Monthly Archives: May 2008

What Is Justice?

May 27, 2008

For many people, the idea of "justice" simply
means retribution meted out by a system of punishment.  Indeed, I think
most people think this way, don’t they? 

To me, the Sichuan
earthquake raises an opportunity for examination of how justice is
perceived by members of society.  What is justice?   Is it the same or
different in this culture versus my own?  In my world, justice is a
concept far broader than a sentence handed down in a criminal or civil
court.  Justice is all about ethics and morality in the broader social
sense.  Sichuan provides a framework within which to look at the issue
of the larger concept of social justice, merely because it brings one
issue into sharp focus:  disparity between rich and poor, between haves
and have nots.  Yes, everyone was affected.  I don’t want to downplay
any loss.  But some were disproportionately affected. 

N.Y. Times ran an article dated May 26, 2008, entitled "Grief in the
Rubble: Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Crumbled," by Jim Yardley (
click here to see article )

photographs are shocking.  A well constructed, intact school (that was
used by monied children) stands tall beside the literal crumbs and
powder of a school constructed using inferior techniques and materials
(used by poor children, several hundred of whom died).

Does an
extremely disparate standard of living between rich and poor (and even,
in this case, a different standard of care that assumed proportions of
life and death), say something about the overall state of justice
within a society?  In other words, how do overall social conditions
reflect justice?  Many people think that the way society is structured
— how people are treated, how people are valued, the value that is
placed on life, the opportunity for all to have a good life — is a
fundamental component of justice.  In fact, the most powerless and most
unable to help themselves are children and animals.  I’ve heard it said
that if you want to gauge the moral development of a society, look at
how it treats its animals, because animals and children are those least
able to protect themselves. 

The demands of morality are also
not personal to one individual. There is a popular saying in the U.S.
that "you can’t legislate morality."  This is anything but true!  Laws,
and the mechanisms by which they are enforced, are based upon and
reflect the morality of a society.  When an individual fails to comply
with the basic standards of morality in a culture, it is incumbent upon
government to protect others in society from that individual’s harmful
conduct. This is where police come in handy!   I think how much police
are needed in a culture boils down partly to an ability in that society
of individuals to think altruistically, to consider the possibility of
an Other who has the same worth as Myself.  How far that concept goes
determines moral consciousness and the collective morality of a

The modern moral philosopher Jurgen Habermas, from
Germany, writes about a tiered system of morality.  It’s been many
years since I’ve read his writings, but Habermas divides morality into
six stages, with pure selfishness at the bottom and then progressing up
a pyramidal scheme toward altruism based on uinversal principles at the

Fundamentally, he views the lowest level of morality as
being governed purely by greed and self interest.  In this view, others
are seen as purely instrumental — as means to an end:  "How can I use
this person to achieve my objectives?"  No altruistic motive drives a
person who operates at this level of morality; he is strictly out to
serve himself.  Since a person with this level of morality does not
have inner controls, he must be governed and policed by strict rules. 
The only thing he responds to is fear of punishment. 

example of this might be a car speeding on the highway.  The only thing
that stops the driver from speeding 120 mph through a children’s
crossing zone is the fear of perhaps getting caught by a policeman. 
People like this use radar detectors in their cars to evade the
police.  In the scheme of risk benefit analysis, they may be aware of
the issue of foreseeable consequences, but they don’t care so much
about what those consequences might be for others.  They just want to
get where they want to be, and fast, without regard to others on the
roadway. The only thing this person responds to is a strong police

Legislation and police enforcement.  This is what
regulatory agencies are all about.  For instance, agencies responsible
for permitting and inspecting buildings in earthquake prone areas. 
by an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude, it’s obvious that many buildings
will not escape unscathed no matter how well they are built.  But that
doesn’t mean the building ought to turn to powder and crush all those
inside, either. 

The big question everyone knows about the
Sichuan earthquake is this:  Why did so many buildings crumble, while
others were left intact.  Well, obviously we know why the buildings
failed.  It was shoddy construction.  The builders in Sichuan were able
to get by with it because of who the buildings were constructed for: 
not only children but often children of lower socioeconomic status. So
many of those buildings were schools, housing tens of thousands of
students.  The answer has everything to do with morality and justice: 
the morality of the people who built and inspected the buildings, and
the justice that flows (or fails to flow) from that attitude. 

policeman failed to police, in that the inspectors allowed the
buildings to be built and occupied.  Even worse in my mind, from a
morality viewpoint, is the fact that someone constructed those schools
to shoddy building standards knowing the risk. 

are nothing new to Sichuan Province.  They are clearly foreseeable. 
Someone actually took the profit they made from skimping on materials,
or from not spending the money properly, and enriched themselves
personally.  And those children paid the price. 

Beyond this
general lack of concern for the little children generally who would
inhabit those buildings, there is the issue of why the poor children’s
schools collapsed and the rich childrens’ schools didn’t.  Why should
the poor bear the brunt of shoddy construction?  And now that so many
have paid the "ultimate price," the more important question, in my
mind, is what will be done about it moving forward? 

Will the
response be "same old, same old"  — suppression of media reporting,
targeting of a few scapegoats for execution, and then return to the
same old policies that enabled the shoddy construction in the first
place — or will the response to protect people be as spectacularly
positive as the government’s initial response to the disaster itself? 
Unfortunately, a frequent response is pure denial of a problem. If a
pesky reporter is writing investigative journalism articles about
pollution, or if a lawyer is making a nuisance of himself challenging
the detention of a dissident, a frequent response of authorities is to
silence that person rather than to examine and address the problem. But
there could be a different attitude now. We hope. A tragedy — and
guilt that ensues from that tragedy — can indeed provide the catalyst
that spurs change in a new direction.  Hope springs eternal. 
the article "Grief in the Rubble," the parent of one of the victims is
quoted as saying, “We want to bring justice for our children. . . . We
want the local officials to pay the price.” 

Unfortunately, in
my view, this understandable attitude seeking retribution will not
cause anything in the current system to change.  All retribution, in
the form of confessions and executions, would result in would be a few,
token executions of public officials who were scapegoated.  After they
were “dealt with,” the problem would be presumed to have been solved
even though none of the factors which contributed to it have been

Unlike Western law, Chinese law does not so
explicitly distinguish between criminal and civil liability.  An
official who takes bribes or who fails in his job may be executed (as
was the head of the drug licensing agency last year).  My personal
perception is that these executions satisfy the public bloodlust as
retribution for evil, and surely the fear of this type of punishment
must provide some incentive for public officials to do their jobs. 
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really address the root of the evil.  Unless
the true attitudes and practices that enabled the shoddy building
standards — all of the attitudes and practices that enable it,
including values are rooted out and addressed — the problem will
remain.  It won’t do any good, overall, for a few unfortunate officials
to "pay the price." 

The only thing that will change things in
the long run is to change the entire system.  I pray that these
shocking photos will bring some people to their senses when it comes to
the idea that money is to be pursued at any cost.  It is possible for
entire systems to change, after all. And China is a country that can do
A mudslide  in  Sichuan has dammed a river and the
water is rising to dangerous levels.  The China Daily reported
yesterday 1,800 men are each carrying 10 KG of explosives into an area
only accessible by air or foot, to blow up the mud slide and release
the river.  Wow!  I mean, when the Chinese (civilians or government
alike) decide to make something happen, they really know how to do it! 

Indeed, when the Sichuan quake first hit, the government made a
commendable, a really outstanding, response.  The People’s Liberation
Army went in through perilous mountain passes and got supplies in and
people out.  But the PLA, and government in general, can’t do it all. 
At some point, people must move beyond reliance on the "big policeman
in the sky" as the sole source of moral conduct. While blame can surely
be levied on government officials who enabled the shoddy building
practices, the buck doesn’t really stop there.  Their laxity, though
enabling, was not the root cause.

To effect long
lasting, fundamental change, the building practice themselves must
change, starting with developing a culture where compliance with good
building practices is enthusiastically endorsed by those who construct
the buildings.  In this case, the buildings were constucted by monied
construction companies, not public officials.  Those companies have
bosses, and the bosses of those companies made the decisions to
construct with shoddy building materials.  It is not enough to censure
"public officials."  Even though some measure of accountability must
also be demanded from the government permitting and inspecting bodies
that enabled this degree of laxity, the first layer of accountability
must come from those who made the decision to build unsafe buildings in
the first place. 

A greater change of heart is needed.  This
change of heart must begin with how the less fortunate are perceived
throughout society.  The less fortunate must be perceived as having
value merely by virtue of being human, with lives worthy of being
protection in the first place. 

According to Habermas, this
concern with society in general is the next stage in the development of
morality: altruism.  Altruism is an ability to be concerned about an
Other, the ability to be concerned with how that second party will be
affected by our decisions.  If we are so concerned, then we don’t use
the wrong blend of sand to make our concrete, and we use enough steel
rebar to make sure the buildings are properly supported.  Why?  Because
of police?  No.  Because we don’t want to be responsible for the deaths
of people inside, no matter who they might be, when the inevitable
earthquake shakes the ground.  We have developed an altruistic
concern.  We recognize that laws are for the greater good of society. 

I recall, Habermas goes so far as to equate this level of morality with
the moral development one could expect of a ten year old.  The person
concerned only about getting caught, on the other hand, Habarmas
equates as being on the same stage of moral development as a three year
old child. 

Vastly oversimplifying in my brief summary, the
next stage above the specific concern for others in our group,
according to Habermas, is a general concern for overall good.  In
philosophy this might be very similar to Hedonism (what action brings
the most overall happiness).  This level is characterized by a concern
that goes beyond merely you or me and the person in the building.  It’s
a concern that says we should be worried about all buildings and make
sure they are all safe for all people. 

And then at the top of
his moral pyramid (perhaps the moral equivalent of self actualization
in Maslow’s Triangle) is a generally altruistic concern for adherence
with moral principles because they are good in and of themselves for
the benefit of all people.  Just as most people never reach Maslow’s
stage of "self actualization," most people similarly never reach the
stage of being morally altruistic.  Most remain centered somewhere
around the self or immediate loved ones, tribe, or culture. 

my experience, most people I encounter in my daily life, on the street
here in China, are operating at the very base level.  Just today, for
example, I was riding my bicycle along the street.  A car pulled out
right in front of me and stopped.  If I hadn’t been able to stop in
time, I would have been hurt.  The driver, a young female, wasn’t
malicious. She simply was not concerned in any way for me one way or
the other.  No concern whatsoever.  In her life, I and my bicycle were
of such little consequence that we did not exist.  If I had hit her
car, her main concern would have been whether I left a scratch. 

days ago during Munchkin’s swimming class, I had a different but
similar experience.  A woman, with two children in tow, assisted by her
mother and two paid helpers to manage the two children (conspicuously
wealthy), interrupted the swimming class to try and have a private
conversation with the swimming coach.  I sensed the attitude written
all over her:  "I have prestige, I can demand the coach’s time at the
expense of others, and (implied), the other people in the class are
worthless to me." 

This also happens in my home culture, of
course.  There are people who cut in line, people who break the rules,
people who speed their cars in school zones.  Implicitly, the message
all of these people are sending is, "I am concerned for myself, I am
not concerned for others."  It’s epitomized in the saying, “Look out
for number one.” (Number one is slang to mean that I am only looking
out for myself.)

China has a lot of people.  It is impossible
to be concerned for everyone.  When one is so concerned, the burden is
overwhelming.  As Sophie told me so long ago, "If I gave one RMB to
this person, and to that one, and to every beggar I see, I would have
nothing left."  One response is simply to give nothing, to choose not
to be concerned, to choose to overlook.  A lot of people in China take
this approach, or they donate to their temple.  If they donate at the
temple, then their guilt is assuaged. In effect they can say, "I gave
at the office." 

I’m not sure how to effect a sea change,
culturally, but I’d advocate on behalf of a change in the area of
altruism.  It’s apparent from the response to the earthquake that the
Chinese can respond to the needs of others in an altruistic way.  It is
a good thing.  I hope that every Chinese person who has contributed or
helped realizes what a powerful impact each individual can have. 
Separately, we are nothing.  Separately, we are mere worms. 
Collectively, though, we are dragons.  Collectively we can indeed make
the world a better place.  Collectively, we can construct a society
where all children go to safe schools. 

Collectively, I hope
that the failure of the buildings will result in real examination of
the causes.  The real cause wasn’t sand and mortar.  The real cause was
an attitude deep within peoples’ hearts and minds.  It’s an attitude
which presumes that others, less fortunate others, were somehow less
deserving of care and concern.  Scapegoating and executing a few public
officials and a few factory owners won’t change that widespread
attitude.  But if light is shone on the problem, then actually real
change can begin, and the lives of the poor can actually become
better.  That is justice. 

Amos 5:24: "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." 

Luke 12:6-7: "Are
not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is
forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Do not fear; you are worth more than many sparrows." 


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Filed under Ethics

Regulations Governing Import of Dog or Cat to USA

Update on August 1, 2008

This is my blog entry in "How To Bring a Dog or Cat Into the United States"

I apologize for the rambling nature of this post, but at the moment I don’t have time to rewrite it.  There are actually four different posts, in reverse chronological order, which I posted as I learned how to do it.  Basically, I list the resources and information you will need to import a dog or cat out of China and into the USA and then describe my own experience in doing so.  I made each posting as I got the information, and then I updated it as I learned more. 

It was much easier to do than I had anticipated, and also it was definitely much cheaper to do it myself.  If you have any particular questions, please feel free to send a message and I will tell you if I know the answer or not.  Also, my information only applies to pet dogs and cats, but the resources listed below will help you figure out how to import other pet animals. 

We made the decision to only bring the dog, mostly because we didn’t think our cat would do so well on the trip and we were able to find a really good home for the cat.  She was very skittish and got upset easily.  In hindsight, it was so easy to bring the animal and I really miss her, and I wonder if it was the right decision.  However, the person who has her now is giving her a great home and assures me that she is happy.  So, I’m happy.  The dog is doing fine and has adjusted amazingly well.  She’s a little chihuahua who loves her family and is happy wherever we are.  She hasn’t seemed phased in the least by the universe that seems to keep changing around her.  She is perfectly happy as long as she’s with us, which is almost every minute of every day since she’s so small and easy to carry.  (The only time we leave her at home is when she isn’t allowed to go with us or when she’d have to wait in a hot car.) 

Anyway, as you read, bear in mind that there are four posts in this one entry, and you may want to begin with the first one (far below) which was way back in late May or early June, as we were preparing to leave Guangzhou: 

Update on June 27, 2008:
We carried Fido in a carry on bag onto the plane and brought her back into the USA with zero trouble at all.  Here’s how it worked.  I double checked with the airline ahead of time to make sure we were set to take the dog.  When we got to the check-in counter at the airport, the clerk had to call the manager.  He took the white certificate from the Chinese government (official document saying the dog had all vaccinations and was free from disease) and then he created another document which he called a "security clearance".  Then he sent us on our way.   We just walked through departure and customs.  Then at security, they had us take the dog out of the carrier and carry her through the metal detector while they xrayed the carrier bag (which I learned is required to be soft sided for interior cabin use). 

When we arrived in Tokyo, we were paged and met by an airline or airport representative when we got off the plane.  He looked at our documents and asked if we had an extra copy.  We didn’t know if we did or not, so we asked him to make a photocopy, which he did.  This added maybe ten minutes to our transfer time.  Then, we walked through the airport security again (again, taking dog out of kennel and walking her through the metal detector) and went to our departure gate. 

None of the airports or places had any place for the dog to relieve herself.  Fortunately, she is paper trained so we were able to take her to the rest room and use newspapers for that purpose and then clean them up. 

When we arrived at USA Customs, we checked the box where it said we had a live dog.  Then we had to go to a special Agriculture Department counter.  The guy there looked at her immunization records and then looked at her to ascertain that she was, indeed, alive, then flagged us through.  That did not add much time, either, maybe ten minutes. 

Home free!  We were already past security checks and didn’t have to do any more of that prior to boarding our last flight. 

Finally, the vet had given us a sedative to use if needed, but we didn’t need it.  The only time she ever whimpered was when she was out of our sight, and that was only a few times when we set her carrier down and we were not in her line of visibility. 

Good traveler, good experience, and I’m so glad it all worked out okay.

Update on June 3, 2008:  My regular vet, John Wu in Guangzhou, returned from a trip to the USA after I wrote this.  He explained things and rescued me from the translation issues and red tape of the Chinese

He explained to me that the "red passport" was a
Guangzhou City registration.  Ten days prior to departure, his staff
will carry that little red book — along with my pets’ vet records, a letter from him certifying good
health, two passport style photos of each pet (one from front and one
from side), and my passport — all to the appropriate government agency.  For a fee of course, they will take care of getting the official certification from the Chinese agency that will allow
my pet to travel out of China. 

I threw the burden on my travel agent
to make the plane reservations for the pets.  The airline instructed
them to tell me that I will just need a rabies certificate to get into
the USA (I plan to have the letter of good health and complete
immunization records on hand as well). 

The cost per pet to travel as
carry on luggage (both are small) is $130 per animal.  Taking a larger pet as air cargo has different issues, involving both cost and climate control on the airplane (it gets pretty cold at 35,000 feet) and in airports (it gets pretty hot in  cargo areas of airports during summer weather).  Portability is one reason we chose a chihuahua as a pet! 

Original entry: 

Packing, moving, saying goodbye to friends, shopping for and buying the few things we want to take back with us, locating a new place to live in the USA,  . . .  the list of what needs to be done five weeks prior to departure is very long. 

That "to do" list includes figuring out how to get Fluffy and Fido — a cat and a dog — back into our home country.  For some strange reason, I never imagined that I’d ever become an expert in the regulations governing import and export of pets into and out of the United States.  But, it brings to mind something my Great Grandmother once told me.  She said that in her life, at age 90-something, she had learned the truth of the motto:  "Never say never." 

Sure enough, I’ve had to figure out how to get Fluffy and Fido back into the USA.  It seems like such a common issue that I decided to share the information as I obtain it.  (If anyone who has more experience with this has better information, please notify me and I’ll change the post.  I note also that the requirements for dogs are not the same as for cats; and the requirements for fish, birds, rodents, etc., are altogether different.  If you are researching for pets other than dogs or cats, these pages will help you but my post specifically relates to dogs and cats.)

A web page that seems to have a fairly succinct summary for many types of animals is the brochure "Pets and Wildlife: Licensing and Health Requirements" published by the U.S. Customs Service, Publication 0000-0509 and available at this link: .  Unfortunately, it doesn’t give enough detail to be particularly helpful. 

One pet relocation company says, "Sure, we’ll relocate Fido for you," but they want 10,000 RMB per pet.  In various years, I’ve head prices ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 per pet.  Some people pay this, or their employer pays it.  It’s a legitimate part of the cost for what it takes to place an expat family overseas (and back).  No doubt about it, moving a family and leaving the pets behind is traumatic. The presence of pets provides comfort and continuity for children and adults alike.  Considering that something like 70% of failed expat assignments are related to poor adjustment of the expat’s family, the expense can be justified as a business expense.  By contributing to the well being of the family, the pet relocation contributes to the success of the expat assignment.  Nevertheless, this price is pretty steep.  It’s more than many Chinese people earn in a year of work.  In some countries, it’s more than several years worth of average wages.  I decided to look around a bit more. 

It’s not like the GOVERNMENTS are charging that much.  If one can do it for themselves, surely it’s a lot cheaper.  I’m also told that the process of import and export isn’t that hard, either.  If all your paperwork is done properly, I’m told it’s a piece of cake.  I’ve met people in airports who tell me that meeting the requirements is simple and that they take their dog everywhere they go, all over the world.  Getting the right paperwork is simply a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.  But the risk is high.  What if we got to the airport, tickets in hand two hours prior to departure, and we were told Fluffy and Fido couldn’t get on the plane with us?  What’s the fallback plan for that?  Worse, what if we arrived in the USA and were at the counter at Customs and were told Fluffy and Fido couldn’t come into the USA?  What’s the fallback plan then

So, here’s the flow chart.  First you have to figure out what’s required to exit the exporting country.  Second, you have to figure out what is required by your airline.  Third, you have to figure out what’s required to enter the importing country.  Fourth, you have to figure out what’s required to enter the particular state, district, or city that is your destination.  Here’s what I’ve found so far:  


To leave China.  I was told today that there is a special red passport which is issued when the animal gets its rabies shot.  One veterinarian wanted 150 RMB for this passport.  Another wanted 1,500 RMB.  However, neither veterinary office had an actual, licensed vet in the building.  Because of requirement #2 (below), I did not want the shot administered by a non-licensed vet, so I did not get the shot today. 


Find this out by looking at the web page for your airline.  A hard carrier meeting certain specifications will certainly be required, as will special reservations and handling arrangements.  During the hottest summer months, airlines do not allow animals to be stored in cargo holds.  Bear all of this in mind as you are planning your travel. 


To enter the United States.  Import of an animal into the USA appears to be governed by three, separate U.S. Agencies: 

A.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a regulation at 42 CFR 71.51.( "
Title 42–Public Health, Chapter 1 — Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, Part 71 — Foreign Quarantine," )

B . The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 9 CFR 93.600 requires every dog to have been examined fewer than five days prior to departure and certified by a licensed veterinarian to be free from screwworm:
( )

C.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a web page which basically requires most dogs to present with proof of rabies vaccination certified by a licensed veterinarian.  ("Importation
of Pets and Other Animals Into the United States," )

D.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention publishes its own regulations.  But at least they’re on a FAQ web site ( at CDC "Importation of Pets, Other Animals, and Domestic Products into the United States," ). 

E.  The penalty if you don’t get it right is pretty stiff:  According to the CFR, an animal denied entry into the USA must either be destroyed or sent back to the country of origin.  As hard as it might be to leave Fido behind, imagine the trauma to one’s children of having Customs confiscate the animal and kill it.  In other words, DON’T MAKE A MISTAKE! 


The final step is to get your animal into your state, territory, or any other city that has jurisdiction over you.  For regulations governing your particular state, see this link: 


Anyone considering importing their animal by themselves needs to create a chart which lists the requirements of every agency / party / airline involved, and make sure they have complied with every requirement by every agency.  In my case, this means I need a certificate from a licensed veterinarian saying that the animal is in good health, along with a rabies vaccination showing a sticker from a recognized vaccine and signed by a license veterinarian at least 30 days prior to departure.  To be safe, I’ll also show evidence of Bordetella vaccine (don’t let your pet be around other animals unless it’s had this vaccine) and deworming.  I’ll also be sure to have all this translated into English, and in the little red passport that I was shown today.  The kennel must meet size and hardness specifications, and it also must be clean and free from organic material such as straw bedding (which is forbidden for import).  If I get any more information, I’ll post. 


Filed under Daily Life

Moment of Silence / Prayer for Earthquake Victims

News Flash!  I have just been informed that today and tomorrow at 2:28 P.M. (China time), all of China will stop for three minutes silence in remembrance for the victims of the earthquake. 

The earthquake started at 2:28 P.M. a week ago today and lasted for three minutes.  A friend who sent email said that the three minutes when the earth shook was a very, very long time. 

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Filed under News and politics

Sichuan Earthquake and one way to help

I received a phone call on Saturday with a request that I relay a specific need for aid in the Sichuan region.  The Chengdu YMCA contacted the Guangzhou YMCA asking for specific assistance.  (Chengdu City is in the earthquake zone and while it was not a full 7.9 on the richter scale, I understand that the quake there was a 7.5.)

The YMCA and YWCA in Chengdu (operating jointly) help to support an orphanage in that region.  The YMCA and YWCA in China are not exactly the same as their counterparts I am familiar with in the USA.  Here, they are one of the very few registered, Christian organizations and involved in direct outreach in that capacity.  They do many, many activities that fall under the general heading of social work, reaching hundreds of people in each city where the Y is located (e.g. Guangzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjian, Wuhan, etc).  There is both a religious and a nonreligious component of the outreach of the YMCA.  (I won’t try to explain more.  If you are interested in learning more, I can put you in direct contact with them.)

The phone call I received was from a Y staff member because she knew I might have contacts in the foreign community here. 

There was some language translation issue.  I may be mistaken about the facts.  But I believe the orphanage that is sponsored by the YMCA is in or near Beichuan, which was at or near the epicenter of the earthquake.  In fact, I was told, it was YMCA volunteers who showed the way for the PLA to reach Beichuan (or the orphanage) after the earthquake had destroyed the roads going into the town.  This was because of their familiarity with the rural area.  I hate to report this, but I was told that what they found in the mountains that entire villages in remote areas had been buried in mudslides.  There are steep mountains, with the villages nestled in the valleys.  Entire villages have been wiped out, and I think these are not accounted for in the terrible numbers we are already hearing.  The mountains are virtually impassable in these areas because of the mudslides. 

The good news is that I understand that the orphans have been collected and are being taken care of by the YMCA.  Unfortunately, the YMCA building lost its roof.  The YMCA is therefore requesting donations in the form of cash to help address the most desperate needs of the children, of the community, and for a new roof. 

I was told that the best way to get money to the YMCA is by direct wire transfer into its bank account in China.  For obvious reasons, I prefer to stay out of any communication loop when it comes to money!   Therefore,  if anyone is interested in this, please either contact the YMCA or YWCA directly, or send me a message and I will put you in direct contact with them. 

(Some YMCA / YWCA pages in China: 

Here in Guangzhou, I didn’t feel a bit of a tremor last Monday.  But the outpouring of help here has been amazing.  I’ve seen people lined up at booths where donations were being accepting, waiting to give aid.  People are donating blood and supplies as well.  Not only has the media been given access, but people’s attention has
been riveted on the earthquake zone.  Everywhere there is a television or radio, it is tuned to
the news and people are following it closely — waitresses in
restaurants, taxi drivers, workers in offices, etc. 

I’m not at all surprised by the openness of the government in its quick response and in allowing news reports of the rescue efforts.  What other reaction could there be, after the shocking neglect by the government in Myanmar?  Surely that regime’s bizarre behavior illustrates a policy that no nation would emulate.  Rather, to see such a position from the viewpoint of an outsider may provide a mirror by which to gauge one’s own actions.  If anything, I would expect any observer of the Myanmar situation to make a proactive decision to welcome aid and any intervention that would save lives.

I’m glad we can be thankful that the Chinese government is pouring its resources into relief efforts as well as accepting aid from other nations to reduce the loss of life. 

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Happier Times

This photo is of Munchkin with Chin, one of our very kind friends from Burma.  I posted it before the China earthquake.  News of the quake is also horrific.  I don’t want to downplay any of the suffering, injury, and loss of life.  But at least in China, unlike Myanmar, the government gives a rip whether the people live or die. 

This part of the world could really use a lot of your prayers right now. 

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How to Help In Myanmar (Burma)?

10 May 2008

Are you wondering what an individual can do to help in Myanmar (Burma)?  Maybe that hasn’t crossed your mind, but it has been on mine.  

Having just been in Myanmar recently, I find myself very worried about people I know there in a keenly personal way.  And worried about people I don’t know there.  Because the Burmese are a people one can’t help but develop an affinity for.  This is how traveling, or living abroad, affects people generally:    Things that happen in distant places are no longer distant.  They’re place we’ve been.  Things that happen to strangers are no longer abstract.  They are happening to people we know.  And, visualizing the general state of the dwellings and standards of living that I recall from our trip to Burma — I distinctly remember that most dwellings in the countryside are  (were?) thatch huts with dirt floors, with water and mosquitoes very close by — and recalling that there is generally speaking no heavy or mechanical equipment available to ordinary people for moving trees etc,  I can vividly imagine the devastation and the difficulty these people will have recovering from it.  These people who already live so close to the fringe of meeting the basic necessities of life and yet who find ways to be kind and welcoming, happy and cheerful in spite of it.  I’m not trying to say everything and everyone in Burma is happy all the time, etc., but overall it is a beautiful country with wonderful people.  So . . .

What can we do to help the people who are suffering in Burma?  If you don’t care, then read no further. 

If you do care and want to do something . . .  this blog entry is for you. 

The NY Times has a web page which links to humanitarian organizations
(nonprofit relief agencies) poised to deliver aid whenever they are ALLOWED IN to do so. The
problem is, I understand from reading Al Jazeera news online that if an
aid organization is not on the ground already, the military junta so
far isn’t letting them in.

(Generally, see, , and here is a link to an update in today’s edition: )

Given a fundamental lack of access, how can we send assistance?

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)
already has a
significant presence on the ground in the country and therefore is
allowed to operate. Here is a link to their web page: (this is the Hong Kong site) or (this is the USA site).

I read that World Vision has 500 workers in the country and is presently distributing aid. Here is a link to their web page:

The International Red Cross was one of the very first responders,
sending in materials through Malaysia (which has a policy of engagement
with Myanmar and therefore is more welcomed). Here is a link to one of
ICRC web pages: as well as donation page:

After the Tsunami, Oxfam was one of the first groups to airlift in
sanitation and water purification plants. Clean water is one of the
biggest concerns in the current crisis. Here is the link to Oxfam. I
don’t think they’re on the ground in the country yet (I may be
mistaken), but they have a good history of financial accountability and
reliability, as well as a lot of experience: ( this is the American site, there are others around the world).  (In fact, their current web page states pretty strong and cogent reasons why airlifts of supplies are not a good idea.) 

To give an estimate of the size of the problem, it’s estimated that 1
million people are currently homeless in Myanmar, a country with a
total population of 55 Million. Much of the delta area is still deluged
with salt water, which has also contaminated drinking wells. As if that
were not enough, rotting corpses and sewage is now also polluting water
supplies, and the government is stonewalling. I need not say more!

These agencies already on the ground may be able to bypass the
government roadblocks in ways that your "usual" charity may not be able
to, and certainly more effectively than any organization that has been
involved in boycotting or criticizing the current regime (e.g. Laura
Bush’s harsh verbal comments against the government on the same day as
the Cyclone sure set the tone for GW’s offer, made just a bit later,
of US aid delivered by the MILITARY. Yeah, Right.  Do you think a government committed to the belief that the U.S. government is set on destabilizing it is going to let the U.S. Military come onto its soil?)  Organizations that
have taken a strong stand against the present regime, in my estimation,
will certainly be locked out of any relief effort no matter what it
costs in terms of human life.

Mother Teresa said: "Do your work as if everything depends on it, and then leave the rest to God."  This is one of my favorite quotes.  Think about the full meaning of both phrases in the sentence, and you’ll see why I try to set her standard as a rule for how to live!  

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Guangzhou Torch

May 7, 2008

It’s here!  Munchkin’s school sent notice home yesterday that it was closing at 2:00 PM today because of traffic disruption caused by the Olympic Torch.  This was the first time it occurred to me that this symbol would be coming within miles of my home!  In my mind, it’s always been something very distant and "somewhere else". 

If you’ve never experienced crowds in China, then you’ve never experienced crowds.  If anything, protests by the rest of the world have inspired national people here to come out and support their Olympics and their athletes.  I’d frankly love to see the torch, but I’m not sure if we’d even be able to get close enough for a peek! 

To get a notion of the crowds, take a peek at this video, filmed at 7:45 AM this morning: 

Well, yesterday, I needed to go out to Beijing Lu to shop for an item.  Beijing Lu is a pedestrian walking street in one of the oldest parts of the city.  There is a dugout section with archaeology excavation showing the old city wall dating at least to 900 AD.  When I got there, the street was lined on both sides with Olympic flags.  There was a girl selling pairs of little flags — one red, China flag and one Olympic flag — for 3 RMB per set.   I looked at it, and decided it didn’t look like 3 RMB material to me, so I passed. 

As I looked at the flags on the street, I suddenly realized why they were there — that it was being readied for arrival of the torch!   The street seemed cleaner and quieter than usual.   I wish I had taken a picture of the flags!  I had my camera, but I was in such a hurry that I didn’t take time to do it!  I noticed that there was a heavier than normal presence of traffic police, there were fewer people than usual asking me if I wanted to buy "copy watch," and the glass covering the archaeology exhibit was freshly washed.  (I did take time to try and photograph the ancient street, because it was the cleanest I’ve ever seen the glass covering and hence the best visibility ever, but there was too much glare from the glass to get a good shot.)

As we left to go home, I decided to buy Munchkin a flag.  At the other end of the street, where we had ended up, there was a line of young people waiting to buy from one seller.  I asked him "how much," and he replied 2 RMB per set.  Sixty six percent of the other price.  I thought about it, and gave him 6 RMB.  I was thinking, three daughters, three sets.  He gave me back two sets.  Was I mistaken?  Another boy came up and asked him how much, and he told that boy 2 RMB in Cantonese.  So I told him in Cantonese that I wanted three sets.   "Oh," he replied, and handed me another one.  At Beijing Lu there are a lot of foreigners who come and don’t  speak any of the language and I guess kind of throw their money around.  You have to be really careful shopping there not to get the foreigner ripoff prices! 

As soon as Munchkin had the two flags in her hands, she became an object of lots of approving interest.  I speculated that people really like to see a foreigner supporting the Olympics here.  I speculate that to an ordinary Chinese person, they feel that they just want the Olympics to be about sports.  They want to put on a good face to show the world that they are a good place, and they want the world to be happy and supportive.  I speculate that all this protesting is a bit baffling — does it mean that the protesters don’t support China as it tries to modernize and improve the lives of its people?  And Munchkin was a happy contrast to that.   A happy little foreign girl waving the Chinese and Olympic Flags and very happy to be supportive of China and its Olympics.  So, she met with a lot of smiles and approval, lots of people telling her how cute she was and wanting to touch her.  It brought back memories of when we first came here and she was just very little, blonde "ai wa wa," the height of cuteness.  We had a lot of challenges then with unwanted attention and touching, but that has diminished as she’s now much older and not such a "cute cute baby" anymore.  Nowadays, nobody tries to touch her or asks anymore to have their photo taken with her.  But that was different yesterday.  Everybody wanted to touch her.  They really loved to see her waving those flags! 

Well, it was the beginning of 5:00 traffic as we exited the pedestrian portion of the street and there were few taxis.  I figured that with a small child hanging on my arm there was no way I was going to be able to compete in the shuffle for a taxi, so Munchkin and I decided to walk to the bus stop.  As we were walking, our bus passed by.  We waited at the bus stop for a long, long time, maybe half an hour, and still no bus.  Lots of other buses passed, though, and they were full to the brim with people headed home from work.  I was dreading standing on a crowded bus carrying a guitar in one hand and trying to hold on to Munchkin with the other, and somehow trying to keep my balance.  Additionally, this bus doesn’t go straight to our house but drops us off a few blocks away. 
As I was thinking about this, somebody got out of a taxi right where we were.  We ran to it and got in.  Just as the driver was pulling off to take us home, our bus arrived and there was hardly anyone in it.  I asked the driver if he knew the route of the flag scheduled for today.  He said he didn’t, but I could find it out from watching the TV.  I did ask a Chinese friend and she got the route for me.  It will be coming near our house late this afternoon.  I don’t know if I’m brave enough to face the crowds, but I may. 

In a very personal sense, I agree with the Chinese bystanders who line the streets to see the torch. For them, this isn’t about world politics, it’s about their people celebrating, a people who have suffered much in the last hundred years.  I see the point of the protesters.  I think things ought to be different at high political levels.  I was so disappointed to hear word on the street that the current talks with DL are intended as a sham and occurring only because the government has been instructed that it "has" to have talks "or else".  But I don’t think that fighting over the torch is the right venue.  At this moment, at this place in the world where I sit, what it feels like to me subjectively is that the torch relay represents support  for the sport and the games, and support for the Chinese people in their joyous celebration of that. 


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Hope Nevertheless?

Don’t forget Burma!

Over the course of ten hours, a few days ago, Cyclone Nargis moved up
the Irawaddy Delta and northeastward through Myanmar.  Entire villages have been flooded and blown flat.  Packing winds of
up to 150 miles per hour when it struck Yangon,
Myanmar’s largest city of about 6.5 million residents, the storm dumped 20
inches of rain on the city (which was called Rangoon during British colonial times). 

Thousands, probably more than ten thousand, have died, and hundreds of
thousands are without basic necessities  (as reported by Scientific
American online in "At Least 10,000 Likely Dead From Myanmar Cyclone," 

The military junta has tentatively welcomed offers of international
aid.  But there are details still to be worked out in terms of access.  Infrastructure for delivery of aid, rudimentary though
it was, has largely been destroyed.  Additionally, the government is still insisting on limitations of access by foreign relief workers.  There is definitely a crisis not only in terms of need but of governance as well.

In a best case scenario, this may provide a window of opportunity for
hope and peaceful change.  Let’s pray for some light to peek from
behind the cloud. 

Bottom line: 
No matter what your faith,


Pray for response, pray for hope, pray for change

The following is excerpted from the news story "Myanmar Cyclone Kills 10,000 People," 
(May 6, 2008): 

Myanmar government has said that the cyclone that struck the south-east
Asian nation this weekend has killed 10,000 people.  . . . 

of thousands of people are homeless and without clean drinking water, a
UN official has said and aid agencies have called on Myanmar’s military
government to allow free movement so help can be given to victims of
the storm.
UN disaster
experts said it could be days before the extent of the damage is known
because of the government’s tight control of communications.

* * *


are not accessible and many small villages were hit and will take time
to reach," Terje Skavdal, the regional head of UNOCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], said.

of foreign aid workers were trying to assess the damage and aid needs,
but their access and movements are restricted by the military.


is the existing situation for international staff. The way most
agencies work is they use national staff who have more freedom to
move," Skavdal said.


"We will have a dialogue with the government to try to get access to the people affected," he added.  . . . "



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Steps Toward Peace

2 May 2008

The topic of peace has been on my mind a lot lately. 
The Olympic Torch is in Hong Kong today.  The news media here has
photos of the runners progressing on their eight hour run through the
city, surrounded by additional runners dressed in blue uniforms and
lines of police cordoning off streets that have a few protesters here
and there.  Many of the flags being waved are the red flag of China. 
It appears that pro-democracy protesters are not being tolerated.   All
this protesting is resulting from two different world views.  Is there
a middle ground for peace, when there is such a clash of viewpoint? 
Indeed, what does it mean to have peace, to be
peaceful?  How can nations achieve
peace?  More generally (and not related to current world events) my mind wanders to the question of how can peaceful people lobby for
peaceful change in the face of a violent aggressor?  

I just saw video footage of a political prisoner who had been held by
the USA at Guantanamo being carried on a stretcher as he was being
returned to his home country of Sudan.  The USA has certainly lost
whatever ground it had, if it every had any, in the claim that it is a
nation of peace.  But world events are not the purpose of this story. 
They merely provide a backdrop, and explanation for why I’ve been
pondering this idea.  The idea of PEACE.  What is it? Why does our
world still have so much conflict and hate? 

I confess, I’ve developed an unfortunate theory that the side of peacefulness
will never fully win, in the long run.  It’s
a powerful impulse, but it can’t win the day because it is constantly being
eliminated from the gene pool of ideas.  With
each person, it has to start over and begin a new beginning.  Violence, on the other hand, has no qualms
about snuffing out the candle of peace.  In
support of my notion, I’ll recount a story that I’ve since tried to research
and have been unable to verify. 

Before we went to England
one time, I decided it would be nice to try and visit some places in England
particularly associated with my family name of Broughton.  There
is some family oral history, completely undocumented, that one branch
of my ancestors came to the New World as a result of having taken the
"wrong side"  in the War of the Roses.  On the internet, I found a Bed
and Breakfast
that was called Broughton Inn, on the border between Wales
and England.  The original manor house, Broughton, had been
burned down during the War of the Roses. 
Hmm.  Raises an interesting flag in terms of the family oral history, so I read some more. 
The B&B was run out of the former carriage house.
I read some more, even though the location was nowhere near our planned
itinerary.  (I also am no longer to locate this web page.) 

The web page said that this area of Wales had been
subject to border skirmishes throughout its history.  The website said that during one of those
conquests, there had been a monastery at a nearby site that had 5,000 monks
living at it.  The monks were committed
to nonviolence.  As the aggressor and his
army approached, the Monks prayed to God for deliverance.  Imagine that: 
5,000 able bodied, grown men praying for deliverance.  If they had taken up a call to arms, they
could have been quite a formidable force! 
But instead, they prayed.  When the
aggressor arrived, the Monks were slaughtered wholesale.  (While the story as I remember it was Henry VI and
War of the Roses, I did find one page recounting a force of 2100 Monks
in Wales marching out unarmed to confront the Saxons, at

That’s a pretty graphic image, and it’s what I mean when I
say use the term, “eliminated from the gene pool of ideas”.  To put it in colloquial English, "Those Monks ain’t no mo’!"   Their ideals, their pacifism, their way of
life, did not survive to be passed down to the next generation of recruits.  Instead, the ideals and viewpoint of the
conquerors is what survived to be passed down in the annals of history, to
stand the test of time of winning ideas. 
Killing people is so much more expedient than listening to them and
accommodating them.  Guess who wins? 

My notion that ideas can be lost from the “gene pool of
ideas” isn’t limited to pacifism versus aggression.  Extinction of ideas is happening every day. Languages are the means by which humans
communicate ideas.  As such, languages
represent the best window into understanding the brain science of how the mind works.  Many languages contain concepts that are unavailable to people who don’t
speak that language.  Yet, linguists
lament, languages are becoming extinct at an alarming rate as a result of
globalization and mass media.   The
U.S.A. National Science Foundation estimates that about half of the world’s
6,000 – 7,000 languages are in danger of being lost.  (Language and Linguistics:  A Special Report, 
Valuable knowledge and irreplaceable cultural heritage is being lost
every day as the last native speakers of nearly extinct languages die

Another example of extinction of ideas comes from what happened when the Europeans
migrated into North America and thereby
displaced the native peoples there.  The
Europeans were largely unaware that they were committing cultural
genocide.  I’ll use an example of
strawberry fields that they found there. The term “strawberry
fields forever” wasn’t actually coined by the Beatles.  It’s a quote from a primary source I once
read, in a letter from an early explorer of North America
written back to his benefactor (I did not find the original source in a google search). In his letter,
the explorer described a land that was so verdant and rich with resources that there were “strawberry fields forever” in the Mississippi Valley
area.  According to what I have read, the early explorers didn’t realize the strawberry fields
had been cultivated.  Because they didn’t see an “owner”
of the land, the Europeans assumed the strawberries that grew through the Mississippi wetlands
were wild.  To the contrary, these berries,
and many native grains as well, were cultivated by Native Americans through a
loose, non structured cooperative agricultural endeavor. 
The Native Americans simply thought of land in a different
way, using a different conceptual system. 
Their conceptual system didn’t include the idea of “private property” as
devised by the Europeans.  They didn’t think
of land as something to be bought and sold, but rather as something to be used
and shared with others in one’s tribe. 
Hence, the whole idea of “selling” the land and then being “excluded”
from use of the land as a result were alien to them.  A clash of cultures and a very nasty surprise,
certainly, when the Europeans “bought” their land and then evicted them from it!

I’m sure there are many opinions about the morality of the expansion of
Europeans into North America at the expense of the native peoples 
People who want to oversimplify will vilify me for saying this,
but I personally rather doubt that the European newcomers fully
realized or
thought of themselves as committing “cultural genocide” when they
land from the American natives and then enforced their removal from it.  Like ordinary people everywhere in most parts
of the world today, certainly some Europeans did know what they were doing and didn’t
care; others felt powerless to stop it; while many probably didn’t care so long
as they could raise food for their own families. What
I’m saying is, I doubt if the purpose was to do harm, but rather it was
more simply to provide for one’s own.  (Just as we are doing every time
we use gasoline to go to the grocery store or insist on speaking
English in our schools.  We don’t intend harm to the environment or to
a language about to go extinct, but these may be consequences or our
decision nevertheless.)  

The Europeans, ethnocentrically, thought that they were delivering
and enforcing the values and mores of a superior, stronger culture.  They thought that everyone should be
converted to and adopt the views and systems of the European culture.  (A very interesting movie along this line is
the flick, “The Education of Little Tree” about a boy who is sent to “Indian School”
as part of the White Man’s effort to inculcate him into the dominant
culture.)  And it did happen,
mostly.  Native Americans in the “Indian
Schools” were prohibited from learning or speaking in their native tongues
(just as Tibetans today are taught classes that use Chinese language in Chinese
sponsored schools and which impart a Chinese view of the world).  The strategy does work. 

Nowadays, does anyone in the USA make any
pretense of applying the Native American view regarding property rights?  Nope!*(note below)The Native American view of property as a
common resource has been lost, disappearing down into the swirling vortex of
extinct ideas.
In a similar sense, we must acknowledge that life expectancy in Tibet
has doubled in the last sixty years (in what part of the world has it
not?) but we ought also to recognize that Tibetans don’t want to lose
their culture and have their land turned into the next Epcot Center (as
has figuratively been done here:

As I mentioned the other day in a blog entry, whenever there is
a clash among cultures, the dominant culture “wins” the day.  I don’t think we can change this fact.  The fact is that there are tremendous
population pressures on world resources. Dominant cultures are going to
migrate in and displace people.  Guns speak louder than roses.  Dominant
cultures are also going to displace wild populations of non-humans, as well,
driving animals to extinction.  As Jane
Goodall pointed out in a TED talk I watched recently, we can’t really change this tide.  Ordinary people simply
want to live and feed their families. 
(cf. Jane Goodall, "What Separates Us From the
.)  The challenge of modern history is how to do this, how to meet this
need, without desecrating the natural or human landscape.  The human landscape includes many
cultures and topographies.  How can we meet
our own, legitmate needs in a way that still fosters peace and accommodates others? 

Wow, that’s one big problem! 
Too big for me to solve, in fact! 
In fact, if I were only to dwell on the seemingly insurmountable
problems of the world, I might become terribly discouraged.  But that’s where the slogan “Think Globally,
Act Locally” comes in handy.  While you
and I can be cognizant of greater world problems, each of us can also maintain
our optimism (and do our part) by participating in whatever means are available
to us locally. 

What can you and I do,
today?  What can I do at a local
level?  I propose that one specific thing each of us can do is to attempt
to step outside our own culture and to assess what is really being said by
another culture, by another language.  To
do this, we must make the effort.  We
must be open minded about developing empathy and compassion enough to be able
to step inside that culture and view the world through its eyes. 
We must listen.  Of course we will disagree.  I don’t agree to eat dog,
for example, even though my Chinese friends think it’s okay to do so. 
But if I am open minded enough to communicate, then we can converse
about our various rationales and try to accommodate each other as much
as we are able. 

So, what does this have to do with the idea of peace, not
only in a collective sense but in an individual sense as well?  Only that peace takes effort.  Specifically, it requires effort aimed at understanding others and reaching out to them. 

Compromise and mediation are not new
concepts.  Ultimately, these skills are
rooted in compassion, in the ability to see
another human, another viewpoint, and they are developed by practice.   We learn compassion and altruism in our
mother’s arms, as we form our first experiences of how to care for an Other and
how to accept being cared for by an Other. 
(I use this term in the same sense that Martin Buber uses it in his book Ich Und Du.**)

Thus, it is incumbent on each of us to reach out to the extent we are
able.  Is there a language corner in your
home town?  Is there someone sitting on
your pew in church whom you haven’t spoken to in awhile?  Have you been thinking about volunteering for
a position in your organization where you might be able to make a
We can make a difference even in the smallest of ways.  One of my
friends in the USA volunteers simply by rocking premature babies  in
the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in our city.  His small
action is the action of everyman to make the world a better place. 
I believe this is the way that points
toward peace:  small steps that ultimately lead us the

"How can rocking a baby promote world peace," you ask?  It’s because
rocking a baby makes the world a better place.  It’s one more small,
shining light that points the way. 
I hope that
this way of taking small footsteps for peace will not be lost in the swirling
vortex of radical ideas or in the shed blood of innocents.  For
no large mountain has ever been scaled
without lots of very small footsteps, and when we combine our
cumulative small lights we might end up with enough of a glow to make a

If they did, this view which acknowledges the common interest in keeping
the land renewable and sustainable might have resulted in much less ecological
devastation!  (See also the children’s book Brother
Eagle, Sister Sky
or the adult book Bury
My Heart at Wounded Knee.

** For links to books cited, see book list on my blog, currently items 21 – 23.   The movie "The Education of Little Tree" can also be found on Amazon.

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