Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love

I’m excited to run this guest post from Grace Mineta of the fantastic blog Texan in Tokyo (if you haven’t discovered her insightful and entertaining blog yet, you’re missing out). Grace just successfully funded a kickstarter project for her book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” in only three days!

Today she reflects on something that many of us know all too well, but are often afraid to write about (myself included) — the dark side of moving across the world for someone you love. 

Have something to say (and share) on Speaking of China, just like Grace? Check out my submit a post page for details on how to get your guest post published here.


Interracial relationships are complicated. So are intercultural relationships. I don’t think I fully understood the complexity until I entered my own – and it’s a bit difficult trying to explain to other American friends with absolutely no knowledge of Asian culture why no, we can’t just “put my husband’s parents in an old-folks home once they lose mobility.”

Or when my husband has to try to explain to his coworkers that “no, my wife probably will not quit her job when she gets pregnant. She loves working. I might transition to part-time work and be a stay-at-home dad instead.”

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

You see, as wonderful, exciting, and educational an intercultural relationship is, there is also a deep, dark side to moving across the world, for the sake of love. It can be isolating. You have to compromise about subjects you didn’t even think were ‘on the table,’ so to speak. You will both make mistakes.

After reading Susan’s recent memoir “The Good Chinese Wife,” I decided I wanted to write a guest post for Speaking of China about the dark side to moving across the world for love.

And, of course, if you’re really interested in daily life in Japan as a foreigner, you should check out my book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

It is an autobiographical memoir about my life as a white, Texan freelancer married to a Japanese businessman, living in Tokyo. It covers intercultural and interracial relationships, in a funny, light-hearted way.

Texan in Tokyo comics

Enough of the good, let’s talk about bad.

Here are the top 6 elements that make up the “dark side” of moving across the world for love:

1. You can become almost pathetically dependent on your spouse

My husband and I have lived in both Japan and Texas, with a vast majority of our time spent in Tokyo. We spent two months in America together before the wedding, and another month and a half in Texas after the wedding.

We had a wonderful time, but we also had some problems. Ryosuke couldn’t drive a car in America. He was completely dependent on me and, on days when I had a freelance project due, he was left walking my sister’s dog, Bo, around the neighborhood for hours, since he had nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, in Tokyo I can get anywhere by train/bus. However, there are times, like when I’m trying to open a bank account, file a health insurance form, or figure out some obscure Japanese law when I am completely dependent on my husband.

I’m lucky that I have my own job and can speak Japanese pretty fluently… but even so, I still get frustrated.

2. Visas, bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape

I went to the immigration office seven times to get a visa. Seven times. My visa was rejected for all sorts of stupid and illogical reasons (Not enough time left on my tourist visa, one form was improperly dated, the visa I was applying for didn’t exist, “waiting to apply for a spouse visa” was not a valid reason to extend my current tourist visa… the list goes on).

One incredibly unhelpful lady at the Tachikawa immigration office told me “Go back to America, wait a couple of months, and apply for a visa there.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to just ‘go back to America,’ she suggested I go to Korea instead (since it’s “cheaper”) and then called up the next person in line.

Now I have a valid, working visa in Japan.

However, I know other women who are not able to work on their spousal visas in their husband’s countries… and it’s hard.

3. Finding a good career “in your field” is incredibly difficult

I love writing, but I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to work for local government. Or at an NGO.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find a job in my field in Japan. I either don’t have enough experience, can’t make the proper time commitment, can’t speak Japanese well enough, or can’t afford to commit to 40 hours of work (unpaid, no stipend for food/travel) for at least 16 months at my dream NGO.

Hence the reason I am a freelance writer, blogger, and English teacher.

I don’t love the work, but it pays the bills and gives me something to do. In my spare time, I get to blog, draw comics, and volunteer at a local orphanage.

I can’t count the number of women I know who moved abroad with their husband, expecting to find a career in their field in a couple of months… only to wind up frustrated, disappointed, and underemployed.

4. Insecurity is normal

On one of our larger fights a couple months ago, I asked my husband why he didn’t just marry a nice Japanese girl. “She would be able to talk to your family without any problems,” I told him, “and she would be better at housework (or, like, actually agree to do housework. I’ve met so many Japanese girls who love cleaning. I hate it. Ugh.)”

“I don’t want to marry a ‘Japanese girl!'” he shouted back. “Or an ‘American girl!’ I just want to be married to you!”

A lot of our friends are Japanese. When we have house parties or go on double dates, I often find myself toning out what the other people are saying. Speaking in Japanese all day makes my head hurt… and I start to feel out of depth.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

When nearly all of our friend’s wives quit their jobs after marriage, clean the house every day, wake up early in the morning to cook their husband breakfast, do laundry every day, and always keep the house presentable, clean, and well-stocked with food, it’s hard not to get insecure.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my last guest post on Speaking of China, “7 of the Best Things about Being Married to a Non-Native English Speaker.”

And thankfully, my husband doesn’t expect me to be a “Good Japanese Wife.” If he did… well, I would probably go crazy. And we would yell at each other more.

5. You might have to re-evaluate your priorities and compromise on some tough issues

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Just remember that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities.

6. You will be isolated

When we first moved back to Tokyo, we spent the first couple months living with his parents in Ibaraki, an incredibly rural prefecture next to Tokyo.

In the first couple months I had no job (I was still battling the immigration office), no English speaking friends, and no connection to the ‘outside world.’

I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for several months. I cried a lot. I started losing weight (not in the good way). I watched my friends from college go off and get amazing jobs… and just felt worse about myself.

Then we moved out. We saved enough to get out own place, in central Tokyo. I got a visa and picked up a couple part-time jobs. I made a bunch of new friends.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

I still had cultural problems from time-to-time, but instead of being a sad reminder of how “foreign” I was, they started being kind of funny.

I wrote a comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy,” that ended up being wildly successful.

I have a ‘sort of’ career now.

Of course, I still feel isolated from time-to-time. But I’m learning how to deal with it. 

Grace Mineta

Author Bio:

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

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35 Replies to “Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love”

  1. I have never commented before but I have been following both of your blogs for a long time (and loving them!).

    My soon-to-be husband’s parents are Chinese (I say his parents rather than him because, despite being born in China and speaking fluent Shanghainese and Mandarin, he grew up in Argentina and Australia and is unlike anyone else I have ever met – whether they be Chinese, Australian or South American!)

    Despite him being completely “tri-cultural” (to the point where if you spoke to him on the phone in Chinese, English or Spanish you would assume he is a natvie speaker of whichever of the languages he was speaking to you in!) and both of us living in Australia, I have found so much of what you both write about relevant to us. From learning Mandarin and interacting with his parents (something that I find incredibly challenging and complex yet ultimately – after huge amounts of work -very rewarding) to being somewhat of a curiosity for being an AMWF couple – as you have both pointed out in your blogs this is still so rare that you find yourselves pointing out any other AMWF couple you see with great excitement!

    As you have both touched on in your blogs before – you didn’t fall in love with your husbands because they were Japanese or Chinese but the fact that they are Japanese or Chinese changes parts of your life and ways of thinking that you never even realised could be changed! This is how I feel too. I didn’t fall in love with my fiance because he is Chinese but the fact that he is Chinese has changed my perspective in ways I had never even conceived of before. Just like both of you, I mostly find this really interesting and valuable but there are also times it can be really difficult and explaining this to family or friends who have no reference point for understanding what you are going through can be really tough.

    I would love to (at some stage) submit a post of my own but I just wanted to let you both know how much I appreciate both your blogs – it is so good to be able to read about your experiences, particularly as I find it is extremely rare to actually meet people who are in similar situation in my life.


    1. Thanks for sharing Cat! It can definitely be tough to explain what’s going on to your friends who haven’t experienced the sort of things you have. I still feel that way from time to time and it can be isolating. But that’s also why I’ve enjoyed blogging, because it has been a great way for me to suddenly realize that I’m not alone in my experiences.

      You’re always welcome anytime to do a guest post! Just let me know.

  2. Once again, great guest post! Very valuable for everyone who is planning to move abroad for love or have done the leap already. China is one of those countries where you are not supposed to work on a spousal visa, then again we are unclear how foreigners can go around if they work for them selves, as work visas are applied through companies where you work.

    I’m still a student for the next two years, but during these six months between my undergrad and my post-grad, I got a feeling of how it’s like for those spouses who don’t work or study. It can be very frustrating, depressing and boring.

    Just like Grace, I could never become that kind of “Good Chinese Wife” who cleans and cooks all day. Just yesterday I was talking to my husband how meaningless some of these days have been when I’ve got much less work this month and the new semester is still yet to start. Her urged me to go traveling for a week by my self! He said how he would always choose a wife that goes out to see the world over to someone who just stays at home doing housework.

    Thank you again for the great guest post!

    1. Sara, that is so sweet your husband encouraged you to go traveling rather than stay at home and do housework! He’s a keeper!

      (And if we’re talking about a “Good Chinese Wife” that is definitely not me. On some days, I think my husband does more for our household than I do!)

    2. Wow Sara, your husband sounds like such a keeper 🙂

      Ryosuke said something similar – he encouraged me to go backpacking around Japan while he was in job training. I ended up spending a week living out of capsule hotels (very interesting), meeting other foreigners in their mid-life crises, and slumming it up with overworked businessmen.
      It made me appreciate my well-off (albeit frustrating and occasionally boring) life.

  3. She hit a couple but there are more…oh so many more! One of my biggest is that sometimes I YEARN really YEARN to have a cultural reference my hubby would understand even as simple as a Saturday morning cartoon maybe I grew up watching..but these are the things that you don’t share being from two different cultures. Inside jokes in cultures also zoom right over the head of those outside the culture…it’s hard sometimes. But if you love each other you will make it through, those things are trivial in the big picture.

    1. Yeah, now that you mention it, I kind of miss that too. It can be frustrating trying to explain why something is funny.
      My husband started watching “How I Met Your Mother” in college – but now we’ve seen all the episodes like 3-4 times. It ‘our show.’

      So he’s gotten really good at Canadian Jokes (sadly) – and every once and a while he will stop the show, ask me to explain one of the jokes, and then try to make a similar joke later.
      It’s really nice.
      I mean, it’s usually an “off” joke, but I appreciate that he’s trying. And it’s cute.

  4. I bet there are plenty of Japanese women who don’t want to quit their jobs or stop working after they have children, too, but they feel they don’t have much of a choice because that’s the only workable choice society has handed them.

    (I could also talk about the choices American society hands Americans, too, that’s just one point).

  5. The comics are plan and simple CUTE!! And the Minetas are a cute couple. Still better and safer for an interracial couple in Japan than in Texas, especially Eastern Texas to say nothing about Louisiana!! I am seeing more and more Japanese-white interracial couples moving to Japan instead of staying in the US.

  6. Many great points, but the sense of powerlessness resonated with me most, as I live in the US with my American wife. Even with the most considerate spouse, like yours and mine, the fact remains that he/she ultimately “belongs” in the society you live in, while you don’t. When making mundane decisions like shopping or parenting, if your (local-born) spouse claims “Your idea may work in [your native society], but this is how it is done here,” you really don’t have power (or confidence) to counter. Plus, even though my wife and I are the happiest couple we know (married for 12 years), on back of my head I am always aware of the fact that if things go awry between us, there is little to no chance I will gain custody of our children–native-born mom vs. foreign-born dad (a “chauvinistic/unemotional/potentially sadistic” Asian man, at that) would be a no-brainer call.

    Also, I agree with Jenna above about the “choices” that women presumably have in the US labor market. On surface, the fact that there are today more female than male main income earners (“breadwinners”) is a great thing, but you also discover that so many of them are REALLY struggling financially. They have no choice but to work, with their (male) spouses’ income is not nearly enough to put roof over their heads. And don’t get me started on the insanely high cost and poor quality of daycare and schools, which typically cost more than one parent’s income.
    That’s why I am often concerned about Grace and others who live with Japanese/Chinese/Korean husbands in Jp/Cn/Kr but hope to move to their own native countries in North America or Europe, because (in addition to their own bureaucratic red tapes for immigration) their husbands will likely earn dramatically less than they do in Jp/Cn/Kr (due to language barrier, lack of work history or educational credential there, or plain-old racism/xenophobia), while well-paying white-collar jobs for women will also be very difficult to get, especially with a long hiatus in domestic employment history in your resume.

    Sorry for a downer. The point is that I agree, there are definitely “dark sides” to the international couples, especially in tough economy.

  7. I don’t think the reality is not so dark. But you will need to prepare to handle many challenges and along the process to reinforce your relationship, hopefully.
    If you and your partner are both educated and lived in each other’ country, things can become relatively easier.

    I feel American women can be more valued oversees if you are open to do certain jobs. But you won’t build a good career that can be transferred back home. If your husband is successful at home country, he will need to be willing to start lower and go back up. That being said, I recommend whoever wants to move back to do it earlier.

    I see this whole thing is less of a debate of which place is better. It is a realization of losses and gains. It is hard not to think about what you have to give up. The loss is real.

  8. All things considered still easier for the white partner to live in Asia than for a minority partner, especially from abroad to live with a white wife in East Texas or Louisiana…threat of hate crimes and violence is almost non-existent in Asia.

  9. “I feel American women can be more valued oversees if you are open to do certain jobs. But you won’t build a good career that can be transferred back home. ”

    Singapore and Hong Kong with many Multinationals which will employ educated American and other expat women are exceptions…may be not so much in other Asian countries….plenty of educated white western women working in Singapore in their fields of specialization..if you ever go to Singapore try Marina Bay Financial Center…plenty of educated white women working in that building and many are Americans.

  10. Great post, Grace! I am so honored you mentioned my book and that it has inspired dialogue like this. You are so ahead of the game because you have addressed these issues early on and have found great solutions. Even when you marry someone from the same culture, there are things that only come up once you’re married. If you don’t have good communication, it’s very difficult to be yourself and to make the relationship work.

    I’m totally intrigued by Cat’s story! I dated a guy in Hong Kong who grew up in South America and lived in the UK for a long time before returning to HK. Fascinating guy, but still heartbroken from his last relationship.

  11. These are some great points!

    I agree with the first one. But there’s another, more positive side to it: Through your spouse, you might eventually also learn to handle some of these things that you didn’t know how to handle in the beginning. You can get a look into how things work for locals that you might not get if you were just living in a foreign country on your own.

  12. Wow, great post, and insightful comments. I believe everybody needs to like the life they are living. Giving up too much for another person will make you resent that person in the end, no matter how wonderful he/she is, and probably yourself as well.
    One point I didn’t see mentioned, is the constant guilt of knowing your family are missing you, and yourself missing out on their big and small moments in everyday life.

  13. I do not agree that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship. Arguments are bad and disruptive to any relationship. If couples need to argue, it just goes to show that they are unable to communicate with each other. Arguments, especially the louder ones, are noisy to the soul. They show disrespect and will, when often enough resorted to, numb one’s feelings towards the other and make you wonder what the heck it (the arguments as a whole) is all about! Why need to shout or argue when you could try to talk to each other. And of course, if you could not talk to each other and try to reason out whatever is bugging the both of you, then there is no good reason to stay as a couple.

    And why is being a ‘good Asian wife or a good Chinese wife or a good Japanese wife’ such a bad thing? Being a good wife – whether Chinese, Japanese or whatever – might be good for the stability of the family. We all do know many families where both parents are busy at work do have problematic children, don’t we? Not saying of course, that the children will all be angels if a wife is a ‘good Chinese or Japanese wife’ Why flog a good Chinese wife or a good Japanese wife just for the sake that you are not yourself amenable to being one? As far as I am concerned, a good Chinese wife or a good Japanese wife is, well, a good wife – Chinese or Japanese. And I say, brave to them! If one does not want to be one, that’s not the problem of the other. Haha…

  14. There is no problem with being that kind of wife if that’s what you want.

    The only problem is that if that’s what society expects, and therefore you feel it’s the only choice available to you if you want your life to run smoothly and you want to be socially accepted, then it’s not always a choice. Most modern people (including women) just want freedom of choice – to live life as you wish and not feeling like you have to follow a script that’s handed to you, to not be called a “bad wife” for doing something differently. Very few people, including and especially women’s rights advocates, want to take away the choice to take on a more traditional role.

    This is true for women of any race and culture.

    And please, let’s not underhandedly bash working mothers just to make a point. That’s no better than bashing women who choose a more traditional route. It makes you just as bad. It’s not okay.

  15. I have not read Susan’s book, so this is not directly about her, but I am uncomfortable with that some assume, rather literally, there really exist such people as “good (nationality) wife” (or mother). These are ideal types, images, rather than living, breathing humans. The reality is (I can speak of Jpn and US cases) the vast majority of married women are nothing like the idealized or negatively stereotyped “good Jpn or Amcn wives”; some may aspire to it, some may feel guilty about not approximating themselves to it, some may reject it, some may be even unaware of it. So “I will not become a ‘good Jpn/Amcn wife’ because of my foreign nationality,” is a rather silly declaration, because NO ONE, including Jpn or Amcn women themselves, will ever become “good=ideal” Jpn or Amcn wives. Aspiring to become and fighting against the image of “good (nationality) wife” are both like shadow-boxing against an imaginary opponent.

  16. @Jenna, what ‘script’ are you talking about? Being a good wife – Chinese, Japanese or whatever, is according to a script? We are not playing movies here? Just because some people do not agree with or have a thing against being a good wife, doesn’t mean that you flog it.

    And who is underhandedly trying to bash working mothers to make a point?
    Just as I do not believe in flogging a good Chinese wife or good Japanese wife or whatever, I am not against working wives. Many need to work even if they didn’t really want to and many want to work because they want to have a career of their own or just because, like you mentioned, they want to have the choice. I am all for them too. Just don’t going making a point underhandedly, to use you word, very unfortunately, to bash good Chinese wives or good Japanese wives or whatever. (Now, I don’t think, at least I do hope not, that you were) And cheerio! Don’t going getting all heated up. Loosen up a bit and consider that not everyone agrees on everything, even if you feel ardently about a subject and believe that you are right or at least the other is missing something and need to see it your way or agree with you or at least see the light at the end of the tunnel the way you see or close to the way you see it.

    Well, I am off having my cuppa now!


  17. Plenty of people follow the scripts handed to them. I have been known to (I was confirmed as a member of a church when I was an atheist, because I was 16 and my family expected me to). You surely have too.

    I did not mean to imply that only women from cultures that still maintain a lot of traditional expectations follow scripts, or that all such women do. Certainly some “career women”, wealthy suburban women, successful women do too. And certainly plenty of more traditional women truly want to do what they are doing, and would choose it even if there were other choices on offer.

    My point was only that it is hard to tell, when there **aren’t** any other good choices on offer – plenty of Japanese women who do want to work after having a child find themselves – gently, subtly, or perhaps more literally – pushed out of work. They end up demoted, or left out, feeling like they’re being subtly told to leave. Or they are actually laid off, or have trouble coming back after their maternity leave. Often husbands are not supportive of a non-traditional path, nor are friends and other social acquaintances. So it’s hard to tell who chooses the traditional path, and who takes it because there aren’t many other good choices that won’t leave you somewhat estranged from your own culture.

    So, I did not mean to imply that all women who choose a traditional route do so because they have to, not because they want to. Or that only those women do so. Just that a.) this does happen (don’t pretend it never does) and b.) that’s a call not for telling these women they shouldn’t do that, but rather for changing society such that more choices are on offer to all people, so we are all more free to choose what we want.

    By the way, someone above WAS bashing working mothers – may have been you, may have not been, I don’t have the time to check the name on the comment. But to say something like “many children of two-career households experience problems” is not only untrue (social science doesn’t support it, sorry), but is IS an unnecessary swipe at working moms. It’s just not okay.

  18. One of the major difference I see is the mentality of women in more advanced economies. Because of education and feminism, women in US can see themselves more like equals, at least by perception. In reality, women in US do not have as many choices than they are told. But it is true that they have better options than their Asian counterparts. I see plenty of Asian women are willing to accept the ceiling for their careers. They accept it with the “traditional” values in mind. In US, women’s equality movement has been going on for a long time, often led by women themselves.

    Weather you agree with what Asian women’s choices or lack of choices, my experiences tell me those women mostly want to be respected for their choices to stay home or let the men be in charge. I think they would rather see themselves as a valuable part of something. I know my college educated mother want to see herself that way.

    In a relationship, it will become tiring to always debate about who is doing what. If the woman in your life is more submissive, but your family is stable, I see it is the Asian compromise in all of this.

    Eventually, the society has to provide more infrastructure to support working mothers. Leaving all the men to make such changes won’t work. Asian women would have to advocate for themselves. Given how Asian culture value family unity, these women carry a lot of baggages asking for changes. It is well known the rise of feminism and demand from lives in advanced economy lead to higher divorce rate. I am not saying it is women’s fault to break up the family. I am not sure if most Asians are ready to accept the reality.

    You can look at the nordic model and admire what those women get. But we do have to take a look at their social democracy and cultures for clues. Not every country can get on the same path.

    I know Susan probably wrote about how she would have to conform to become a good Chinese wife. It is really hard to live a life that is almost equivalent to your grandmothers or great great mother’s. While we can look at other society using your own standards, we also need to remind ourselves they are facing a different set of realities. If you can leave and change the landscape for yourself, great. Otherwise, a little bit of respect can go a long way.

  19. Someone here should also note this: ‘Not saying of course, that the children will all be angels if a wife is a good Chinese or Japanese wife..’ for balance, to see that nobody was trying to bash anybody really. Just pointing out that there is also the other side, as there always is in any circumstance or situation or set of choices. Just don’t take it as given that no – ugh! good Chinese or Japanese wife? – that’s really not the way to go. Well, if not for you, okay. If not for you because that’s wrong according to your estimation or understanding and I will hit you for that, well, that’s a little arrogant and smug and not necessarily correct, anyway?

  20. Thanks for addressing this “dark side”, Grace!

    I found myself nodding in agreement with each of your points, especially the visa one. Being rejected for the fabled “spouse” visa, even though I meet every single requirement, was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever been through (mostly because of the attitude of the woman at the police station and how she treated me and my husband). And being an English teacher by default. The Chinese people I know don’t understand that even though I went to school to be a teacher, I really dislike teaching English. But again, it’s usually the easiest way to get a visa.

    Congrats on the book…gonna go check it out now!

    1. It it makes you feel any better, I got rejected the first two times I applied for a spouse visa (and the lady told me to “just go back to America.”)
      I just about started crying in the immigration office.

      Instead I went to a different immigration office and they gave me my visa right away.

  21. May be the Chinese visa officer was jealous and did not like the idea of a foreigner marrying a Chinese male? The revese is also true with the US visa officers.

  22. Great post Grace. I am a Chinese-born guy living in Cleveland. There’s absolutely no Asian population here! Look forward to a AMWW relationship but it is more difficult in USA I think.

  23. Fantastic post. Those who aren’t in intercultural relationships do not understand things like visa and immigration issues. Also certain jobs in different countries there may not be a market for. I am in the Art World and that translates to “no job” in India! LOL

  24. Lovely post, and loved the comic strips hehe. Reading it, I guess I kind of understand what my Korean ex sort of went through, and why he went back to Korea, although if you add no permission to work and save up money just to spend it on classes, most of these ESL and that sometimes high level ESL classes were canceled…ugh is all I can say.

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