Episode 59. Cosplay with Cindy (@CationDesigns)

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Cosplay with Cindy (@CationDesigns) The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this month's episode, we're celebrating AANHPI Heritage Month! We chatted with our researcher Cindy Chan (@CationDesigns) to talk about cosplay basics and her experience cosplaying.  Follow the pod at @AsianSewistCollective on Instagram. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see:  https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-59-cosplay-with-cindy-cationdesignsepisode-59/ 

Links 

Resources

Episode 3 – Pattern Testing with Nandia @divinedita

Episode 12 – Natural Dyeing with Ella @handmademillennial

Transcript

Ada

Welcome to the Asian Sewist collective podcast the Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. 

Nicole  

In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. 

Ada   

I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver is the traditional territory of the US, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare brand Erleia. That’s E-R-L-E-I-A. Find us on social media at ErleiaSkin. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing @i.hope.sew on Instagram. 

Nicole  

And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m recording from outside of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine American lawyer who loves to sew and you can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews. 

Ada  

All right, hello. This week we are doing a little bit of a different episode or I guess we should say month. So May is AANHPI month so Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander month, Say that five times fast. And we really wanted to get out an episode that we had actually had on the back burner for a while and hadn’t gotten around to so today instead of having Nicole with me, our guest or our co host for the day is Cindy Chan, who is one of our podcast team members and has been since the beginning. And we’re going to be talking about cosplay. So, all things to do with like, what it is who does it? We know what the kind of differences between we’ve done an episode on historical costuming and cosplay and Cindy’s own experience with it. So welcome Cindy. Would you like to tell the audience a little bit more about yourself if they haven’t met you on a previous episode yet?

Cindy  

I don’t think I’ve actually been on any previous episodes. I’ve done a lot of research.

Yes, as Ada said, I’ve been hanging around the podcast since the first days. So my name is Cindy. I go by she/her pronouns and I am CationDesigns on all the social media things that I actually have, but not TikTok.

Ada  

Cat-ion because we had a conversation about this at the begining, I was like, CAY-SHIN? What?

Cindy  

Yeah, well, a lot of what a lot of people think it’s pronounced Cay-shin because it looks like the ending of vacation, which is usually what I get. If you type it into into Google. It’s like “Did you mean vacation designs” or like or the other thing is like, “Did you mean like catio designs” like people who want to design fancy outdoor patios for their cats? It’s a whole thing.

But no, I go by Cation Designs online because of my love for science and cats. So in chemistry, the name for a positively charged ion is a cation and I was like, Oh, that’s perfect. I love cats. I teach chemistry. This is great.

Ada  

So yes, you should follow her at cat C-A-T ion designs on Instagram, all the social media on your blog. And we’re gonna deep dive right into it. So one of the questions that we always ask all of our guests is how does your identity inform your sewing if at all? So in this case, indeed, how does your identity influence your cosplay at all or has it?

Cindy  

That’s a great question. And I know that I went into this sort of thinking about went into this interview thinking about that because, you know, it’s our month. But in terms of cosplaying one of the things that I’ve been doing more since Actually, no, I’ve been doing this since I started doing cosplayers, like trying to figure out how I can sort of like do a spin on you know, stereotypically Western characters and sort of make them Asian so I don’t know if you’re, if you saw at all like somewhere in the 2010 I don’t even remember, but this was a long time ago. There was a I want to say a South Asian cosplayer who redid Wonder Woman, but like, for her heritage and so like she had like, the bangles, the, like the like, I don’t remember specifics, but like, I was like, That is brilliant is like the it was like a whole like, you know, representation matters and like you know, and I think the the tagline was something along the lines of like, Be your own hero or something. But after I saw that, I was like, that’s amazing.

And when the Wonder Woman movie came out, that was right when I had had my daughter and I was like, I want her to have like, you know, obviously like strong female characters who look up to, but also specifically, I want her to feel like I can be Asian and also look up to these same characters. So the first cosplay I did after she sort of was like big enough to be left alone for some period of time and not just like, strapped to me all the time. I did a my Chinese Wonder Woman take so it was like a Hanfu like also with Chinese plate armor look, but like in Wonder Woman colors and so it was like, and everyone was like, Oh, look it’s Mulan Wonder Woman. I was like okay, fine, she’s Irish or whatever, whatever helps you to access this character. But yeah, so I did like my like Hanfu take on that. And then actually prior to that I had already done a like Hanfu Loki mashup. And so basically, I’ve just like every year a couple years I do a like pop culture character that’s very American. And then I like Hanfu it up. So like one of the coolest things that I’ve gotten to do is underwater photo shoots for cosplay. So like you dress up in your costume and then you like dive into the deep end of a pool. And then my friend Doris takes these amazing photos where you look like you’re just like ethereal and floating even though you’re like I’m drowning.

Cindy

But she did a whole series for my husband and I in Hanfu where I was Ariel, but like, you know her colors but like in the Chinese historical costume sort of look and then my husband whose name is Eric was Prince Eric.

And so just things like that where I can take like these are characters that I’ve like known and loved but I want to make it so that like, like not that it has to be Asian-ified for it to be okay for me to like. But just like, you know, to take it and make it my own. So I’ve done that with like Lord of the Rings characters as well. So like a Galadriel but like it’s and this was because of this amazing artist that I found on Instagram. Who did like so you know, like Lord of the Rings is happening in you don’t know wonderings is happening in Middle Earth. Right? And so she did this whole art series as a play on like, well, not Middle Earth, but like the Middle Kingdom like Zhongguo is like the Middle Kingdom. So like, what if we took everything from Lord of the Rings and like reset it in Middle Kingdom and so I was like, Oh my gosh, that’s brilliant. So I did my own take on Galadriel as a character but like with slightly more Chinese historical dress flavor.

Cindy  

It’s old. I mean, my daughter is six.

Ada  

But that’s amazing. Like, I’m kind of I’m here for it. I think that if you can take it and really own it in a way that’s meaningful and powerful to you then like have more power to you. Right, like you’ve taken the character and reinterpreted it for who you are, and kind of almost like infused a part of yourself into it. Which you know, I love it’s not obviously a requirement, but it’s I think it’s really cool. And also like, screw the people who are like Mulan, Wonder Woman, we can be more than Mulan or Raya, or like, you know, when the past 10-15 years we’ve gotten more Disney Princesses Moana but like, we could be more than Disney princesses come on. So yeah, I love that.

That was I will dig up some of these photos to make sure that they make it into the show notes.

Cindy  

I mean, I can also just send it to you.

Ada  

So what is cosplay for someone who isn’t in it, but has seen some of it on the internet?

Cindy  

Well, I I’d say in the very broadest sense, it’s like dressing up as a character that you like, or maybe even don’t like dressing up as a character from media. And some people would like put additional stipulations. on that and saying, like, you got to make your costume or you got to, like also get into character and basically like improv and interact as if you were that character. I’m gonna go broad and say like, dress up with any level of accuracy for a character from media. 

Ada  

And so would you say that the biggest difference between cosplay and costuming and even historical costuming is that cosplay is focused on a specific character?

Cindy  

Yeah, usually when people are cosplaying they have a specific character or persona something in mind so it could be like, like, I’m not dressing up as like, everyone from the 1800s I’m dressing up as this one specific, either historical person or like, you know, an invented character from like a piece of media. It’s it’s like you have a name.

Ada  

Fair enough. Koss actually did the research for this episode, we gave you a break. And they showed that wearing costumes for non Halloween events as opposed to professionally on stage or in general for costuming has been around for centuries. With a lot of you know examples like costume balls and masquerades kind of being closer to what you described, but costuming for fun and acting as a specific character has actually started in sci fi in the 1930s. So it’s about 100 years old, and then about 50 years later. So in the 80s, which we’re almost getting to the 80s being 50 years ago, which is crazy.

But basically the Japanese Anime Studio had Takahashi Nobuyuki visited Worldcon in LA and brought the idea back to Japan and then it kind of like took off within anime and manga fandoms and so this led to the creation of the term cosplay and the eventual migration of the hobby back to the US where it’s actually really I think it’s kind of blown up with the internet right like it’s actually really big now.

Cindy  

Yeah, I think having having the Internet yes, but also like social media and like, I know like Yaya Han did a whole series I think I’m not entirely sure but like, maybe a TV series about like, the world of cosplay and then, you know, big hobby stores like Joann’s picked up, like oh, let’s have an entire cosplay line so it has made it a lot more accessible for people.

Ada  

Fair enough. And when I think about cosplay, my mind immediately goes to Comic Con. I think partially because right it’s become a little bit more accessible for me to see online. It’s not a world that I’m necessarily like involved in I like tangentially enjoy it. But is cosplay more than that? Feels like a really basic question.

Cindy  

No, but like these are good questions, because these are the questions I had to and I started cosplaying. Like, like does it count as cause play if you’re not at a convention sort of thing, but I’d say like most people I know you know, cosplay generally at conventions because the point of cosplay is for people to see your work. But I think in the world since the pandemic started, right, like people have been doing more like okay, well we’ll have like private gatherings like, Okay, we’re gonna have like a little party for everyone who’s into, you know what, fill in the blank, right? Like, for example, one of the last things that I did last year was like, everyone dress up in Sailor Moon Hanfu, and we’re going to have a picnic and take pictures and like that’s a very specific picnic.

Ada  

So you mentioned when you got started, you had all these questions. When did you get started with cosplay and what has your experience been like? 

Cindy  

So my very first cosplay like a lot of people I know who are my age I was like, because of Lord of the Rings. So when Lord of the Rings came out, I was in college and I you know, needed a creative outlet and then return to the king came out and it was December and it was like, Oh, this is the last movie and for for what we knew at the time was like, this is the last movie ever. So like we got to do something so for the midnight premiere, my best friend and I went to the midnight showing in San Francisco and it was in December, so it was like super cold and it was like the day of like, what if I dressed up as the Eye of Sauron on so like that afternoon my sibling helped me craft an Eye of Sauron like entire headband with like the horns and like a giant yellow balloon as the eye and then I just like dressed in all black like every warm black thing I owned and then just showed up in line that way and it was amazing.

Like so many people like oh my gosh, that’s amazing. And normally I’m like very introverted. Like Please don’t look at me. I do not wish to be perceived but like something about dressing up as like an entirely different thing. Felt, like really free like this is not me. I’m not me. I’m the Eye of Sauron. You can I can just be as I mean, not like I was looking for an excuse to be awful to people but like I’m a villain like, I’m just gonna be want to be bad. 

Ada  

I think it’s really funny because you started with Lord of the Rings and I thought you’re gonna say like, Gandalf. I personally have actually never watched the movies. I know. Shame. My husband gets on it all the time. Then you said Eye of Sauron it’s like I know these references and like, visualizing it like if you haven’t seen the Eye of Sauron, Google it. It is a very scary looking giant eye of fire is how I would describe it. 

Cindy  

Yes. Suspended between two horns.

Ada  

Yeah. The fact that you’re like walking around in San Francisco dressed up like that I think probably made people’s day.

Cindy  

I mean, I think everyone there who was already there was like we’re all very into this.

Ada  

So the Eye of Sauron is it’s obviously like a character but it’s not necessarily a humanoid character. So are there other characters humanoid or not? That you have cosplay that you really enjoyed or maybe didn’t enjoy cosplaying as?

Cindy  

I mean. How humanoid are we talking? Right? Because I I’ve also cosplayed as the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, which is I mean, it’s got two legs and arms which I guess makes it humanoid-ish, but it’s got horns. And yeah, so I think part of the reason why cosplay can be so fun. It’s like you can do whatever bizarre thing. And because it’s kind of like it’s kind of like a like a signal beacon for everyone else who’s a fan of the whatever the franchise or you know, piece of media is and everyone’s like, I get what you’re talking about. Or I get what you’re portraying. And it’s it’s like come talk to me other nerds. So I personally enjoy doing like the really weird cosplay so like the Eye of Sauron, the Balrog like I did Shelob last fall and Shelob is the giant spider that stabs Elijah Wood at the end of Return to the king. So like, I like doing really weird cosplay.

Cindy, a woman of Asian descent, is wearing a furry hat with spider eyes and pincers and a black and gray dress with giant spider legs emerging from behind her back. She is cradling in her arms, and looking down at, a doll with fake spiderwebs wrapped around it.

Ada  

And when you are making a costume for cosplay, is the process any different from let’s say when you’re making you do a lot of costuming in general. So like any other costume or any other type of garment.

Cindy  

Um, I think with what was what if you’re doing especially kind of cosplays where I do, like really bizarre things. There’s, there’s definitely a lot more challenge in terms of like trying, trying to plan out the process and like, kind of engineering the entire costume like with like with sewing garments, like regular garments like i There are patterns that you can buy or there’s you know, directions for like how to manipulate this particular block in order to get this kind of sleeve or whatever, but with a lot of cosplay, there’s inventing, like, I need to make this thing that nobody has ever patterned it and because like, you know, anime artists aren’t thinking about like, where’s a reasonable place to put a seam line? Or like if you’re, you know, doing animated stuff it’s like this fabric literally does not exist you know, like art or for like Game of Thrones type cosplay, somebody’s hand woven and hand dyed and hand beaded this fabrics like guess I have to do the same. So there’s a lot more than just like, cut out a pattern make some modifications sew it up it’s there’s a lot of planning and like engineering and like the people I know who are like amazing cosplayers. They have so many skills under their belt like not just the sewing which you know is our focus here but leather working like foam working to make armor like metal smithing like, also like electronics so that you can program your wings to open and close on the pool. So I don’t touch a lot of that kind of stuff. My cosplays are very sewing focused because that is what I know how to do and then I dabble a little bit in like printmaking but I don’t like own a 3d printer or anything so mine is just like, I’ve got some trash How can I tape it into the shape?

Ada  

I have seen a lot of 3d printed like Wolverine masks and then they sand them down and paint them and I think it’s, I didn’t even realized there was metal smithing involved.

Cindy  

Like, people forge their own swords.

Ada  

That is dedication to a level that I am very envious of the focus and the dedication. I do not know if I could personally do that. But I do like a lot of people I had a student in one of my intro to sewing classes who actually came to sewing through cosplay and they actually felt that because of the various skills required to make a whole costume right like you said it could be sewing it could be leather working it could be both of those and then you add grommets like I do not know which characters this person was trying to make. But they showed me a few pictures and there were very complicated things going on and they said at the end they just hot glued a bunch, which totally fine also valid. Yeah, also valid if your sewing skills aren’t gonna get you there like figure it out good for you. And they were really frustrated because they felt like they’d spent all this time cosplaying and putting together these costumes and none of it actually like held together.

Probably because they weren’t you know, doing some of the sewing basics that we know like you sewing forward and backwards so the stitch doesn’t come out of zig zags for stretch fabric, all that kind of stuff that you you start to learn when you do a lot more garment sewing, for example, but I wasn’t sure like is that a normal sentiment to have amongst cosplayers? Do a lot of cosplayers just kind of know how to do a little bit of everything?

Cindy  

I don’t know because, I mean I the mind for my own cosplay practice and the people I know we all came into it via sewing. So a lot of it a lot of like for myself and my group of cosplay friends like sewing is our main thing and then we have sort of added on other skills as needed. Whereas I know some people come into cosplay from like, foam smithing, armor and then they’re like oh, I guess I need to pick up some sewing basics to like so my armor pieces to something or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. So I think it really varies like it like for me I don’t know foam smithing or like metal smithing or leather working although I know people who do it I think I mean that’s like the beauty of cosplay, right? Like you can you can take it to any level you want. And it’s still okay, like you don’t have to be like a hardcore renaissance person who knows how to do like 50 different skills. 

Nicole  

Hey, everyone, hope you’re enjoying the interview with Cindy one of our OG ASC members and I really wish I could have been there, but I’m really glad that Ada and Cindy got to check in with each other. I’m here to pop in let you know that yes, we are still selling our labels. So if you’d like to support the podcast while we are figuring out and trying to give you something at least once a month, go to ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective to pick up a pack of our sustainable labels and our original labels. If you’d love to adorn your garments with some of our sayings and just some of the ideas that we’ve had and you want to support your favorite Asian collective podcast, go ahead and pick up a pack or two or three and we would be most grateful for your support. Thank you again for hanging with us. And I’ll turn it back over to Cindy and Ada.

Ada  

I mean, I would like to learn how to forge a sword.

Cindy  

Same.

Ada  

so you mentioned the beauty of cosplay. I think that would be really cool for everyone to do. But you mentioned that you know the beauty of cosplay is that it is kind of a flexible, medium flexible, hobby craft art. And so we know that within cosplay there’s a lot of different types of people who enjoy doing it and it can sometimes hit a little different especially if you are a person of color or specifically an Asian person or even an Asian woman. So can you talk a little bit about how accepting or not the community has been around your like, I guess identity versus a character’s identity.

Cindy  

Oh, there’s so much right there.

I think in general, I’d say like if you’re white or Asian. There’s definitely a lot more like you have reign to play with a lot of things like because a lot of people know of cosplay via anime. Like there’s sort of, I don’t know, like unspoken acceptance of like, oh, Asian people can be whatever or like, and then because white is default in America and like white people can be whatever I think there’s a lot of, yeah, depending on the the the convention or like the group of people that you’re you’re in like some conventions do this a lot better and obviously different areas of the country. But I know that in general, like Black and Brown cosplayers tend to get way more flak for like, you can’t be like, fill in the blank character because like you’re too dark or like, oh, look, it’s, you know, Black Sailor Moon, it’s like, or you’re just Sailor Moon. And so like there’s Yeah, I mean and then it also goes the other way to not I would say less so now in in the US at least but like I know in like Europe, this is a huge thing where, like white cosplayers will, blackface, yellowface and and it’s like, okay there because of reasons I don’t know, but like, it’s acceptable over there, like a lot of Italian and Eastern European cosplayers and historical costumes are like it’s totally fine I just got really tan.

Ada  

Oh, lord.

Cindy  

Yeah. So I played we’re we’re progressing as a community but you know, some some parts have progressed more than others.

Ada  

I’m glad to hear this progress because I definitely like I think this is like an issue has popped up enough within sewing that I’ve seen it and even just within General crafting, and friends who do cosplay who aren’t into sewing whatsoever. I’ve definitely heard of it as problem I’m glad that it’s becoming less of a problem here but it’s still very disturbing, but it is a problem elsewhere in the world that people would need to have that explained and talk to them about that is wrong. I mean, why can’t everyone just Yeah, everyone can be Sailor Moon like she’s a frickin high school student with a magic pendant. That is wild to me. I just like clearly I’m still processing this.

I know that within cosplay, there has also been a bit of like, size discrimination is that would you say that that still happens to the same extent as perhaps like other parts of people’s identity coming into cosplay?

Cindy  

Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of that. both subtle and not in terms of like, you know, after every, I’d say like major convention there’s probably a somebody’s Tumblr or like, maybe not like BuzzFeed article, but like a Buzzfeed article type something where it’s like, well look at like the worst cosplayers that I saw at this convention and it’s almost always like, people who are plus size who are like, well you didn’t fit like what my you know, imagination of this character should be and therefore I’m gonna put you on blast.

Or, you know, after a convention, like you look at there’s so usually at cons they have photographers just like roaming around and usually they’re either like amateur or like amateur trying to become pro photographers who just like go around and they offer to take pictures for people. And they’re hoping obviously that like you’ll go to their site and maybe like buy download or they’re hoping to like make it big in social media with like, all of their cool photos of like these cool cosplayers and there’s definitely the cosplayers where it’s like, oh, wow, your entire portfolio is only skinny people. And I’ve heard from friends saying, like, no one wants to take my picture because I don’t fit, you know, the stereotypical, you know? Yeah, so, so it’s definitely a thing. I’d say.

Speaker 1  

Again, we’re getting better but also not. There’s still I mean, the internet makes people bold to say all sorts of things.

Ada  

That’s a shame because costume costumes are pretty, pretty spot on showing the quality and caliber of people who so that you hang out with just, again, go to Cindy’s Instagram. It’s amazing thing. You mentioned cons. So how many cons have you been to and is it usually like a big deal?

Cindy  

Um, I don’t even go to that many cons like I know people who you know, maybe don’t have young children who are like I fly all over the place to like go to the big cons like San Diego Comic Con or like New York Comic Con, you know, just various ones are like, you know, D 23. Or like the Star Wars one I don’t even remember what it’s called. So like things like that where they happen all over the country or even all over the world. Like I know people who specifically fly out to those things Dragon Con, right like it. Yeah, but I don’t have the time or means or like wherewithal to do that. So I really only go to my very local ones. So ones that are happening in the Bay Area and even then I don’t go to all of them. I only go to like maybe one and a half on average a year so but I do more. Especially in the last few years. Like just you know meetups with friends. And that can be or is even more fun than going to a con where it’s like I’m hot and tired and sweaty and I can’t go to the bathroom because my costume is so bulky. Yeah.

Ada  

Yeah, I cannot imagine what the bathroom is like at a con but my guess is that everyone’s it takes a while.

Cindy

It’s actually not bad line wise, but in terms of like, you have to bring a handler with you like I don’t know if like you had a big poofy wedding dress like you need someone to like help fold your your your dress up while you go to the bathroom. It’s the same thing. It’s like hey, hold my armor up out of the way. sort of thing.

Ada  

I actually did not have a handler I just went into the larger handicap accessible stall and just swept it out of the way I also regret not wearing one of those trash bags underneath. 

Cindy  

Oh, drawstring. 

Ada  

Yeah, those now that I know about them. I was like, wow, that would have been very convenient. But here we are. It’s fun. The dress is still hanging.

Ada   

What do you do with your costumes after like do you ever wear them for another con or meetup? Do you upcycle them into something else? Like what happens? Are they just sitting in your closet?

Cindy  

They’re just mostly sitting in my closet. I mean, like there are some pieces that I’ve made where because they are kind of modular, like I can mix and match like skirts, tops things but like, you know, a lot of characters are just so extremely specific that there’s really no like making it into something else. Like this is obviously an elf and like I’m not going to wear like a giant fancy robe to like the grocery store. I mean, I guess I could but I’m not going to. So yeah, they’re all just like lined up in my closet. A lot of the more simple pieces are like more structurally sound pieces. I’ve also recycled to like the theater department at my school so that students can use those too.

Ada   

Nice. Anything else we should know about cosplay or your experience as a cosplayer?

Cindy  

I mean, I think that kind of covers all the the general things about cosplay.

Ada   

Love it. I think everyone should look into it. It’s definitely this has definitely piqued my interest Do I ever think I would be able I have so much fabric I have no business buying costume fabric. But I could definitely support a friend who wants to make a costume for a con or something. So yeah, I appreciate like learning from you and learning from Koss and Esther who put together the research for today’s episode. Thanks, Cindy. This was really insightful. Hopefully, everybody enjoys it and I mean you don’t have to be Asian to cosplay. But definitely this episode is coming out in May. So happy our month to us and to everyone listening. Thank you for sticking around. We will see you again in a few weeks. 

Cindy  

Alright!

Ada

Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Kofi by becoming a one time or monthly supporter or by buying or selling labels. Your financial support helps us with our overhead expenses. The link to our coffee page is ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. And you can find the link in our show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at Asian Sewist Collective That’s one word AsianSewistCollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole

All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s AsianSewistCollective.com And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at AsianSewistCollective@gmail.com Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next time.

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