Paris Japan Expo: Day Three

So after showering and convincing Ole that we should go queue up (it was now around 25:00) we left and began walking to the Expo. It was a fairly pleasant walk, it was night-time but it was still relatively light out - especially in comparison to how dark I'm used to Scotland being - and the temperature had really cooled down so rather than sweating like pigs on the 20-30 minute walk to the Expo like normal, we were relatively free to enjoy it. We walked along chatting to ourselves about the concert we had just seen only a few short hours beforehand and noting how, interestingly, we were exhausted in the hotel room but felt completely alert out walking in the refreshingly cool air in the middle of the night. 

Something I noticed alot of during the time out there, actually. I learned that as long as I kept moving, I never felt tired. It was only when I was sat still, like on the train (and the heat on those trains didn't really help) that I started to feel sleepy. I guess the fact that I had to be fairly active for much of my time in Paris meant that I was able to survive so long with minimal sleep. Doing so much with so little sleep might have killed lesser men, but I guess we wota have to be made of slightly sterner stuff.

Anyway, we made it to the train station, and were pretty surprised to learn that it had all been locked up. The trains were no longer running, so the station had gone into lockdown with all the gates blocking the entrances, as well as the entrances to the tunnel that runs under the tracks straight into the Parc des Expositions. Annoyingly, there were no other entrances, as far as I was aware. Or if there was, the thought of finding one was a daunting task, to say the least. We found staircase behind the one leading to the tunnel under the tracks though - or rather a group of French guys who were lurking outside the station found it and we just decided to follow them. This path took us straight onto the platform... Great. One step closer to the Expo.

The entrance to the station from the platform side was also blocked off, so we had no choice but to climb down onto the tracks and cross to the other side. At the time this worried me a little, but after a little sleep and looking back on the events of what happened, I have the brainpower to deduce that there was zero risk from crossing the tracks. The very reason that forced us to do so was that the station had closed because the trains didn't run past 1am. Anyway, we made our way across to the other side, but it didn't help in the least. There was nowhere to go from there. The group of French guys from before, who we were trying to avoid, approached us and asked us if we were also trying to get to the Expo. Ah good. So they weren't here to assault us. We told them we were, and decided to try find a way there together. 

We found the only way. Climb over the fence at the back of the platform, jump down into the ditch and then climb the 8 or so-foot fence into the Parc. I'm not much of a climber, and never was, so this was worrying me. But I threw my bag over the fence with all the others, helped the others up and finally it was my turn. I was unlucky enough to go last, so there was no-one to help me over - not from my side anyway. I climbed onto the fence, and they tried to grab my feet from the other side to keep me up - which I imagine must have hurt alot, as I was wearing boots with pretty painful soles. Credit to the French guy for sticking through it long enough for me to clumsily climb over the fence, which I fell from about once, grabbed onto the tree on the other side and vaulted over which my ass being assaulted by spikes at the top before finally falling off the other end.

Only later did I learn that this fence apparently had barbed wire hidden along the top. I never saw it, but I sure as hell felt it. My hand (and curiously my armpit) was aching for several hours. Seems it had pierced the skin, as I was bleeding a little, but all a day in the life of an wota. 

We lurked around in the darkness for a bit, trying to work out where we were. It didn't look anything like the area we normally appeared at from under the station, but our new French comrades assured us that we were in the right place, and they had friends who would come and meet us all before we'd find a place were we could all go sleep for a few hours (in fact there were some people who had already set up tents in the tree cover). I guess Ole and I still didn't trust them, as we wandered off on our own and eventually found the Expo building, with the Frenchies trailing behind us. We thought we saw a person moving around near the entrance, and heard voices and decided to go check it out. Though we did move somewhat stealthily as we weren't sure wether it was people queuing or security. I'm not sure why there'd be security lurking outside the building at 1am, but at the time it felt like a very real possibility. 

However, we found a group of people in the line. Two Japanese people, it seemed, who we spoke to and asked if this was the queue for Morning Musume. "Morning Musume? Yes." they agreed. Though I'm not sure they actually knew what we meant, since they didn't look like MM fans. They looked more like Visual Kei fans to me, but I digress. We joined the queue behind them, before climbing back out again to see if we could find our group, who we found at the front hidden under makeshift tents.

I don't have any pictures, so I'll try to explain what I mean. The line for the queue was created by metal barricades, but nearby there had been some larger barricades set up by the stairs leading down to (what I assume was) the station entrance, which had large banners strapped to them as advertisements for fnac and the expo. Apparently Mark had seen these and lifted one up, placing it ontop of the barricades in the line making for a good two walls and a roof. Some of the people further back in queue had seen them do this, thought it was a good idea, and copied them, so you had most of the entire queue sitting under these makeshift tents with still-bright glowsticks from the concert stuck under the frame, providing a little (however negligable) light. It really was a fantastic set up.

We found our group all sat under there, and so Ole and I climbed under the tent (which was high enough to sit under, but was barely taller than waist-height standing up). I found Orob sitting there with his laptop out, piggybacking on the free wifi at the Expo and chatting on Hyakupa's IRC. I sat beside him and the group chatted for a while. Orob's wifi ran out, it turns out that they only give you it free for an hour or so and then you have to pay, so there went our net connection. By this point, the fatigue of the last couple of days was catching up to me, so I just made some space for myself, laid down and after 20 minutes or so was fast asleep.

By that point some of the other people queuing had taken down our makeshift tents, as we would have been kicked to the back of the queue, or disallowed entry all-together if the staff saw it.

Despite sleeping on the cold, hard concrete I actually got the best sleep I'd had so far. I woke up 5 or 6 hours later, already daylight - though still early morning. I woke up, and it appeared that most of the other members in the group had also fallen asleep as half of them were still sleeping (or appeared to be) when I woke up. Unfortunately, despite it being such a refreshing sleep, I woke up with an uncontrollable chill. My body just continued to shiver. It wasn't even that cold a morning, I was just shivering uncontrollably with my teeth chattering away. After 5 minutes of trying and failing to stop it, I was hit with a stroke of genius as I reached into my bag and pulled out my Maasa sweatband, which I had taken off the night before as it was drenched in sweat from the concert (especially since I forgot to take a towel, so the sweatband was all I had to wipe the sweat from my brow with). It really is incredible just how warm those things make you feel, for such a small area of the body that they cover. It had mostly dried out overnight, so I put it on and almost instantly felt the effects of the tiny wristband. My teeth stopped chattering, and my shivering went down to 20% of what it was before. Incredible. Over time I'd stop shivering all-together, but it never ceases to amaze me how much warmth those things can provide.

Anyway, it wasn't long before everyone was awake and banter ensued. I'm not going to repeat what was said here, because I'd be here all day and it wasn't in the least bit relevent or interesting but eventually the Expo staff did turn up and he was friendly enough to let us remain where we were. He told us that by rights he should have sent us back to lineup outside the warehouse, where they had staff to watch us, but he wasn't going to do that as he understood that we had been waiting all night and it wouldn't be fair to send us to the back. We just had to promise to be good, and to close off the entrance with the barricade (which we had left open so we could get out to walk around or go to the toilet) so no-one gets in or leaves. This was fair, so we did as we were told, and got back to queuing.

It was Awesome Day (a name for Maasa's Birthday as coined by Charmy_Risuzu), and so the discussion of what we would do for Awesome Day were starting to take off. Little did we know just what kind of a day Maasa would have in store for us. It was the worst and best day of the whole Paris trip.

It all started to go wrong for us about an hour before the doors opened for us. The heavens broke loose, and we were hit by the one and only instance of real rain of the whole trip. A proper summer storm, complete with incredibly powerful thunder and lightening. In a matter of mere minutes, we were totally soaked. mnhuik had managed to get out his umbrella pretty fast, and we all took cover under that. Or Kitsune, Nimrod, Orob, mnhuik and myself did. I've never seen so many grown men try to huddle under a single umbrella, but I imagine it was a pretty funny sight. Except it didn't help much with me. I was stood in such a place that the umbrella protected the front of me from the rain, but the rain was building and running straight off of the umbrella of the Japanese guy standing right behind me, and straight down my back. I ended up with the front of my clothes being relatively dry, and my back and bag carrying more water than Loch Lomond. 

The chaos of the sudden rain wreaked havoc on the order of the line. The barricade was pushed aside and there was a huge rush for the entrance, which happened to have something of a sheltered overhang above it. We stuck around in the queue for 5 minutes before joining the mass of people now huddled by the doors. In order to compensate for the rain the staff, and kudos to them for not just leaving us out there to drown in the rain, opened the doors and set up barricades around them to prevent us from actually getting into the Expo, but many of us could still crowd inside the building. Needless to say, there was lots of pushing and shoving and our group, which beforehand had been right at the very front of the line, ended up scattered through the crowd with no real position in line to speak of. We stood around waiting. Premium ticket holders were already being let in, but the rest of us who had pre-sale tickets were forced to stand around to drip dry until 10pm when we were supposed to be let in. The crowd held together suprisingly well, and it wasn't until the last 10 minutes or so that it started to get restless. If you've ever seen the football fans crowd a Metro station in Britain with their loud chanting and singing while the police try to contain them, then you have a good understanding of how the crowd started behaving during those last 10 minutes. Then finally we were allowed in. It was a mad rush to get our tickets scanned and we ran straight to the signing queue. Because our group had all been seperated, I didn't know where they were, but I ran. I didn't have a clue which direction I was supposed to be running, but there were a few other people around me also running, so I just followed them and they led me straight to it.

We joined the queue, but after 5 minutes the staff member working on the draw stood up and gave this massive 2-handed wave to all of us. All the tickets were gone. I ended up being like 100 in line, and the tickets had all been taken already by premium ticket holders. This was incredibly disheartening. We had queued since 1am, vaulted over train tracks and barbed wire fence, braved the torrential downpour for a moment that was snapped away from us by people who owned tickets that were only available to the French fans?

We made our way to the signing stage in a pretty poor mood. Luckily I'd learned from previous mistakes, and got there early enough that a crowd hadn't built up, so I stood right at the very front, near the center, which would give me a good view of all the girls, and sat there for the hour or two til the signing session started. I don't think anyone really spoke all that much in the lead up to the session, we were happy to watch it, but we were certainly (and I think understandably) annoyed. But then it started, and I used my position in the crowd to great advantage.

Because I was in a fairly central position, all the girls could see me really well, only boosted by the fact that I was standing at the very front, so when I wanted a girls attention I would put one foot on the barricade, use it to hoist myself up so I was taller and wave to the girls, throwing hand gestures (Peace! or hearts usually) at them all whenever I got the chance and hope that they would return the gesture. All of them did. All except Eri. I kept turning to lolli and mnhuik who were beside me and saying, "Only 3 to go" or whatever as, in my mind, I was trying to "collect them all", as it were. After I got Sayu to return my Peace! I tried to get her to do Usa-chan Peace! but that never worked either. It was my one goal from Sayu for the whole trip, and she did it to other people, but never to me. Still, aside from Eri, all of the girls reacted to me at least once. And I was pretty pleased with that. 

In fact, by the time it was over, it'd cheered me up quite a bit. I got a great position and used it well at every opportunity, and even though I still hadn't gotten another chance to go up and meet the girls, I still felt like I had connected with them when not only did they make eye-contact, they also returned my gestures. It's a small thing, but I left that session able to smile.

The crowd dispersed, and we used this opportunity to grab a couple group pictures of the lot of us together. I find it amazing how we were able to smile despite our terrible morning.

And so it was now that we decided we should go have our Awesome Day celebration. Despite our bad mood, it wouldn't be right to not celebrate Maasa's birthday. Perhaps this was a test, because what happened that evening was more incredible than anything we could have imagined in our dreams.

Mark had turned to us and said that one of the staff members had leaked a bit of information to him - that Morning Musume were now headed into Paris to do some shopping, and that they were planning to go into Paris and see if they could find them. We decided that it was a pretty awesome idea, and went to tag along. Everyone was going back to their hotels first, however. Everyone except -Kitsune-and myself, that is. We just wanted to get going, and couldn't be bothered with a 20 minute walk to the hotel just to walk back again. So everyone parted ways, and we decided that we'd contact eachother and meetup before heading out into the city. Kitsune and I decided to tag along with Oroboras, Nimrod and mnhuik. We'd just follow them to their hotels, they'd dump their bags in their rooms, and then we'd go into Paris.

Things didn't work out as we planned. At the station we got on the first train that pulled up. Since it was going in the only direction possible, we never would have imagined it to be the wrong train. But it was. We got the Express. It skipped all of the normal stops and went directly into Paris. After it went straight past Orob's stop and pulled into Gare du Nord, we asked ourselves the question, do we get the train back to his hotel? Or do we just stay in Paris? We chose to stay in the City.

We tried to get in contact with Mark and Gina, who we believed were possibly on the same train as us after sending them a text saying "About to pull into Gare du Nord and falling asleep" or something, to which Gina simply replied "Same here lol". We weren't sure if that meant they were also headed into Paris, or if they were simply falling asleep. Turned out to be the latter, and they were still waiting for the bus to take them to their hotel, so we decided to go out on our own in the city and meet up with them later.

Now, it should be said that even though we had gone into Paris on Maasa's Birthday looking for Morning Musume, none of us really expected to find them in such a large city. But we were always on the lookout for them. Are they on that open-top tour bus? No. In that high-class clothes shop? Nope. We would walk past stores which we seriously imagined they would visit, and we'd wander in just to check. We saw the Disney store and thought, "Hey! That's a place Gaki would want to visit!" and so we went inside. No-one there, glanced downstairs and Morning Musume weren't there either, so instead of sticking around, we walked back outside and continued walking.

Eventually we walked past the fnac store where we had spent the first night in Paris lining up for the signing session. They still had all the barricades set up, and we considered for a moment looking inside, but opted not to. Too many difficult memories for Orob, who you may remember had been in line with us since 3am and bought the last CD in the store, but they had run out of signing tickets already.

We did stop in a nearby Starbucks. Orob said, "Japanese people seem to love Starbucks, lets go there!" and so we went inside for a drink. Of course, Morning Musume weren't there, but we sat down and had a really bizarre conversation along the lines of "What would happen if MM did walk in and we invited them to join us?"  "There's not enough seats, so Aika can sit on my knee," was Orob's answer to that scenario, and so we all started discussing who we'd have sit with us. Kitsune of course claimed LinLin straight away as well as Nimrod with Reina. mnhuik and I were both JunJun fans, so it was decided we'd either have to share, or resolve the issue with a deathmatch. After this conversation we got up and continued onwards, making our way to the Arc de Triomphe.

I had never realised just how big it was from the pictures until I was standing there beneath it. It's massive. They have a lift which takes you to the very top, but the line was too long and too expensive, and we simply didn't care. We sat down underneath it for what felt like an hour as we looked around for Morning Musume. I'm not sure if Orob actually expected to see them there or not, but I didn't really. They had already visited it a few days beforehand - in fact a brief clip of them at it had appeared in the concert VTR the day before, I didn't really imagine them going to see it twice.

After a while I said, "Shall we head to the Eiffel Tower?" I don't think the others had been to the Tower yet, although Kitsune and I saw it the first night there. Still, I thought it'd be interesting to go again during the day. The others agreed, so we could a couple of trains down to Trocadéro and made our way to the tower. Just as at the Arc de Triomphe Nimrod was continually taking photographs of it, but we slowly made our way past all of the football fans who were watching the Germany vs Argentina game on a massive screen in the Gardens below and crossed the bridge over to the tower. We hung around there for a while, imagining Morning Musume waving to us from the top of the Tower, before sitting down nearby while Nim tended to his blisters and we all took a rest... Well, when we were not being annoyed by people trying to sell us Eiffel Tower keyrings or begging for money. Seriously, they were there by the dozen. We just kept telling them to f*ck off and leave us alone. Harsh, maybe, but Orob was in a pretty poor mood.

We really were sat there for an hour or so, wondering what to do next. We hadn't heard from any of the others, and Gina wasn't answering our texts, so eventually we decided to go and find a pub to celebrate Maasa's birthday without them. We made our way back over the bridge, and up the path past all of the football fans and people trying to sell us flags or Eiffel Tower souveniers and back to square overlooking it all.

Just as we were about to leave, someone (I think it was Kitsune?) noticed a familiar person. One of the women from the concert who was taking pictures of the crowd, and then the camera man who was with her. We stood there watching them for a couple of minutes talking about how we had seen her before and she either worked for a Magazine, or worked for UFA. Just as we were pondering this, we turned around to leave, when at that very moment at the other side of the square, barely 10 yards away, we saw the girls of Morning Musume running up the stairs to look at the tower. We were floored by this point.

We honestly couldn't believe our luck. If we hadn't been distracted from leaving when we did by the sight of the UFA woman, we would have completely missed them by a matter of minutes. But there they were, standing right in front of us.

As they were being followed by staff and camera crew, we decided to do the decent thing and step to the side a little and let them get on with their business. We were perfectly happy to have just seen them. But as they made their way closer to the tower, they walked right past us, within the space of about 3 or 4 yards, and they happened to glance over to us as we were watching them, and suddenly they got very excited. You see, after the Expo we had gone straight into Paris, still wearing our Hello!Project t-shirts. So they saw our t-shirts, maybe even recognised us from the signing session only a few hours beforehand, and instantly realised that we were a group of five Morning Musume fans.

They got excited and the members who had seen us drew the attention of the other girls to us and they waved to us. We waved back with, what I imagine were probably the biggest grins our faces have ever borne. The look of surprise on their faces is something I shall never forget.

After that, they went on to stand and pose for photos from the staff with the tower in the background. We watched them do this while talked amongst ourselves about just how incredible the whole experience was, and how it had totally made up for the shoddy morning. But that wasn't all...

After their brief photoshoot, Morning Musume made their way back past us, and noticing that we were still there, in the same spot we had been before (we may have been looking for them, but we wanted to give them room to work), when all of a sudden they all ran up to us. We were waving to them and greeting them when all of a sudden they all got out their cellphones and started taking pictures of us. The thoughts going through all our minds as we posed for those photos were "Hold on a minute, isn't this the wrong way round?"  Reina got incredibly excited when she noticed a picture of herself on Nimrod's arm. She asked if that was a real tattoo, to which we all assured her it was, and it just blew her away. The jammy git. JunJun, excited to see mnhuik and myself in blue t-shirts (I was a JunJun fan, but didn't have the heart to tell her that the shirt was actually a Maasa one) and made sure to get a picture of the two of us together. They then left again, and started to make their way back towards their car while getting in some last pictures.

The whole experience was too much, I had to sit down. And so there, on the same spot which I had posed for Morning Musume, I sat on the ground, and the rest of the group joined me there. We continued our earlier discussion about just how incredibly lucky we were, when I looked up to see the female staff member from before running back towards us, and the first thought to flow through my head was, "Huh? Maybe she wants to speak to us?"  And my intuition was right, but the words which came out of her mouth were completely unexpected.

"Would you like a picture with Morning Musume?" She was asking us what? If I recall correctly, we actually had to ask her to repeat herself, or perhaps that was just my brain trying to work out what had just happened, either way we answered with a clear and definite "YES!"

I think she wasn't expecting our answers when, as we made our way back towards the girls, she asked us where we were all from. I imagine she expected us to be French, but upon learning that we were in fact 2 Scots, an Englishman, an Italian and a German (which sounds like the set up to a really bad joke) she simply laughed and said, "Oooh Okay!"

We approached the confused looking girls and staff, to whom the woman explained that she wanted us to get our picture taken with the girls, to which the other staff simply OK'd, and there we were, greeting and bowing to the girls more nervously than ever, with them all lined up on the steps, and us all lined up behind them. The staff told us where to stand, and made sure we didn't get too close, which I found quite funny, they made sure there was a good 3 or so feet between us and them.  But there we were, having our picture taken with our Idols. In fact, it even seemed to be recorded with a video camera too.

We never got to see a copy of the photo, and it may never even surface, but for the 5 of us it was one of the greatest moments of our lives. They say that the dearest memories are stored deep within the brain, and that those memories of love and friendship are the last ones you ever forget... I imagine my memories of meeting Morning Musume there in Paris totally by random encounter, though blurred slightly by the numbing surrealness of the whole experience, is one of those ones that I'll never forget.

Anyway, after the picture, we waved goodbye to them as they got in their car and, waving to us to the last moment, drove off.

And you know what the most incredible part of the whole thing was? I learned the following day from Mark that his story that sent us all into Paris looking for them in the first place was a total fabrication. He hadn't spoken to the staff, and they hadn't told him that Morning Musume would be in Paris. He had just made it up, and we, believing him, wandered into Paris looking for them and incredibly the lie turned out to be the truth.

It's not often that I put a Church of Maasa spin on this blog, but I think that given that this happened on Maasa's Birthday, after an incredible string of what seemed like bad luck, when our faith remained and we went into Paris with the intent to celebrate her birthday and actually met Morning Musume... It seemed plainfully clear that this wasn't just coincidence, but that Maasa had tested our faith and, by way of divine intervention, rewarded our incredible devotion with the experience of a lifetime. The only thing greater would be to grace us with her own presence, but that was impossible as she was 6000 miles away.

In order to celebrate such a glorious encounter on the anniversary of Maasa's birth, we decided to go out and have a great time. It didn't even matter that the others, who had promised to come along time and time again before Paris, weren't there. It was their own fault. We were gonna have a great time and decided to head into Chatalet les Halles, where Kitsune and I had seen a couple of Japanese restaurants before when we went out for a meal with Ole and Gunnar.

We managed to find one of them, a Sushi restaurant called Villa Tokyo and after looking at the menu on the sign for a few minutes decided to stay there for our meal. We went in, and the guy working there had us sit outside, which was nice. Not often you get to enjoy terrace dining, being Scottish. We ordered up some beers (with the exception of Kitsune) and then our meals. Now, in hindsight, drinking the beer which was a good 5% alcohol content before the meal wasn't a good idea. I hadn't eaten at all since the day before... and that was just a hotdog bought at the Expo before heading to the concert. By the end of the first beer, I was already starting to feel it.

As we enjoyed our meal, however, the guy working there would come out and chat to us, he saw Nimrod's tattoo and was saying that it was very beautiful, and we would tell him about the fact that we'd come to Paris from all over Europe to see Morning Musume. He didn't know who Morning Musume were (turns out he was from Hong Kong and had lived in Paris for over 20 years) but we explained it to him as best we could. He seemed genuinely interested. And upon learning that Nimrod was German, he felt the need to inform us that Germany had beaten Argentina 4-0. None of us could care less about football, but I simply commented "Deutschland uber alles".

After our meal, we heard from Dean that he and Ole were planning to join us in the city, so we told him where to find us, and paid the bill. We figured we'd finish our drinks and start a new bill when the others arrived, but they never did. We sat there and finished our second beers and continued to sit there and chat with one another, and with the waiter (who by the way, we made sure to give a good tip). He even brought us out complimentary sake. I've drunk sake before, but this stuff was alot stronger. (what did he say it was? 45%?) It was pretty interesting to note that at the bottom of the sake cup you could make out JAV images which, after downing the sake left a strong trailblaze down your throat* - delicious, would no longer be visable after there was nothing in the cup. Only in Japan (or a Japanese restaurant) eh?

*I think this, and all the yelling I did at the concert the day before, was the reason behind my sore throat when I woke up the following day. Despite being moderately drunk, I was totally fine the next day, except for my sore throat.

After it became apparent that the others weren't going to turn up, we all made our way back to our hotels. I couldn't contact Ole because my phone was dead, nor could I remember the passcode for the room (and when I knocked on the door, there was no answer, later turned out that they didn't get back to the hotel for another couple of hours), so I ended up sleeping in Kitsune's room that night, who was luckily just down the hall from us. We wanted to be up pretty early the following day so we could get into the Expo in plenty time for the last signing session draw, but we weren't prepared to queue overnight for it again.


Ye Olde Wota said...

Great report Dran!

Reading reports like yours, it's as though I'm reliving that awesome day (sorry, Awesome Day) through the eyes and minds of the friends who were with me. And I can't get enough!

mnhuik a.k.a. Ye Olde Wota

peachusagi said...

(first let me apologize if this is posted twice. I had trouble posting it the first time).

Reading this made me cry. most prominently when your group got to take a picture with Momusu. I must have dreamed of doing that exact thing over and over again. To hear that it actually could happen is so touching. Excuse me for living vicariously through you, but reading this made me feel a little bit closer to the girls.

Reporting like this keeps my conviction alive until the day that I can see them for myself.

Anonymous said...

NolifeTV report on Momusu concert @ JE (in french but very enjoyable!!!) >> http://www.megaupload.com/?d=R3FJ8RTL

Bonus report on Japanese Camera Staff professionalism >> http://www.megaupload.com/?d=9Z6OC20Q

Please post it on Hello-online, I can't I'm not registered. Pass the word around!

Anonymous said...

The links dont work :(

Nice report dran, even if its so long x)

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