Donsak Ferry and cost 280 Baht.

So, in other words...the less you hang around, the more it costs! My ticket had been booked with Phantip company and they were waiting with a sign board when my train pulled in. What I didn't know is that almost every café along the road paralleling the station were agents for Phantip and I had no idea who to talk to, other than the people who were waiting for me, and they were actually a restaurant. It doesn't seem to matter anyway as you still get where you need to go. Not that desperate for time, so relax and see daylight bring the place to life over a cup of tea. It is amusing to watch the flurry of activity when each train comes in, and each operator rushes to canvas for business from decending punters. They run along the platform trying to grabeaveryone they can. To think that they do this many times a day, every day, and have probably been doing the same for years, and their children follow on in their parents footsteps too...what a crazy life!

When it came around to time to move, it all falls into place as usual. The Phantip bus appeared, loaded up its passengers and set off at 7:30, heading for Surat Thani town and their head office, which was about 10km from the train station. There, my voucher was replaced by a ferry ticket aboard the 'Seatrans' ferry departing at 10am, which took another hour to reach. An amazing coincidence then happened. Whilst boarding the boat I spotted the chinese girl I had been chatting to on the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok..Small world isn't it!

The weather was gorgeous and it was good to see the sea again. Haven't seen the sea since Hong Kong a couple months ago. At the ferry terminal they hand out free brochures about Koh Samui, but as usual it would lead to believe that there isn't any budget accommodation here as only advertisers from the expensive places are included. The crossing took about 1 1/2 hours and was smooth all the way. Had decided to team up with the chinese girl Xiaowen, and go to Lamai beach area. Many beaches to choose from here, and with only a few days here, I wasn't bothered which one. Lamai isn't as busy as Chaweng. Sawngthaew are waiting along with taxis at the end of the pier, so not long to wait. 60 Baht to get to the other side of the island, whereas the taxi cost upto ten times that!

After checking out a few places in the budget category, ended up at the lovely New Leaf Resort with swimming pool and next to the beach. As dark fell, went for a stroll along the beach, which was quiet. One of the restaurants releases pretty lanterns at around 7pm, which drifted along in the clear night sky..lovely thing to do.

 

Thu 9th 9ct - Heavy rain for most of the morning which put a stop to doing any sightseeing, so had to just sit it out. Got talking to the owner of the restaurant , who had been married to an english guy for over 20 years, and very fluent and opinionated as a result. I always find it amusing to talk to people like that as they have a very down to earth attitude towards everything.

 The central area of Lamai is a girlie-bar area, with pole-dancing girls en-masse, and the inevitable touting for business as guys walk past, with the usual…hello, how are you, where are you from…every few metres. To get away from the noise of the main streets, I had an oil massage, which are also in great abundance and just what I needed.

 

Fri 10th Oct - Late up again. Torrential rain all morning again. Went to see the 'Grandfather & Grandmother' rocks in the afternoon, just south of Lamai beach area. More an excuse to go for a nice walk as hadn't been far due to the rain. The rocks are actually supposed to resemble certain parts of human anatomy, but I think they are desparate for tourist attractions and you have to use your imagination! What was nice was the cool 'Rock' restaurant on the beach that played some good reggae music. When it got dark the sky took on a weird look, with the clouds forming concentric bands around the moon and dotted with numerous stars. As a side note about the tourist attractions here; They are marked with a 'Tourist Attraction' sign by the access road, and one of the sights that we haven't had time to see is the 'Mummified Buddha'. A really funny attraction as the 'buddha' is wearing the usual orange robes plus black sunglasses! I wonder what other attractions someone will think off in the future? Will need to think of a few suggestions for them! Kangaroo riding for the australian expats. Donkey rides along the beach for the british expats...with a free kiss-me-quick hat!

One new thing here, that I didn't do in Chiang Mai either, but will do one day, is 'zorbing'....rolling down a hill in a clear plastic ball, either strapped in a harness, or free to splash around in water as it rolls free down a hillside..yippee...one of my must-dos one day. Not to be done on a full stomach or with a hangover!

 

Sat 11th Oct - Up early as being picked up at 6:45 for the trip to Phuket, which I booked yesterday (650baht) with Phantip travel. At the ferry port the passengers are sorted into destination coaches, Bangkok, Malaysian border at Hat Yai and Krabi/Phuket. The whole process was fairly efficient and we were on the ferry and had set sail at 8:30, arriving in Phuket old town at 3:30pm with a lunch stop along the way. The scenery along the way was good with the appearance of the expected karst peak landscape nearer towards Phuket. Very reminiscent of northern vietnam and parts of southern China. Had got talking to an isreali couple who were heading the same direction to Patong beach on the western coast, so shared a taxi across..approx 12km. There are shared sawngthaew, but they are almost as expensive, and the main buses go from a different location. Soon got the idea that Patong is a lively place, moreso than Bangkok and alikened to Pattaya. Found a great place to stay at the 'Yorkshire Inn' on soi Sansabai. Being extended to include a new restaurant, so part in disarray, but a superb place, including a nice swimming pool and sauna complex. Definitely recommended, and easy access to the nightlife.

The nightlife here is full-on, with hundreds of lively bars and restaurants and the expected overdose of stunning asian girls, plus the 'entertainers' out on the street promoting the later evening shows. Drag acts from the bars offering ladyboy shows and numerous venues competing with live music. The waterfront is hyperactive with some very pricy but high quality restaurants. I had seen an advert for the famous british chef Keith Floyd's restaurant at the Burasari hotel towards the south end of the beach, so decided on a treat. The past few days or so have been great to share with Xiaowen, so it was an extra special treat to go to such a nice place with her. We will be going separate ways tomorrow, so a nice finale. What was amusing was that, whilst we were having our meal, a couple at an adjacent table were complaining about the husband’s meal being tainted by the starter being too spicy, and so they wanted a discount on the meal price. The menu is fairly clear on the ingredients of all of the dishes, as would be expected of a top class restaurant, and so I think it was down to the couple being natural complainers. You know the sort…the sort who always find something to complain about as it makes them feel superior. Problem is that the staff have to bear the brunt of those people’s issues and they were doing such a nice job.  

 

Sun 12th Oct - Timing seems a bit erratic at the moment. Having spent time getting to Phuket and wanting to spend a couple of days here, I received a message from Victoria about a dive trip over in Ao Nang near to Krabi for tomorrow, and as Xiaowen had to go back to Bangkok for her flight home to Shenzhen, I decided to leave too. Crazy after not even one full day here, but I have seen what it is like and can arrange to come back another time for a longer period. The staff and service at the Yorkshire Inn are excellent and discount vouchers are provided for residents for food and drink. Had a good breakfast there...not a surprise, as it is run by Paul from Leeds in Yorkshire, so he knows exactly what food and service expats and travellers want.

Had to check out at noon, so went for short look at the beach, which is excellent, although very busy even now in the low season. I imagine it to be hell in the peak season! Jumped on a shared Sawngthaew which ply the route along the waterfront and back to the old town for a fixed 25 baht. Had to walk about 1km from the drop-off point to the main bus station. Old phuket is really quaint in architecture, although not a place that is a must-see. At the bus station, as soon as we walked in, the touts flocked towards us asking where we wanted to go and within seconds directed to the corresponding windows. Buses and minibuses go regularly to Krabi (hourly and half hourly at times) and chose the minibus for 126 baht taking 2 1/2 hours. Left about five minutes after I got to the bus station, so not much time to hang around and a rushed goodbye to Xiaowen. Another lady that I have had a lovely friendship with over the recent days and sad to say goodbye to L

The minibus was driven by an escaped lunatic on the run from something....I am sure that time-travel was possible in this vehicle! Arrived at Krabi bus station exactly 4pm and spotted the white sawngthaew for Ao Nang by the entrance, so that was easy. 60 Baht fixed price although I did try to haggle but it didn't work. Ao Nang is a quieter beach resort about 22km north west of Krabi with one main road following the beach and packed with accommodation and eating places. The view when you come onto the waterfront is superb. The waters are accented with many karst peaks and small boats bobbing around. I was to meet Victoria and her cousin Kim from Australia here for tomorrow's dive trip. Rooms aren't that cheap here, ended up paying 400 baht at the Blue Ba you on the waterfront in a quieter section.

After dinner at the Blue Ba You went to 'Hippie's' bar a short way along the front. A good live band and fun dancing, followed by a fire show with some really talented juggling and fire eating performers. I hadn’t danced in a while and so this was total burn-out, shedding a couple of pounds in sweat…yuk…but great fun.

 

 

Mon 13th Oct - Booked onto a dive trip today through ‘Dive Addicts’. 2,700 Baht all inclusive of equipment hire and lunch. A superb day’s trip with awesome corals and fish. The main highlights were seahorses, a few lionfish, potato groupers, moral eels, a sweet pregnant pipefish and some amazing sea-cucumbers. One of them was like a sticky mass of intestines twirling around in a ball about 10cm across, which came alive when prodded. The plate corals where fairly vibrant as the visibility was good today. There were also many lobsters and different kinds of shrimps, including the pretty dancing shrimp. At one point we were swimming in amongst a shoal of thousands of bright yellow striped fish that engulfed us. Fantastic! I always feel tired after diving so crashed out for a while in the afternoon. One thing that also happens, to me anyway, is that my fillings become noticeable for a while afterwards along with a clicking jaw. Fades away after a short time, so not a problem.

The evening was fun. Started with a nice meal on the water front. A nice thing that you see here in southern Thailand is sellers on the beaches with floating lanterns. For about 100 baht, you buy a long white lantern with a wax burner inside at the bottom. You set fire to it and when it heats up the air inside the lantern, it takes off and floats into the sky until it fades away. Kim had bought one of these plus some to take home for presents and let one off on the beach. It is a lovely thing to do and many couples do it as part of a romantic wish exchange.

After dinner, off to the Rock bar in town, where the audience can join in with the entertaining. Between us we got up many times for single and duet songs, with some good audience participation and dancing. It was funny at one point…we were singing away and the audience vanished, leaving just me and Kim on stage with Victoria as the sole audience. Surely the singing wasn’t that bad? It was only temporary and soon filled up again. As with most tourist areas in Thailand, Ao Nang has its girlie/ladyboy bar area, and the rock bar is in the middle of it, so surrounded by the stunning and the questionable…the ones who you really cannot tell externally whether they are female or male.

 

Tue 14th Oct – Decision time today on how to enter Malaysia tomorrow. A few options, starting overland and ending up either at Penang, Lankgawi or Kota Bharu. After a bit of research decided to head to Penang, an island west of Butterworth, which is available as a through ticket through tour companies, mainly by minibus, but with the final section to Penang by ferry. Cost 700 baht fully inclusive for the 9hour journey.

 

Wed 15th Oct – Collected from the Blue Ba You at 6:20am by minibus and a change of country. Malaysia here I come!

 

That’s it for now folks….

 

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