[Mysore dispatch] Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore

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Thinking about traveling to Mysore, but put off by the fact that you would have to work during your stay? Here are four ashtangis who are making work — well, work.

This post features a few profiles of ashtangis who are working on and off the mat. Karen, Jared, Jimmy and I share experiences telecommuting from Mysore, and also offer tips for folks considering going this route.

  • Karen Kelley: Plugged in to the hilt, and working on U.S time while physically in India
  • Jared Westbrook: Putting in hours of daily work to keep up with milestones for a Ph.D. dissertation due in a few month’s time
  • Jimmy Crow: Armed with two laptops, two backup batteries, and working 7 days a week, 8 hours a day to hit all project deadlines
  • Rose Tantraphol: Keeping projects running smoothly for clients through advanced planning and a hybrid work arrangement

Have you done it? Please share your experience in the blog comments! It would be great to give folks who are considering telecommuting a wider range of examples and potential sounding boards. (Facebook comments are of course awesome as well, but fewer people will see it.)


MYSORE, Karnataka — Coming to the K. Patthabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute to practice ashtanga is no yoga vacation. In an important sense, everyone enrolled at the shala (“school”), as it is called, is working, because everything revolves around this six-day-a-week practice. This is a way of life, a discipline — and it’s not easy.

Work also extends far beyond the mat for many. Name a work/life arrangement, and you’ll probably find an ashtangi here who fits the bill.

A great many, as you might imagine, are yoga teachers. Some are officially sanctioned to teach by KJPAYI, so for these teachers, regular trips to study in Mysore are required to maintain their status as authorized instructors. A good number are yoga teachers working toward that authorization, and some are simply here to deepen their understanding of the method.

Among those who aren’t yoga teachers, there are ashtangis on paid vacation time, those on unpaid vacation time, and those taking care of their small business from here. There are people practicing whatever series they practice in the room, and “seventh series” the rest of the day — that is to say, caring for young children who are in India with them.

And then there are people working in the corporate and higher ed sense of the word — plugged in and connected to an office back home. Based on my informal survey of those I’ve met, these ashtangis are in the minority as they juggle the demands of their non-yoga jobs while still trying to remain receptive to the unique experience of spending one to three months studying ashtanga at its source.

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I am interested in how members of this group are finding their experience — not just because I’m part of that group, but because I think it’s a potentially precarious position to put yourself in. Tip the work/yoga scale too much one way, and something may give — perhaps work overshadows the trip, or perhaps the work doesn’t get done.

On the other hand, strike that perfect balance — bridge the rigors of a deadline-driven culture with the depths of an eastern method rooted in ancient wisdom — and you might just achieve a remarkable embodiment of the householder aspect of this practice.


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Karen Kelley
Scottsdale, Arizona
Director of Learning & Research Management at a global HR association

How many times have you been to Mysore?
3

Why are you working while here?
My original plan was to take PTO, but at the last minute we had some organizational changes so I decided to work through my stay.

On my first visit, in 2011, I didn’t work at all. In 2012, I worked half the time I was here — largely because my team said that my absence in 2011 made their lives difficult. At this point, they understand that I’m going to be in India for 5 or 6 weeks every year, and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to them. So I’m really hoping to NOT work on my next visit.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
If you working arrangement, you mean hours, I’d say my arrangement is fluid. :-) I was a teleworker for almost a decade in the 90s, so I am accustomed to working at all kinds of hours. Before I came to India, I moved all of my calls with direct reports to early morning (4:30 – 7:30 AM) or early evening (7 – 10 PM). Those hours overlap with their working hours back home. So I am on the phone early each morning and again in the evening — usually 4 – 6 hours a day. Then I do email and other work for another 2 – 3 hours whenever I like during the day — generally before my evening calls. I have a few calls that I have to take between midnight and 3 AM, and on those nights, I just take my early evening calls, nap, then take my midnight – 3 AM calls, then crash until the 4:30 – 7:30 AM calls. Then I try to grab an extra nap the next day.

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How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
My schedule doesn’t affect my practice schedule at all. Like everyone else, I’d love an earlier start time — but the fact is, if I get moved back, I’m going to have to reschedule my appointments. So I’m trying to contain my eagerness to practice earlier and just stick with what I’ve got.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
I don’t have as much social time as someone who’s not working. I don’t really mind, though. I like my work and I’m not a huge social butterfly anyhow. Having to keep up with work means I have to stay grounded (as much as possible!).

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
I agreed to share an apartment with some folks I met last year — and once I found out I’d be working while here, I had to check in with them to make sure my late night and early morning phone calls wouldn’t drive them crazy. They were fine with it — so I went ahead with the roommate arrangement. As it turns out, I’d overlooked how loud India is: the overhead fans and the traffic and people and dog noise drown out my late night conference calls. My roommates are never awakened by my being up for work.

The only significant requirement I had for work was the need to for a good internet connection. As it turned out, the wifi in my apartment is kind of sketchy — certainty not robust enough to support hours of conference calls. I got a USB modem and a big data plan & now that problem is solved!

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
It’s hard to be in two places at once — which is what teleworking full-time kind of requires of your consciousness. I don’t know that there’s any solution for that — except practice, I guess.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
It’s totally do-able. It’s also a great way to show your organization that you can be in India for 5 or 6 weeks every year & still be productive. I think what my organization sees is that they can be flexible with me (in allowing me to go to India for a good chunk of time) and I will be flexible with them (in working as much as is necessary to keep business rolling).

Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone is considering teleworking while practicing here in Mysore, I’m happy to talk with them.

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Jared

Jared Westbrook
Gainesville, Florida
Graduate student

How many times have you been to Mysore?
This is my first time.

Why are you working while here?
I aim to finish my Ph.D. dissertation this May. It is imperative that I continue working while I am India to meet deadlines. Eight months prior to my trip to Mysore, I asked permission from my advisors to study here for one month. We came to an agreement on milestones to reach before coming to India and work priorities while in India.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I work from my room at Urban Oasis. There is Wifi, but it tends to be much slower than what I am used to at home. I’ve been working about 4-5 hours per day, split between a 1-2 hour morning session and 3-5 hour session in the evening.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
The practice and class schedule affects my work more than the other way around. Right now, I have a late practice time of 10:45 am and I am taking Sanskit and Yoga sutra classes in the afternoons. Meals and socializing take more time than my streamlined patterns at home. This does not leave much uninterrupted time in morning and afternoon to work. This is not a complaint, I am grateful for the opportunity to study yoga and philosophy in the heartland of Ashtanga yoga. Let’s see how much I suffer later on working long hours to meet deadlines.

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How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
I haven’t taken as much time at the pool or as many long trips to temples and festivals on my days off as some my friends. Instead I have taken shorter trips around Mysore including to the market, the palace, and Chamundi Hill. There is plenty to explore in Mysore. Work gives me something to focus on while I am not studying or practicing yoga. It is a comforting retreat into something familiar within a novel environment.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
Access to wifi is very important. In cases where you do not have wifi at the place you are staying, you can buy a USB stick that allows you to connect to wifi via the local cell phone network. Also, you may need a universal plug adaptor for your laptop. I did not have one when I came, but I bought one at the Loyal World supermarket.

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
I have scaled back on my expectations on what I can actually accomplish. Getting acclimated took about one week, and I did not accomplish much then. Now that I am a bit more settled, there have been a few evenings where I have dropped into deep focus for 3-4 hours while working alone in my room.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
Do not be overly ambitious with your work goals. Strike your own balance with being open to new experiences and having discipline to work. For me that means planning some outings, being socially engaged, but not lingering too long.

Anything else you’d like to add?
There is much to discover by word of mouth from others that have been here before. Make some friends!

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Jimmy Crow
I live in Nacogdoches, Texas and Chicago, Illinois.
Graphic Designer/Web Designer. I own and operate a screen printing business as well called Tattoo Productions.

How many times have you been to Mysore?
2

Why are you working while here?
Both times I have visited Mysore, I knew that I would be working during my stay. If I didn’t work, visiting Mysore would not be possible.

I do all the art, design and prepress work for my printing business and if I didn’t get it done, things would grind to a halt. I also do freelance work for several other screen printing companies as well as my web design company, and even though I’m not in the USA, those orders
keep coming as well.

I can be here to practice and work because of my excellent staff in Texas. They not only keep everything running in my absence, but convince my client base that even though I’m in India their work will be completed correctly and on time.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I try to get 10 hours of work done in about 8 hours each day. I’ve actually been very lucky and have been quite busy lately but that success can cut into my rest and recreation time. As of today I’m working 7 days a week trying to keep up.

My largest concern when I get here is, will I be able to connect to the Internet? Without it, I am dead in the water. I know it will be slow, so I have to plan my work around it. If I have to upload an entire website, it could take hours, so I try to do that before I go to bed or when I leave for practice. Working on sites live can be slow as well, so I’m usually doing two art tasks at once to keep things flowing (I bring two laptops for just this reason).

Working from here does have its advantages. I can get more done when I get very few emails and NO phone calls, since during my workday, it’s the middle of the night back home. Waking up to over 150 emails each morning can be a bit daunting though.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
I try to be done with work by 8 p.m. each evening so I can get some sleep and be alert when Sharath calls for “One More!” As soon as practice
ends, I get home and sort through emails from the night before and prioritize my day’s work and hope I can get it all done.

I have a very set schedule worked out with my staff, so we are days ahead on each order and have time to troubleshoot any problems and still make our promised due dates. There have been several “emergencies” that have resulted in middle-of-the-night calls for me to make changes to some jobs that had to go to press immediately. Those nights have made for some tough practices in the morning.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
Practice is the most important thing, but I’m in a position where if I don’t get my work done, everything back home stops. If everything back home stops, I don’t make any money. Without money, I can’t come back to India. This makes work a top priority but I can say I have never missed one practice while in Mysore because of work and I don’t plan to. I didn’t come all this way to miss even one second in the Shala, and I would go without sleep if that is what it meant to get work and practice done.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
I have been very lucky finding places to live and work on both trips thanks to my teacher in Chicago, Todd Bowman, and my girlfriend, Kitty Schuz. I would be happy to have anything with roof and a bathroom as long as it had the Internet but my accommodations on both trips have made working in Mysore very easy and I owe that to the both of them. If you are going to work while here DO NOT do what a lot of nomad yoga teachers do and just try to find accommodations when you arrive. There is nothing wrong with looking when you get here, but if you have any special needs, you should have those worked out before you come.

There are lots of excellent resources to finding apartments here, but the best way is to talk to Ashtangis that have been here before and have the lay of the land. When you are here, make contacts with landlords or families that rent apartments so you can do it yourself on your next trip.

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What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now as you are actually here and working?
My first trip was a learning experience for me and my staff back in Texas, since we could only guess how things would work out.

This trip, I took what I learned in 2010 and have had a pretty seamless transition from working at home to working here. The one precaution I did take this time was bringing two laptops loaded with all the software that I need to keep things running. If one computer goes down and I can’t fix it, I can just switch to the backup. I’m so dependent on them that if they both failed I would have to pack up and go home immediately because I cannot work without the software on them.

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
It can be done, so do not use that as an excuse to not come. I actually spend half my time in Chicago so I have experience working away from the office. Maybe you could do a test run and work a few days away from your office comfort zone and see if you can do it with just a telephone and the iInternet. Prepare to deal with power outages and downed phone lines when you least expect them, because that is gonna happen (I actually bring two large backup batteries for my computers so I can always work).

My first trip I came when things are slower for me at the office and it allowed me to get out and see some of the wonderful places and things around Mysore. Try to see if you can plan some 4-day work weeks to coincide with moon days and weekends and you will get a chance to see everything as well and still bet your work done.

Anything else you’d like to add?
5 years ago, I went to a Kino MacGregor seminar and she said, “Anyone can go to Mysore, you just have to stop making excuses and go.” At the time, I thought there was no way I would ever be able to go, but after hearing her say something that simple, I stopped looking for reasons not to go and instead found a way to get here. Now every time I arrive, I start thinking about my next trip.

I hope anyone that is making excuses for why they can’t come will do what I did and get here as soon as possible. Mysore is a magical place if you are an Ashtangi, but you’ll never know if you don’t come.

Some morning in the future when Sharath calls for “One More!” he may just be talking to you.

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Not sure how ergonomic it is, but when I only need one screen most of the time, I like sitting on the bed.

Rose Tantraphol
Lansing, Mich.
Communications professional at a public relations and social media marketing agency

How many times have you been to Mysore?
This is my first time. So that I don’t get disappointed, I’m thinking of it as a “first and only” situation, a one-shot deal. That said, I know it’s difficult for ashtangis to resist returning — once you’ve made the pilgrimage to the source of this practice, it’s hard to stay away.

Why are you working while here?
I work at a very small firm — there are only 10 or so of us — and that makes having one staffer gone for a month incredibly difficult. I’m incredibly grateful that the owners of the firm so believe in supporting a work-life balance that they entertained my crazy idea! They knew how much this meant to me, and they were receptive to working out an arrangement to make it happen.

In general, what is your working arrangement here?
I went to my bosses with the following request: Could I take the entire month of January off as unpaid leave but be online for two of those weeks to help keep everything running smoothly for my clients? To be practical and give myself enough time to settle in, I said I would work the middle two weeks (though I will end up doing a bit of work in my final week here as well, which is totally fine). I figured this would give me a couple weeks to get to my grounding and establish a rhythm. And it would allow me to use my last week here to wrap everything up and say my good-byes (also hard!) without any work pressures.

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And here’s the desk set-up for multiple screens. (My work email account is most easily accessed through the iPad, but I edit and write on the laptop.)

I set aside a few hours a day (in a morning slot and a late afternoon-through-evening slot to accommodate the 10.5-hour difference at home) to respond to emails, check in on websites we maintain, edit press materials, stay on top of news developments relevant to my clients, and the like. Right now there is a media event I am helping to plan, so I do have to respond within certain windows of time for everything to go according to schedule. I also manage the internship program at my firm, so I am in frequent contact with our students, making sure that they have prioritized their workloads and that the projects are evenly distributed even though I’m not there.

I think it’s important to note that I did do a lot of prep work before coming. For clients whose social media accounts I manage, for instance, I scheduled posts out for the entire month so that I wouldn’t be doing that type of task here. November and December were more intense because of it, but I’m so happy I did it this way.

A note on the finances, because that is a big issue for a lot of us. Cutting my income for 2014 by 1/12 was not an easy decision — especially when I plan on trying to get pregnant this year. But my husband and I both live by the tenet that you can’t take it with you. We’ll figure it out, and the loss of income is totally worth it to have the chance to come to KPJAYI after dreaming about it all these years.

How does your working arrangement affect your practice schedule at KPJAYI?
It doesn’t affect my practice schedule at all. Everything revolves my practice schedule, so I schedule my windows of working around that.

How does your working arrangement affect your time here in general?
Because I had to leave those works slots available, I haven’t had as much time to take some of the other types of available classes, such as sutra or Sanskrit classes, that I might otherwise have.

What considerations — such as living arrangements, etc. — did you have to take into account before arriving?
Reliable wifi, reliable wifi, reliable wifi. That meant that I narrowed down the field of possible accommodations to hotels, basically. A high percentage of ashtangis rent room or apartments from families, and that was off the table for me (we’re in a region of the world where daily rolling blackouts are common, and most families don’t have back-up generator power the way a hotel does). Even the most reliable wifi here would cause complaints of missed or lacking service back home, but it’s been fine for what I need — the spottiness hasn’t interfered with my ability to stay connected.

What considerations are you maybe finding that you need to work through now that you are actually here?
I am in the happy position of having less intensity of working than I thought I would.

During my second week here, for instance, I went to the two sites in Mysore that I thought were must-sees — Mysore Palace and Chamundi Hill — because I figured I would not have time for anything else the following two weeks while working.

But two factors have helped tremendously: The advanced planning noted above and the awesomeness of my colleagues. (For instance, I offered to be on the weekly staff meeting call which would have been 7:30 p.m. local time, but my bosses said no need — enjoy your time in India.) So, thanks to those two factors, even though I’ve been working each day, I have been able to do things I wouldn’t have thought I could do, such as steal away on the moon day a tour of historic ancient temples.

This is the upside of not being paid during this time, I suppose. :-)

Any advice for someone who is thinking about working while studying here?
I don’t think I would have had the confidence to even submit the request to come here if I hadn’t personally picked the brain of someone who had done it before. That person was Karen, and I am eternally grateful to her for sharing her experiences with me.

I hope this post serves as a confidence-boost for anyone considering coming to KPJAYI but initially ruling it out due to work constraints. That said, every situation is unique, and I think being able to talk to people about it may help with setting realistic expectations and strategizing a bit about how to make it happen.

Anything else you’d like to add?
We have a lot of time to wait in the foyer of the shala for our turn to be called. One thing I love about this is that the period I am waiting is also when Sharath’s kids get ready for school. Sharath handles fatherhood and shala directorship seamlessly. He’ll do an assisted dropback, hear his son calling for him as the school van approaches, come out into the foyer, give his son a kiss (or three), then return to the room for the next adjustment. It is seamless.

In my own way, working from Mysore in a seamless fashion is part of an off-the-mat practice I’m developing. I think if I can work while studying at KPJAYI without giving in to stress, frustration, resentment or any negative feelings (even useless comparative thoughts of “How cool would it be to not have to work!”) — a feat that requires both good advanced planning and surrender upon arrival — then I will have strengthened my relationship to work when returning home.

While I haven’t returned home and reintegrated yet, I do think that if more of us from the corporate world are able to find ways to do this, the transformative aspects of coming to India could be of great benefit to our organizations. As much as I would wish any ashtangi who wants it the chance to be in Mysore in a wholly supported way — that is, sans work — I think seeing a trend of more yogis telecommuting from Gokalum could actually be a positive trend. This experience doesn’t have to be reserved for people with flexible schedules, those in between jobs or ashtangis already earning their living through teaching yoga.

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>>More Mysore dispatches:

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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One thought on “[Mysore dispatch] Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore

  1. One thing I’ll add from my experience has to do with emotional processing and letting “stuff” come up in the context of working here. I think most people considering this journey know that it’s a deeply emotional one. Part of being here and staying so focused on your mat in that charged shala space is that things will come up. If your practice time is the only real scheduling you have to do, then you have time to stew when you need to, for as long as you need to.

    I’ve found that when you’re working, those things still come up, but maybe you’re on a deadline. So the process becomes more a micro-, targeted-processing affair.

    I remember one day something just bubbled up and I started crying at my desk. But I had things I had to push out during that work window I had. So I laid down in bed, let the tears pass, then got back up, finished typing the emails I had to get out. It was what I would have done had I been back in the states, working from home or something. But it happened in the cradle of being in Mysore, so perhaps there was something a little more cathartic about it happening here.

    The point is, I didn’t as if I was deprived of the opportunity to process while here. Granted, I wasn’t working all the time either, and granted, I intentionally built in time into my day as buffer zones — so I didn’t take some of the chanting or philosophy or Sanskrit classes I wanted to take because I knew that if I did that, there would not have been the kind of tucked-in time I might need for anything that might come up. While I was pretty social, I think, I wasn’t as social as I could have been happy being, for the same reason.

    It was not so much I couldn’t fit those other activities into my day, time-wise; it was that I couldn’t support them with my mental and emotional bandwidth.

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