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Zenkaikon 2019: Mental Health

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Last year, we had the pleasure of meeting Nicole Spickerman of Corgi Cosplay. Nicole is a huge mental health advocate who dresses up her service dog, Kiba, in cosplay. This year, we were ecstatic to hear that she was coming back to Zenkaikon 2019.

This year, Nicole did a panel called Fandom Saved my Life with Sam Sawyer, AKA Sincerely Sam. In this panel, they talked about their respective battles with mental illness and how they deal with it at conventions.

This type of panel is amazing in many ways. Not only is it creating a safe space for con-goers who struggle with their mental health, but it is also creating a dialogue about mental health issues within the geek/nerd community.

Opening up this dialogue in these settings helps to normalize mental illness, which makes it easier for those suffering to come forward and seek help. If we as a community can start to actually talk about mental health issues, then not only are we making it comfortable for more people to talk about it, but we’re also helping mental health professionals get a better understanding what helps us.

This panel also brought up a very important point about living with mental health issues at a convention. They gave wonderful advice about quickly identifying a safe space. Both Nicole and Sam made it clear that their booths are safe spaces. If someone is overwhelmed, panicking, scared, they can go to either of them and sit behind their booth until they feel more comfortable.

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We at Real Women of Gaming want to emphasize this as well. If you see myself, CrymsonPleasure or any other member of RWOG at a convention, we will help you find a safe space. If you are overwhelmed, lost, scared, panicking, we will help you get to a safe space and we will make sure that you are okay.

Please pay attention to your mental health at conventions. They are large and loud and can be very scary. Drink lots of water, take your medication, and – above all – take care of yourself by being prepared, avoiding your triggers as much as possible, identifying safe spaces, and having someone you trust with you.

We hope to see Nicole back next year with another Fandom Saved my Life panel, and we hope to see more mental health panels pop up in years to come.

Zenkaikon 2019: FOOD

Unfortunately, we didn’t do much by way of food this year, but what we did was absolutely amazing.

Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub

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On day one, we had dinner at Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub. Our experience here last year was phenomenal, so we decided to go back with Corgi Cosplay. This year, we waited over an hour for a table (they told us 30 minutes) before we decided to order our food to go. After a 2 hour wait in total, we were back in Nicole’s hotel room, scarfing down Irish goodness.

Despite the wait (it was Friday at a pub, what did we expect?), the food was spectacular. I ordered Fish and Chips, which was seasoned perfectly. Crymson had Bangers and Mash. I don’t think we spoke at all while we ate. We were starving and the food was just that good. The Dark Side of the Moon desert was to die for, as well, as the chocolate mousse just melted into your tongue.

The Rabbit & The Dragonfly

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On day two, we visited The Rabbit & The Dragonfly, my favorite place in Lancaster, PA. It’s a Tolkien and CS Lewis themed cafe which just screams Vanri. I’m drawn to it like a moth to flame. They have a new pastry, too. A coffee scone. It’s soft and melts in your mouth, with hints of cinnamon and pure deliciousness. I highly recommend it.

Noodle King

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We had lunch on day two at Noodle King. We all ordered the Combination Pho, which has sliced meatballs, rare beef and pork. It was cooked to perfection. I couldn’t get enough of it. I actually ended up finishing Crymson’s since it was too much for her to eat. They also make a hot sauce in house that is to die for. The flavor is fantastic and it doesn’t make your lips burn – perfect combination. I’m getting a craving just thinking about it.

I’ll drive an hour plus to get good pho, not gonna lie.

If you ever find yourself hungry in Lancaster, PA, be sure to check these amazing restaurants out. You can also find a few more great places here.

Zenkaikon 2019: Cosplay Burlesque

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For the second year in a row, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to attend Cosplay Burlesque’s show at Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA. I had first heard about Cosplay Burlesque three years ago, after Crymson went to their show and interviewed them at Zenkaikon 2017. I was excited to hear they were coming back so that I could finally see what all the fuss was about.

Last year, Thia the Bard wrote about her experience at their show, being asexual. I want to give a little background on myself before moving forward with my review. I am demisexual. This means that I don’t feel sexual attraction to a person unless I’ve established an emotional connection with them first.

That being said, I absolutely love burlesque. To me, it’s not so much sexual, but rather an art form. It’s an art that promotes and celebrates body positivity, confidence and sexuality. It’s an art that allows the dancer to utilize their creativity and express themselves using physical methods.

Cosplay Burlesque specifically uses pop culture and turns it into something even more exciting. We see characters from shows and movies we know and love.. then we see them dance and take their clothes off.

This year, we were excited by characters from My Hero AcademiaMario, X-MenGame of Thrones, and… The Human Centipede? Yes, Oliver Swisskey did a The Human Centipede act. It’s awesome, though, I promise!

The dancers were all amazing, as usual. The show came together extremely well. Clothes were flying everywhere, laughter and cat calls filled the air, and there was so much T&A that I didn’t know whether I should look away and blush or lean into it and cheer (spoiler alert, it’s the latter).

The MC was witty and really knew how to keep the momentum of the show going. The most memorable acts, for me, were the following (in no particular order): Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones, The Juggernaut from X-Men, Lady Bowser from Mario, Mrs White from Clue, and the doctor from The Human Centipede. Each act brought something new to the stage that could be exciting or concerning, depending on the context.

Though, I must say, the picture of Oberyn Martell’s dead body directly after the act was unnecessary. (I know, Oliver, it’s a palette cleanser, but still!)

What makes this company so intriguing to me is that you have people of all genders, orientations, shapes and sizes exuding so much confidence that I start to feel as though I could do anything. As an overweight woman, my self-esteem is often down in the dumps. I have insecurities out the wazoo. If faced with the option to burlesque, I would run home and put more clothes on. But after a Cosplay Burlesque show, where I see a woman who is my size flaunting her sexiness to a room full of con-goers, my confidence in myself is soaring. I’m inspired. I feel good about myself because she feels good about herself.

Burlesque is so much more than dancers taking their clothes off. It’s a form of expression that can not only make the dancer feel amazing, but also inspire people in the audience. It’s an art that screams out, “You are sexy!” to a room full of people who may have come in believing that they’re not good enough.

Cosplay Burlesque has introduced me to the world of burlesque and I would love to see more. If you have any suggestions for burlesque companies to look out for, please leave them in the comments below!

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Zenkaikon 2019: The Experience

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Those of you who know me know that I’m fairly new to the convention scene. My first convention was just two years ago. It was TooManyGames 2017, a small gaming convention in Oaks, PA. After that, I went big at PAX East 2018 and completely overwhelmed myself. Zenkaikon 2018 was my 3rd convention and it seemed to be just the right size for me.

My experience at Zenkaikon 2019 was a bit different than 2018. Last year, I had more mobility. I was able to go to more panels and peruse more vendor wares. This year, I was the camera person, so I was able to join Crymson for the guest interviews. Both experiences definitely helped me develop a big picture view of all aspects of the con, from the perspective of the press.

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This was probably our best year at Zenkaikon. The weekend went by smoothly. With one exception, the communication between the convention staff and us was impeccable. We had some technology hiccups (it wouldn’t be RWOG if we didn’t), but we were able to quickly assess and adapt. Crymson and I make a great team (and actually had our 7 year friend-anniversary on the Saturday of Zenkaikon!)

We tried to rush to the con on Friday to see the Anti-Bullying panel, but we unfortunately missed it because we got pulled over on the way. No matter, though! We were still there in plenty of time for our interview with Michaela Dietz. We walked around the vendor hall, spoke to quite a few people, waited 2 hours for dinner with Corgi Cosplay, and then ended our night with the amazing Cosplay Burlesque show (review coming soon!).

On Saturday, we rushed again. It’s definitely a pain commuting over an hour each day to the convention center. We ran to our interview with Charles Dunbar, only to find out that he was missing! His handler, Timothy, couldn’t find him anywhere! A few more con staff come in, only to let us know that the schedule that we have is incorrect. Charles wasn’t late, we were all just early. We had the pleasure of not only interviewing him, but also getting coffee with him at the Rabbit & The Dragonfly.

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We went on to interview our friend Nicole, founder of Corgi Cosplay, and get a ton of footage of Kiba doing super cute and amazing things. Crymson then fangirled over Monica Rial, who did her Mey Rin voice from Black Butler. Crymson about fell off the couch, she was so excited.

We ended that night with Night Time Stories with Todd Haberkorn, then Guests Against Humanity where we laughed so hard that we actually disrupted the panel.

Finally, Sunday. Day three. The day that sleep deprivation caught up to us and we giggle at the mere mention of Brendan Urie (long story). We spent the majority of this day in the press room as we interview Laura from the Carolina Manga Library, Oliver from Cosplay Burlesque, Austin Tindle of Attack on Titan, and the amazingly talented artist, Sincerely Sam. We finished the con with Closing Ceremonies, a fun panel where we got to meet everyone behind Zenkaikon and give feedback.

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Overall, this Zenkaikon was fun, informative, and exhausting. We saw a ton of amazing cosplays, ran into some old friends, ate amazing food, and met some wonderful new people. If you’re already planning your 2020 cons, make sure Zenkaikon is on your list!

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Zenkaikon 2018: Thia’s First Con Experience

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I recently got to have one of the best experiences of my life thus far. That was my first time at a convention. I am so glad my first con was Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA. Lancaster is a great town with lots to offer con goers, so it was the perfect place for Zenkaikon.

To be honest, I was anxious going into Zenkaikon. I am not fond of crowds. I had never done press at a large event before. I just wasn’t really sure what to expect when I walked through the doors. I was grateful to know that I had friends with me in Vanri and Crymson. I also was lucky enough to have some friends waiting inside.

I was greeted by the truly awesome staff right off the bat. These volunteers really made this convention experience for me. They were always patient. They looked out for guests and patrons alike.

me conMy first panel was called; “Overcoming Con Anxiety.” I attended it with Vanri, who wrote a more in-depth look at the panel but I can tell you that it was full of helpful tips. This panel was a great way to start off my first convention.

There were a lot of firsts during the convention. I had my first bowl of real Ramen, which was amazing. I went to my first burlesque show with Cosplay Burlesque. I got to help with press interviews. I met new friends and got to see old ones. I stepped outside my comfort zone and opened up to new experiences.

I had a wonderful time and cannot wait for next year. I was in a place where I got to share my love of anime with some really cool people. If you have never been to a convention please do yourself a favor and go.

I do have some tips for you, though. Bring water and stay hydrated, friends. Make sure you have some healthy food with you, too, as food can get expensive and too much sugar will just make you crash. Have friends with you. A huge help for me was knowing where my friends where and if I got nervous they were there. Take a breath. Find a place where you can take some time away if you need it. There are plenty of corners to take a few moments if you need to.

Take some chances. I am glad I did. Have fun. Enjoy the chaos. Remember why you are there; to enjoy the things you love.

Zenkaikon was a wonderful experience. I am so grateful to the staff for making me feel so welcome. I am also happy that I went to Zenkaikon. It was probably the best first convention experience I could have had! Hope to see you there next year.

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Always keep sparkling!

 

Zenkaikon 2018: Bullying in Fandom Panel

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The Knights of Fandom are a Tumblr-based group that fights bullying in fandom groups online. It was started by Lady Norbert, who found that a lot of her Tumblr community was experiencing bullying. Naturally, she got mad about it and decided to do something about it.

I discovered The Knights of Fandom at Zenkaikon 2018. They gave a panel on Bullying in Fandom that I just had to attend, given our own work in anti-bullying. The panel outlined what cyberbullying looks like in fandom groups, the difference between bullying and constructive criticism, and what we as fandom members can do to prevent bullying, stop bullying, and show support to the person being bullied.

It was a short panel, but full of insightful information. Lady Norbert was funny and entertaining, touching and knowledgeable. She wanted nothing more than to unite the various fandoms of Tumblr against bullying. Her tips included:

  • Spread kindness. Reach out to those who are bullied and show them love.
  • If you’re going to criticize, make sure it’s constructive and not destructive.
  • Defend others, speak up – stick together!
  • Remove yourself from toxic online situations.
  • Make friends with other members in your fandom, especially those who are bullied.

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You can find the Knights of Fandom valiantly protecting the Tumblr fandoms here. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Zenkaikon 2018: Overcoming Con Anxiety Panel

IMG_2836The lovely Aniyah Lyszt and Levy Cross of Pleasant Nightmare Entertainment gave a wonderfully insightful panel on overcoming con anxiety. It’s no secret that I have a decent amount of anxiety. This anxiety is a big factor in why I became a part of the gaming/nerd communities. I rarely have to go outside or be around people to enjoy my hobby. Fewer people equals less anxiety. Perfect.

While Zenkaikon is not the biggest con I’ve been to, it still produces a crowd bigger than my anxiety can handle. When I saw that there was going to be a panel called Overcoming Con Anxiety on the very first day, I jumped at it.

Aniyah and Levy had a wealth of knowledge on the subject. They turned the panel into a discussion, which helped those anxiety-ridden panel audience members to participate. They were funny and had relevant stories that made me laugh. And to speak to their experience, they carried on despite the extremely loud Steven Universe sing-a-long next door.

A highlight was definitely Aniyah Lyszt asking the staff member if they were sacrificing a baby next door and to see if they could wait until she got over there so she could join the party.

Reminds me of someone…

ANYWAY!

The panel was full of tips and tricks to help yourself handle a lot of the anxiety that comes along with conventions. The majority of their advice was to basically stay on top of the things you can control, which will make the things you can’t control far less overwhelming. Some of their advice included:

  • Give yourself plenty of time, don’t rush!
  • Don’t set high expectations – be realistic!
  • Stop thinking of the worst case scenario.
  • Research the con prior to going (ie. size, location, reviews, etc.)
  • DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!

 

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The panel helped me to get through the rest of the con simply because I felt more prepared for it. Yes, the constant droves of people still produced a bit of anxiety, but I took a few minutes to sit down and plan out my con. I circled the panels I wanted to go to, figured out which times I would be in the Exhibit Hall and which times I would be meeting up with Crymson and/or Thia. We planned when we would give ourselves meal breaks and figured out where we wanted to go. We were more prepared than usual, which did wonders for my anxiety levels.

If you ever have the chance to go to one of Aniyah Lyszt’s panels, do it! With boob jokes, cursing and sex talk mixed in with some serious advice, I promise you won’t regret it.

You can check out Pleasant Nightmare Entertainment here.

Zenkaikon 2018: Empathy

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I had the absolute pleasure of attending Zenkaikon 2018 this year. I will gush about all the fun that was had for hours. However, I want to talk about a very specific moment.

As press, I go there to work. I love going to conventions, but I love them more when I’m working them. I love watching other people have fun, asking guests questions and talking to people. It fills me with absolute delight.

So, as I prepared to interview one of the many amazing guests at Zenkaikon, the unthinkable happened. I was bumped into and our camcorder went flying from my hand. Even the guest attempted to dive for it as it hit the carpet and broke. The flood of emotions that filled me in those seconds is hard to describe. I picked it up and my heart sank, there was nothing I could do, it was broken and the whole weekend of interviews was flying out of my hands.

A couple of things happened all at once. As I breathed through the desire to cry and seeming apathy of the person who bumped me, I heard a couple of voices.

__yhqNo5_400x400Mae & Kyle of Fandom Spotlight jumped up and offered to record it using their camera.

I could have cried. I used their mic (a mic I was NOT used to using, so here is hoping all went well) because it had their name on it and I wanted everyone to know who these amazing people are. They even offered to sync it up and send it to me.

We couldn’t ask to make better friends at a convention. I honestly didn’t expect so much help, but they offered more, even taking the time to give us tips on things we can do differently, things we can do better as beginners. Kyle said that something similar happened to him at another convention: he dropped his camera and it broke. Another press stepped up and helped him out. A little bit of pay-it-forward but mostly, “Hey I’ve been there and it sucks.”

I’m sure you are wondering about the camcorder. Anthony, a member of the Zenkaikon staff in the press department asked to look at the camcorder while we were interviewing. I had already asked if they wouldn’t mind being amazing and allowing us to use their equipment for the rest of the day since we were in all the same interviews; however, during my interview Anthony was able to fix the camcorder. In about 10 minutes, he put everything back together.

We did lose some footage and we are attributing it to the camcorder dropping but Kyle, Mae and Anthony are our superheroes, MVPs, angels for the day. Not only did they save my sanity and our interviews but they also rolled out with that empathy, that desire to help so quickly. I was stunned. I was stunned and my heart was full.

Thank you friends for being so amazing and helping us in our time of need.

Zenkaikon 2018: FOOD

If there’s one thing I’m pretty sure I know well, it’s food. The weekend of Zenkaikon 2018, I was able to try several restaurants in the Lancaster, PA area. From Asian restaurants to cafes to Irish Pubs, we ate very well during Zenkaikon 2018. Here are my thoughts on the food:

1. Issei Noodles

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Miso Ramen from Issei Noodles

Crymson mentioned that there was a ramen place nearby that she didn’t have a chance to try the previous year. Of course that was the first place I wanted to go. We got to the restaurant and had a bit of a wait, though not as long as the ETA they told us when we checked in. Our hostess and our waitress were both absolutely lovely. They explained anything we didn’t understand and were attentive to our needs as patrons. A+ Customer Service.

The food was great! We started off with some fried gyoza, which are basically pork dumplings. They were crispy and well seasoned, though I think they could have used a bit more meat. Next came our ramen. Crymson and I both got the miso ramen, which included miso, pork, fish cakes and leeks in addition to the noodles in a soy/pork broth. The soup was flavorful and not at all like the instant ramen we get at the grocery store. We ended our meal with some matcha and turon. Even though my stomach was threatening to explode at this point (after eating all of my soup and some of Crymson’s), I devoured the semi-sweet desserts we ordered.

I highly recommend Issei Noodles if you’re ever in the Lancaster, PA area.

2. The Rabbit and the Dragonfly

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Cute book corner!

I have never seen a cuter cafe in my entire life. We found ourselves here twice, once for a coffee to keep us awake so we wouldn’t miss Cosplay Burlesque and again the next morning for brunch. While I wasn’t that much of a fan of the chai tea latte or the iced coffee I got, their food was a different story entirely.

I ordered fish and chips, a British classic, and some chili cheese fries, which are a personal favorite dish of mine. The battered and fried cod was mildly flavored and cripsy, just like it should be. The fries were nice and crispy as well, which always make for good fries. They’ve definitely got themselves a quality fryer.

The chili cheese fries were also amazing. The cheese was mild and the chili was chunky, but not spicy. The fries held up nicely under their dressings. The flavors mixed together perfectly. A+ food.

It’s also important to note that the cafe is themed like a bookshop. They pull their inspiration from JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, two talented authors who created two of the most well-known fantasy worlds out there. The ambiance was calming and warmed my little book-worm heart.

3. Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub

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Irish nachos

Food-wise, Annie Bailey’s was my favorite. Naturally, the Irish pub had Irish inspired food. They had Shephard’s Pie, Bangers & Mash, and even Irish Potato Nachos. The pub had the lighthearted feel that you would expect of an Irish bar and restaurant.

I ordered fried pickles for an appetizer. While I’m used to pickle chips, I was given pickle spears, which was an experience. The consistency was different than what I’m used to, but I didn’t complain as I gobbled them up. They had a bit of a bite to them, which I enjoyed immensely.

My main dish was the Irish Potato Nachos. They took waffle fries (my favorite) and topped them with three different cheeses, tomatos, scallions and a dusting of brisket. This was way more than I could eat in one sitting, but they gave me sour cream AND ranch, so I tried the best I could.

I had a bite of Crymson’s Bangers & Mash and just WOW. The sausage was perfectly cooked and the mashed potatoes were so creamy. I can’t even describe the gravy they used as anything but delectable.

Finally, I had a bite of their dessert Dark Side of the Moon. It was bascially chocolate, topped with chocolate topped with chocolate with some whipped cream. It was the best thing I’d ever tasted. The chocolate cake was cooked with coffee liquer, making it melt on your tongue. Chocolate mousse was the cake filling, making it light and fluffy. Finally, the frosting had chocolate chips in them, giving it a bit of a crunch.

If you ever have a chance to go to Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub in Lancaster, PA, then make sure you get there. You won’t regret it in the slightest.

All of the restaurants we went to had quality food. While these were the three big ones we went to during our days in Lancaster, there were tons of others that we didn’t get a chance to try. If you have any other Zenkaikon food suggestions, let us know in the comments below!

Zenkaikon 2018: An Overview

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My mind is still a buzz from our weekend at Zenkaikon, a convention I will never get tired of talking about, that I absolutely adore, and that I look forward to every year.

This is only my second year at Zenkaikon and it did not disappoint.

I want to point out something extremely important: whilst the panels, guests, vendors, anime, games, etc are all of the utmost importance for a convention, there are two things I look forward to the most:

  1. The Staff
  2. Lancaster, PA

Of all the conventions I have been to, the staff here has never been rude to me or anyone else that I’ve seen. I also walk through those doors with an understanding that these people are not getting paid, they are volunteering. They are doing this for the love of it, for the fun, for the Zenkaikon community. They are trying to tame a convention of people. Every different type of person under the sun and, honestly, I think it would be easier to tame a rave of drunk squirrels then to keep a convention under control.

IMG_2845I also don’t mistake urgency for rudeness. I’ve seen them get loud. I’ve seen hurry people. I’ve seen them say ‘no’ more times than I can count. I’ve never seen them get angry. They have to be loud so you can actually hear them over the general convention noise. They have to hurry you along because you are one of over 5,000 people they have to make sure is safe. I love the Zenkaikon staff.

Lancaster, PA, is also AMAZING. Having grown up in the area, I knew Lancaster for two things: the Amish and the farms. I had no idea there was an actual downtown area until we drove into it last year. Now, thanks to an amazing Zenkaikon guide (MrEvilena1), not only was I able to figure out the convention and have so many questions answered, but he also pointed out delicious food. Granted, this year was a bit crazy, but the food never disappoints. It just get’s better and Vanri is so excited to tell you all about it.

On top of all of that,  I got to meet The Triforce Quartet, Sarah Wiedenheft, Jessica Calvello, Quinton Flynn, Jad SaxtonJonathan Maberry, Corgi Cosplay and the always wonderful Cosplay Burlesque. Of course, every year I am terrified of the guests and every year I realize that they are just a bunch of people. They’re mostly just nerds who love talking to people and being at cons. That makes my heart soar.

If you’ve never been to Zenkaikon, I urge you to go. You don’t know what you’re missing!

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