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Back To Thailand Part 1 Onto Thailand Part 3 Return To Home

So the sandal testers have gone back to the frozen wastes of Scandinavia, leaving me all alone with South East Asia to sweat it out here in Thailand. So, some fun in Bangkok, and then down to the islands down south to try and find a bit of fishing - if the nets had left any for me look for.

Hua Lamphong Station, Bangkok, and waiting for the train to Surat Thani. Well, I was anyway. Many of the people waiting were heading for Chiang Mai for Thai New Year (Songkram) festivities it seems.

After one last night in Bangkok with Francois, at the end of which he left me in a bar being accosted by a young lady (No.28, apparently- or so it said on her bikini, and I'm sure that wasn't her age) for a free drink. Nice eh, or so you'd think? Until I looked down and saw a Caesarean scar emanating from her trunk-line that resembled the zip on your average tool bag. All things considered, and she was barely half my age at a guess, it was time to make a sharp exit methinks... 

As I sat a short time later sweating and having a beer at one of the road side stalls near the end of Soi Cowboy, surrounded by farang tourists working down polystyrene trays of dubious looking animal/noodle concoctions, and doing a spot of people watching (why do most overweight, middle-aged, western kiddie-fiddlers seem to wear socks with their sandals and insist on tucking their vest into their shorts?), I was already considering my options down further south... Koh Phi Phi perhaps? Maybe Krabi? Or perhaps the gulf side- Koh Samui? Koh Pha Ngan even? And I just couldn't decide. After a little deliberation I remembered from a previous non-fishing visit to Koh Samui a couple of years ago that the water seemed to be basically fairly shallow there and that I was told that deeper water was available off the Andaman coast. 

So, based on that limited and very sketchy information, that kind of ruled out the gulf islands - for now anyway. But where on the Andaman coast? There was only one thing for it: get out the map and the finger, close the eyes and make a stab at it. As I opened my eyes to see my destination of choice, I briefly wondered where I would be taken. A deserted tropical hideaway I hoped, with empty, white sand beaches, quaint little bamboo huts along the water's edge, cheap food places knocking out bowls of tasty curries and noodles, clear blue seas full of fish... 

 

As I waited, Timmy The Tubby Thai Boy insisted on having his photo taken. Apparently, he was fine while he was on a "Sherbet & Gob-Stopper Only" diet. It was only when his parents introduced hand grenades that his dental health really began to deteriorate.

 

As my eyes focused on the end of my finger, I lifted it to see where the hand of destiny would take me... Oh bollocks. Patong. Not quite what I was hoping for. I was faced with a dilemma: i.e. should I bin my new, albeit temporary, 'Diceman' rule and ignore it the first time it doesn't take me somewhere I want to go? 

But I decided to get my vest and socks on and go and have a look anyway, much against my better judgement...

12 hours? Overnight? In an air conditioned sleeper carriage? 618 Baht? (About 9 quid). Bargain. 

I lumped my monster rucksack into Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, and queued to order a ticket. The place was packed due to the Thai New Year celebrations (Songkram) kicking off that weekend, but eventually I booked a ticket to Surat Thani. Having looked at the pricing options, I couldn't believe how cheap the cost was, so I booked onto a 2nd class sleeper seat in an air conditioned carriage for my 12 hour overnight journey for about 9 quid, and some couple of hours later the train pulled out of the station at bang on the precise time.

After arrival at Surat Thani, and another 4 and a half hours on a bus to Phuket Town (another 120 Baht), I disembarked at the coach station to the usual melee of taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers and con-artists. It's amazing, cos it was the first time I had ever set foot in the place in my life, and yet they were all my best friend! Such warm people! Swatting a few of them to one side, weighed down with all my luggage, I dragged myself clear of the crowd:

"No I don't want a bloody taxi, thanks for asking!"

 

"Oi Oi Saveloyyyy!!" 
Patong, Phuket. With the vests, donkeys and Full English of Blackpool, but with more hookers and palm trees. Get me out of here. Now.

Thing is, I did, but my inbred dislike of these kind of situations gives me a kind of 'cut off my nose to spite the face' knee-jerk reaction. But - my cunning plan was to walk around the corner, flag down some transport and negotiate a price less than half what the predators at the coach station would charge! Ha haaaa! 

A sweaty 15 minute walk, a half hour wait in the roasting sunshine on deserted (Songkram!) streets, a humiliating flag down of one of the taxi drivers I had knocked back (or knocked over?) earlier, and, finally, 300 Baht later (it's the standard rate apparently...) the cab pulled up in Patong town. 

The next morning I was leaving, I'm afraid. I'm sure if I was with some of my mates it would be really good fun, being like Blackpool except the palm trees aren't plastic and the hookers are about 5 stone lighter.

I can honestly say I'm not one of those 'inverted travel snobs'. You know who I mean: "Oh realllllly, but surely if you haven't eaten a monkey's brain while staying with a local Bedouin tribe and got off your head while sitting cross-legged in a loin cloth licking toads and sipping palm wine then your experiences just aren't valid you know...". But as the couple of blokes in front of me discussed with their wives whether they would be back to the same bar for the Full English Breakfast the next morning, only to look up from the menu, whistle loudly, and give the startled fat bloke with the really bad sunburn on the opposite side of the road a synchronised middle finger each, I realised I was yet to find my travel Valhalla in Thailand. 

This time the map/finger combo produced Ao Nang (well, nearest to it anyway), a small town on the coast in the Krabi District. I had heard of it, but knew next to nothing about it, but at least it looked a good deal more promising. 

 

 

Left: Standard picture of longtail boat in Thailand. Everyone should have one.

Right: Krabi Rocks. Well, actually it's fairly quiet this time of year, but the beaches are still nice.

A couple of days were spent getting some bearings about the place, and the lovely old lady who ran the guest house really did me a favour once I had somehow communicated that I wanted some bait, and she sent me off on a moped to the local market with one of the other ladies who worked there so I didn't get lost. While my moped driver went off to do a couple of errands, in amongst the crowds of people buying soap powder, batteries, rubber gloves, light bulbs, mobile phones, MP3 players, Durian (just what is that stuff all about?), 

Buying some Pla Mook (Squid) for glua (bait) at the market was an experience in itself.

monkey brains and toads (joke), I found the fish-zone ('just follow your nose mate'), which consisted of trestle table after trestle table of all manner of marine life: Tuna, Bonito, Queenfish, Shrimp, Mussels, Clams, various silver fish, and mounds of the very thing I was after - Squid. After asking for 8 of them (that means I pointed at them, said 'Pla Mook' a lot and held up 8 fingers), and half a dozen small fish which looked a little like Joey Mackerel, we then had to negotiate the price. This means the lady on the stall said something. I peeled out a 20 Baht note, gingerly. Then I peeled out another, even more gingerly, at which point she pounced, Mantis-like, and grabbed the 40 Baht. She then handed back a 10 Baht coin by way of change, and the deal was done. It's always best to drive a hard bargain I find.

So we had the bait, we had the technology, and it was time to do a little bit of fishing. On my walks about the area, I had noticed a rocky outcrop at the western end of the beach which looked like it may produce a few bites, so decided to head up that direction. The expedition was delayed an hour or two by a terrific thunderstorm which swept through the town, and it rained like only tropical monsoon rain can, but soon the evening sun was out again, and the humidity was hitting max on the Humidimeter. I arrived, soaked with yet more sweat, at

Catfish going mad for it at the Ao Nang fish farm.

the rocks with a couple of rods and my bag of bait, and threw out a fish head on a heavy rod to a deep spot some 50 yards out away from the rocks in the hope that some foraging scavenger like a Stingray may find the scent, and then got to work with some tiny strips of squid on a size 10 hook on a light rod to try and rack up some multi coloured tropical species. In short, the deadbait rod lay undisturbed (except for the crabs), but the light rod was rarely out of action as a several different Snapper species raced to beat a multitude of other Wrasse and as yet unidentified fish to the bait. Good fun, and a nice way of spending a few hours. It was doubly nice, because being tucked out of the way a bit 

meant that not asingle person came up and offered me a boat trip, a taxi, or a suit/shirt/tie combination for just 100 dollars! And that in itself was a little piece of heaven.

Of course, as much as I enjoy catching as many species of fish as I can, and part of my idea behind making this journey is to see just how many I can rack up, the proper angling excitement lays with things a little bit larger than the palm of your hand. 

So with this in mind, and the fact that if I paid 'normal' tourist game boat prices I'd be home by the end of May, I walked the beach to see how many boatmen were about during the daytime, lounging about like driftwood swept up the sand, but of course I had no idea what they could cost, what they should cost or what they would cost. I sat down to think, because I just felt like I needed a starting point, and it seemed obvious - ask someone at one of the dive centres what the going rate should be, and then start bargaining down to it. So, having consulted a dive shop owner, he confirmed it should be no problem to secure, and that the going rate should be about 800 Baht for 4 or 5 hours - fortunately bang on what I was hoping. I took my new found inside information down to the beach the next morning, and it took only seconds for a stony faced bloke to approach, and after a nerve-racking few minutes of negotiation, a 5 hour trip was bought for... 800 Baht.

All aboard the Skylark, and off we sailed out to the deep blue yonder. He wasn't the most welcoming of skippers, but at least we were afloat. It also turned out that he wasn't a fisherman, but again, at least we were afloat... We spent an hour or two fishing close to some of the near vertically sided rocks jutting out of the sea in the area, and soon several fish were caught on the tiny 'foil' feathers which Thorke had left for me, as they skittered across the surface surrounding the boat- so bait was not a problem! So a livebait went out on a 20/30 class outfit, while a Blenny's head went out on a lighter set up. Within seconds it was seized by something a little larger, and soon a nice multi coloured snapper species fluttered into the boat. Despite my inane mimes and best efforts I still couldn't squeeze a smile out of our man for the picture, but at least he was good enough to hold the thing up.

I have no idea how many fish followed- several I know, and all of them would have looked great in an aquarium, but after a while the bites dried up and I looked at the boatman and said "Try Pla Isaak?". Suddenly he looked a little more enthusiastic! The 20/30 rod was brought in and a trace tied to the end, and a few minutes later a large Rapala was being trolled around the rocks in an attempt to snag (literally) a Barracuda.

Some hour or so past without any interruption, when suddenly, just as we circumnavigated another rock, the rod lurched over violently in my hands, and I found myself attached to a lively Barracuda as it tried to regain its freedom. A short but frenetic scrap later, and a few kilos of psychopathic fish was clattering about in the bottom of the boat. As much as I always like to practice catch and release wherever possible or practical, in this case the fish was quite badly hooked, making it unlikely to survive in any case, so it was despatched  to the deck

The Laughing Boatman and a string of bait taken on the feathers Thorke left for me. They really worked a treat...

 

bottom of the boat to meet its maker. As we pulled ashore a short while later, we finally got a smile from the boatman, when I did some more hand signals indicating that he could keep the fish himself, which was a nice way to finish the day really.

...which also worked for Blennies and stuff, of which this was one of the small fish I used to catch a big(ger) fish...

Left: The multi-coloured Snapper still couldn't make him smile.

Right/below: But at last a grin... Not right away, but he did, just briefly, later on when I told him he could take Harry 'Cuda home with him.

Next stop on the Andaman coast was Koh Lanta Yai. Getting there involved taking a bus journey and a ferry across from the mainland. Although relatively short (2 or 3 hours) the journey was an experience in itself, as we sped along the road at about 80 miles an hour while the driver ate his dinner- a chicken wing in one hand and a bag of rice in the other- and steered with his knee. Add to this high speed overtaking on blind corners, overtaking when someone was doing the same thing coming in the other direction, perhaps the worst road surface in Thailand, and near zero visibility because of the amount of dust being kicked up, and you may get some idea of just what a white knuckle ride the whole thing was. Eventually we pulled up at the bungalows, and once I'd stopped hyperventilating, unloaded all the gear.

 

A little time was spent getting some bearings around and about the place, and to be honest, after doing so I wasn't really sure what to make of it. On one hand it could be an idyllic tropical island, and on the other it could have been a Manila landfill site. Of course, everywhere you looked it was impossible to miss the evidence of tsunami damage, but I'm not sure that all the crap laying around was actually caused by it... Still, it was a lovely beach, lovely sea and I hoped to be able to sort out a bit of fishing somewhere along the line. Some very cheap accommodation was also found in the form of a bungalow right on the beach- a lovely little place, once I'd put out the cockroaches each night.

The moped ride up and down the island had me gasping for air as the passing trucks kicked huge clouds of dust high into the sky, and it was all a pretty unpleasant experience as sand and grit continually filled my eyes. But eventually reaching the village of Saladan at the top end of the island, a search was instigated for bait. 


















The insanity of driving on the long and dusty road along the west coast of Koh Lanta.

A football pitch, but not as we know it.

Simple, you might think, being right next to the ocean and all that. Unfortunately it didn't prove to be so. I asked at the couple of dive shops which were still open & operating- they had no idea where I could buy any. So I asked at two restaurants proclaiming that they were specialists in seafood- surely they would know where I could buy some squid or shrimps? Nope. Even after drawing pictures and saying Pla Mook and Koong (prawn) a lot I still drew a blank. So, as I stood, dripping with sweat and covered in dust looking up and down the main street, I have to say that things have usually looked 

a little more hopeful! As I wandered the dusty street, one last beacon came into focus- another cafe/restaurant with the word 'Seafood' painted in large, bright letters on the front of it. 'Here goes', I thought as I entered. And there, in front of me were half a dozen large polystyrene cool-boxes full of different types of fish... and some large squid, all on ice. At last! The strange thing is that this place was no more than 30 yards from either one of the dive shops or one of the restaurants I had asked at, and yet none of the people I asked even indicated it's existence. Spooky.

Having finally secured a source of bait, and carried out some local reconnaissance down on the beach, it was time to secure some fishing. A couple of evenings were spent under beautiful tropical sunsets down on the beach, hoping that a Stingray or some other such scavenger would put in an appearance (it didn't). However, several small and brightly coloured species did take some small strips of squid on a light gear, which was nice to at least have something on the end of the line and a bend in the rod again, but looking at the vast expanse of clear blue Andaman Sea in front of me, it was obvious that to reach anything of any kind of substance, a boat was going to be required. And arranging this - and the resulting day on the "ocean"- was a passage fraught with enough frustration to... well...

The lovely long beaches of west coast Koh Lanta Yai

It all started when I asked the nice lady running the bungalows whether there were any longtail boats that could take me out fishing on the ocean; "Pishing no problem- me get pishing man come talk you". This sounded quite promising. An hour or two later, this bloke turns up with a money pouch draped over his shoulder, looking like he could actually supply you with anything and everything from pop-socks and dusters to marijuana and Uzi's:
 
"You wan go pishing man?" he slithered.

A sand crab lugs his dinner back to his hole.

"Yes please. Out on the ocean", I gestured towards the deep blue sea in front of us. "You know, Pla Isaak, Pla Kapong Daeng, Pla Mong". (Barracuda, Red Snapper, Trevally).
"Issss no problem. No problem. Ow long you wan go?"
"Don't know - five, six hours maybe".
"Ok. No problem. Costing 4000 Baht".
"Kinell!!" I spluttered, nearly choking on my Chang Beer.
"How much you wan paying then?"
"About 500 hundred mate!", I said, trying to bring
the bartering process back onto this island.
"Ok. I go thinking. Speak you later".

And later he appeared. Slinking into the coconut grove like a ferret in flip-flops. "Ok. Me do trip 2500 Baht for you", he offered. After much to-ing and fro-ing (Jesus I hate bartering) a price of 1500 Baht was settled on, for five hours out on the deep blue ocean (and I was deliberately quite lucid about the 'deep blue ocean' bit, by the way). I still wasn't confident, and I really didn't like the bloke at all, and it was perhaps quite a bit more than I really wanted to be paying. Still, I reasoned that if it was any good, and got me into the right place, then it would be money worth spending. Hmmm.

Right. So where do I start? I guess I kind of sensed all was not going to be quite as it should be shortly after reaching the boat. Another guy sat waiting in the longtail (obviously his mate), and once we stowed everything aboard, off we went. Now, for some reason the boat turned right out of the channel at Saladan, which even with very limited

knowledge of the place told me we were heading east towards mainland- and therefore the mangrove swamps covering that part of the island. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I hoped we were just either going to collect some bait, or we just taking a bit of a short cut. Ten minutes later the engine cut, right at the confluence of two narrow mangrove channels: "We trying here for Snapper pish first", said the ferret, dropping the anchor- which hit bottom after 0.3 seconds (give or take).
"Oh. Challow here. Still we do trying anyway", he said with an embarrassed smile, obviously realising that any veneer of being a local fishing guru had been shattered right away.
"I said I wanted to go out on the ocean. Remember? You said no problem. This no good mate", I said without any trace of a smile.
"Ok my friend. But trying here pirst. Then go ocean. No problem".

I had two rods set up with me, one I planned to use with deadbaits, livebaits or lures for bigger fish, and another to use to catch a load of small species. "Oh good, you having 2 pishing line. Give me". And with that he picks up the lighter rod and drops a bait over the side, making himself comfortable up on the bow. Great.

Meanwhile his mate had decided to take it easy and was already laid out in the shade catching up on his sleep, and after half an hour I'd guess, we were both biteless, and I was bored stupid.
"I want to move to the ocean - this no good", I reiterated.

 















The Tripodfish. Now that's a Wow.

Even ferret had to agree, and we pulled anchor. Pointing at the black dollop of mud which had dripped from the anchor, I again made the point: "This mud. Not coral sand. We need coral sand", trying to get it as clear as possible. Again I was assured this was no problem... At least it may not have been if the engine had started. After another 20 minutes of banging, clattering and twisting of wires, his mate got the rusting lawnmower engine kick-started again, and off we spluttered through the muddy, root-lined channels.

I'll cut a long and exasperating story a bit shorter, but basically we spent the day fishing in water not more than about 15 feet deep, and only once did the anchor come up without mud on it. He tried the age old trick of taking a farang punter to an island where one of his ferrety mates had a cafe so I could 

Above: Oh yeah, he's laughing now... Haa... haa... bloody haaa...

Below: Ok, guess what? Yup, the engine is knackered. So we get towed ashore and 'borrow' a jump start off a moored boat.

 

buy lunch- which I refused to do on the basis that it was wasting fishing time. Then, after an awkward 10 or 15 minutes of islanders and their kids staring at me while he disappeared to do some business, we set off again. We caught a few fish, but certainly never came close to targeting any of the species I had hoped for. Still his mate had not risen from the bottom of the boat, except to squat over the side to try and take a leak every few minutes.
"He no feeling good", said ferret, as the other guy got up to pee for the umpteenth time. This time though, because ferret was driving the boat, his mate had a different position on the edge, and as he squatted down yet again he flicked up his sari to expose his inky squid and a couple of prawn balls straight down the boat to all and sundry.
Oh-my-word. What a situation to be put in. He seemed to really not be worried about his indecent exposure at all, but it was impossible not to notice them. You know how it is- you look left, you look right, you look up, you look down, but every change of viewpoint seems to be drawn magnetically to the display of roadkill in front of you. It was with much relief for yours truly that he eventually flicked it back down and laid himself out on the bottom of the boat again. The final twist of the knife came when as we set out to move spots from one 

 

If you see fit, please insert your own line about 'English bloke goes to Thailand and catches crabs'.

duffer to another. Yup- you've guessed it, the engine wouldn't start. And this time it stayed stopped. For ages. Finally, another fisherman was flagged down and he towed us to an island a couple of miles away. By way of his payment, he took several of the fish we had caught, and the one large intact and remaining Calamari I had on ice - being a bit slack I just didn't see he had taken it until he hopped back from our boat to his. So that knackered up the evening beach session I had planned as well...

 

Left: West coast of Koh Lanta- always a lovely sundown. Guaranteed. Unless it's cloudy of course.

 

Below: Mad Tony (just call me Che...) and a small reef shark, called Stew, apparently.

Eventually the boat got jump started again, and because a. they dare not stop the boat again in case it wouldn't start, and b. so much time had been wasted fannying about, back to dock we went. A great day... 

When I asked for a reduction in cost due to, well, everything, he just said "But my friend we are very, very late back". The reasons for this were seemingly lost on him. Either that or I suspect he was just taking the piss again! I didn't get his business card for some reason...

Next up on the oche was Tony (not his real name I'd guess!) who worked at the bungalows, and who came round the next day to ask whether the fishing was any good. After answering in the negative, he whispered (helpfully, now, thanks): "Man you go pish with no pisherman. Only interest money (really!?!?). Good pishermen on Koh Lanta are Sea Gypsy. You need pish wiv them. Pish night. They know where pish are go".

So, of course, he knew some of them and he could talk to them to arrange a night out on the ocean for a fist full of baht. 

 






















Baby Grouper that liked the look of the Isotope 'Teaser'.

This did sound much more interesting, though, and after a couple of chats and the exchange of a handful of dough we were on for a full night out on the waves. And a truly unique experience it was too. We set off a couple of hours after dark and headed perhaps 3 or 4km out to sea (where I wanted to be before!). The evening was hot, humid and calm, and a full moon lit up the whole landscape and ocean around us, casting sharp shadows on the bottom of the boat. The anchor was dropped in water 25 metres deep, and as the smell of marijuana hung heavy in the air, I opened a beer and set up a couple of rods.

Soon, a multitude of Snapper and Grouper of different species were winging their way into the boat, and nobody was without a fish on for many minutes all evening- nothing huge- although my deadbait anchored on the bottom set off with a ratchet-scream at one point, only to be dropped before I could strike the hook home. After the boys had got suitably whacked enough on their gear, obviously the munchies kicked in, and the barbecue was rigged up and lit for a midnight feast. Fresh Squid, first, cooked for at least 25 minutes. I 'enjoyed' eating as much of the piece of tyre as I could before gently dropping the rest of it over the side while no one was looking. 
"Squid good yes?" 
"Very good", I replied, smiling, but hoping that they weren't all thinking; 
"Tosser- it was overdone by at least 20 minutes...", or whatever that is in Thai. The barbecued Snapper was excellent though - and I guess it doesn't come any fresher.

 

As we sat fishing again, clouds had gathered over the hills towards the centre of the island, and in the far distance on the horizon, more had formed over towards the north west in Phuket direction. Soon, as we sat afloat under the bright full moon, on a mirror calm sea, we were treated to the most spectacular light show from two directions as monsoon storms illuminated the skies. 
"We get rain?" I asked, in that horrible pigeon English that I seemed to have mutated into speaking since arriving on the island (at this point I couldn't remember the last English person I'd spoken to- there were a couple of Americans but that didn't really help to be honest).
"Maybe. Waiting waiting- may missing".

Suddenly a chill (and I use that word hesitantly, cos it's all relative isn't it?) split through the air, ruffling the water's surface. Within seconds waves replaced what had only moments before been oily calm.
"Rain come. Winding. Going".

And with that all lines and the anchor were retrieved, the engine spluttered into life, and we were crashing through the surf on the way back to 

shore. As we cut through the heavy whitecaps now bursting onto the beach, the hull of the boat bounced onto, and then slid up the sand - just as we could hear the torrential rain rattling its way closer and louder through the forest, before bursting over us just seconds later, soaking everyone and everything to the bone in an instant. Obviously, this cut the night short, with it only being about 1.30am when the storm broke. I was a little disappointed by this, but had nevertheless enjoyed the experience.

What was nice was that the next morning, Tony came to see me and check I was happy with the trip, knowing how bad the first one was. He informed me that his gypsy mates were disappointed too, so one of them would take me to try for Barracuda for two or three hours one morning to make up for it. This was a much appreciated gesture, and one that I nearly snatched his hands off to take up. 

A nice morning was spent out there again, trolling Rapalas in and out of the nets (of which there were hundreds- again), and although we only had the one 'Cuda that hung itself, enough marine life was also seen (also trying to work its way in and out of the nets!) to make it all interesting. The capture of the Barracuda itself was amusing, in that as it neared the boat, my gypsy friend readied the gaff. I indicated that it wouldn't be necessary, and then lifted the fish into the boat by the use of the wire leader so I could unhook and return it to the water... at which point, as it hung for a second or two in mid-air calming down, he suddenly twatted the poor thing over the head with the blunt end of the gaff like he was trying to slap it for a home run. Oh well...

So that's about it this far. I have since moved on from Koh Lanta, but have only just got round to writing this load of waffle (please bear with me...). I'll update soon, if anyone is interested, once I get a chance. Laters.

Thai Sea Gypsy Dude - "You wanna see me play baseball".

Tony (not his real name I'd guess) barbecues some fresh (and I mean proper fresh) Snapper.

Koh Lanta sea gypsy shows off a Snapper taken on a handline.






















The delivery boy from Cuda Hut was late as usual.

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