Monday, December 26, 2011

thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (Korean) -- the final showdown (sort of) and overall thoughts

This article contains spoilers, but mostly opinions; proceed at your own risk.

꽃미남 라면가게 - Kkotminam Ramyeongage

Jung Il Woo as Cha Chi Soo
Lee Chung Ah as Yang Eun Bi
Lee Ki Woo as Choi Kang Hyuk
Park Min Woo as Kim Ba Wool
Jo Yoon Woo as Woo Hyun Woo

Kim Ye Won as Kang Dong Joo
Ho Soo as Yoon So Yi
Kim Il Joong as Coach Seo
Joo Hyun as Cha Ok Gyun (Daddy Cha)
Seo Bum Suk as Director Go (Daddy Cha's secretary)

On an entirely serious note, the last episode wrapped things up rather well, in my opinion.

Episode Sixteen brings a heartwarming atmosphere of holiday cheer amidst the lingering after effects of Chi Soo's Noble Idiocy from last episode. On top of that, Kang Dong Joo is preparing for her wedding (half-heartedly) and the resoluteness of Eun Bi's broken heart is beginning to take a toll on the boys of the Ramyun Shop. At the Chasung Palace, Daddy Cha laments over Chi Soo's depressed behavior as his faithful secretary comments that this was exactly what "Madame" did every day and every night before she left them. (I think perchance Chi Soo isn't so much caviar as he is, maybe abalone or king crab, which can be eaten with rice or ramyun just fine.)

Outside of actully recapping the entire episode with random thoughts about particular scenes, I'm not sure how best to go about this particular article. And since girlfriday has already done a stellar recap of the last episode over at Dramabeans (much better than I could ever do), I'm opting for a more chaotic and scattered formula for this post. I've taken notes of particular scenes that have piqued my interest and will simply comment on them. And so the rest of this article about the last episode might seem a little bumpy, but that's how I'm rolling for it this time around.

Also, beware mass screen capping. I give my apologies now, but you've been warned.

First of all, I fairly like the opening of the last episode with a Holiday cheer atmosphere, which immediately pans to our boys laughing hysterically at some sort of black and white Christmas(?) movie. It gives us a bit of a calm lull before the storm starts to hit in the ensuing rest of the episode. It also coincides nicely with our Christmastime viewing experience. On that note, Merry Christmas to all in this online community! This post had been meant for publishing a day earlier, but unfortunately, real life priorities will always come up first.

My next comment is on the parallelism symbolizing the "fated to be" relationship between Chi Soo and Eun Bi. This is what I've come to conclude about it: For a series that is chock full of symbolism at every turn, analogies of the most unpredictable kind, as well as a phantom premise based on the ideas of "Fated" and the like hovering in the background as shadows ("bells ringing when you're with your true love") this parallelism doesn't really bother me as much as it would have in another romance story line. For another series, this type of parallel symbolism would have actually been kind of tacky. I feel this way only because I'm guilty of doing the exact same things whenever I've tried writing my own rom-com: I always try really hard to throw out dormant, yet blatantly obvious reasons why our main couple is "meant to be together." From every action and reaction to having the two always being at the right place at the right time or doing the exact same thing at the exact same time even in two different places... This is how I've come to see my own writing of a romantically linked pair -- "god-given" justification for why they were meant to be together.

And the parallelism in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop that has been occurring between Chi Soo and Eun Bi (in this last episode and in other prior episodes) have given me this type of insight. However, the truly gratifying part of all of this symbolism in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is that, depite all those idealistic hints in the background, we still take the dealings of Fate and throw them all out the window. The idea is there, but our characters don't resign themselves to it. From the moment that Chi Soo first steps out of his caviar bubble to try being ramyun, I realized that the so called "fate" that everyone keeps going on about wasn't going to be the problem. And to top it off, Eun Bi's final decision on her love life is a direct attack on who everyone (herself included) thinks she should be together with: Why does she choose Chi Soo? Because she loves him and it's as simple as that and no other reasons (Fate included) need to be her deciding factor. She just knows that she can't seem to be happy without him.

This also brings me to the ending rescue sequence that totally reverses everything known for being a static convention in rom-coms. While our Prince "Chapunzel" (as coined by girlfriday with me hooting in laughter upon reading the name) resigns himself to a more mature stance of noble sacrifice in order to save the Ramyun Shop, Eun Bi finally decides to take fate into her own hands and goes to find him. And I like that she has finally realized her own desires and has chosen to go and retrieve her lost love rather than be resigned to stick by what she had believed to be the fate of her and Chi Soo's relationship.

Now, is it strange that I found Eun Bi's outburst from the bathroom after a bout of constipation, declaring the un-okay-ness of Chi Soo's sacrifice in her angry tone, plunger in hand, looking like she's about to fight the world, kind of touching? I was really clapping and cheering and all sorts of satisfied that the duration of depression and Noble Idiocy lasted all of ten to twenty minutes before someone decided to take things into their own hands. And then the rescue scene wherein Eun Bi rushes to Chasung (plunger still in hand like a battle sword) was totally hilarious, especially when she started to accumulate followers starting with Ba Wool and Hyun Woo who chase her from the Ramyun Shop, then Chi Soo's posse who decide to join in, and finally the neighborhood ahjummas who are reveling at how Eun Bi has more Flower Boys following her around.

Then at Chasung, the dream sequence rescue rears its ugly head -- Eun Bi climbing a set of stairs to get to Chi Soo ends up tripping over her dress, which flashes her to the dream she'd had in the beginning of Episode Fifteen. Except in that particular case, she felt helpless as she was taken away by the palace soldiers and Chi Soo watched on, completely useless as he didn't want to "wrinkle his clothes". In reality, however, Eun Bi chooses not to resign herself to that kind of fate; the dream didn't have to happen in real life too and so she rips her dress into a shorter length, throws it and her shawl at the pursuing Chasung security staff and continues on.

What really took the cake for me was when Eun Bi confidently announced that she would gladly take responsibility for Chi Soo (a total role reversal if there ever was one). She would continue to date Chi Soo at the risk of Daddy Cha bull-dozing the Ramyun Shop as well as kicking his son out onto the streets without a dime to his name. Eun Bi's response (as taken from the Drama Fever translations): "His bare body, I'll live very well with it." This was in response to Daddy Cha's confirmation that he would strip Chi Soo bare and penniless if Chi Soo chose to leave Chasung and be together with Eun Bi. While the translation at Dramabeans makes a lot more sense in that Eun Bi declares that she will "take Chi Soo's broke ass and support him", I found that I kind of liked the more hilarious (and suggestive sounding) translation from Drama Fever, if only because it was funnier and more "rawr"-worthy. I'm strange like that, I know.

Eun Bi attacking her ex-boyfriend in the face with her used plunger was also a nice little detail that I don't think felt too extra. And I agree with girlfriday that it was hilarious how he was brought back for a mere millisecond just so we could see that moment of satisfaction -- I'd always wondered what happened to him after that entire music store debacle and whether or not he'd make another appearance. I'm totally happy with this short fix of violence (disgusting as it was).

What I'm really hooting about is that entire role reversal though, because for the past couple episodes, I've been in a bit of a fit over Eun Bi's passiveness in the entire love line. She has been rather dormant and easily pushed around, not once taking any action on her own to get what she wants. She'd been spending a lot more time just over-analyzing the entire situation, only to come up with a bag full of "what ifs" which always end up leaving her in a rather poor state. But this last episode really reaffirmed my respect for her kick ass personality that should have surfaced a long time ago. And so I loved that Eun Bi is the one running to take Chi Soo away from his caviar prison, and I love how Eun Bi openly declares that she will take care of Chi Soo (I guess as the older and questionably more experienced party in this couple), and I love how she charges in and grabs Chi Soo by the wrist and drags him out of his castle. And then I also love that she is the one to initiate the "happily ever after official couple kiss" that conclusively stamps Cha Chi Soo and Yang Eun Bi as official lovers.

For once in a rom-com, the man isn't the one who fixes all the problems for the couple to get back together. For once in a rom-com, the girl is the one who initiates all the dragging, declarations of love and responsibility, and kisses. It's only unfortunate that this is the only episode wherein all this role reversal awesomeness happens. And it's also not such a bonus that Eun Bi did get some help from her Pillar Husband in order to move forward to retrieve her Prince (though it was a bonus on Kang Hyuk's part).

There are just too many more swoon-worthy scenes in this last episode that ended up getting me excited and giddy, but if I chose to mention them all, I might go on forever and I still need to do an official wrap up of my opinions (unless I separate and make a whole different post for those, which MIGHT actually happen considering how much I've rambled on already). I might as well have just recapped the whole darn thing.

And so I'll mention a few other items and try to be brief about them:

Firstly, Chi Soo's maturity was very much welcomed. When he recited the same words that Eun Bi had said (reflecting from the very first episode) about how you cannot change love, I thought it was a very meaningful circular conclusion to his growth. At the same time, even after the time skip was employed, I'm also glad that some things still didn't change for Chi Soo: when he ends up enlisting into the army, he chooses to be stationed somewhere else (not with his usual posse whom all also enlisted with him) because he'd get to keep his hair the way it is. Chi Soo's vanity is one to be reckoned with, but I don't blame him.

Next, Kang Hyuk's presence has been one in which I feel love and sadness towards. There is very little noted about Kang Hyuk in this last episode, but each of his scenes shows his true form as the caring and loving, good man that he's always been. From urging Eun Bi to look into her heart, to helping her out of the mass crowd of protesters at Chasung and equiping her with running shoes so she could better save her Princess "Chapunzel" (girlfriday I am STILL chuckling about that coined nickname for our Chi Soo), and finally walking away with the grace of a hero and a lonely wanderer, but leaving with that adorable, teasing pettiness of:
"While you and Chi Soo are living in bliss, I am sure I will drown my sorrow in booze, and with the help of many other women... I'm sure I'll slowly mend my loneliness as I pass along as the bad guy... While I go on cursing you."

He's so cute and he's so great and he's still always thinking about Eun Bi first. And much like Eun Bi, there's really no way to describe what I really want to say to him or about him. I DO want to include that, when he started laying down to take a nap in the middle of Chasung, even though it was his strategy to trip pursuing security staff, I found that I had missed seeing his lazy, always sleeping moments from earlier episodes. Despite being in love with Chi Soo the entire way through, there's a special place in my heart for Kang Hyuk that doesn't even do justice for his greatness; but it's there and makes me remember him as the dear Pillar Husband who always looked out for everyone else except himself.

And then finally, a comment on side supporting characters I have neglected to talk about since I started blogging about Flower Boy Ramyun Shop. Kang Dong Joo (Eun Bi's best friend) and their old volley ball coach (whom I only know as Coach) have been weaving their own side story in and out of the main love line for a while now. While I have made little mention about them, I will comment that I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing that our little makeshift family, the little love triangle as well as the entire conflict about "caviar vs rice" still has room for a smooth transitioning into the lives of our supporting characters, even if very briefly. Ba Wool and Yoon So Yi's love line has been an ongoing comedic flair, but when Dong Joo and Coach began exhibiting signs of romantic connection, it was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. And it was rather interesting to see between the rest of the chaos.

I have to say though, for the few scattered instances of Coach and Dong Joo's side love line, it was rather deep and meaningful. And so when their love line came to a conclusion, I totally got giddy and hooty with excited laughter. When Coach shows up on the day of Dong Joo's wedding only to re-enact one of my most favorite scenes in one of my most favorite movies, Love, Actually, I almost died. And to top it off, even with some of the placards being questionable in romantic aspects ("But I know all the plastic surgery you had done five years ago" along with a picture of the chubbier Dong Joo during her high school volley ball years) the entire scene was just so sweet and so touching that I was OMG-ing like a teenage school girl and clutching my chest in an attempt not to fall over.

Can I say that this was probably the BEST EVER conclusion to a supporting couple side romance? I LOVED IT!

As I already said, there were just so many aspects in this one last episode that I just enjoyed to death. But to keep going on would just require me to copy and paste girlfriday's recap and just put in my own personal comments at each scene she talks about.

In all honesty, this has been one of the few more perfect, more complete endings I've experienced in K-drama since I've first started watching them about five months ago. The only other one was from My Lovely Sam Soon -- the only difference is that Flower Boy Ramyun Shop's ending for the main couple was slightly more finite than the one presented in Sam Soon. However, both had their own charms and despite the "I wish this series could go on forever and ever" mentality that I typically get, I'm fairly content with the ending for Ramyun Shop.

On a side detour about the employed standard time skip device, I don't think it really bothered me as much as other time skips have done in the passed. In fact, I really don't like time skips, because they're always a means for a series to find a way to wrap up the ending which always turns out pretty awkward. The time skip usually happens because we want to separate the couple for whatever reason, which typically isn't the best one in rom-coms. However, in Ramyun Shop's case, the time skip didn't feel forced at all. Using the army as a means to separate the couple for two years which will give Chi Soo the chance to grow into a less squicky age (in order to calm the masses of controversy in viewership) and hopefully a more matured young man was a pretty good ploy. Enlisting in the army is a requirement in Korea for young men and it's not like it was a forced reason that could have been resolved with a little more tact and communication (unlike the Noble Idiot break up of a man who doesn't want his girlfriend to stay in Korea and miss out on an opportunity to become famous because he needs to have wrist surgery). While the age gap hasn't really been an issue for me (I mean, no matter what, there will always be a six year gap between the two), this time skip army enlistment worked to satsify squickiness of viewership.

Also, I think it might have been a means for Daddy Cha to utilize his last strike of punishment for disobedience -- and to tell Chi Soo that even if the boy chooses to leave Chasung, they are indeed still father and son and this is something that, as his guardian, Daddy Cha can exert power over. It's like a "Fine, you can have your own way in your love life, but you are still my son and so I'm at least going to do something still within my power to lay down my authority and to tell you that I'm still upset with you." And so Chi Soo's American citizenship is forfeit and now he's off to army training. Petty as this may be (if this is indeed Daddy Cha's mind set) I think it works and remains in true character to the series.

So... Time skip and then closing voice over as well as final, standard rom-com reunion... it all falls into place pretty neatly.

I DO appreciate that while we see a "happy couple getting together in the end" conclusion, the rest of the supporting characters, side stories, etc., are fairly open-ended. Daddy Cha may still be his typical misguided, piteous, weak-willed, lonely man who's actions all story long were propelled by that bad experience he had with his love for Chi Soo's mother. If he had suddenly grown happy and understanding, it would have seemed forced. In the end, he's still the big ol' softy of a father who dotes on his only child, treating him like diamonds and fragile glass statues.

Ba Wool's relationship with Yoon So Yi was still in a rocky spot wherein she continues to drag him along while she goes on dates with those "an oppa I know" casual boyfriends; you want him to either give up on her or do SOMETHING to change his course. But the fact is, this time around isn't the Kim Ba Wool and Yoon So Yi love story, and Ba Wool is the one who chooses to continue seeing Yoon So Yi despite knowing that she's seeing other men. This relationship could go in all sorts of directions, and a simple forced kiss is still not the conclusion for them. The open endedness of it was actually rather satisfying. Ba Wool still has a long road to go if he continues to be stuck on Yoon So Yi (whom I've long ago grown out of that hate/hate impression for and am just biding my time for her own maturity to kick in because I just don't really get her and I'm tired of trying to analyze her). If Ba Wool had been given a happily ever after, whether with Yoon So Yi or a newly employed love interested, then we would have fallen into that dreaded "Couple Curtain Call" that I hate so much and the series would have been awkward... and tacky.

And then there was the Hyun Woo and his own possible start of a Chi Soo/Eun Bi restroom meeting, in reversal -- a potential new love line that doesn't need to be elaborated on, but with all sorts of possible hijinks to ensue in an imaginary new story line that we don't ever have to see to be content with.

On another side note, I really do like that Ba Wool and Hyun Woo have grown a very simple bromance relationship with each other. Where Ba Wool started off being annoyed with Hyun Woo, it's nice that the two of them ended up being close (even if Ba Wool won't admit it) and that by the end of the series, they're still working with each other even though the Ramyun Shop is no more. This is one of the many wonders of the Ramyun Shop bringing two complete strangers together, who probably would have never even bothered to acknowledge each other in any other setting.

Finally, I know that a lot of people are really distressed over the conclusion that Kang Hyuk ended up with. I feel bad for him too and throughout this last episode, I really kept wishing to the gods that, maybe we can overlook societal taboos and maybe Eun Bi could just be with BOTH men? I know that's a really bad desire, and for the first time ever I'm actually condoning a two-timing relationship, but still... when you've seen all that Choi Kang Hyuk has done for his Wifey and you've seen how even SHE has no idea what can be said or done for Kang Hyuk to make things better... I just really, really want something significant for him.

I want our Pillar-ssi to be happy too and watching him walk away from that Ramyun Shop with welled up tears in his eyes was heartbreaking.

However, I'm actually kind of glad that we didn't get a complete "Couple Curtain Call" just for his sake. I want Kang Hyuk to have a romance of his own, maybe sometime down the line in his life; now is NOT the time for it to happen, though. To me, the idea of making Kang Hyuk find another someone to love at the end of this series would have been tactless and too rom-com standard for me to have enjoyed it. It would have also terminated any possibility of an open-ended conclusion to this particular side story, which cuts off all possibilities that Kang Hyuk may get his own story in the future (even if a sequel would also be kind of forced). Over all, however, I DO like that Kang Hyuk's ties to the story line ended up being so much more than just a love line with Eun Bi. He was also connected to a little brother, the Ramyun Shop, as well as the two little Flower Boys he took in to work for him. His presence isn't limited fully for the sake of Yang Eun Bi and her romances and he also helped Chi Soo with his growth as well.

The ending to a romance story line doesn't necessarily always mean that EVERYONE must find a significant other within the allotted time that the story line takes place. Love isn't the only thing to life. While Flower Boy Ramyun Shop was set in a more comedic, almost comic book like fashion, the conclusion was more realistic than a complete wrap up of happy endings. And so rather than being a romantic comedy as its only calling card, Ramyun Shop also gave to us a journey of growth by both Cha Chi Soo as well as Yang Eun Bi. Chi Soo learns to mature and become a human being worthy of others' love and care when he learns to love and care about others. Eun Bi learns to accept herself as who she really is without trying hard to fit in with the norm -- Yang Eun Bi is Yang Eun Bi, and despite the fact that she's returned to the respective societal norm of taking the civil service exams again, she has found herself as Yang Eun Bi.

Finally, the Ramyun Shop's closing was a sad one. I really DID hope that the makeshift family could have remained together forever. I really wanted Daddy Cha to withdraw his redevelopment plans and save the little building. I wanted Kang Hyuk to continue running the Ramyun Shop with the boys and Eun Bi. It would have been a Fairy Tale happy ending and it would have satsified the masses; because the Ramyun Shop has become a significant place in everyone's hearts.

Am I sad that it had to close down? Yes. But is it something that I can accept? Yes. Because as much as I loved what the Ramyun Shop represented for our little Flower Boy family and Eun Bi, its closing was in tune with the rest of the series' conclusions. The Ramyun Shop, became a certain special time and place for the five people who worked there and will always remain as a beautiful memory. The Ramyun Shop brought everyone together to share special moments; but even with the Ramyun Shop gone, life still goes on. Maybe viewers would have been happier with a Ramyun Shop success ending scene -- but that would have been forced and a an ex deux machina ending. Chasung isn't going to withdraw redevelopment plans that have always been in action just for a moment of love for his son; that would be unrealistic.

Was I satisfied with the ending? Yes. Was it a good one? Definitely. Was it the best? I don't know if I could answer that. Simply put, the wrap up for this series did NOT leave me unsatisfied and it did NOT leave me wondering or yearning for anything that was untouched. Instead, despite its finite-ness, there is still the possibility of a renewal or a follow-up. Would I do something like that to Flower Bow Ramyun Shop? Probably not -- again, it might end up being too much and too dragged out. But would I pass up any chances to see some more love-dovey, chaotically comical sweetness between Chi Soo and Eun Bi? That totally wouldn't bother me. Do I want to know how Ba Wool dumps Yoon So Yi and finally finds himself a girl to care about him enough to only see him? Of course. Do I want to witness Hyun Woo's newly blossoming possible love line? Yea. And as for Kang Hyuk, what about his own love story? Honestly, does he really need one? I wouldn't refuse it, but at the moment, it would be too much, plain and simple. More fininte conclusions for everyone would have been nice; but it would really have been too much and too dragged.

As a whole, this series and this story is done.

And you know, I really, really loved it. Every conclusion fell into place almost too perfectly. And when I say almost too perfectly, I'm not using a sardonic tone; I'm totally sincere. I don't think I would have changed anything.

The series overall was like crack-tastic fun. But I don't need to say that too many times. I've doted and swooned and riled and I've gone on and on and on about Flower Boy Ramyun Shop so much that I'm starting to wonder when I'll tire myself out. Of a lot of drama series I've seen in a long time, this has been one of the better and best ones and with such a satisfying ending (although I know a lot of netizens would beg to differ) to me this was probably the best series I've seen all year (or within the five month time span I've been watching K-drama).

I know that I'm still a K-drama newbie, but I'm not a story book or rom-com newbie. I know what I like and I know that my own opinions and standards and values differ immensely from a lot of other people. I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that when Flower Boy Ramyun Shop first started broadcasting, I wasn't even going to look at it twice. And then when I finally started watching it out of curiosity, I thought it was good fun, but that was about it -- and since it was fun enough, I chose to continue watching it. And even as the series progressed into mid-series, I honestly didn't hold much love for Cha Chi Soo's arrogant, spoiled brat lifestyle and his less than insightful non-compassion for other human beings. And I really DIDN'T care for Choi Kang Hyuk either -- the creepy vibes were up because of his claim on Eun Bi and the house, living with her without her knowledge. It got me wondering which one of these guys would actually be decent enough for boyfriend material: the lazy stranger who shows up most awkwardly, or the asshole of a second generation chaebol who can't seem to stop making life hell for everyone around him.

And so it's kind of a wonder to me that this series ended up sticking to me, growing on me, reeling me in to its deepest recesses and then finally just becoming an addictive drug I couldn't stop coming back to. I'm not even sure when I started loving Ramyun Shop so much, but it happened.

Ultimately, I think what drew me to the chaotic mess that was Flower Boy Ramyun shop had to do mainly with its refreshing non-standard navigation through standard plot devices. As I've stated before, I like that the entire series rushes by in a zippy way, introducing one story arc and resolving it almost immediately. I like how common cliches are employed to help the story line progress, but a fairly unpredictable twist is set in to give Ramyun Shop's story line its own individual sense of style. I especially love the series' sense of attention to detail; sometimes viewers notice the strangest little things that may not have anything to do with plot progression, but adds onto the setting and the atmosphere of particular scenes. It shows that the writer and the production staff might have been thinking about the direction of this series on the viewers' side of the screen and asking themselves what little details and what random questions will a random viewer come up with or notice.

For instance, Ba Wool's Miss Teddy Bear new girlfriend having her own little bottle of yogurt while he partakes in some lamenting about Yoon So Yi on the other side of the table. There was also the Coke shot scene wherein Eun Bi pours Ba Wool shots of Coca Cola for him to drown his sorrows in as a replacement for soju (which I assume is a no-no for nineteen year old high school students in Korea?); it parallels the past when Eun Bi's father poured her milk shots to teach her how to make those satisfying "soju facial expressions" that female leads like to make in almost every rom-com. And then there's the ongoing Pororo protective blanket that Chi Soo has grown attached to, which ends up worming its way back into the last episode upon Chi Soo's dip into depression because of his Noble Idiocy. Even at the end when Chi Soo goes to reunite with Eun Bi, he claims that because he's "Chwa" he can't be coming out to see her in a tacky army uniform; it's so in character with Chi Soo's personality despite his matured growth.

The little details of Ramyun Shop are just so finely tuned that I can't help smirking every time I notice something that otherwise could have been missed.

Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, from its quirky characters to its use of strange analogies and symbolism, leading into a very finely presented emotional center, made for one of the better romantic comedies, maybe even one of the best, that I have been exposed to in a long time (or maybe ever). With great acting, story telling and direction, the only setback of Ramyun Shop (as I will be repeating in a later post) is that in order to love it, you really HAVE to be drawn into its comically created, over-the-top world. And once you're in, there's absolutely no turning back.


Related articles:
first impression: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop
thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop -- mid-series
thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop -- episodes 9 and 10
thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop -- shipper status update
thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop -- the end is near
thoughts: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop -- finale on the horizon


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