Exploring South Korea in Five Days, the DIY way (with tips and travel guide)

The Korean have flexed their influence in the Philippines from K-drama, K-pop, health spas, grocery stores, eateries, restaurant, barbecue and even songs that girl teens love to sing out loud. With this wave in the country, it is high time to spare some money to fly in Korea to enjoy the scenery, the cool weather and the warmth of its people.

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South Korea is the sixth country in Asia that I will explore. I was used to DIY travel and we will do the same in this trip. I only had few days preparing for the itinerary for I was so busy with my work. Anyway, I knew everything would turn out well.

Me and Black Pink. Let's kill this Love!

Me and Black Pink @ Incheon International Airport. Let’s kill this Love!

This trip is for the celebration of Mother’s Day and I will travel with my mom, Auntie Glo, Joyce (the traveler moms!) and my daughter Shen who influenced me to like Black Pink, the most popular girl group in South Korea.

Visa

In getting to South Korea, first thing that you will consider (aside from early booking of  promo fare and the right season) is to avail a visa if you are not a citizen and not from exempted countries. Philippines is not visa free so it is a must to get it prior the trip and you can get it now in 30 days (no longer 7 days like the time we were granted).

the serenity, the beautiful trees and me in Nami Island

the serenity, the beautiful trees and me in Nami Island

There are pricey travel agencies offering visa. I was thankful to a friend who referred us to Pan Pacific Travel Corporation where we only paid Php750. You may apply for a visa here.

Pan Pacific Travel Corporation – Makati Branch

Address: Unit LG-1 Herrera Tower Condominium. # 98 V.A. Rufino St corner Valero St., Salcedo Village Makati City., Philippines
Email: 
pptcmkti@yahoo.com
website:
panpacifictravel.com.ph
Tel Nos:  
(632) 8810-8551 to 56
Fax Nos:  
(632) 8815-0026

Promo fare

We booked a two-way promo fare of P7.547.49 at Cebu Pacific without visa yet. And thank God, we were all granted a single entry! Yipee!

Joyce and the military boy in training

Accommodation

Whenever I book a hotel outside the country, I choose between Agoda or Booking.com, whichever is lower. I have not tried AirBnB yet, but for some who loves to stay in apartments or houses, this one’s for you.

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For this trip, I found a budget friendly hostel, Bong House in Booking.com. It offers both private and dormitory-style rooms with free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Hyewa Station is the nearest station that will take about a five-minute walk only.

Address: 3, Sungkyunkwan-ro 5ga-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Website: bonghousedongdaemun.book

Our rooms:

1) Triple Room with Bathroom, free wi-fi – Php6,649.64 (KRW150,000)
2) Twin Room with Bathroom, free wi-fi – Php5,053.72 (KRW114,000)

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Depending on travel purposes and budget, tourists may choose from various accommodations where to stay in Seoul. For information about hotels, campsites, homestays and guesthouses, you may visit the Seoul government-operated Visit Seoul website www.visitseoul.net.

For a unique Seoul experience, tourists can stay over at hanok houses, homestay or guesthouses using Seoul Stay, a directory of accommodations located in 25 districts of Seoul. You may visit the website, stay.visitseoul.net.

T-money Card (through Klook)

For hassle-free transportation in South Korea, we bought T-money card online through Klook for Php125 only (for airport limousines, buses, subways and taxis). This stored electronic value card is also use in their affiliated stores like CVS, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts etc. and vending machines throughout the country. It has a free load of KRW50. Pick up is in the airport. Balance is refundable in any CVS outlets.

Tmoney

Where to buy? Retail convenience stores (7-Eleven, CU, GS25, Ministop, Buy The Way) and Subway stations in Seoul with T-money signs.

Refunds – What is good about T-money card is that, the balance is refundable. But there are certain limit as to how much you can get. At GS25 convenience stores refunds of up to KRW20,000. At Subway service desks, refunds is up to KRW50,000. But for an amount exceeding KRW50,000 tourists may check with the Korea Smart Card headquarters (by Seoul Station), bank or mobile app.

so glad to see how happy my mom and my daughter as we explore this beautiful country

so glad to see how happy my mom and my daughter as we explore this beautiful country

Public Transportation in South Korea

There is a fare discount if you transfer within 30 minutes when exiting a subway station or bus in Seoul an hour from 9:00 pm to 7:00 am. However, you need to use the T-money card to receive the transfer discount and tap it on a scanner as you exit. It does not apply when you transfer for the same buses and subway lines.

* Subway

This is the fastest and convenient way in getting to the tourists attractions in the city. Subway is so efficient and impressive. It has nine lines forming an extensive underground transit system in the metropolitan area. It is easily accessible because the routes are marked by colors. For you not to get lost, look at the destination board or hear the train announcer as it tells you where it will stop and what is the next destination.

Inside the Subway, mom and Aunt Go

Inside the Subway, the smiling mothers…mom and Aunt Glo

Operating hours start at 5:30 am to approximately 12:00 midnight (not 24 hours). The only downside here is that is has less escalators compare to Singapore and Hong Kong. Don’t worry, you will burn heaps of calories as you explore around. Haha!

Fare starts from KRW1,250

NOTE: Single-ride cards cost about KRW1,200~ and they can be purchased on vending machines which accept coins and bills only. Reloading your T-Money Card can also only be done with cash. Meanwhile, remember that the last train usually departs by midnight (the subway does NOT operate for 24 hours).

* Taxi

Some tourist attractions in South Korea can be reached on foot. However, due to distances, it will somehow wear you out. You may hail a taxi if you dislike getting to the subway station again or designated bus stop. There are different types of taxi in the city, these are the standard: jumbo, standard, deluxe and taxis for foreign tourists. T-money card can be used in taxi.

* Bus

Buses in South Korea is also efficient and impressive. Just be aware of the bus stop so you will not get lost. Tap the T-money card first before you sit and do the same when you exit. Seoul has four types of buses (color-coded based on fares paid in cash).

Blue bus: for long distances within Seoul. Basic fare: KRW1,300
Green bus: between blue bus stops and subway station stops, it runs parallel to the subways in some areas. Basic fare:  KRW1,300
Yellow bus: circulates in downtown, Seoul: Basic fare: KRW1,300
Red bus: Inter-city express transit. Basic fare: KRW2.400

off to Bong House through this bus

off to Bong House through this bus

Weather

For your vacation in South Korea be guided of their four seasons:

*Spring (March to May): Average temperature: 13 to 14°C (55 to 57°F), generally mild and sunny.This is the season we visited the country. It is cold in the morning, warm by noon and cold in the evening. Warm outer clothes are recommended for early spring.
*Autumn (September to November): Average temperature: 13 to 14°C (55 to 57°F), warm days and cool nights. Light coat, long sleeves are useful.
*Summer (June to August): Average temperature: 25 to 27°C (77 to 80°F), hot and humid. Light clothes are recommended for this season.
*Winter (December to February): Average temperature: -6 to -7°C (21 to 19°F), cold and dry. There are days when it will snow. Wear thick jacket and warm clothes.

another must-do in South Korea is to hire a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and enjoy your photo ops

another must-do in South Korea is to hire a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and enjoy your photo ops

The Currency

Korean won (KRW) is the Korean currency. For our convenience, we already brought enough won for our daily expenses and US dollar in case we run out of budget. There are money changers in Meongdong and in Dongdaemun Plaza.IMG_20190511_232059

Electric Voltage

The standard voltage in South Korea is 220 volts and the frequency is 60Hz. There are two types of plugs: Plug Type C (Europlug) that works with Plug E and F and Plug Type F (German Schuko) that works with Plug C and E. These types of plugs have two round pins.

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Discover Seoul Pass

If we discover earlier the advantage of using Discover Seoul Pass (which is offered only to foreigners) we spend less in our trip in South Korea. Anyway, I want to share with you one of the best ways to save money using this pass. See these exciting benefits:

* free admission to 36 top tourist attractions
* convenient T-money function for public transportation (you can save KRW3,000 for this)
* discounts for 30 performances, duty free stores, etc.
* One-time, one-way Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) ticket
* Mobile Pass available (can be purchased through the website or app)

It has options of 24, 38 or 72 hours of fun and adventure. You may purchase it through Klook. For more detailed information of Discover Seoul Pass, please visit their website discoverseoulpass.com or download the Discover Seoul Pass app for your smartphone.

Pocket Wi-Fi 

You may purchase pocket Wi-Fi online before your trip. Just like in Hong Kong and Macau, South Korea has the fastest internet in the world and there are places offering free Wi-Fi. Get your own Wi-Fi through Klook.

Delicious Korean Dishes

Whenever we visit a certain country, we really see to it that we can taste at least two or three of its authentic food. Listed below are some of the traditional Korean food you should not miss when you set foot in Korea.

  • Kimchi
  • Bulgogi
  • Samgyeopsalgui
  • Samgyetang
  • Gimbap
  • Bibimbap
  • Dak-galbi
  • Japchae
  • Galbi
  • Haemul-pajeon
  • Budae-jjigae
  • Tteokbokki
  • our yummy lunch during our tour in Nami Island

    our yummy lunch during our tour in Nami Island

Shopping Streets in Seoul

Myeong-dong is the famous shopping street in Seoul dotted with retail trendy shops, eateries and money changer.
* Exit 6 of Eulijiro 1 (il)-ga Station (Subway Line 2) or Exit 6 of Myeong-dong Station (Subway Line 4)

Namdaemun Market is the largest market in Korea with wide variety of shops from clothes, household items and food in low prices.
* Exit 5 of Hoehyeon Station, Subway Line 4

Hongdae is filled with clothing shops, accessory stores, clubs and theaters that suits the trendy youths.
* 5-minute walk from exit 9 of Hongik Univ. Station (Subway Line 2)

Insa-dong is where you can buy the traditional Korean products which includes various souvenirs (keychains, ref magnets, display items and more), antique art and traditional crafts.
* Exit 6 of Anguk Station (Subway Line 3)

at Insa-dong Street

at Insa-dong Street

Itaewon and Hannam-dong has cafes, restaurants and shops with unique products from around the world.
* Itaewon Station (Subway Line 6)

Dongdaemun is famous as Korea’s No. 1 fashion district with variety of branded shops and trendy fashion stores.
* 5-minute walk from Exit 8 of Dongdaemun Station (Subway Line 1 or 4)

Gangnam represents the latest trends in Seoul, has an array of trendy fashion shops,  accessory stores, galleries and outdoor cafes. The popularity of Psy’s Gangnam Style made this district a must-visit shopping area in Seoul.
* Exit 10 or 11 of Gangnam Station (Subway Line 2)

at the Gangnam District

at the Gangnam District

Itaewon is filled with shops with unique products from around the world.
* Line 6 of Itaewon Station

Sinsa-dong Garosu-gil has large shops with foreign brands giving the shoppers the opportunity to take in fashion trends from all over the world.
*Exit 8 of Sinsa Station (Subway Line 3)

Now, let us proceed to the places we explored in our 5-day visit:

Day 1

We arrived at Incheon International Airport around 11:30 pm. We decided to sleep in the airport since we will pick-up our T-money card at 6:00 am the following morning and there are no buses anymore that will ply to our destination. Taxi fare is quite expensive. It is safe to sleep in the airport anyway.

Ha Jj Won in Empress Ki and Secret Garden

Ha Jj Won in Empress Ki and Secret Garden

Day 2

1) The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), which is in the heart of Dongdaemun, is the highlight of South Korea’s popular tourist destination and fashion center. Designed by world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, it features a walkable park on its roofs, futuristic retail stores and fortress wall of Seoul. It also serves as venues for exhibitions, fashion shows, rest area, concerts and trade shows.

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* 3-minute walk from Exit 1 or 2 of Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (Subway Line 2 4 or 5)
Address: Dongdaemun, Seoul, South Korea

2) Dongdaemun History & Culture Park is located on the east side of DDP. It features the fortress wall of Seoul and Igansumun that served as a military training ground during the Joseon Dynasty. It extends dramatically to the rooftop of DDP.

Address: Dongdaemun, Seoul, South Korea
Free admission

3) The National Palace Museum of Korea is a national museum of South Korea located in Gyeongbokgung PalaceSeoul. It was established in September 1908 and was originally located in Changgyeonggung Palace. In 2005, it was relocated to a new modern building in Gyeongbokgung Palace. It displays relics from the Joseon Dynasty such as clothings, paintings, records, architecture, culture, education and royal life of the dynasty’s ruling era.

inside the Museum

inside the Museum

Address: Sajikno 34 Sejongno Jongno-gu Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours:
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday – 10:00 am to 6:00 pm/
Wednesday and Saturday – 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
Free Admission

4) Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first royal palace built in 1935 in the Joseon Dynasty. It is the main palace, the principal one of all the palaces. It is located between Baegaksan Mountain in the north and Yukjogeori in the south.

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Jeong Do-jeon, a renowned Neo-Confucian scholar-statesman who played a key role in establishing the Joseon Dynasty, gave the name of the palace “Gyeong-Bok” which means “brilliance and fortune”.

* 5-minute walk from Exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Subway Line 3)
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours: March-May, September-October – 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
June-August – 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
November-February – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
* Closed on Tuesdays
Admission Fees:
Korean Visitors
- Adults (Aged 25-64) – KRW 3,000 / KRW 2,400 (Groups of ten or more)
- Seniors (Over 65): Free
- Juniors (Under 24): Free
Non-Korean Visitors
- Adults (Aged 19-64): KRW 3,000 / KRW 2,400 (Groups of ten or more)
- Seniors (Over 65): Free
- Juniors (Aged 7-18): KRW 1,500 / KRW 1,200 (Group of ten or more)
- Children (Under 6): Free

5) Bukchon Hanok Village is known for its traditional village that consists of alleys and traditional Korean houses called Hanok. This is located on a hill between Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeok Palace and Jongmyo Royal Shrine. Walking around will take you back in the 14th Century during the Joseon Dynasty. Bukchon means north village.

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*10-minute walk from Exit 2 of Anguk Station (Subway Line 3)
Address: 37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (closed on Sundays)
Free admission

Shen, her milk tea and the traditional houses

Shen, her milk tea and the traditional houses

DAY 3 – Most anticipated part of our Sokor trip (through Klook)

1) Nami Island or Namiseom is popularly known as the filming location of “Winter Sonata” and its beautiful Metasequoia and Ginkgo Tree Lanes. This is situated 63 km from Seoul in the middle of Han River. A half-moon shaped island, this amazing place offers serenity and relaxation. This is the most anticipated part in our South Korea trip.

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Address: 1 Namisum-gil, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do, Korea
Operating Hours: 7:30 am to 9:45 pm – Mondays to Sundays
Admission Fee: Regular-KRW13,000/Discount-KRW10,000 – students (Middle-High School Age), Seniors (70+yrs.)
Special: KRW7,000 Children (36 months-Elementary School Age)

the Winter Sonata statue

the Winter Sonata statue

2) Gangchon Rail Park offers one of a kind adventure that you should not miss when you visit South Korea. Here, you will pedal on an old rail track turned into an amusing ride at Gangchon Rail Trak. Bask on stunning scenery along Bukhan River and enjoy the exciting attractions as you enter the tunnels.

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Address: 1383 Gimyujeong-ro, Sindong-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do, South Korea
Operating Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9:00am to 5:30 pm
Rental Fees: Two-seater: 30,000 won/ Four-seater: 40,000 won
Note: There is a free shuttle bus available when returning to the departure station.
me and Shen and the happy experience as we pedal the rail bike

me and Shen and the happy experience as we pedal the rail bike

3) Garden of Morning Calm – filled with lovely flowers, trees and serene pathways, this garden is another perfect place to relax and commune with nature. It has 27 attractions, food garden, bakery, coffee shops, gift shops and more. We felt in love in this garden. It was truly stunning and refreshing. If I will get back in South Korea, I will surely visit this lovely place again. This is located in the Gapyeong district, east of Seoul. 
one of the stunning spots in Garden of Morning Calm

one of the stunning spots in Garden of Morning Calm

Address: 432 Sumogwon-ro, Sang-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Operating Hours: 9:00 am to 6:00

Admission fees:
For Individual
- Adult – KRW9,500 / Youth (middle school-high school students) – KRW7,000 / Kid (36 months old-elementary school students) – KRW6,000
- Adults for discount – KRW7,500 (elderly-65 years and older) / Youth and Kids for discount – KRW5,000

For group – weekdays discount
- Adult – KRW8,500 / Youth – KRW6,000 / Kid – KRW5,000
- Adults for discount – KRW6,500 / Youth and Kids for discount – KRW4,500

beautiful tulips

beautiful tulips

4) Meongdong is known as the main shopping area and tourist district in South Korea. It features mid to high priced retail stores, Korean beauty products and international brand outlets. We did not shop when we dropped in here. We just walked around, ate street food and mingled with the crowd.

don't forget to visit the Line Friends Store, one of the famous spots in Meongdong

don’t forget to visit the Line Friends Store, one of the famous spots in Meongdong

DAY 4 – Shop for souvenirs

We alloted this day for a chill walk. There’s no rush, we just wanted to enjoy strolling around, eat Korea’s finest food and go shopping goodies for our loved ones.

1) Gangnam is a district that features the latest trends in Seoul, the City Airport Terminal (CALT) and high-class hotels. This is a favorite area of tourists because of its trendy designer shops, galleries, clothing shops and cafes.

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*Exit 6 of Apgujeong Rodeo Station (Subway Bundang Line)

2) Gangnam Style “Horse Dance” Stage is a tribute to Psy who sing and dance the mega hit song “Gangnam Style”. It is located in the heart of Gangnam, a district that represents the latest trends in Seoul.

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* Gangnam Station (Subway Line 2)
Address: 858-29 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Open 24 hours / Free entrance

3) Gangnam Station Underground Shopping Center is few distances away from the Gangnam Style stage. It has wide array of trendy clothes, food, jewelries, and shoes and more all in one place. Thus, shopping in this area is so convenient.

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* connected to Gangnam Station (Subway Line 2)
Operating Hours: 10:00 am to 11:00 pm – open all year round.

4) Insa-dong Street is Seoul’s leading “gallery street” as it highlights various art galleries. We were told this is the best place to buy various souvenirs, traditional crafts and traditional Korean products in much cheaper prices. When we get there, we found out it was true. We bought bags (KW10,000), t-shirts (KW5,000), keychans, ref magnets, pants (KRW5,000)

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* Exit 2 or 6 of Anguk Station (Subway Line 3)

5) Meongdong – we dropped by again at Meongdong just to have an evening walk, ate street food and exchanged money.

the busy Meongdong at night

the busy Meongdong at night

DAY 5 – last day of our tour

1) Cheonggyecheon Stream (the open stream) – is a 10.84 km-long stream that runs through Central Seoul from west to east. The stream have undergone more renovations around 1760 and was completed on October 1, 2005. Today, residents and tourists are enjoying walking beside the streams with clean water, fish and birds. It has parks on both sides, stepping stones ideal for photo ops and 22 bridges that shine under glistening lights. The Seoul Lantern Festival is held for two weeks in November.

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* Exit 4 of Jegi-dong Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 5 of Yongdu Station (Subway Line 2)
Address: Cheonggyecheon-ro, Yongsin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Open 24 hours a day

Free admission

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2) Seoul Station – we will not leave South Korea without a visit to its major capital which is Seoul. The best way to get there is through the subway in Seoul Station, the major railway station situated in Seoul. This serves the highest numbers of passengers a day.

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Seoul Station is a major railway station in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The station is served by the Gyeongui–Jungang LineLine 1AREX & Line 4.

3) Namsan Seoul Tower or N Seoul Tower – also known as Namsan Tower is a communication and observation tower perched on Namsan Mountain in Central Seoul. It stands at 236.7 meters tall and considered Namsan’s main tourist attraction. Aside from watching the breathtaking view of the city, there are other exciting activities to deal with like the museums (Ssen and Teddy Bear), Hello Kitty Island, pad-lock trees, Led tunnel and cable car. There are also dining options to choose from.

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* Ride the Namsam Circular Bus 2, 3 or 5 or Namsam Cable Car
Address: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Observatory Fee: Adults: KRW10,000, Children: KRW8,000
Operating Hours: 10:00 am to 11:00 pm (Sat-10:00 am to 12: midnight)

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4) Meongdong – we visited again this place to each lunch and shop for souvenirs.

this is where we bought foods for our loved ones back home

this is where we bought foods for our loved ones back home

5) Changdeokgung Palace – is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built during the Joseon Dynasty (1932-1897). It was  built in 1405 as a secondary palace. The kings loved Changdeokgung Palace than any other palace because of spacious and beautiful garden in the back. It was considered the most-well preserved royal residential palace from the Joseon period.

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* Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3 or 5, Exit 6) Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 3)
Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating Hours:
Feb-May, Sept.-Oct: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
June – August: 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
Nov. – Jan. – 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
* Closed on Mondays
* Tickets can be purchased prior to one hour before the palace closes.

Admission Fees on Palace:

Adults – KRW3,000/Youth (Ages 7 to 18) – KRW1,500/
Group (10 persons or more) KRW2,400

For the Secret Garden:
Adults-KRW5,000/Youth-KRW2,500 (No group discounts available)

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Our wonderful experience:

Five days are not enough to explore South Korea. There are still places that we did not visit due to lack of time. Now that we already have an idea how to move from one place to the other, we will surely get back. Next time, we will enjoy the blissful state of immersing on snow experience and the magical time as cherry blossoms come into full bloom.

Gamsahabnida South Korea!

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