Rice Farmer in a Past Life?

Rice Farmer in a Past Life?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIs it possible that I was a Thai rice farmer in a past life? There is no way to know for sure. For some reason the sight of rice fields both delight and a remind me of something from long ago. I never tire of the verdant waves in their paddies: from the young pale green stalks, to the darker and taller plants, the whole growing season is gorgeous. Even when the rice is a hay-like colour at harvest time, it’s still absolutely beautiful.

Not only do I like to look at the rice, but planting it is also a joy. Stepping in the muddy water and feeling the squishy soil between my toes is remarkably soothing. It’s slippery, messy and fun.

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About two weeks ago at Panyaden School we planted rice for Mother’s Day (August 12 – the Queen’s birthday). It will be harvested on Father’s Day (December 5 – the King’s birthday).

The process involves taking a few stalks of rice seedlings and plugging them in the mushy mud. After a while with the sun beating down, stooping over, and being covered in mud could get very uncomfortable. As for me, our hour-long planting session wasn’t nearly enough time.

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Surprisingly, way up north in Chiang Mai far away from the sea, the rice paddies make homes for fish, frogs, and even crabs. We noticed fish and tadpoles swimming, and watched a few frogs jump to safety away from our feet.

There must be something about being muddy. I have always adored ceramics, and while in Colombia, the mud volcano topped the list of attractions of the senses.

Ahh, the visually captivating rice fields of Northern Thailand fill me with reverie. Planting rice feels so natural and a perfect way to be connected with the land, the people, and the culture. I’ll stay here with my daily doses of rice field views in the place that feels like home.

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Wrapping Up September

Wrapping Up September

September is usually the time of year where students head back to school, the days start getting shorter, and the weather starts getting cooler. Here in Thailand, we are finishing first semester of school, which started in May, it’s the rainy season, but still warm, and due to the proximity to the equator, the change of day length is hardly noticeable. I’ve managed to work hard, and balance that with a lot of laughs.

Still love the view from my porch in the rainy season, euphemistically known as ‘the green season’. You can see why here.

Getting final projects done at school, with portfolios, and report cards is always a substantial amount of work, but we also had a final presentation for the students to show their parents what they’ve learned over past semester.

One of the topics my students learned about was the environmental impact that humans have caused on Earth. They chose a topic that they felt passionate about, and presented their findings through art work and an informative poster. The students used mainly recycled materials to make their art and posters. They not only stated the problem, but researched and gave suggestions for potential solutions. We turned our classroom into an art gallery and invited parents and guests to come see their art opening, have Q and A with the artists, and enjoy some homemade refreshments.

Dolphin slaughter in Japan

Oil spills

Air pollution – note the different sources of pollution, the acid rain, and the dead flower

polluted beaches

polluted oceans

Kru Goy and I are very proud of them

This was only part of the subject matter they taught our adult guests, they also had PE, art, math, and music. Each class got 15 minutes for the students to teach the activity. It was like ‘speed teaching’.

In maths class, the students challenged the adults to see who could make the perimeter of a shape the quickest using wooden pegs, string, and measuring tape. Um… the students won, but our string was all tangled – unfair! It was good fun anyway.

In music class the students played a song, then taught the adults to play the same song on a variety of instruments.

I was too involved having fun doing the PE and art activities to take any photos.

At the end of the day it was time for cleaning the classroom Gangnam Style.

Cleaning Gangnam Style

Sadly, we are saying goodbye to two wonderful teachers. We sure will miss you Kru Claire and Kru Yuzu.

Kru Claire as the princess looking for her lost friend.

Kru Yuzu, playing the lost friend

Outside of school, yoga, ceramics, and Thai classes, I’ve managed to find time to have fun with friends in lovely Chiang Mai.

Getting coffee and croissants for 25 baht with Claire, Yuzu, and Jessica at ‘the farang farm’.

farang farm foliage

Enveloped in verdant hues – more evidence of the green season

As long as it’s not raining, Chiang Mai looks about the same at night all year long. Here are some pictures taken from the sweetest sidecar in the city – Christophe’s Aum Mobile. Their blurriness gives them an ethereal sense of movement that I feel represents Chiang Mai nighttime.

Songthaew driving around the moat

Christophe shopping late night at the flower market

Rose in the Aum Mobile. Seriously, look how beautiful that vehicle is! (Obviously, look how beautiful Rose is too:) While Christophe drives with Rose and me in the sidecar, both Thai people and foreigners smile.

Tuk tuk drivers and passengers giving us the thumbs up.

Christophe and Rose in the sweet side car near the moat.

laughing in the sidecar…

…as we drive the wrong way down one way street. Mai bpen rai it’s Thailand.

After a night of laughing and sidecar adventures, I love that the gardenias (ketawa) still smell so good the next morning.

Now September is done, we’ve had a full moon in Aries and it’s the beginning of a new month – new beginnings abound. Unlike teachers in other places, it’s now our holiday here. I have the majority of October off and tomorrow I am heading to a place I have wanted to go for about 15 years and that is Burma (or Myanmar). When I was here in 2000 I thought I’d visit there, but the political situation left much to be desired, so I didn’t. Burma still has a lot of restrictions on travel and modern conveniences: no ATMs, limited and slow internet, and I won’t have a cell phone.

I’m signing off for about 3 weeks, but will return with photos and stories-o-plenty. Enjoy October in all its autumnal glory.

Mother’s Day Rice Planting

Mother’s Day Rice Planting

Mother’s Day in Thailand is on the Queen’s birthday – August 12. This time of year the rice fields are just being replanted. Today at school we planted rice in honor of mothers everywhere.

I see it as being symbolic of growth and nourishment – just like what a mom does for her children.

Walking to the rice field

Earthen bricks (adobe, though I don’t think they use that word here)

getting ready to plant

Rice starts

learning how to plant from Fon

What a beautiful way to say thanks mom.

This guy was much like me: we loved the mud between our toes, standing in the muddy water, and plugging in the rice. We could have planted rice for hours.

planting the paddy is almost done

Soon the field will be filled with  vibrant green. Young rice fields are so beautiful this time of year. Love to all mothers, especially mother earth.

Little Bird Building Little Nest

Little Bird Building Little Nest

My rice field view is a bird watchers delight. I wish I had some binoculars, a Birds of Northern Thailand book, and someone with ornithological knowledge to tell me some information on these mini winged creatures. Nonetheless, I enjoy observing my feathered friends while I drink my morning coffee.

According to my friend Carol, this is the Baya Weaver Bird in the rice field

One morning in late March, I watched a bird gathering bits of plants to make a nest. Often, when I get my camera, they fly away, but this birdie had a job to do and persevered despite my filming. OK, I also wish I had a better camera.

The airplane take off in the background added a bonus dramatic soundtrack 🙂

There is a countless number of birds that live is this tree. It’s truly an avian dormitory.

One of these was the Baya Weaver nest it was making

…and another one.

My rice field bird watching mornings always make me smile.

I Live Here

I Live Here

The other day, my friend Jean asked me for pictures of where I live. I realize I wrote that I planned on moving in, but have not posted pictures since I moved in my house. Here is where I live:

505 Easy Peacy – written by my Thai landlady

I live about 10 minutes outside the city, 15 minutes from the old city of Chiang Mai to the south near Hang Dong.

Nice kitchen

dining area

Guest room that has a brand new mattress and closet. Garden and rice field view. Come visit!!

Guest bathroom with tile floors that have a separating wall so the shower water doesn’t get all over the whole bathroom floor.

yoga/meditation room with view of rice field

Master bathroom with tile floors that have a separating wall so the shower water doesn’t get all over the whole bathroom floor – mentioned again as this is unusual in Thailand.

I didn’t like the stark white walls everywhere, so this was a temporary fix…

…but painting the wall and decorating made it better.

My favorite room in the house is the master bedroom, its purple decorative walls and rice field view…

…decorating to make it feel like my home

The fish pond in the front yard.

Entertaining Thai style in the front garden amongst the thai herbs, fan palm, plumeria, banana and mango trees.

Undoubtedly my favorite part of my house is the rice field view. Here are a few of the many pictures I’ve taken, as it’s a constantly changing landscape:

day after moving in view, Jan 7 before the rice was planted

Jan 29 sunset from my back porch

Egret in January

back when the rice was short I enjoyed watching the birds fishing Feb 5

Early February view from back porch

February 15 sunset view

The eventual greening of the rice and bird life make it a great place to sit and watch nature.

Everyday I wake up and feel fortunate that I live in this beautiful place. More gratitude to Thailand and its beauty.

Egret Spirit

Egret Spirit Animal

Tonight as sun was setting, I was admiring the egrets flying over the rice paddies in all their majesty. Although I’ve been in Thailand for a while now, I only started seeing the egrets when I moved into this house, which is kind of in the country, and I’m all by myself.

The egrets, which I knew as garzas in Colombia, were also near when I was surfing there. Again, something I needed to do all by myself and be confident so I wouldn’t crash.

I knew there had to be a reason why I was seeing them at these times when I was alone. I looked up spirit animals:

http://www.linsdomain.com/totems/pages/heron.htm

“HERON, EGRET – Aggressive Self-Determination/Self-Reliance

A Heron and Egret totem teaches balance; the ability to progress and evolve —
to walk into deeper waters without fear.

It is important for someone with a Heron and Egret totem to learn to stand on their own two feet, to become independent and self-reliant.

Heron and Egret has a strong connection to the element of Earth and you must also be aware and cultivate this connection.  The Mother Earth is a source of strength and will help you stand strong and firm.

Heron medicine allows you to perform many tasks at the same time,
keeping all in balance. If one way doesn’t work, then another way will.
Heron and Egret people seem to instinctively know this.

Heron people do not need a lot of people in their life and they are often follow non-traditional roles.They feel no need to “keep up with the Jones.” 
They stand out in their uniqueness and know how to take advantage of things
and events that most people wouldn’t bother with.

You know what is best for you and you should follow that path.
Be aggressive when opportunities present themselves —
don’t let them get away from you.

Meditation on color will provide insight to Heron and Egret people.”

Wow! Non-traditional roles, self-reliance, and following the path that is best for you. I knew there was a reason this animal appeared in my life. I am trying to make sure the opportunities don’t pass me by. Thank you Egret!

Boxing Day

Boxing Day

It feels like the shift that soon will be my new life is happening. I am deciding on a house to live in today and have put a deposit on a car. With home and transportation it’s like I actually live here. I think it’s a home Ban Wang Tan with rice field view, and little garden, and a 1993 dark green Honda Civic.That’s how things roll these days.

Today was busy. I woke up early naturally as the light streamed in my room and Skyped with my family because it was still Christmas there. It was so nice to laugh with my sisters, Dory and Wendy.

I got my first haircut by someone besides myself in what must be at least 5 years. It was time. Mai cut it. I think it’s too short, as 2 centimeters tends to become 3 inches in the haircutting world. Chances are no one will even notice I got it cut. With the blow dry flip style I feel like I’m wearing a wig. It’s not a bad cut though and mai pen rai, hair grows. I love Mai, who said, “Thailand is no country for old men” love that! I hope it’s true. Mai is my boss’s wife. He is not an old man, but apparently Mai had plenty of proposals from older men back when she was single.

As I was talking with my boss outside Mai’s shop, I met a Mexican yoga teacher who just got back into town. I love Chiang Mai. I went back to my room to get my Nancy Chandler map, which is really an invaluable (don’t get me started on how confusing I think this word is) tool here in the city. It looks like vintage 1974, because it is, (though updated regularly), but it has all sorts of useful information right on the map, and only kick myself for not getting one sooner. I wanted to find a place to workout and a vegetarian place for lunch. I thought I’d try a vegan/raw food place. Unlike the rapid food service that comes with a smile in most places in Thailand, after 40 minutes in this tiny restaurant that only had 2 other customers I was told, “I haven’t even started yours get.” Really? You’re not doing the vegan/raw community any favors sir. I left hungry and slightly annoyed to meet with my realtor. Thankfully, there are fresh fruit juice stands everywhere, and I had a delicious passionfruit juice for 20 baht.

I went with my realtor to sign the contract and the put a deposit on the house. On the way, we looked at another house in a community where all the houses look the same, no view, no garden, no stove, and very hotel like house a bit closer to my school. No. I will move to my house with rice field view. It’s a small house 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, with some logical design. The kitchen, bathroom, and storage space all have practicality involved…and there is a garden with a fish pond, fruit trees, and a rice field view. Here it is:

fish pond at what will be my Thai house as of January 5

It is not letting me insert some photos. I will try inserting a gallery. Click on the images to make them larger.

the awesome western kitchen

The recently harvested rice fields, they will be planted again soon and look very pretty and green

I also wanted to move here because the landlady, Khun Watana, was delightful. She is Thai, but spends most of her time in LA and Costa Rica. Our conversation was in a tiny bit of Thai, a little Spanish, and mostly English. In the typical hospitable Thai fashion, she gave some food. Not only that but, being a natural medicine practitioner, she also gave me some Ayurvedic drops for my nose, which was stuffy, and a 5 minute session of the Gua sha ‘massage’ to remove toxins. My biggest fear of living in that house is driving, especially on Hang Dong Road. I know I will get used to it, but I think it will take a little bit of time. My realtor drove me back to Chiang Mai on some backs roads, which I was glad to know existed.

I got out of the car next to Grace Boutique, where I was staying, and noticed some beautiful art at this cute little art cafe place called Matoom Art Space. I met the wife of the artist, who was an amazing woman from Japan named Yoko, and her a cute baby. I fell in love with a few paintings with two people together happily and trees, lots of water symbolized, Buddhism and meditation too. The artist must be a Pisces. I explained that I would like to draw a partner into my life, and feel I should put art on the wall that represents the life I would like to create. I was thrilled to meet Tua, the artist. I found out he and Yoko are both Pisces. I knew they were kindred spirits and I wasn’t even surprised. Chiang Mai is a city full of Pisces. I loved them and their place and would like to spend time with Tua and Yoko again. I will. His art will grace the walls of my new house. I will make it a nice little place and draw in the person who should be there with me. I need to pursue my art, whether it be visual art or writing. Maybe I’ll also do my own art for the walls.

I love this city and am so glad I actually will have a place to call home here. I’m enjoying this Jazz music that is playing on the stereo here (“…we can fill the need with love in town…” – is that what I’m hearing now?) at Baby Dolls. Sometimes I need reminders of why I am here. I had so many of those magical moments today. Yes, despite occasional homesickness, the love affair with Thailand continues.

I had a dream about Yoyi, my Colombian ex-boyfriend, last night. I remember something about the warmth of his skin, and the grip of his hand. Because of this dream, little things have made me think of him throughout the day. The more I kept thinking about it, I think it was really just the hand letting go. I need another hand to feel as comfortable in my hand as his did, but I also need to feel comfortable with that person in heart and mind. I think I will have a boyfriend that lives in Chiang Mai city.

I just noticed the J&B bottle on the bar wall and thought of my mom. I have never ordered a J&B on the rocks with a twist, her favorite drink (as well as her initials) since she has passed. I drank one with her once, and hated it. My tastes may have changed a bit since then, so maybe I’ll try it again someday. I miss my mom, of course. As I’m thinking this, someone has started smoking near me. Cigarettes are horrible things and my tolerance for smoking has become less and less. Time to go.

2012 I hope you are the year of artistic resurgence, writing, creativity, learning Thai language, and a divine partnership.

My Obsession with Rice Fields

My Obsession with Rice Fields

One of the many reasons I wanted to return to Asia, is my obsession with rice fields. I remember while at university seeing a picture of terraced rice fields that my friend had in a collage. Something about this image struck a chord with my soul and I knew one day I would have to visit these surreal landscapes.

I did see rice terraces in Vietnam, Bali, and Nepal, back in year 2000. There are rice fields all over SE Asia and from Thailand, to Laos, to Cambodia, I never tire of seeing them. Their scent, the gentle way they undulate in the wind, the water fowl they attract, all delight me.

Here in northern Thailand, I work near Hang Dong outside of Chiang Mai. Everyday on my bike ride to work I ride past these rice fields. Over the few past months I have watched them transform from emerald green, to gold, and then be neatly cut for the harvest.

Here is a photo progression:

Early November


Later in November...

Rice harvest with Wat in the background


Late November...

These next few are an ode to Monet Asian style: not Haystacks, but Rice Stacks.

Rice stacks and Panyaden

Rice stacks and Doi Suthep

I looked at a house with the following view. The house itself felt more like a brick cabin refuge. It was small, dark, isolated, unfurnished, had small rooms with no closets, a tiny bathroom, a makeshift kitchen, no screens, and would be a perfect habitat for snakes and spiders. I had to pass on the house, but the view really sucked me in.

My favorite is looking at these 3 pictures of the rice fields with Panyaden in the background taken over about 3 months:

October 31


November 28


December 19

Seeing the rice fields on a daily basis constantly reminds me that I am in Asia. Their transitory nature reminds me that life is made of evanescent moments. Enjoy them while they last, because like everything else they are temporary.

Just a Typical Day in November

Just a Typical Day in November

A friend and former colleague of mine hadn’t heard from me in a while and asked for anecdotes of a typical day of mine. Here you go:

Waking up it wasn’t quite as cold as yesterday, meaning it was around 68 rather than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not kidding that it does actually make a difference. I heard the song of several birds and the chirping of geckos. Leaving my lakeside guesthouse, put on my flip flops, bike helmet, and cycling shorts under my skirt, I wai and “sawadee khaa” the gardener.

My lakeside view

I ride down the dirt road past the harvested rice field to the other dirt road next to the busy paved road. On the second dirt road there is a canal between me and the busy street, but on the grass on the side are the Asian type cows, and one calf. They are so peaceful lying there. I have no fear of them because of how docile they are even though they are at least 5 times the size of the dogs who I sometimes fear here.

Thai cows on the way to work

Cow and leaf roofed hut

After the bridge, and crossing the busy road is an undertaking – motorbikes whizzing by, songthaews (these are basically pick up trucks with a red roof top that serve as taxis – song = 2 thaew = row because they have 2 benches in the back) actual pick ups, and cars, people walking, trucks full of people pulling in front of me and stopping, it’s scary. I should buy mirrors for my bicycle. I get across the street and then head down a third dirt road that leads to my school.

Canal and cows

My school is an amazing work of art. That’s really all I can say. Pictures show how nice it is, but don’t really do it justice.

Panyaden School in late November

I eat breakfast of papaya and Thai rice soup, then we salute the flag, sing and prostrate to the Buddha, and then the students have class.

flag raising

Debating the pros and cons of dams with a pen as microphone.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time in the wall cubby hole

Lunch is buffet style, homemade, and delicious

buffet style lunch

Teachers and students and teachers eat together. Staff and students all wash their own dishes.

vegetarian Khao Soi

There are 4 sinks in a row to make it simple to wash and rinse while conserving water. From what I’ve observed, the students like doing it.

little ones washing dishes

I enjoyed teaching the Pacific NW Native American tale “How the Raven Stole the Sun” story in our mythology unit. The students love it and have never heard anything like it. I had to deal with a silly behavior issue, but it’s manageable. My school director agrees with how I handled the situation. It’s nice to feel supported in decision making. It’s Wednesday so it’s free yoga after school. Another reason to I love my job.

rice harvest time

Cycling away the guards open the gate and say “Khap” each day as I leave the school. I never cease to delight in the simple beauty of the rice field.

rice harvest time

The air smells of burning field smoke. I ride through occasional clouds of tiny flying insects.

getting back to my guesthouse, the room has been cleaned – fresh towels with no gecko poop on them…yet.

The internet isn’t working very well. I go down to the restaurant closer to the source, it still isn’t working. Talk to some British teachers in training with their CELTA course in progress.I order the chicken Indian curry – they make it vegetarian for me without me even asking because they know I don’t eat meat. Very kind indeed. I drink a Bia Chang. While eating something falls from the ceiling, and almost lands in my dinner. I think it’s probably a gecko, but actually it’s a good sized frog. This makes me laugh.

I get frustrated and give up on the internet. I talk to people from Iran, Ireland, Slovakia, England, and of course Thailand. A British guy plays ukelele and sings in the garden by the lake and makes us all laugh with his never ending looping medleys.

CELTA students and me at Nugent Waterside

I talk in Spanish to an English guy who taught in Ecuador when I was in Colombia. I go to bed too late to the sounds of chirping insects and the occasional barking dog in the distance.

I have an endless amount of mosquito bites on my legs, I don’t have a kitchen to cook in, I have to give away and find a new home for my dog who I love, I am working tomorrow, which is Thanksgiving, but I am happy because I still love Thailand.

Letting Go

Letting Go  17.11.11

As I left my guesthouse today and rode my bike to work I was feeling back to my energetic self. I arrived at school to be greeted with a hug by my lovely Thai teaching partner Kru Goy who I had not seen since the last week due to my visa trip to Kuala Lumpur and her being absent yesterday.

It’s Thursday, so that means it’s our day to present at the morning assembly. The theme Kru Goy presented this week in Thai was how to bow to the Buddha with the appropriate hand gestures and words. I was delighted to learn something about Thai culture and Buddhism first thing in the morning.

I went back to my classroom and opened my computer to begin planning lessons when I noticed the subject line ‘Sombra’ in my open e-mail window. I knew whatever I read would not be good. I was correct.

Sombra is my dog. I have my house rented out to 2 wonderful women (sisters) who love and take good care of my house, garden, and dog. Sombra is a rescue dog, and I’m quite certain he was abused in the first year of his life before I adopted him. The Humane Society let me know that he did not do well with other dogs. I found out that he is a dog that doesn’t really like to be petted by people he doesn’t know well, although he is quite loving when you get to know him. Needless to say, he came with some baggage and issues.

On the other hand, he is very smart and really an adorable dog. He is a black labrador/Australian shepherd combination. One feature that makes him particularly endearing is his little half tail that he wags any time he sees me. I sing a song that basically just repeats the name Sombra that makes him wag his tail even harder. His name means ‘shadow’ in Spanish. The reason I gave him that name is because he follows me everywhere I go.

Leaving him when I came to Thailand was very difficult for me, but I knew that it would be nearly impossible to bring him. When I left, I didn’t know where in Thailand I’d land, what I’d being doing for work, or where I’d be living, etc. What I did know is that most places in Thailand there are street dogs with varying degrees of mange.

My tenants were growing more and more attached to Sombra. He certainly has some odd behaviors, but is also easy to take care of because he is independent. They tell me often that, “He is a just the cutest dog.”

Then yesterday he had an incident.

One of the tenants was petting Sombra when he suddenly turned around and started biting her. He caused her some puncture wounds on her hand, a trip to the hospital, a course of antibiotics, but perhaps worst of all the loss of trust. Although they love Sombra, understandably they think his behavior is too unpredictable and do not feel comfortable living with a dog who might attack them. I don’t blame them one little bit. I know they have treated him with nothing but kindness. They do not deserve the worry of another potential dog biting incident in their home. I quite distraught about Sombra and feel horrible for my tenants.

So, that leaves me with this problem: what am I going to do with Sombra? He can’t stay living with my tenants.  I’d bring him here, but…A – I still am living in what is basically a guesthouse, which is not a permanent situation for me (and even if it was more permanent here, they do not allow pets). B – He would have to take several long and extremely expensive flights (around $5,000 USD for most pet carriers Oregon to Thailand) to get here and then be quarantined for who knows how long. C – If he made it through that, he would most likely pick a fight with a street dog, and he would lose. D – Even if I did have a house with a yard here he would probably need to remain inside while I am at work. E – Most of the year it’s quite hot here, which would not be an ideal environment for him. So, for these and several other reasons, it just wouldn’t be practical for him to come here.

This is heartbreaking for me, but I think I might need to give him away 😦

I will put positive thoughts out there and focus on him ending up with an owner that would be just right for him. I hope to find somewhere that when I come back, will allow visiting privileges. Maybe I will even get to take him back.

As I was riding my bike home today, the sun was setting in a spectacular array of colors and each cloud had its own glowing outline. The rice fields that had been bright green just last week have turned golden, and the harvest has begun. The air was filled with the scent of freshly cut rice. Taking this all in I was thinking about how life is in continual flux, as was so clearly evident to my changing scenery. No matter how pretty the moment is, the next moment will be different. We need to let it go. Somethings are easy to let go of, like a sunset, but other things are much harder.

I have been thinking about Sombra all day. I might need to let him go and trust that he will end up exactly where he is supposed to be. This makes me extremely sad. I just need to trust that with the outflow, there will also be an influx.

Deep sigh. Letting go breath. Breathing in. The practice of non-attachment.

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Oh, Sombra.