YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 25. It’s off to Vung Tau for two glorious, naughty days.

Off to Vung Tau. 14/9/71. Showered, shaved, dressed in clean uniforms, kit bags and weapons in hand we board the truck for Vung Tau. Out the front gate we go in our open aired Mark 3, sitting on the plank seats and still checking out the surrounding countryside as we motor along. It’s down route 2 to Ba Ria, the capital of the province, through the town and along a causeway over mudflats. There are people living in pressed tin shacks that cling to whatever dry land they can find. The tin is leftover rolls from wherever Coca Cola or Budweiser get their cans from. Garbage is heaped against the sides of these shanties, barefoot children scamper and play amongst the refuse. Back on solid land again we head down to Cap St Jacques, or Vung Tau. There’s no escaping the fact that this is a country at war, US military vehicles are everywhere, ARVN troops crammed into the back of trucks, their GI helmets looking ridiculously large on them. The people have seen it all and it’s only the small children that take any notice of us. We motor through the main gates at 1 ALSG, our main command base in Vietnam. It is located next to the beach and it’s built on sand dunes. Anticipation mounts as we traverse the camp, down to the road that fronts the sea and we arrive at the Badcoe Club. A cluster of modernistic concrete and steel buildings that housed a recreation centre, swimming pool, bar and theatre.

Main gate, 1 ALSG.

1ALSGGates

The Club. My diary tells me we placed our weapons in the armoury, found our allocated rooms in a modern two storey barrack block and hit the beach. (For those who have watched China Beach on television and I can’t find any you tube vids, well this wasn’t it, no Dana Delany in a tight green T-shirt looking well, busty and gorgeous. No funky little thatched huts on the beach front. Their south China sea even looked better than ours.) Don’t complain Laurie, you’re here. There was a surf club where you could sign out surfboards, kayaks, footballs etc from a very disinterested lifeguard. What the hell, let’s hit the water. Standing, facing the sea you could see the Long Hai hills in the distance. Look left and the beach went on forever. Look right and a barbed wire entanglement jutted out about a hundred metres into the sea. No, it wasn’t to keep hordes of Viet Cong from nicking our surf boards. It was there to keep us from going onto the American beach next door. Yes, segregated beaches. There were beaches set aside for other countries involved in the war. It didn’t detract from the fact that the water was great. While you were floating on your back, the sun beamed on your face and with ears underwater, well, the war had gone. The waves were small and your body bobbed along, no cares, worries or stress only you and the water. Sploosh! A soccer ball hits the water next to my head, then a shout, ‘Come on Smithy, we’re going to town.’

Badcoe Club.

badcoe_beach

Like thousands of garrison towns throughout most wars in history, Vung Tau had its ‘Sex centre.’ Theirs was colloquially known as The Flags.

FlagsVT

A wall had been built at one end of the square and it had the flags of every nation involved in the conflict emblazoned on one side. On each side of the square stood a large collection of: bars, massage parlours, pickup joints, more bars. The list goes on as did the scope of places where you could empty your wallet.  Your senses were assailed. Smells wafted from the nearby markets: ducks, chickens, varieties of vegetables, cooked and uncooked meats, fish sauce, raw fish.

markets

The bars: cheap perfume, spilled beer, hormone soaked bodies, sweat.

m70

Sounds: raised voices, jeeps, trucks, motorbikes, horns, bells and if a whistle blew everybody stopped.

VungTau3

The Canh Sat, or ‘White Mice’ were the police. If the person they wanted didn’t stop after they blew their whistle, then it was out with the .45. Bang! No second chances, no please stop, and as we will learn in a future post it didn’t matter who you were.

WhiteMice2

The sing-song voices of the bar girls calling out, ‘Hey, Uc da loi, (Australian) you want take me home. I love you long time. Me clean, no VD like girls over there.’ They would point at a barber shop that specialised in oral sex. Children’s voices as they pestered you for money, cigarettes, or chocolate. Some, carrying wreaths of flowers on their arms pressed close and tried to pick your pocket, or steal your watch. Others would play tic tac toe on scraps of paper for money, they always won. Adults and children would offer to exchange Military Payment Certificates or US dollars for Dong, the local currency. Trusting and unwary soldiers soon found that the wad of Dong they had swapped their currency for consisted of a real note top and bottom, the rest, newspaper. Tastes: Cold beer cleaning away the taste of ration pack food. Scotch, harsh, tangy biting your taste buds. Sights: Overwhelming in a way, a mish mash of humanity, White, Black, Asian, Indian. All with a purpose in mind as they made their way through the streets and markets. Buyers and sellers, everybody brought down to the common denominator of supply and demand. Poverty and wealth sat side by side, shops selling gold next to small clothing traders. Farmers selling produce, food stalls, music stalls where recent hits belted out from huge speakers. You could buy reel to reel tapes and cassettes. Vung Tau could be described as hustle central where every taste was catered for. Music group Christie, singing Yellow River is an endearing memory of my first night in town.

Butterfly Girls. The early afternoon sun filtered through the trees that overhung the courtyard of the French colonial hotel. Waist-high walls, their blue painted stucco cement rendering had peeled away, revealing a palette of colours going back a century. The spear pointed, cast iron railings hung in between shaky pillars. All held together by trailing, blue flowered vines. Wooden tables with benches on each side were placed against the wall, giving peeping Tom views out into the main street on one side, and an alley on the other. The two storey hotel rose up above the clutter of the markets, a fading reminder of wealthier times. The ground floor sat in the shade from sloping awnings, cool darkness peered out from the arches.  American soldiers in neat, green uniforms, Australians in civilian clothes clustered at the tables, drinking, laughing and casting glances at the ‘hostesses’ that fluttered from group to group. Butterfly Girls, who, like their namesakes moved from flower to flower sucking up the life-giving nectar. We sat and drank our beer, young men full of hope, life and a need. Nobody was in a hurry. Here it seemed safe, you can fool yourself most of the time. Three Hueys flew overhead, the distinctive whup-whup-whup of their rotor blades made everybody stop and look upwards. The war intruded until the sound faded away over the coast, the hum of conversation took over and the girls came back.

I felt a gentle, small hand on my shoulder and looked up. She stood there, slender, no older than myself and dressed in a simple floral shift. I stared into her deep brown eyes. They held a hint of promise, knowing and a dare. Putting her hip against me she pushed, I took the hint and she sat down. She smelled delightful, her hair had a touch too much lacquer on it, I could ignore that as she breathed lightly in my ear. Aware of her closeness, the feel of her breast against my bare arm I listened intently to her offer. ‘Hey Soldier, you come back to my room? I make you very happy, we go short time. Very cheap.’ I went to stand, ‘No, no, you buy me tea first.’ An elderly woman appeared out of the shadows holding a tray with a tall glass of what could only be iced tea. I pulled out a wad of notes and slapped them down on the tray, the woman tottered away shoving the money into her blouse. My new friend took a few sips and pushed it away, ‘Hurry, drink your beer. We need to go.’ Inspired by her eagerness and my body’s responses I downed my Budweiser and slid off the seat.

The whistles and catcalls from my Mates faded as I followed her. I ignored everything, except the way her small bottom wiggled under her dress as she walked slowly up the stairs ahead of me. Stairs that had felt thousands of feet over time. Now I would stop and take in the feel of the building. Not then, I wanted to feel her, to run my hands over her firm brown flesh. To know her in all ways. My face felt flushed but not from exertion. She stopped on the landing and looked down at me, she couldn’t hide the look on her face, one of triumph. Giggling she ran ahead, stopped outside a wooden door at the end of the landing and stood with her back to me. I caught up and held her by the waist, pulling her against me I bit at her neck. Fumbling with the doorknob she managed to push it open. Turning she wrapped her arms around my neck, I lowered my head and continued nipping at her throat. She pulled away and lifted her dress up and over her head. Part of me was aware of the room, cool, dim. An iron framed single bed stood in the far corner, trying to hide under dinghy sheets, yellowed and rumpled. Standing next to the bed, her slender body revealed, she stroked her hands over her breasts, across her taught abdomen and down to the wisp of straight black hair.

Fumbling, cursing I tugged at my shirt and jeans. They conspired to hold my urgency at bay, hopping on one foot I tumbled to the bed. Still giving me that knowing smile she crouched down and pulled my boots off. I couldn’t focus on her, there are other rooms here. A lace curtain lifts at the French doors leading onto the veranda. The breeze brings muffled voices with it and the distant sound of gunshots. Her practised kneading brings me back to the moment, pulling her towards me I roll her over onto the sheets.  I’ve never felt such urgency as we join together, heat, pressure an instinctive, rocking plunging.  Something boils deep inside me, arching back, panting it’s over in a wet rush. I’ve lost all sense of place and time, my mind is elsewhere. Her insistent pinching at my waist restores me to the now. Rolling away I lie back, she strokes my face gently then jumps off the bed, ‘Hurry, must wash, shower now.’ Groaning I roll off the bed, with an itching burning feeling on my appendix scar. Looking down I see something brown latched onto my skin. A bedbug feeding on my blood. it seems everybody makes a living in this game.

‘Hurry, shower now.’ Ancient lead pipes grumble as she turns the cold tap on. Chipped enamel washbasin in hand, she squats down over the toilet hole in the floor and washes my essence out of her body. I step inside the concrete shower cubicle, the water dribbles out of the rusted head as I lather myself. I hear her moving about the room and look out, she hastily drops my jeans back on the bed. Still naked she dries me down with a well laundered towel, fussing and clucking she takes a little longer than necessary and helps me dress. I wait on the landing for her, she comes out in a clean dress. Her hair has been sprayed again and fresh dabs of perfume glisten on the inside of her elbows. Hand in hand we return to the table, my mates are still there and a fresh can of icy cold Budweiser waits for me. Stretching up she kisses my cheek, smiles and flutters away. A new group of soldiers sit down two tables away and I hear her sing-song voice. ‘Hey Soldier, you come back to my room? I make you very happy.’

Mini Golf.  15/9/71. You better believe it, the body can only take so much cheap sex and scotch so the following morning belonged to social pursuits, mini-golf. I found it quite relaxing, we had fun as only big kids can when they’re happy and alive. Of course after the rigours of 18 holes the beach called again. I’ve always loved to swim, besides the saltwater cleaned up the hole the bedbug left, I could fit a match head in it. At least it wasn’t the dreaded Pthirus pubis, or crabs, although it annoyed me greatly. The simple pleasures of life are fine but the delights of Vung Tau called out to me like the Sirens of Greek mythology. But unlike Odysseus of old I didn’t tie myself to the mast of a ship so I could listen and not be tempted. I sailed forth and cast myself on the naked bodies of cheap, willing bar girls and drank myself into a stupor.

16/9/71. We return home.

GatesNuidat

Nobody gives a damn about the scenery, war, or poverty only stomachs tortured by too much drinking and the worry that comes from sticking your little mate into strange, exotic places. Sickly smiles are exchanged as tall tales are recounted about narrow escapes from roving duos of Military Police. Home is where you hang your rifle. I pack away the gifts and trinkets I bought into my trunk, undress and give myself a quick short arm inspection, Hmm, he looks okay. Grabbing my tray it’s a quick walk over for an early dinner, eat and then prepare for night ambushing. We rumble out along the ring road, head for the back gate, load our weapons and head off for another night at the office. War can be heck sometimes.

beast[1]

Note that all the photos except the last one are courtesy of Rolly Wood, RIP Mate. The last one courtesy of Jock Taggart.

Next week, Just when you thought it was safe to play in the jungle.

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30 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 25. It’s off to Vung Tau for two glorious, naughty days.

  1. ross

    Hi Laurie ,thanks for the interesting read. I was a bit young for the war but I have been to Vung Tau about 4-5 times in recent years. I enjoy reading the stories of vets and checking out their photographs and where possible visiting the places and comparing the old and new.
    I was wondering if you had ever been back to Vung Tau? I really enjoy the laid back nature of the place and not being harassed by street vendors that you get in other parts of SE Asia.
    I liked the pics of armoured vehicles racing along the back beach where I was swimming only 3 weeks ago LOL
    Of course the bars are back again but probably a little tamer and more sophisticated than the ones in your day.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Ross, thanks for taking the time to drop by and read my posts. That sounds like an interesting thing to do, you’d certainly see a change in some places. That beach was great to race on, not the done thing to do today I guess but we had a great time doing it. 🙂 The weather would be nice there now. I think the bars started up when the Russian fleet turned up and began berthing there when the yanks left. The bars were certainly the places to be if you wanted to experience life in the raw. I can only guess that they rip you off with more sophistication and technology today.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Drew, I like to draw the reader into the scene, make them feel like they are there. I also believe if you’re going to write about something personal then you owe it to yourself and your readers to be as honest as you can.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  2. bgbowers

    Another vivid instalment, Laurie. You write about your experiences so deftly, that it is always a pleasure to read.:)

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  3. hitandrun1964

    Are you sure you were at war? Sounds like just another Saturday night. LOL Club houses, beaches, girls, booze. It’s different how? Sure, you fixed a truck, fought off snakes, got mud on your shoes, were surrounded by weird food (gap) and sounds but Hmmm…spider woman and drinks…Okay maybes it was bed bug woman, but still. You can’t fool me. Why did you have your own beaches? Seems like you all should have been able to play together. So you never hung around with any GIs or guys from any other countries? I KNOW the chickens wouldn’t like it there. For sure. No way. Cluck. Thy said hello and hope you feel better:) Peep. Be well and I’m not ever going thee to visit. EVER!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      You bet your sweet patootie we were at war, it was rumoured that the Viet Cong who weren’t local, spent time off there too. Just not in the same bars. A percentage of the bar girls would have been VC sympathisers and not many nights or days went past when you didn’t hear shooting. We fixed our armoured fighting vehicles, then it was try and forget the war. 🙂
      Bed bug woman, I like that! I’m not sure why we had our own beaches. Probably because if anyone infiltrated the place then it would be obvious, say on our beach a group of Asian men appeared. You’d know sure as hell they didn’t belong there. Just a thought. I only ever saw GI’s in the field once, we had our own province to operate in, they had the rest of SVN. In Vung Tau you would see a lot of them. There was a US base and airfield there, so the place was crowded with them at night. It would be like any other place, men congregate in bars, drink, talk, fight. You know how it is?
      It would not be safe for the chickens, their life expectancy would be extremely short. This old chook isn’t too bad. I dropped a message on one of your posts. Besides the emphysema and asthma I had influenza A lurking in one lung and it seemed to be reinfecting me. So I’m on a management plan now and I feel better but not great. well that’s a big cluck from me.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  4. Pagadan

    Another great and real chapter with pictures to enable us to see it more clearly, though your descriptions are fantastic. Interesting about the segregated beaches too. Btw, in the letters column in the December issue of True West Magazine is some interesting info–with a picture–of the “soiled doves” out west. “From 50 to 90 percent of prostitutes on the frontier were infected with gonorrhea or syphalis; and 64 to 80 percent of men with gonorrhea contracted it from these ‘ladies of the night'”. It sounds as if those over there were much more aware… And I’m glad you made it home with all your bits intact!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Joy. The pictures help otherwise I would be spending more time describing a market place. I didn’t get the idea about the beaches neither, strange. The soiled doves, it’s a great euphemism for hooker. One in five people had syphilis in those days, it was quite the disease. Plus the gonorrhoea and nothing adequate to treat them with. In Vietnam the girls were regulated, they had to have health checks every couple of weeks. Ah yes, my intact bits the little star that he is. Next week is downright dangerous. Keep a lookout.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  5. Raani York

    This is a little naughty, very picturesque, surrounded by these pictures it feels to me a little like in the middle of the story!
    This is so “you” Laurie – and still ; there are moments I have to clearly shake my head to remember that this was once all reality!!!
    Well done, Laurie – just GREATLY done!!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      That’s me Raani, ‘a very naughty boy indeed.’ I couldn’t write about everything else and not one of the big things (no pun intended) in my life. Yes the pictures certainly help and they’re grainy enough at times to give that real feel. Yes it was all ‘real’ and believe it or not I’m actually enjoying writing about it. Next weeks edition gets real, so put your flak jacket on. 🙂
      Thanks for the encouragement Raani.

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  6. Tami McVey

    So incredibly descriptive and yes, even a bit on the naughty side. One can actually picture themselves visiting the places you describe and immersing themselves in the surroundings you create. I agree, you should you should write a book about the REAL war experience…

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Tami, the naughty bits are so much a part of war and as long as you didn’t lose that bit you were okay. 🙂 The smells are what brings the scenery back and from there it is relativity easy. The hard bit is then presenting it as a story, I love it. I’ll be putting all my blogs together in an ebook at some stage, flesh them out a little more and see what comes of it. Stay tuned….

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  7. Owls and Orchids

    So good to know you were a ‘wild child’ Laurie 🙂 and glad all your bits came back good as gold :0:0 You certainly paint a vastly different picture to the glamorised versions in the movies. You really should put it all into a book – you never know, someone may want to make a film of the real story. Looking forward to next week.
    Ciao, Susan x

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Susan, oh yes wild indeed and amazingly enough my best mate came through it all unscathed. 🙂 except for a minor wound. Yes I like to paint things as they are/were it makes it more interesting. The movie makers have to think of a huge audience to make money. I only have a small audience to scare and delight. I’m putting my blogs into an ebook in the near future. Next week is real.
      Cheers
      Laurie. xox

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      1. Owls and Orchids

        I’m definitely delighted and I think more amused by the foibles mere males can get themselves embroiled in, but not scared… I have a strange view on scary, whether its from my police days or a warped world view I’m not sure but I think I may have made a fine hell raiser if I’d been born a man – hell I could have done it as I am given half a chance 😉
        Ciao, Susan x

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        Mere males eh? Not extraordinary or even good, just mere. Sigh! 🙂 You do realize we make a lot of decisions with the little head for starters, that puts us on the back foot straight away. Being a woman shouldn’t stop you being a hell raiser, I know back in the day it was frowned on. One incident yet to be written about scared me in Vietnam, only because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it and it’s not in the following two weeks.
        Time in the police gives you a different perspective on life and if your view is warped (me, me) then life is definitely different. ‘Hell Raiser Susan’ has a definite ring to it. 🙂
        Cheers
        Laurie.

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  8. Zyanne

    An amazing account of your life Laurie. The photos and description of what happened is just amazing. I can’t believe the police just shoot people like that!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Zyanne. Indeed they did and obviously with little or no comeback. A few blogs down the line I will be writing about my own personal experience with them. Even sitting here writing this it gives me a little shiver.

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  9. oldmainer

    I had just been discharged from the Air Force when Vietnam started. I went down to the Army recruiter to talk about enlisting if they would send me to flight school to fly helicopters. That’s when I found out they were beginning to arm them with large caliber machine guns. My new wife didn’t think that was particularly amusing. I didn’t re up for that reason and because if I didn’t make it through flight school, I would have to serve the rest of my enlistment in the infantry. Decided to pass on the opportunity:)

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      You know Bob women have no sense of humour when it comes to men wanting to rush off to war. I can understand your reluctance in not wanting to go walking in Vietnam. Those Huey chopper pilots were great fliers, mate you could have been on the Cobra gunships, that would have been something else. Knowing the way that the universe works in regards to our wants, you probably would have ended up footslogging. 🙂 Thanks for dropping in and commenting.
      Laurie.

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  10. rayjamieson

    Hi Laurie, I missed conscription (and Vietnam) by a couple of years. I was glad then and I’m even more glad now. Your stories are enough for me. Brilliantly written, you bring it all to life…
    Cheers,
    Ray

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Ray. You know I wouldn’t change it for quids. I was a regular soldier so as you know I volunteered. The Nashos who went apparently weren’t forced to go. It’s a part of my life I wouldn’t wish to be changed. Events like this define us and besides I wouldn’t have a lot to write about. 🙂
      Thanks for dropping in Mate.
      Laurie.

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      1. rayjamieson

        I met some guys, brothers of a jillaroo on our farm at Harden in NSW, who were SAS after being regulars in Vietnam. The stories they told me turned me off in one sense, although they were incredible adventures. But it was the effects on them that did it. Georgie Mac said his stomach was so knotted for weeks after he came home, he couldn’t eat a decent sized meal. Never slept more than in snatches, and every sound woke him up. Then there was the reception he got when he came back home on leave. He said it seemed everyone was out for a blue. OK, maybe he wasn’t diplomat or ambassador material and always obliged them, but going to the pub for a quiet drink wasn’t possible with his army haircut.

        I didn’t want anything to have that much control over me and my life, even from so far away. It seemed that he was on a track that he couldn’t get off, once he got on… That scared me.

        By that age (I was 14), I’d already had my run-ins with authority. 3 school teachers had shown me what I thought was disrespect, and I had bailed them up and got myself into some serious trouble at school. I’d done the same thing with my grandfather, causing a ruckus in the family, and a couple of other times in public. My general feeling was that the moment some sergeant in the army shouted abuse at me, one of us was going down… And I still haven’t learned how to give up, to this day…

        I don’t think army, or even a regulated or regimented corporate life was ever possible for me. I’m an entrepreneur and a writer and always will be, creating my own life and not good with other people’s rules.

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        I can see the school report now, ‘does not play well with others’ 🙂 Hmm, without the smiley face though. You’re a free spirit Ray and that’s how it is. A hundred years or more ago you probably would have been a bushranger.
        I don’t think there was a bloke who came back from there, especially if they had been operational who didn’t have trouble adjusting to normality. Jumpiness, eating at strange times, knotted stomachs, agro, willing to punch on, jumping at loud noises. Hang on, to varying degrees a lot of us are still like that. Some of us have never switched off and it’s only age and illness that stops you. I can’t stand the sound of helicopters, or loud noises, have a balloon go bang near me and it’s on. Crazy but that’s how it is. We all have things that drive us from afar, whether it’s war, school, authority something out there pushes our buttons.
        Cheers
        Laurie.

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