Only skin deep…

In free fall

July was truly a roller coaster. Pulled two teeth. Definitely downwards. Going on an amazing road trip. Definitely up. Having a motorbike accident on a location shoot in Saigon. Ouch, that’s down. I went down. Got hit by another bike while I was turning. We were doing b-roll for a corporate movie, no stunts planned or intended. Moving from location to location by bike. Only one more location to go and I went down. Of course, this was also the day when I had accidentally put on flip flops instead of shoes.

Flip flops can be good for your feet when you live in a hot, tropical climate as you need to let your feet breathe. However, people familiar with the term Saigon kiss, will know that not all hot things in life are good for you. As I tipped over, video tripod and camera back pack pulling me to the ground, I managed to counter balance on one leg, ending up in a 45 degree position. My right leg was smooching the exhaust pipe as the other bike locked it down into a a very hot embrace.

The police came cruising by. Looked at the scene, then left. The guys that rammed me had already taken off as I was the one with damages and not them. So I stood there, getting an overview and made way for the seafood stall at the roadside. They were kind enough to give me a large chunk of ice. Refused my intention to pay for the ice. I applied it to the spot. The outer skin was burned. My shooting partner was kind enough to help arrange a bag with ice and with that applied to my heel, I set off on the bike. This time homewards to drop off the gear and head for the hospital.

It has taken over a month to get my foot back to normal. I can now walk again. Run again. Basically move normally again. Getting my good mood back. Second degree burn for sure. Documented. Turning something that I rather not experience again into something more visually interesting. Preserving memory in form of a still life photograph.

Skin deep beauty or fried flesh, I leave it to you to decide:

A study on black, still life of skin.

A study on black, still life of skin.

A study on black, still life of skin.

A study on black, still life of skin.

A study on black, still life of skin.

A study on white, still life of skin.

Thick skin indeed.

Rebuilding work in progress.

To heal a heel.

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Photography, Recommended, SaigonCreative

SGN Style, a new project sees the light, yay!

A new blog project to promote up and coming creatives in Saigon. The second project to see the light in 2011. The first one is Saigon Creative, the monthly inspirational breakfast talk. Due to internal restructuring, aSaigonCreativeMorning became Saigon Creative and has now a new website address: http://saigoncreative.blogspot.com/

If you signed up on the old site, please follow the link to the new and sign up again for the latest updates regarding the events. Yes, it is a bit inconvenient, however, we don’t have a way to port the existing subscribers to the new site, so please bear with us.

The second project is SGN Style, a blog featuring up and coming fashion designers styling themselves. We want newcomers to have an outlet to present themselves and gain attention from the press. Simple as that. Visit the website for more information and sign up for future blog posts: http://fashionista-saigon.blogspot.com/

Please meet Justin, Celina and Frankytars!




If you are a fashion designer/stylist/photographer, please get in touch if you want to be part of the project. Pro bono. Everybody involved donates their own time and services.

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Celebrating Norway’s national day, 17 Mai, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

17 mai celebration in Saigon.

Every year the Norwegian community get together and celebrate 17 Mai. The meet up place is the Norwegian consul’s house, and everybody participate to bring Norwegian food for the event, either by import, returning from a recent visit to Norway or receiving visitors or to source the ingredients locally and make it yourself. True community spirit.

The official speech by the consul.

Watching the speakers.

The celebration starts in the afternoon, a few speeches are held, the national anthem sung and then the parade around the neighborhood. Norwegian marching tunes from an iphone streamed by cables to an old school ghetto blaster sets the tune.

The 17 of Mai parade.

Once the parade is done, a group photo session is done before the buffet is served. Games for both children and adults take place in the evening, and then the day is over. Until next year.

Group image.

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Let’s talk about fashion – Saigon Creative May event

Gen starting the presentation.

That’s what we did. We got the inside scoop. A journey of tales. Starting in Milan, where we learned that fresh graduates are being picked up by the fashion houses on next to nothing wages. €200-400 a month and a one year contract. Renegotiable upon end of year. Except that the contract will not be renewed and another fresh student will take that spot as well as having to find a part time job to sustain a life in the city. By life, it means food and shelter for most of your time will be spent working.

"What is fashion?"

All the glamourous images and smokescreens came tumbling down. Being a fashion designer is not glamourous at all. Hard work and true love and almost an obsession for fashion will take you further down fashion street, anyone else will get lost and have to find another path to walk on.

Very brutal. Very competitive. A business. A money making business. Money. It’s all about the money.

Graduates are leaving with ideas of how they want to change the world with their designs. We all have been there, young and naive and then we met the established system. Some can make it work by being a rebel, by being different, but they don’t sell well. Success is measured in sales.

Creativity within defined key elements based on the heritage of the brand. All brands change slowly and use their old designs for reference and modify them, but hardly will they do an all over re-design. Too much at stake. Nobody wants to lose sales and earnings and for prices, prices are set based on the perception of the brand value. For example, a €900 garment at wholesale price, will most likely retail at €1800, and cost only €30 to produce. You pay for your brand experience.

Gen showing samples of her work.

We learned about the trade shows, their mood booths and future trends. Everything you see is two years ahead.

We learned about a job title has many positions baked into to it. People are expected to help and get the job done. Such as when you are prototyping and your fashion show is only a few weeks ahead and your boss decides to scrap everything for a new vision and your staffs are hiding because of the scream they heard when the news broke.

2-3 hours sleep on average per night in the run up to fashion week. Having a show and the garments are still not ready. Getting the receptionist and the cleaners to help getting button holes done on time. Sewing decor elements directly onto the model the minute before stepping out on the catwalk and having to tear it all after the show.

Photographers photographing every piece of the collection on the day of the show, delivering images and the printers are working overnight to produce the look book that is delivered to all the buyers on the morning after the show.

While you are selling your current collection and dealing with buyers, you are researching and producing your next collection, the cycle never stops and Gen is traveling onwards, still in love with fashion, just like her heros, such as Jean Paul Gaultier: “I live fashion. I breathe fashion. I am fashion. Fashion is my passion.”

Thank you Gen for your inspirational speech!

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The outtakes, on location in Saigon, Vietnam

The urbanised jungle, the hunt is on.

On location, the urbanised jungle, hunting, or rather seeking out items that catches the eye. An exercise of vision in between clothes changes. On location shoots there will always be a bit of downtime between clothes changes and I rather keep the pulse going, trying not to break the concentration and rhythm. It’s more fun. I get to post the outtakes as they do not relate to my main story. It’s my side story. Like a diary. The main story will be told later, in the meantime, enjoy the outtakes:

Spotting the neck of a giraffe or...

...is it only a door handle...

...attached to a door. Different angles to the same story.

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To the top of the world, or at least to the 46th floor, the Skydeck at Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh City

Visitor enjoying the view from the Skydeck.

Famous cities around the world like to have an observation deck for tourists to see the city in all its splendour. Paris has its Eiffel Tower, with an almost infinite queue, that I passed on the opportunity of seeing Paris from above. New York was different, the former World Trade Center had both an indoor and outdoor observation deck. Yes, they had an almost matching queue to Paris, handling on average 80,000 visitors a day. I spent a whole morning, queueing, before seeing New York from the roof top. It was worth it. Having rooftop access is simply the best for a photographer. No obstructions to the lens.

Saigon’s skyline has changed over the years, but it was not until Bitexco Financial Tower was built, that there was some size to it. I did not get roof top access, nor access to the helipad, that is something that I very much would like to get.

What I did get was the opportunity to purchase a ticket to the Skydeck. No queues, straight to the counter, paying 200,000 VND for the ticket and got escorted to the lift. Traveling 7 meters per second, the journey to the 46th floor was fast,. (It still got 22 more floors.) Only a few tourists had taken the opportunity to see Saigon from above. Walking around you have a 360 degrees view and binoculars positioned around, free to use.

The Skydeck, 360 degrees view of Saigon.

Enjoying the view of Saigon.

For the view itself is brilliant, for a photographer, the challenges are great. Curved, tinted glass, sometimes with graphics on. Backlit, since the windows are letting in light wherever you go. Bright coloured neon lights, as floor decoration, reflects in the glass. Finally, the windows themselves. I was told that due to the rain the day before, the windows had too much dirt on them, making it tricky to get a clean, clear view. Sensor dust is nothing compared with dust on the window.

Dust can be a photographer's enemy or a friend, depends on how you see it.

Embracing the dust and invoking a past feeling, a vintage look, faded postcards from the past, only they are representing the present, was my route to take for image treatment. Enjoy an afternoon from Saigon’s own Skydeck:

Vintage feel from present day Saigon.

Vintage feel from present day Saigon.

Vintage feel from present day Saigon.

Vintage feel from present day Saigon.

Enjoying the sunset over Ho Chi Minh City.

Worth a trip, enjoy the view.

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Advertising billboard in Saigon

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen

It’s not the size that counts as Renault Clio’s advertising campaign used to tell us, but when it comes to seeing your work printed out big and put on display on a billboard, then yes, size do matters.

We did this ad for Dua Moc brand just in time for Tet and it is still up on the board in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. It had been a while since I had been in that area, but once spotted, then I returned to document it. One thing is to see the final artwork file, another is to see it on display, big size. Always a great feeling.

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen














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Recommended, Review, SaigonCreative

Saigon Creative’s event for April welcomed Tuan from the Propeller Group at Stella Cafe for: Culture exchange. Hip hop New York. Inspired Asian moves. Kung fu.

Tuan from Propeller Group in action.

Sunny Friday morning in Saigon and the Propeller Group represented by Tuan is ready to give a lecture to the early birds. Quite an exchange it was. A cultural exchange. The re-branding of Vietnam. Underground culture. Different from the underground in the past, the ones that everybody knows when you hear the word Vietnam. The tunnels, the fight, the struggle. The existing brand.

This is a very different underground. An underground that had seen graffiti but did not know what it was called until a backpacker visiting Hanoi in 2005 gave them the much needed information. A single word: Graffiti. Once the word was known, Google searches took place and more information was transferred.

Graffiti has blossomed since then. It is a reaction to advertising. Youth promoting their own voice. Is Vietnam becoming more Westernised? Do they only copy blindly? To that, we got a brief history about hip hop in New York. People often believe hip hop originated in New York, but when you ask the pioneers from the past, they would say that they got inspired by Asian moves. Balinese dance. Kung Fu. They saw something and adopted it. Fast forward and the best hip hop teams today originates in Asia.

The flow of exchange is made easier with the Internet. YouTube and Vimeo. Collaboration across the borders. The hip hop remix project.

Within in an hour we had jumped around subjects, seen videos and listened to music collaborations and had small debates. A member of the audience told us about a very special musical art form that is more or less unique to Vietnam. The blind man walking down alleys with blown out speakers, volume on max and playing 1920 raw blues tunes.

For those who missed out on yet another brilliant morning, please visit our new site and sign up for our newsletter. The events are always free of charge to attend.

Enjoy the images:

People finding seats at Stella and enjoying morning coffee.

Notebooks are a must to archive inspirational thoughts.

The more notebooks on display the better the lecture.

Discussion interchange.

Big thank you! to Tuan from Propeller Group for an interesting lecture.

My "Lucky Day" latte from Stella staff. It was a great day indeed!


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“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

While I was setting up and photographing interiors at FV Hospital, I got approached by a man coming out from the maternity ward. He asked me for contact details, told me he just became a dad again, then, that he ran a school and I would hear from him later. Less than a minute. Fast forward a few months and I am sitting at his office and discussing the assignment.

The school needs images. That is what we know. That’s all we know. We agree on scouting all the locations. We do that. We make a plan. A shoot list. Modify and finalise the shoot list. Then put together a time table and assign the days we will actually come and shoot the whole production.

The pre-planning is an immense timesaver. We know what to do, what angles that we want to get and we have had time to think about how we are setting our lights for each setup. Yes, all the images below have been lit with external flash units.

Is it overcast outside, no problem, portable sun at hand. Photography to me is working with light. Shaping it the way I want it to be. To get what I want to get. That’s the technical side, the controllable side. Then comes the creative side. The eye that sees and frames. Yin and Yang. Balance of skills. Photography is a life long journey. Enjoy!

Horizon International Bi-Lingual School (HIBS) school yard on an overcast day.

Learning to write. First grade classroom at HIBS.

Interactive electronic teaching board. Blackboard got upgraded.

Computer lab. Design class.

At the chemistry lab.

Study time at library.



For more inspiration, come and visit our inspirational morning events. You can sign up below. Always free to attend.

Online Ticketing for aSaigon/CreativeMorning welcomes The Propeller Group – 15 April, 2011 powered by Eventbrite






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Another sunrise over Ho Chi Minh City (and yes, I am not bored of it, yay!)

Sunrise over Saigon's District 1.

I don’t think I will ever grow bored at watching the sunrise. How many times in your life do you actually get up early, climb to a vantage point and enjoy the sun rising slowly on the horizon? I don’t do it often enough, that I know. The day feels longer and more productive, or shall I put it, more rewarding.

Heading for a meal after the shoot feels like going for lunch while others are arriving to have their breakfasts.

Of all the four mornings we spent on the rooftop, none were the same, all different. Same city, different light.

Enjoy the second set of samples from the rooftop overlooking Saigon’s District 1.

Sunrise over Saigon's District 1.

Sunrise over Saigon's District 1.


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Learning a new language, exploring HDR

Sunrise over Saigon.

It’s 5am. Been a breeze to get to the location. Getting up to 23rd floor took longer. The security guard took us the wrong way, we got locked out in the emergency staircase and had to walk down to the 18th floor before ascending again. As the horizon started to gain colour tones we quickly set up.

I was bracketing my captures. Wanted to try something new to me. HDR, or rather High Dynamic Range, enables you to capture a wider range of tones and will often look surreal as we are not used to see such a wide tonal range.

The technique has been around for awhile, the concept started in 1850 according to Wikipedia.

Purists will often dislike the HDR images and forums are filled with either love or hate for them. I am more pragmatic. I want to see what I can achieve. How new software can add a different touch. Best way is to start experimenting.

Just like our language is developing, expanding our vocabulary with new invented words, the visual language of photography continues to evolve too. All mostly driven by technology. Old school way would be to use gradient filters to control the tonal range when faced with extreme values. A sunrise is a good example. You want to preserve the details of the sky as well as the foreground. These days, bracketing and a computer are your best friends.

Looks, mood and treatment are all words that keep popping up. Before, you would spend time analysing what type of filters to use. What type of film to use. What type of processing method to use. Last, but not least, how you would work with your lights, setting it all up. The production stage took longer to complete. Fast forward and more time is spent on post production.

HDR is a new language to me, a language I am teaching myself to use. Exploring what is is capable of doing. Testing it to extremes to see what will happen and what you can get out of it. Not that you will use it everyday and all the time, but you need to have the knowledge. Knowledge is always important. To know what you can do. To know the limitations. To know the workflow. To know how to get things done.

It is always better to tell a client that a particular task cannot be done, however, you can do either A or B and that will cost X amount extra to implement. The worst you can do is to say you will sort it out later and not knowing how it is done.

Clients will always respect you if they are told upfront what can be done and what cannot. Limit their expectations and you can surprise them afterwards. Always manage expectations. Never promise something you cannot deliver. There are things you can save in post production, however, remember that post can be very time consuming and hence an expensive solution to something that could have been addressed at the capture stage.

Getting it right in camera is still valid.

Enjoy the experiments as the sun rises over Saigon!

Sunrise over Saigon.

Sunrise over Saigon black & white version.

Sunrise over Saigon.

Detail of Saigon River.

Detail of the Bitexco Financial Tower.

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On location in Ho Chi Minh City, the outtakes

On the road.

Getting up early seems to be the norm these days. Previously, while doing an assignment for a five star hotel/resort, we got up early for the sunrise shots. Today was a different assignment all together, however, up early we got. Assembled at six am. Our first video project. Yes, video. Once the job is done and released, more details will follow. In the meantime, enjoy the shots I did in between location moves and set ups. Only a few as I got to do b-roll later on, yay!

I still believe it is the best way of learning, on the job, hands on. Very much like my apprenticeship way back in the early ’90’s in Norway. Stay curious, one of my favourite motto’s. Video is now officially my newly discovered curiosity project and I am happy to be part of a great team, big yay!

Saigon skyline.

Roadside stall.

Worker offloading cargo from river boat.

Worker offloading cargo from river boat.

On the road.

On the road.

Walking on the road.

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Chasing the morning light along Saigon river

This is what you get by getting up early. Beautiful light. The road to yourself. Yes, it is a Sunday morning. Hardly any traffic. Fast forward 24 hours and you have the traffic jams. Sunday is a day of rest in most countries. Rest can be many things. It can be a stay in bed longer day or a day by the poolside or home doing nothing day. To me, nothing is more refreshing than to jump on the bike, cameras loaded and chase the good light. A perfect start of a very relaxing Sunday, or shall we say, Fun day.

The city looks peaceful from Thu Thiem bridge. First stop.

The red gate in District 2 and a few minutes patience.

Riverside view of Saigon skyline.

Red gate close up and the new Bitexco Financial Tower.

Closer view of the Bitexco Financial Tower.

From the peaceful start and stroll through the green scenery along the waterways, you suddenly notice that the country never stand still. Builders are at work. Like yin and yang, beauty and the beast, two takes on the scenery. Enjoy the industrial age on a Sunday morning!

Detail from work site.

Smoke fills the air.

Cranes at the docks.

Cleared land for development with the cranes in the background.

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Learning. Stay curious. Evolve.

I have always enjoyed reading. During my students days in London I could easily add 70 plus books a year. It did help to work as a part-time barista for one of the larger bookstores. A perfect fit. Decent coffee and good books. These days, most of my reading is done online, something my Twitter stream reflects.

When asked about what I love about my job I normally say it is that I get to learn something new all the time. Meeting new people. Seeing new places. Doing something different. No assignment is never really the same. That’s what I tell myself. To start fresh. Each time.

Standing outside the gates at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases I didn’t know what I was going to learn, however, I knew I would be walking away with more knowledge than I arrived with. I was there to document the research programme funded by the Wellcome Trust.  It was a different place. Past and present, life and death, young and old. Contrasts.

Mural of red-headed cranes in the courtyard

Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

Shrine at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

Playing volleyball in the grounds of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

Entrance to the Viet Anh Ward.

Interior Viet-Anh Ward.

Patient visit.

Lead by example. One of my favorites from the assignment.

Health check.

OUCRU stairway.

Work in progress.


Serotyping shigella in the microbiology lab.

Working on biochemical identification of bacteria.

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CreativeMorning, Photography

A very creative morning with Adrian Jones

Coffee served by Malongo.

A big thank you to Malongo for serving great coffee and The Tin Foil Grill for the excellent food. Enjoy the images below from the event.

The guests arrived and found time for some mingling with one of the organizers, Sandrine.

David, another organizer together with Adrian Jones.

David kicking off the event.

Lights off, slideshow rolling. Art time.

Audience in action.

Adrian in response to comments.

Meeting area fully packed.

End of the slideshow.

A big "Thank you!" to Adrian Jones for a brilliant presentation.

If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, please follow this link. Be the first to know the next speaker and secure a seat.

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XO Tours, your two-wheeled experience of the streets of Saigon

XO Tours branded motorbike.

XO stands for Xe Om, the name for motorbike taxis. However, XO Tours riders are far from your typical guy on the corner motorbike taxi. Mr Tung is the man behind the new tour concept of letting female guides dressed in traditional Vietnamese dress, Ao Dai, take tourists around for a spin.

People arriving to Saigon for the first time are easily overwhelmed by the traffic. I remember when I arrived for the first time, the endless streams of motorbikes. I was advised to take a taxi and get my bearings before attempting to be a local and hire a motorbike taxi, a xe om.

As they say “When in Rome…”. I did, within the next few weeks of my arrival, try out the local motorbike taxis. Some were careful riders, others, they had a secret wish for being a formula one driver, leaving you sweating after a ride filled with anxiousness and close calls. I bought my own bike.

The Vietnamese family that I stayed with at that time were convinced I would have accidents and quickly taught me the words to say sorry before letting me out of the gates on my bike. Knock on wood, I still haven’t caused a road accident. I have been victim of road accidents and that is easy in a city where people do not respect traffic rules and regulations.

However, I was fortunate enough to provide images for XO Tours and I believe Tung has a really good concept on his hands by letting tourists explore the city on wheels safely. Read more about it on their website.

Passing the Opera house.

Passing Ben Thanh market.

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Recommended, Review

Saigon Creative Morning, a monthly serving of fresh ideas, inspiration, coffee & uncertain bakery items

Morning coffee for Creative souls.

Friday morning came, so did our attendees and our speaker, Dustin Nguyen. Coffee and pastry in hand, people started the small talk. Mingling around, then moved on to secure a good seat before kick off. After a short introduction, Dustin Nguyen pulled out a chair and started telling. An unplugged speech. An honest approach. Just as himself. Never over promise, never put yourself in a situation that you have promised something that you cannot deliver.

Hearing him tell about when he went into a meeting, sealed the deal, only to find out that most of what he wanted to do is not allowed in Vietnam. Going back and sorting it all out was humbling he said, but in my opinion shows guts and courage. Face the music upfront and you have less of a chance having your own party gatecrashed by unhappy investors or sponsors.

The whole event was filmed and will be released soon, please subscribe at Saigon Creative Morning’s website for further updates.

Below are some images from the event so you can get a feel of the venue and the setup. Enjoy!

Rockstar! David (Bowie) has just put on the music and his smile.

David giving a short introduction. Note the tie to pull down the garagedoor to divide the meeting room area.

The show is on!

Our first speaker, Dustin Nguyen.

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Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Godt Nyttår! Happy New Year! …and congratulations to the birth of Saigon Creative Mornings

Saigon Creative Mornings website

A new year and new opportunities. Back to Saigon after a Xmas break to Norway, images to come once the editing has been done. From wonderful Xmas food (extra kilos gained) and visits to friends and family it actually feels good to be back. After two weeks of enjoyment, boredom was setting in. Or, rather, restlessness to be busy again.

This year is off to a promising start and this month will see the birth of Saigon Creative Mornings.

Our first speaker is the actor Dustin Nguyen and the event sold out, or as it is free, got fully booked, in just a matter of days. Still not as crazy as in New York where these events are booked within minutes of going live on the web. Our waiting list is growing and unfortunately we don’t have more space available at the moment. It is exciting to see the response. Thank you everybody for making this happen.

Please join our LinkedIn group and participate with feedback and suggestions. Let us know who you want to see and hear. We also welcome sponsors. We have internationally renowned people that we can fly in if we have the funds available. There is no limit to where we can take it to with your help and support.

Let’s take our first step to a more creative year. Let’s make it worth it!

…and maybe change the cup of coffee to the Vietnamese Ca Phe Sua Da.

Coffee with ice and milk, Vietnamese style, aka Ca Phe Sua Da.

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