Saturday, July 30, 2005

Thai-ing One On

Pattaya, Thailand is protected from a full-blown beach assault by extremely thirsty and under-sexed American sailors by shallow waters that prevent the US Navy’s larger ships from tying up directly to a pier. When we pulled in aboard the USS Belleau Wood, we were forced to moor more than a mile from the beach and the ship’s compliment of 2500 was required to disembark onto small boats that pulled up alongside to transport us to some of the most twisted and depraved liberty we had ever be exposed to, the kind that can only be found in the Far East.

My liberty partner for this incursion was a guy we called Sandy, which was actually a shortening of his last name. Sandy was originally from New Mexico and had joined the navy to be a SEAL. Just after completing the most punishing segment of his commando training however, he blew his knee and spent over half a year on medical hold. After he had recuperated enough to give it another try, he made it almost all the way through the grueling six-month course when, just days before graduation, he blew his knee again. He washed out after that and ended up assigned to the shop I was in charge of. Sandy was a hell of a guy. He had a great sense of humor, was a practically undefeatable bar fighter, could drink with the best of us and was nuttier than a schizophrenic pistachio addict.

The line to get off of the ship was immense, taking us at least an hour to step onto the liberty boat. Fortunately the boat sold beer so, thirty seconds after stepping off of the Belleau Wood’s gangplank, Sandy and I were holding a nice cold bottle of Singha in each hand. I think we actually killed three of them a piece within the fifteen minutes we spent on that boat.

As stated before, the waters surrounding Pattaya Beach were shallow, so shallow in fact that the first boat we embarked upon only managed to take us about half way in. After that, two smaller boats pulled up beside the first, into which we were forced to embark. Luckily, these boats also served beer and we were able to get one more in before we had to repeat the process again. The last leg of our shore bound journey was made in a long canoe fitted with an ancient outboard motor that had a top speed just barely faster than the coral anchored to the ocean floor below us. Thinking that we could probably swim to shore faster, Sandy and I jumped ship a couple of hundred yards offshore and waded in. It was not so much impatience that drove us to dive over the side of the canoe, it was nature. For some reason, when drinking Singha beer in tropical heat, it seems to get processed much quicker and being in a bumpy motorized canoe with a full bladder can get excruciatingly uncomfortable.

Once out of the boat, I got my first chance to really look at the land we were about to be loosed upon. I do not believe that I have ever been to a more beautiful place, before or since. Thailand is incredibly lush. What is not built upon is of the deepest green hue I have ever seen. The color starts fifty feet from the water’s edge with a dense growth of seemingly impenetrable Asian palm trees and seems to rise off of the back of the city of Pattaya and stretch clear across the majestic hills that guard its rear, set against a backdrop of flawlessly fluorescent baby blue sky streaked with picturesque clouds of the purest white. In front of the palms dominating the foreground, was the white sand beach that seemed hard pressed to try and keep the jungle from invading the ocean. I had difficulty tearing my eyes off of the truly mesmerizing landscape set before me, but once I did, I was encountered by the sight of the water, which was equally impressive. When looking straight down, it was so clear that it did not even seem to be there at all, but when the sun peeked out from between the clouds and you looked straight ahead of you, the ocean lit up in blindingly bright emerald. The surf looked truly pristine, except of course, for the part of it I was pissing into. That little section just kind of looked like chemically enhanced toilet bowl water.

Overall, Thailand makes a breathtaking first impression. It was almost like falling off of a slave galley and landing straight into the heart of the Garden of Eden. Fortunately for Sandy and I though, Sodom and Gomorrah were just a few blocks off to our right and we made a bee-line for our hotel, which we believed to be located right in the midst of the waterfront debauchery.

As we entered the realm of Pattaya Beach’s notorious entertainment district, my senses were bombarded on all fronts by an insane barrage of sights and sounds that was disturbingly disorienting. It was as if we were making our way through a bazaar of the bizarre, accosted by street performers bent on a penchant of masochistic self-mutilation, felt up by exotic looking women wrapped in boas of both the feathered and serpentine varieties and constantly harangued by an army of club proprietors trying to ply you into their establishments of ill repute. At some point, I stopped outside of the entrance to a particularly seedy-looking nightclub just to try to take it all in. As I was engrossed with surveying my surroundings, a man stepped out from the club and handed Sandy a card before disappearing back inside. After reading it, Sandy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a particular line on the card. “Can girls actually do that?” he asked.

I looked at the card, which was actually just a list of particular sex shows that the establishment performed live on stage. I read the item Sandy had pointed out and shook my head in wonderment. “I don’t think….I’m not sure but….well, not without doing some considerable damage to…well, I hope not, but….Jesus Christ, man! I have no idea if they can or not!”

Sandy tried to see into the club from our vantage point but it was just too dark. “I hate to say it, but I have got to see this. You want to stop in here for a quick drink?”

I nodded my head. I needed to see it too, though more out of morbid curiosity than because of any kind of arousal aspect.

Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, we found ourselves in the midst of a truly surreal scene. The bar was doing brisk business and was actually rather full. It appeared that a full half of the establishment’s population consisted of American servicemen. The other half consisted of local women all of whom were completely nude. A large stage consumed a considerable portion of floor space in the center of the club and when we walked in, one of the women was giving birth to a steadily rapid stream of ping pong balls that would bounce once upon the stage before landing on one of the tables (and occasionally in one of the drinks) that ringed the perimeter of it. An intoxicated Marine darted back and forth behind the stage-side tables with his hand outstretched like an improvised paddle trying, rather unsuccessfully, to bat the balls back in.

Sandy and I ambled up to the bar. We were greeted by an exquisite little Thai girl blessed with a body that could cause sins of commission at 200 yards. She was petite but shapely, with flawless skin and a smile of pure sweetness. She would have been a true vision of virginal innocence had she been wearing any clothes and worked somewhere other than a brothel. With a playful giggle, she greeted us in pidgin English as we took seats at a couple of barstools that were vacated so recently that they still possessed the ass heat and leg sweat of the previous occupants. “You wanna beeyah?”

Sandy ordered up two more Singhas and then turned around to watch the vaginal ping-pong match. I watched the barmaid. She reached into the cooler and pulled out two bottles of beer, sticking one of them in a place where I would have least expected to find a bottle opener. She then proceeded to pop the cap off in the most un-ladylike fashion I could have possibly imagined before setting the bottle back down opposite Sandy, who missed the show while staring intently at the Ping-Pong Girl. I interrupted the barmaid with a broad smile before she had a chance to open mine. “Save your cervix, sweetie. I’ll take the cap off myself.” She returned the smile, albeit much more seductively, and handed me the bottle beer. I discovered then the cap was a twist-off, which in no way made her feat any less impressive. I turned around to tell Sandy to at least wipe the bottle first before taking a drink but he already had it in his mouth. At that point, I figured it was too late to do anything about it anyway so I decided to leave him blissfully unconcerned about the possibility of catching oral Gonorrhea.

The ping-pong match eventually ended and was then replaced by a series of acts that grew gradually more macabre. We saw things involving razor blades, needles and darts, but hit the end of our limit when they started involving reptiles ejected from orifices that I could not imagine they naturally took refuge in. That was when we settled our bill and went to check into our hotel room. We never did see the act listed on the card that originally piqued our curiosity.

In 1992, AIDS was exploding in Asia. Before pulling into port, our Master Chief gave us the standard lecture about sexually transmitted diseases but instead of throwing out a bunch of numbers compiled by some acronymed organization that puts out the military’s propaganda aimed at preventing US servicemen from depleting the ship’s supply of penicillin, he displayed an issue of Time Magazine. He pointed out an article that discussed Asia’s sex industry and emphasized some harrowing statistics about how insanely widespread the disease was among Siamese bar-girls. We left that lecture convinced that catching HIV through intimate contact with Thai prostitutes was not a possibility. It was a probability. I had a steady girlfriend in Japan and Sandy was married so neither one of us were looking for action of that sort. Both of us knew however that we had a penchant for spectacular acts of stupidity while drinking though and we both realized that a man could only exercise so much restraint when surrounded by incredibly gorgeous women who could become insanely attracted to him for the price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal back in Japan. With this in mind, we decided to share a room. It seemed like a good way to keep ourselves out of serious trouble.

We checked in and were assigned a room on the second floor. While on our way to our accommodations, we discovered to our pleasant surprise that a couple friends of ours had a room a little way down the hall. To our unpleasant surprise we discovered that the guys pulling Shore Patrol (the navy’s watered-down equivalent of the army’s Military Police) duty had the room directly across the hall. Worse, one of our division’s chief petty officers, ETC Vazquez, was heading the detail that night.

Upon entering our room we were encountered by the prospect of having to sleep in the same bed. This was an unacceptable arrangement so I jumped on the phone to demand different accommodations when Sandy realized that the big bed was actually two small beds pushed together. The situation was corrected with a minimal amount of furniture moving and soon we were back on our way out into town.

By now, Sandy and I had downed a ton of beer and thought that if we did not get some food into us, we were in for a short night. We strolled down the main drag a bit and dived into the first place we could find that did not look like it did double duty as a brothel. I ordered an incendiary dish that consisted of rice, chicken, vegetables and, as far as I could tell, a particularly delicious variation of sulfuric acid that took the skin off of my tongue, dissolved my tonsils and filled me with fearful anticipation of the noxious napalm nuggets I would be assaulting the Siamese sewer system with the following morning. In an act of gluttonous rapture that was as much indulgent ecstasy as it was culinary masochism, I finished the entire plate and ordered seconds. In the process I also probably downed six or seven beers over the course of the meal in a futile attempt to extinguish my oral anguish.

After dinner, we went back to the main drag and ran into more people from our division. Before long our group had grown to over a dozen people and ended up in a nightclub/brothel/kickboxing arena at the start of the strip for more beer and some sport. The kickboxing matches were fun to watch for a little while but lost their allure quickly. The fighters were short, wiry, padded to the gills and obviously pulling their punches. The fights felt rigged, and poorly rigged at that. It was kind of like watching midget wrestling with performances so poor that a bunch of marines seated close to the ring started heckling the fighters. Someone, I can’t remember if it was the referee or one of the boxers, then asked one of the marines if he would like the opportunity to jump into the ring and try to do better. The hulking heckler accepted the invitation and after removing his shirt, took the stage while the boxer removed his pads. A siren was sounded and the fight commenced. Fifteen seconds later it was all over and the marine’s comrades were carrying him off the stage horizontally while he pumped prolific amounts of blood out of his shattered nose.

We stayed at the kickboxing bar for a couple of hours and then slithered out, with drinks in hand, to sample the other nightclubs in the area. The heat was incredibly oppressive, and as a result, our intake of alcohol was almost non-stop. After the second club, intoxication finally reared its ugly head and struck. The blow knocked me clear off of my feet and sent me tumbling face first into the sidewalk. If I had to guess, I passed out sometime around nine o’clock, yet even though I had completely lost consciousness, my adventures of the evening were just beginning.

The following three hours are completely lost to me. I would have no recollection of what had happened that night if it were not for the wide array of photographic evidence that surfaced in the weeks following our Thailand liberty. I have none of these pictures today but their existence is a major factor why, once I was discharged from the US Navy, I never even remotely considered the possibility of running for public office though even I have to admit that some of the pictures would have looked absolutely fabulous on CNN.

According to the photographic record, I was quite a hit comatose. There were pictures of me on stage at various strip clubs with the girls using me as a prop for their acts. There were shots of me laying on the bar in my underwear, appearing to be breastfeeding a couple of local bargirls. Overall, there were pictures of me simulating acts so base that, if I had been able to actually able to perform them, I could have qualified for expulsion from NAMBLA on the basis of moral turpitude, or, put on the fast track to promotion had I been hired by Enron or Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. For at least three hours, I was carried from bar to bar by my drinking companions, where they would leave me at the mercy of the bargirls and take pictures of the ensuing hilarity before moving to the next nightclub to see what the next set of protagonists could come up with. At about midnight, I came around with a girl on each arm. As I tried to figure out where I was, one of them started rubbing me all over while whispering seductive propositions in my ear. Like almost all of the Thai girls I had seen to that point, she was heartbreakingly beautiful and impossible to resist. I probably would have caved in right there had I not felt like I was still on the verge of passing out again. I told her I was not going to be able to do anything right now, but for some inexplicable reason I gave her, and several of her friends, my hotel and room number before getting up and slipping out of the door. I did not even know my friends were at the club so I did not bother to let anyone know I was leaving.

I stepped out into the street drunk, disorientated and dazed. I had no idea where I was going and stumbled around the main drag for a while, walking in circles searching for the hotel I was staying at with no success. Eventually I wandered off of the strip and was swaying and slurring my way around much darker areas of Pattaya. I had no idea where I was and, even if someone was around to ask directions from, I doubted that they would know enough English to give them to me nor would I be sober enough to remember them. I would have taken a taxi, but because of Thailand’s astronomical traffic fatality rate, our ship’s captain forbade it. Just when I started considering laying down in an alley to pass out again, I rounded a corner and came face-to-face with what I initially thought was an elephant ass. Knowing that it was just an alcohol induced hallucination, I turned around and walked back the way I came. Realizing that I had never hallucinated from beer before, I turned around and went back to see if it was still there. I was quite surprised to see that it was and I gingerly stepped forward to touch it to see if it was real. Before I got to though, a teen-aged boy walked out from around the front of the beast and shot me a quizzical look that begged to know what I was doing around the elephant. I decided to ask him for directions on how to get back to the hotel.

The boy spoke semi-intelligible English, but I was far beyond having the mental capacity to decipher his accent and retain anything he told me. As he took great pains to point me in the right direction, I realized that though the captain had ordered us not to drive in a taxi, he had said nothing at all about hitching a ride on a pachyderm. I ended up cutting the boy off and asking him how much it would cost to get an elephant ride back to the hotel. He said it would be impossible since they were only allowed to walk back and forth from where they were stabled to the place where they performed. I offered him twenty bucks, an astronomical sum, but he still refused. I doubled it and he hedged. I had the impression that, however forbidden it was, forty bucks was enough for him to at least consider my proposition. As we were bargaining, a group of marines came down the alley carrying a case of beer and overheard us. They seemed intrigued by taking a ride on an elephant as well and entered negotiations as well. In the end, it was agreed that we would get a ride part way there for $75. Part way there ended up to be about four blocks.

When we got going, there were four of us on the elephant, precariously balanced without the benefit of any type of saddle. I was on the elephant’s neck with a marine right behind me. The other two were on the back with the beer they had been hauling around. I’m not sure what happened but the elephant suddenly stumbled and all four of us got dumped, along with the beer, into the street. It was quite a commotion, not to mention a really long fall, and before we could make sure we had not broken anything we were surrounded by the Royal Thai Police and the owner of a bicycle that had somehow gotten broken in the accident. There was a large amount of animated conversation that followed the incident in a language that we did not understand but it became apparent rather early that whatever had happened, we were going to get blamed for it.

In order to avoid responsibility for the affair, I tried to make it look as if we were the victims of the accident and attempted to fabricate a story that suggested we were just walking along minding our own business when we were hit by a speeding elephant that failed to yield to the pedestrian right-of-way. Predictably, no one appeared to buy it even though we had the injuries to back up our claim. In the end, we were informed that we were going to be charged for the incident. Upon hearing this, I shot the officer who appeared to have the best English skills a look of indignation and asked, “Charged!?!? With what?!?”

Through pantomime and pidgin, I gathered that the policeman planned on charging us with drinking and driving. On an elephant. I told him that though I would admit to being drunk, there was no way I was admitting to driving an elephant. I pointed out that I weighed all of 175 pounds. I bet the elephant probably weighed a couple of tons. That bestial behemoth was going wherever he wanted regardless of whether I wanted to go there or not. As I launched into my tirade expounding upon this, I looked over and saw the elephant’s trunk poking around the puddle that surrounded the marines’ crushed case of beer. I pointed that out to the officers and added, “Look at that! In addition to taking us on a wild ride, I bet the fucker’s been drinking too!”

Eventually the officers tired of my posturing and one of them pulled out a pair of handcuffs while his partner drew his nightstick, a sign that it was time to stop trying to get out of trouble altogether and start negotiating the bribe. We ended up paying the bike owner $20 and the cops $50. We stiffed the kid with the elephant. After that, I directly disobeyed the captain’s orders and hailed a cab. I was glad I did too since I judged from the length of the drive that I was nowhere near the waterfront at that point. In fact, it seemed that I had gotten myself so lost I had walked practically halfway to Burma.

Once back at the hotel, I got my room key from the concierge and remembered that I had given my room number out to a bunch of bargirls at the last club I was in. Before turning in, I told the concierge that I did not want any visitors and gave him instructions to turn away anyone who showed up. I then made my way upstairs.

I expected to find Sandy in the room but I found it empty after letting myself in. Without even bothering to take off my shoes I stumbled over to the bed and passed out into it, fast asleep before my head even hit the pillow. What seemed like just a second later, I heard the telephone ring and got up to answer it. As I was lifting it off of the receiver, I caught a glimpse off of the mirror of someone sitting on Sandy’s bed staring at me. Startled, I jumped back in fright just as I heard the concierge erupt into a stream of vindictive on the other end of the line. I glanced at the door, panicked and planning my escape, when I noticed it had been kicked in and saw people milling about in the hall. I then looked back at the person in my room and saw it was Sandy. I set the phone down and asked him what the hell was going on.

“I thought you were dead, dude! We’ve been looking for you for hours and…”

He was interrupted by Chief Vazquez’s voice emanating from the hall. “Sandy! Get out here!”

A look of dire concern flashed across Sandy’s face as he dove into bed and stuck his head underneath a pillow like some sort of lame-brained linen ostrich. “Dude! Go out there and tell them I’m not here!” Of course, he shouted that loud enough to be heard all the way down in the front lobby.

Still, I swaggered over to the door intending to do exactly that until I was greeted by the sight of Chief Vazquez standing before me all red-eyed and in his underwear. I started laughing at that until I caught sight of another pair or Royal Thai Police officers making their way down the hall as even more people were starting to emerge from their rooms. “Hi Chief.” I said as I eyeballed the cops. “How’s it going?”

Vazquez walked right past me and walked into the room to pull Sandy out of bed. The cops followed and the concierge showed up a few seconds after that. I tried to figure out what was going on. The concierge told me Sandy had kicked in the door. I told him I would pay for the damage. The cops said Sandy was disturbing the peace and had threatened the concierge. I told them I would pay for that too. In the end we settled on $150 dollars for the door, added onto the hotel bill and another $100 to the cops to keep Sandy out of the hoosegow. I could not, however, convince the concierge to let Sandy stay the night. This sent my roommate into a rage and threatened to quickly turn into another $100 worth of peace disruption if we could not get him to shut his trap. Eventually, he turned and stormed off in a huff followed closely by the concierge and the two friends of ours who were staying down the hall. Then Chief Vazquez left as did the cops after they received their payoff. I passed back out with still no idea what had just transpired.

The next day I found out that the guys I was in the club with freaked out after I disappeared and scoured the streets looking for me. On one of their periodic checks of the hotel they found that I had returned and the group dispersed, leaving Sandy alone to go to bed. He tried to get the room key from the concierge, but acting upon my instructions, was refused access on account of the fact that I had asked not to be disturbed. Since I paid for the room on my credit card and forgot to put Sandy’s name down as a guest, the concierge would not budge. Sandy then decided he would just knock on the door and wake me up. The problem was that I had passed out so hard that no matter how loud he knocked and screamed at me through the door, I was not answering. After a couple of other guests opened their doors and told him to shut up, he went to our friends’ room and woke them up. After making fun of them for not knowing the bed they were sharing was actually two beds that spread apart, he walked out through their door wall and started jumping balconies back to our room.

Once he reached our balcony, he looked inside and saw me sprawled out on the bed. He pounded on the glass and screamed at the top of his lungs but I did not move a single inch. In fact, he was not even sure that I was breathing and started to become concerned. Knowing how drunk I had been, he thought that I may have gotten sick and choked and he wanted to get into the room even worse for fear that I could possibly be drowning in my own vomit. He jumped two more balconies to the corner room that had a ladder leading to the ground floor. The room that hosted that ladder was occupied by another sailor from our ship and two bar girls. To Sandy’s advantage, they left the lights on in the room and he paused there for a couple minutes to watch the show before continuing down the ladder to try and save my life.

When Sandy finally gave up on voyeurism, he jumped the balcony rail and put his foot down on the ladder with all of his weight without realizing that he had to slide the rail down to the ground first. As a result, he went down with the ladder and was dropped a full story onto the shrubbery that bordered the back of the hotel. Bruised, battered and infuriated by the fall, he got up, brushed himself off and stormed towards the front lobby.

Upon entry, he walked up to the concierge and demanded the key to our room. The concierge again refused. Sandy then told him that if the key was not turned over, he was going upstairs to break the door down. The concierge retorted that if Sandy did not leave the hotel immediately, he was calling the police. Sandy then told the concierge to start dialing and took off towards the stairs.

When Sandy got back to the room, he tried pounding on the door once more in the hope he would get lucky but when he did not, he backed up to get a running start. The door gave way with the first try, ripping a rectangular hole out if it where the lock and handle had been. He then stumbled into the room, a victim of inertia and crashed down into the floor at the foot of my bed. Jumping to his feet, he then stepped up to me and put his hand in front of my face. After feeling my breath, he walked over to his own bed, sat down and stared at me, amazed that someone could sleep right through all that commotion. Shortly afterwards, the phone rang and I jumped right up and answered it as if I had just been wide awake the entire time, but just resting my eyes.

The next morning, I woke up and tried to settle my bill. In addition to the charges for the door was an additional $50 charge. When I asked what that was all about, the concierge pointed at the aquarium in the lobby lounge located on a stand between the front desk. It was full of grotesquely cloudy water and a couple of dead fish. I asked the concierge what happened and he said, “Your friend….” He then opened his mouth and stuck his finger in it, pantomiming the motion required to induce vomiting.

I looked at him and asked, “No shit?”

The concierge looked back at me with a deadly serious face and said, “No shit.”

I tallied up the money that better rest through alcoholic excess had cost me in the past few hours. It had cost me $300 to keep Sandy out of trouble. Since the troubles were half my fault, I figured he owed me at least $150. I decided to give him a discount for creativity on his assault on the hotel’s fish though. Nothing says, “Go get fucked” quite like intentionally blowing chunks of semi-digested Prawn Pad Prik into a lobby aquarium as you are being forcefully ejected from a three-star foreign hotel. That was worth the fifty bucks.

After all that I went through to keep Sandy out of trouble that night, he hired a speedboat to take him back to the ship in violation of another of the captain’s orders (apparently Thailand’s waterways are just as dangerous as its freeways). He ended up restricted to the ship for thirty days anyway. His wife, who was back in the US, left him shortly after that and decided to leave the two kids they had together with him. Sandy got a hardship discharge because of it and left the service. Even though we had been great friends, we soon lost touch and I have not heard anything about him in over 13 years. I wrote this mainly in hopes that somehow he might someday read this and try to get back in touch with me. That way I could get my hands on the $100 he still owes me for keeping his sorry ass from getting intimately familiar with the notoriously brutal Southeast Asian penal system.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Pat_em or Grabem said...

Awesome Jep, I love the navy stories. It would almost convince me to join the armed forces if I did not live in a country that has not upgraded it's military since the end of WW2. Keep em coming!

1:33 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

Thanks Grabem. I've got a few more before I run out (Namely Hong Kong and Australia). Where are you posting from?

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Grabem or Pat_Em said...

I'm from Canada. The land where you are more likely to get killed by our peacekeepers than by our military. I'm hoping to see the world as a teacher once I get my degree. (2 1/2 years) I know from travelling with a rugby team that there is a lowest common denominator when it comes to morality when travelling with a group of young over-sexed males. I think as I teacher I may have to be slightly more discreet, which would of course, translates into slightly less fun. On the upside you are far less likely to be shot at as a teacher. As long as you stay away from the schoolgirls anyway.

4:57 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

On the upside you are far less likely to be shot at as a teacher

As long as you don't work in Detroit.

Anyway, glad to hear you're enjoying The JEP Report. I hope it keeps your interest and you keep commenting. And by the way, good luck on the rugby thing. In fact, rugby plays a key part in the upcoming Hong Kong narrative. Damn Brits kicked the shit out of me on field.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sometimes think me commenting is redundant since I always say a similar thing, but you're just. that. good.

And I love that the stories get longer and longer!

hannah

4:25 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

Hannah, of all people, your commenting is NEVER redundant. You're my best source of encouragement!

JEP

4:36 PM  

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