Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eating Tinned Biscuits and Cakes in Sibu

The Kim Guan Siang Cold Storage was absolutely fabulous for goodies.

When ever one's relatives visited one another,they would first buy some tins of biscuits or cakes from Kim Guan Siang which was situated on Cross Road,next to Chip Thai Leong. The shop was owned by the Cheng Family who lived along Brooke Drive until their land was developed into shop houses.

It was always the "done" thing for a relative to bring along a tin of biscuit or a tin of the nice Dundee Cake whenever they went to see a relative. We call this kind of gift as Ming Neng or Chien Mien Lei (See Face Gift). Many Foochows continue to bring gifts to their friends but not necessarily biscuits. I recently received two books as SFG from ML and we had a good laugh over this practice.

My paternal grandmother used to line up her bedroom wall with as many as twenty to thirty tins of good biscuits all given to her and Grandfather as marks of respect and love. She was very frugal and would never open the tins for any good reason.

There was one story which we cousins used to tell. One particular tin of Jacob's biscuit had been passed from one family to another and one of them marked it with a tiny dot. This tin apparently was passed from one house to another. Until by a stroke of bad luck it ended up again and again in this cousin's house. She finally forced her mother to open the tin and indeed all the biscuits were powdery by then.

It is good that today we have "used by date" on the tins. And any way most children today would be allowed to eat the biscuits as soon as the guests have left. We no longer keep the biscuits behind doors and give them to another relative. Laugh if you like. It is meant to be humourous. But things did happen fortunately or unfortunately.

I hope you will be reminded by all these pictures below. Enjoy a nostalgic visit to the past when biscuits and cakes were bought in tins and they were far in between. My favourite will always be the Dundee Cake.

And Jacob's biscuits did really come a long long way - from Ireland. The Irish Catholic Brothers would be remembered for them. These cream crackers will always be fondly remembered as SUDA pian or soda biscuits by the Foochows of Sibu and its hinterland.

The last picture depicts the very ordinary large tin of biscuits made in Malaysia. The Chinese and other native families would probably buy a tin a month. And these were packed for their children's school recess time. This tin is a favourite for many Foochow women because it can be recyled and used as a container for mee sua and rice especially.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Last British Governor of Sarawak

It must have been quite challenging to be the man who saw to the birth of a new Sarawak at the end of the 1950's.

In the hot tropical sun,the Governor Sir Alexander Waddell wore his ceremonial uniform and his plumed hat for functions. Here shaking hands with local dignitaries.

Walking towards the venue of the function,the Governor is accompanied by his ADC, also wearing an interesting hat.

A very interesting and nostalgic moment - the Governor and his wife alighting from the tambang. 45 years later you would not see the Sarawak Governor using the tambang for official functions any more. An old era is gone completely.

Final farewell to the last British Governor of Sarawak on 15th Sept 1963. Here Haji Openg (later Tun Openg) the first Governor of Sarawak within Malaysia,is shaking hands with Sir Alexander. It was a moment many felt was like a family gathering to bid farewell to a brother. Sir Alexander's style of government was friendly and familiar,open and not complicated.

Sources :
1. Sarawak Gazette
2. Kuching 1960-1963 Sir Alexander Waddell's Era (Compiled by Ho Ah Chon)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Aloe Vera Comes to Sibu

Aloe vera, also known as the Medicinal Aloe, is a species of succulent plant that probably originated in northern Africa. The species does not have any naturally occurring populations, although closely related Aloes do occur in northern Africa.

The species is frequently cited as being used in herbal medicine since the beginning of the first century BC, because it is mentioned in the New Testament (John 19:39–40 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes... ). However, it is unclear whether the aloes described in the Bible are derived from A. vera. Extracts from A. vera are widely used in the cosmetics and alternative medicine industries, being marketed as variously having rejuvenating, healing or soothing properties.

We do not now know the real worth of the species as scientific findings are still just beginning on this plant. And as usual there are a lot of contradictory studies.

However it was as late as the 1970's the whole Sibu population went crazy about aloe vera.

This craze made me realise that popular food trends were catching up in Sibu, a small town with a very homogeneous urban population and a small indigenous population in its peripheral areas. Almost every house hold started to have several pots of aloe vera and Kai Nguong Sdn Bhd started to sell its seedlings like hot cakes. Some women even cried because they could not any when the supply went out. I was amazed by the great desire of owning such a plant. Indeed the buying of the plant was like "snatch and buy".

But then in the frenzy of the changes in Sibu my family members and I did realise that it was so trendy and also "kiasu" to be knowledgeable in the products of aloe vera and in the various ways one can use the aloe vera. Talks were given about its goodness and many new products were sold. Forever Living was one such product and almost every woman carried a bottle of the famous orange looking product. In no time.sales were so good that people had to order in advance. I suppose this was the marketing trend of the time. There was this story of some one's daughter in law buying aloe vera juice for her own mother. When her mother in law found this out, there was a lot of anger in the house until the son went to order six months' product for his mother. She then said,it was not necessary because she did not wish to waste her son's money. Fancy two women quarrelling over aloe vera.

Very little consumer awareness of the product in fact. There was a lot of sales but very little testing of the product. Perhaps Asians were used as guinea pigs for the new products. The trend went on for a few years and then it dissipated. The prices of direct sale items have been too high.

My mother loves to use the phrase "Suoh si giu chai suoh si chern" (One moment of chives followed by a moment of onions ) meaning fashion comes and goes. So with aloe vera, it was trendy for a while and then the bubble burst.

Today most housewives would use the aloe vera for the effective treatment of wounds. So having a plant or two is good for the home for emergency purposes.

My relatives and I have boiled the soft gel from alor vera to make a simple drink with rock sugar. This helps in cleansing the kidneys. It is good for pimples too. After an operation a slice or two of aloe vera for a few days on the wound could help quicken the healing process.

Source : Wikipedia®

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Old Master - Creative Chinese Comic

Old Master or Lau Foo Tzi both entertained and educated us when we were secondary school students. We read all his comics voraciously. Perhaps we developed this unique kind of Asian humour. Although Old Master at times is very crafty and naughty,he nevertheless has his serious moments. The cartoonist is always very creative and he can see unusual aspects of Asian life and laugh at them. This is what I like about Old Master.

We learned a lot of Chinese proverbs from these comics. Later in teacher training we actually used a lot of English comics to teach grammar, listening and speaking. Laughter in class is an absolute element of good teaching.

So enjoy one episode of Old Master here for old time's sake.

How to reduce incidences of heart attacks

At any age one must be fully aware of the importance of exercise.

One of the musicians I most admire. Sir Paul McCartney. He had a secret(?) heart operation?

Exercise for cardiac rehabilitation.

Keep slim!! One has to really work hard for it. But it should not stress you if you have more rounds and curves. Just try your best and be comforted.

Your heart when the surgeons operate!!

Many years ago, the people of Sibu were terrified of heart diseases which would come "too suddenly" and without warning. When a person died of a heart attack his relatives would say that probably he had eaten too much "pork leg" or he liked the belly pork too much. What else could be blamed for a person's death?

We all now know today that death comes as a result of so many causes ,natural and unnatural. Expected and unexpected. And some folks live long lives and others very short.

In the 1950's and 1960's little was known about cholesterol,healthy diet,and good health practices. Very sadly my grandfather,my own father and several uncles succumbed to heart attacks besides many others in Sibu.

Over the years doctors practise preventive medicine by helping the public through health talks and even workshops. Dietitians,nutritionists,and other health practitioners became popular occupations . And then the onslaught of direct selling catapulted the society into a frenzy of food fads and crazy expenditure on food supplements.

Aerobic studios sprouted up every where.

Beauty and slimming salons for ladies and even men were established.

The various sports fields became teeming with young and old of different shapes . They virtually walk for health.

All these are the washback of a more affluent lifestyle.

The usual care , which is really very simple ,we must take in order to prevent heart diseases:
1. Eat simple food with less meat,salt ,sugar and oil.
2. Live a stress free life
3. Avoid too much alcohol and smoking. Better still if you can abstain.
4. Avoid late nights and having too many worries.
5. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
6. Have annual health check ups.

We have to be very thankful that general hospitals in Sarawak have up to date facilities and there are so many good resources for cardiac patients. The Kuching General Hospital has one of the best , if not the best,cardiac units in South East Asia. 4 years ago,today,I was on the operation table for a by-pass. It was quite a normal,run of the mill operation,but it was scary indeed.

My rehabilitation was a wonderful experience because family,relatives and friends and even strangers rallied around. I had the best rest (6 weeks) I ever had in my life. All the days which followed the successful operation made me feel how wonderful it is indeed to be alive! I have renewed respect for everything around me. Perhaps God has also granted me a new demeanour - I have become slow to anger and would like to keep it that way. It does not matter if people think that I am a pushover. I smile even more. And I am still very thankful for all the flowers,fruits,visits,prayers and advice given. I have a thankful heart and I hope for keeps.

We all know that not every one can survive a serious heart operation.A famous surgeon once said," It is my hands that operate a patient. But it is God's grace which cures him."

When God gives us life, we must learn what is our purpose on earth. this reminds us of the Methodist School Motto - Seek,Find and Serve. Our society continues to need people who can serve well. And in order to serve mankind well we must remain healthy.

Heart diseases continue to be one of the top killers in our society. But the good news is medical practices and good public health care with support from the media and education department and other government organs have helped to prevent an increase in heart diseases.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chiang Kai Shek or Chiang Chung Cheng

Note the Chinese Nationalist or Kuo Ming Tang Flag on the right of the photo. This was the first graduation of Kwong Chien School July 1928. Note also the photo of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Source: Sibu Chinese History Collection 1992 via Sarikei Time Capsule.

This was the flag that many Chinese continued to fly in Sarawak unofficially for several occasions that they saw fit,1911 to 1949. Sarawak then was fairly liberal according to an aged "uncle".

He said that he even learned the National Anthem of China under Chiang Kai Shek. He just "followed" what was dictated by the primary school headmaster who was engaged from China.

He only knew that as a Chinese this was his flag even though he was born in Sibu. Furthermore all the elders at that time talked about "going back to China". He said that politics was never mentioned. When his parents and relatives got together they usually refered to "government" meaning the government of the then Rajah and later theColonial government.

Later it meant "sin min di" or Colonial Government.

What government meant to him was the permission to own or buy land (grant} and getting an identitiy card or birth certificate. He said that it was important that they gave the government due respect and honour. Police was not necessary he said as the people were very orderly. I thought this idea was truly remarkable. What was there to control? He asked me.

Going to the "government" was going to the "bo leh" (Foochow word for glass).

Most of the problems or issues like fights,family disputes,and land disputes were solved by the Foochow headman or "tou nern". Things seemed to be well taken care of.

It was only in the 50's and 60's that things changed and politics became a real word to him.

When I asked him about nationalism he said that he had little to offer - no money to remit to China, and not interested in becoming a soldier in China. He said that after all he was just a very young boy then. He only knew he had to make a fortune to the best of his ability. When the Second World war came his hopes were quite dashed.

Today he has nothing much to say except that life was quite hard and he is one of those "time left behind" because he lost his opportunity to go to school when he should. What can one year of education in 1941 do for you today?

Very briefly he said something about Sun Yat Sen the Founder of Modern China according to him.

He mentioned that his own father was patriotic to China and was very happy when China became a republic. He vaguely remembered some of the old stories about the Ching Dynasty. But he had forgotten most of the things his father said.

At his age he only felt that living a simple, worthwhile life was good enough. Struggling for power was really a waste of time and even life. This was related to the communist struggle in Sibu. He said that he saw too many people going away and never coming home again. Perhaps it was good that he was unable to read and write.

I like what he said,"We are all humans after all. Why fight so much?"

Chiang Kai Shek was a well respected by the Overseas Chinese and the Chinese of Sarawak. During the war years many Chinese supported the war cause by sending back a lot of funds to help Chiang.

And when China won the war against the Japanese there was a great deal of joy.

Later during the subsequent years of nationalism the Overseas Chinese had to decide where their affiliation should be. In Thailand overseas Chinese adopted
Thai names. In Indonesia after a long struggle the Chinese became assimilated into the indigenous population.

However the ethnicity of the Chinese remain strong and well respected in many other countries. The various governments permit them to have their own parochial schools,places of worship and even their own festivals. 20th century and 21st century have actually seen a great deal of respect for diversity.

Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek (traditional Chinese: 蔣介石 / 蔣中正; simplified Chinese: 蒋介石 / 蒋中正; pinyin: Jiǎng Jièshí; Wade-Giles: Chiang Chieh-Shih; POJ: Chiúⁿ Kài-se̍k; Jyutping: zoeng2gaai3sek6), GCB (October 31, 1887 – April 5, 1975), served as Generalissimo (Chairman of the National Military Council) of the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China (ROC) from 1928 to 1948. He was sometimes referred to simply as "the Generalissimo". When Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Kai-shek took control of the Kuomintang (KMT). To end the Warlord era and unify China, Chiang led nationalist troops in the Northern Expedition. He became the overall leader of the ROC in 1928.[2] Chiang led China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which the Nationalist Government's power severely weakened, but his prominence grew. During the civil war after the Japanese surrender in 1945, he attempted to eradicate the Chinese Communists but ultimately failed, forcing his KMT government to retreat to Taiwan, where he continued the struggle against the communist regime. Serving as the President of the Republic of China and Director-General of the KMT, Chiang died in 1975.

Throughout his rise to power, Chiang Kai-Shek also benefited from membership of the nationalist Tiandihui fraternity, to which Sun Yat-Sen also belonged, and which remained a source of support during his leadership of China and later Taiwan.

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A feather in your cap - A study of plumed hats 1800-2008

(Picture : Chief Seattle USA). The city of Seattle is named after him, an American Indian Chief whose wisdom and speaking abilities have impacted the world.

Men and women have always been fashion conscious throughout the world and all through the history of mankind. And one of the most important part of a man or a woman's attire is the hat worn for ceremonial purposes or just a normal day out in the sun.

Photo by Rubber Seeds - An Iban Chieftain with feathers on his headgear.

Besides other ornaments feathers or plumes have been decorating hats or helmets for centuries.

Today I have a selection of beautiful pictures to just tell you that. No wonder when the English say " I got another feather in my cap!", they do not mean literally a feather in their cap. Instead they have something to be proud of.

Let me wish you lots of days with feathers in your cap.

A New Zealand Governor in full ceremonial attire.

A Cavalier UK in uniform which has been worn for centuries.

An Adjutant General's Cocked Hat.

Another ceremonial hat.

Stylish black felt hat with plume.

Sir Hugh Clifford of Pahang one of the Residents of Pahang. He had his plumed hat in his right hand in this portrait.

And at the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony lots of feathers were seen . China has lot of feathers in her cap for making the 2008 Beijing Olympics more than fantastic!!
Chang Yi Mou , the director of directors,has another feather in his cap.

Sarawak Flags (1841-2008)

It might be of interest to you while you are waiting for the Mederka Day on 31st August to have a little revision of the flags which have flown in Sarawak from Rajah James Brooke's time. It is my pleasure to give you this summary.

(1) James Brooke's Personal Standard Flag

From 24 September 1841 - 20 September 1848,the Flag of swallowtailed St. George - a red cross on a white background was flown by the first White Rajah of Sarawak, which then comprised the territory from Tanjung Datu to the Sadong River.

First flown over his fort at Belidah, Upper Sarawak (Bau)it was also carried in the war boats of his Malay and Dayak Chiefs who supported him during the early, turbulent years of his rule.

(2) The First Sarawak State Flag

From 21 September 1848 to 6 May 1870 ,this half blue and half red cross on a yellow background flag , designed by Rajah Sir James Brooke himself was flown seven years after he first became Rajah. By then Sarawak had been enlarged from Tanjung Datu up to Oya River in Sarikei Division.

(3) The Second Sarawak Flag

From 7 May 1870 to 23 December 1941 , this half back and half red cross on a yellow background was the flag of Sir Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak . There was no record to show the reason for the change of the first Sarawak Flag to the second Sarawak Flag and the State Archives failed to reveal anything.

This was the flag that the Foochows recognised when they first arrived in Sibu. During the various government occasions the Foochow shop keepers flew these flags from the first floor of their shops.

There was a story about the change of colour from blue to black on the Sarawak Flag designed by Sir James Brooke among the local population. When Sir Charles Brooke was proclaimed the second White Rajah of Sarawak on 3 August 1868, the representatives of the three major communities in Sarawak i.e. Dayak, Malay and Chinese presented gifts to the Rajah.

The Dayak community gave the gift wrapped in black cloth whereas the Malay community presented the gift enclosed in yellow cloth. The Chinese community being fond of red colour brought the gift in the red cloth. These three colours attracted the attention of Sir Charles Brooke who always had the welfare and interested of the people at heart. Hence, he decided to change the colours of the Sarawak Flag from blue, red and yellow to black, red and yellow in order to suit the favourite colours of the local communities of Sarawak.

(4) Japanese Flag

From 24 December 1941 to 14 August 1945 the Japanese occupied Sarawak and they flew this flag which symbolised the Japanese Emperor and the land of the rising sun.

The Japanese army first landed in Miri on 16 December 1941 and later conquered Kuching on 21 December 1941.

According to our elders even the sight of the Japanese flag caused them to shiver in their "trousers". They all had to bow to the Japanese soldiers and to the flags whenever they passed by them. If they did not they would get their heads pushed and punched.

(5) The Japanese Military Flag

(6) Australian Flag

Sarawak was librated from the Japanese invaders by the Australians on 11 September 1945 and, therefore, the Australian flag was hoisted in Sarawak for a short period until 15 April 1946.

It was replaced by the Sarawak Flag when civil government was restored on 15 April 1946.

(7) Union Jack

Sarawak became a British Colony on 1 July 1946 and from then onwards until 15 Sept 1963 , the British Union Jack was used.

The Union Jack consists of superimposed crosses of St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick, the patron saints of England, Scotland and Ireland respectively was flown.The Malaysian flag replace the Union Jack on 16 September 1963 when Sarawak achieved her independence within Malaysia at that time.

Note : The Union Jack was not actually the Sarawak Flag; it was hoisted together with the Sarawak State Flag in order to show that Sarawak was a British Colony.

Most of the Foochows and other Chinese felt that the Union Jack was symbolic of a world power and so they accepted the flag as symbolic of the British government.

(8) Sarawak British Governor's Flag

(9) Sarawak Flag Flown During Colonial Time

From July 1946 to 31 August 1963 to distinguish Sarawak from other British Crown Colonies, the old Sarawak state flag was restored but a yellow crown in the centre of the cross was added to signify it as a British Crown Colony The five pointed triangles on the crown signified the five divisions of Sarawak. The Colonial Flag was flown for a period of 17 years when Sarawak became a British Colony from 1 July 1946 till 16 September 1963. It continued to be flown in Sarawak for almost 10 years after Sarawak achieved her independence within Malaysia. It was finally replaced by the Trisakti Flag on 31 August 1973.

(10)The Malaysian National Flag

(11) The Trisakti - the first Sarawak State Flag within Malaysia

Sarawak achieved independence through Malaysia on 16 September 1963 and it was almost ten years after the independence that the State Government under the then Chief Ministership of YAB Tun Datuk Patinggi Haji Abdul Rahman Ya'kub introduced a new flag (The Trisakti) on 31 August 1973. It was used until 30 August 1988 when the present State Flag was being introduced to replace it.

The flag consisted of a blue triangle with red colour formed the top half of the field and with white colour formed the bottom half of the field . It was adopted by the State Government under YAB Tun Datuk Patinggi Haji Abdul Rahman Ya'kub when he was the Chief Minister of Sarawak from 7 July 1970 to 26 March 1981

The blue triangle in the flag signifies a united people of Sarawak pursuing the national aspirations. The top half of the field in red represents courage and determination whereas the bottom half of the field in white represents honesty and purity. It was hoisted at midnight on 31 August 1973 by the Chief Minister himself on the occasion of the State 10th Anniversary of Independence within Malaysia.

(11) The Present Sarawak State Flag

From 31 August 1988 until today . The flag consists of a nine pointed yellow star on black and red diagonal strips with yellow field . It was adopted by the State Government of Sarawak under the Chief Ministership of YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr.) Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Yellow denotes the supremacy of Law and Order, unity and stability in diversity. The yellow nine pointed star denotes the nine divisions where the Rakyat live in harmony. The star symbol also embodies the aspiration of the people of Sarawak in their quest to improve their quality of life.
Red symbolises the courage, determination and sacrifices of the Rakyat in their tireless pursuit to attain and maintain progress and esteem in the course of creating a model State.

Black symbolises the rich natural resources and wealth of Sarawak such as petroleum, timber etc. which provide the foundation for the advancement of her people.

It was hoisted at State Stadium Kuching on 31 August 1998 by Sarawak's Chief Minister, YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr.) Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud on the occasion of State 25th Anniversary of Independence within Malaysia.

By the end of the 20th century more than half of all Sarawakians have become well educated and nationalistic. It was mandatory for all businesses to fly flags on significant dates. Most citizens bought their own flags to fly whenever it was necessary. Children especially love the National Flag as well as the Sarawak flag. The school system has ensured that students are well educated in nationalistic values. Small flags were also made for sale in the market.

Source : Sarawak Gazettes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Foochow Herbs

This is called "Ngu Kerk Pi" or Bull's Horns as the leaves look are bull's horns. These are good for over heatiness and related ailments. Normally a few plants would be pulled up from the grown and washed thoroughly for making soup with some chicken pieces. Back aches can also be cured if the pain arises from weakness of the kidneys. We heard whispers that it is good for those with infertility problems too. But we never had the opportunity to try it on any one who had fertility problem.

Called "Ngia" in Foochow this herb is commonly found in the backyard of Foochows. It is usually brewed with chicken soup. Good for general health especially for keeping the lungs healthy. When we were kids we had a lot of the soup to prevent coughs. And all our relatives' backyard gardens had them.


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(This photo shows Kie Rek Chou - good for kidney ailments - just boil a lot of this herbs with chicken. It is used as an antidote for skin eruptions. We Foochows believe that this "weed" is good for removing toxins or "poisons" from our bodies. so young children suffering from boils and other skin problems were forced to drink the soup.)

Have you realised that Foochow grandmothers and aunties are often very well versed in the boiling of herbs for almost every ailment that you can think of?

When I was young I was exposed to very special herbs which helped to lower our body heatiness. I was really keen then to learn all about them. My aunts especially were very helpful in helping me become knowledgeable.

When we were living at Kung Ping Road ,now called Brooke Drive,my family was often intrigued by the black grass jelly which we now can buy easily in any hawker's stall throughout Malaysia. The black grass jelly actually came from a grass that my neighbour grew and we had plenty of free black grass jelly from her. We had to boil a lot of the herb or "grass" to get a small amount of the grass jelly. Today it is considered a delicacy. It is also available in tins so our life style is made more simple.

I used to have some soup to get rid of wind in the stomach very frequently from my elderly aunt sometime ago. And she continues to boil it for other family members as she has this special peppermint plant. She also grows a lot of basil or " 9 storeyed pagoda" which helps to cure stomach upsets and generally cleanses our system.

This plant in the photo is growing outside her little verandah. It is good for body temperature and it can balance the yin and yang elements of our entire body.

Another plant which I remember with fondness is the Chinese liquorice which is good for making soup. If we have a lot of nightmares and if we sweat a lot because our liver is over heated this plant is good for us. It is called Kan Chou or liver plant. It has yellow flowers and its leaves are like the leaves of changkok manis. The leaves can be stir fried too.

In retrospect we actually grew up with a lot of herbal knowledge which is very precious to the modern world. We should be grateful that our elders have passed to us this knowledge. Even if we don't practise the usage of herbs in our daily lives at least we should remember with gratitude that many of our ailments were cured by these simple herbs which can be found every where.

We must never forget that there are many cures for simple ailments in our backyard.

(All the information provided above is classified as old wives' tales. If you do not believe in the properties of these so called weeds, it is ok.)


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