Mongolia
State Circus

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  • Day17

    All aboard the Trans-Mongolian Express

    September 11, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Tuesday morning and a 7.20am taxi pick up for Train 306 from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia departing at 8.13. The journey would take almost 23 hours. We are now leaving the Trans-Siberian route and embark on the Trans-Mongolian line.

    Research had suggested that our train was a Russian owned operation, however the sight of bright blue uniforms (rather than Russian railways grey and red) and interesting looking carriages indicated that our service was actually a Mongolian train and crew. After three Russian trains it seemed more exciting to have a change.

    We were in first class on this leg of the journey (don’t get too excited - we didn’t!) as that meant there were just two berths in our compartment instead of the usual four. It looked OK, if a little old and tired, and the seats were a bit hard on the bum area but the staff all seemed in good spirits and our Mongolian equivalent of a Provodnista was full of smiles as she brought us a big flask of hot water.

    About 20 minutes after leaving Irkutsk Station we had a minor panic... We decided to close our compartment door for a while, but when we tried to open it again we couldn’t. We thought we must be doing something wrong so tried several times without success. The prospect of 22 hours locked in our compartment did not appeal and as there was no window on the compartment door to plead for help, we had no option but to bang hard on it to attract attention. Fortunately a member of staff came to our rescue and despite a total language barrier showed us that all that was needed to open the door from the inside was pure brute force. We practiced this manoeuvre a few times with mixed success so decided the wise move was to leave it marginally open at all times to avoid further embarrassment.

    Once again the train journey went really quickly as during the morning our route took us alongside Lake Baikal, then the afternoon travelling past rural villages, lakes and mostly open pasture land often populated with cattle and horses (sorry photos thin on the ground due to dirty double glazing). There were just three stops during the day before we reached the border area around 7:30pm.

    Our first border challenge was to leave Russia. This consisted of being confined in our compartment and being visited by a Russian Border Control lady who took our passports from us, compared us carefully with our photos and then put our passports in a leather briefcase and disappeared. The next visitor was a Russian Customs lady who asked us if we had anything to declare. We answered in the negative and she requested that we clear our bench seats and lift them up to show her the storage area under them. This done she had a quick look and said OK before moving off. She was swiftly followed by another Russian lady in a camouflage uniform and spiky punk hairstyle accompanied by a friendly spaniel who she brought into our compartment for a good sniff around. They both seemed happy enough and departed. The final caller appeared to be a man in a blue uniform who had been forensically examining the walls of our carriage corridor and looking under the carpet. At his request we had to get our cases down from the overhead storage area which he then examined by taking off a ceiling panel and looking carefully with his torch to check there was nothing hidden there. Then of course the original Border Control Lady returned to give us our passports back containing a nice red exit stamp with a little train on it!

    Nearly two hours from our arrival at the border area we were ready to leave Russia. No one could accuse the authorities of not being thorough and their attention to detail certainly keeps plenty of people in employment.

    We then immediately had a more interesting visitor to our compartment. A Mongolian lady (apparently a friend of our carriage staff) who offered to exchange money. Now John had carried out some research this afternoon on the bank exchange rate for the Russian Ruble against the Mongolian Tugrik and therefore felt in a good position to negotiate. Haggling commenced but just as it appeared agreement was imminent, one of the train staff appeared, whispered in her ear and the exchange lady disappeared out of the compartment at some speed without a goodbye. Five minutes later she ran down the corridor past our compartment with an unknown man running behind her. Strange we thought. Anyway ten minutes later John saw she had recommenced her compartment visits and enticed her back to the negotiating table. A short time later both parties felt they had concluded a good deal and John is now the proud beholder of 598,425 Tugrik which equates to the princely sum of about 180 quid!

    The train then left Russia and 15 minutes later reached the Mongolia entry point. Here we go again! Firstly two forms to complete, these being Arrival Card and Customs Declaration. Then an instruction that all curtains and blinds in our compartment be closed whilst we are at the border point (unsure what we’re not supposed to see). Then a green uniformed Customs lady came and stamped our forms. Next was a very smart Border Control lady in a smart blue uniform, heavy make up and high heels. She asked for our passports, checked our appearance against them and then left with our passports. Swiftly behind her was another young lady wearing a beret and camouflage uniform, together with a rather nasty looking truncheon on her waist. She asked to look under our bench seats so we cleared them and lifted them so she could inspect underneath with her torch. All of the Mongolians are very nice but this is getting rather wearing! The total time taken to cross the border between the two countries was over 4 hours.

    I should mention another way we passed the journey, that is eating. For some reason there is no restaurant car on this train (we had been warned) so it was self-catering all the way. Our all day grazing consisted of half a sandwich, hard boiled eggs, a small croissant, a banana, some crisps, an apple, a beef flavoured mashed potato pot meal with Tuc biscuits, Maltesers/ M&M’s, Russia’s version of Oreo biscuits and some Pringles, rounded off with a vegetable pot noodle and more Tuc biscuits. You wouldn’t want to see it in a bucket but it seemed to work OK for us!

    Now whilst we have been very good in our dealings with authority today we must admit that an overdose of officialdom resulted in us being naughty. A sign in our compartment states quite clearly that no alcohol can be consumed on board, however we had secreted some supplies on board so felt the need for a sneaky vodka and tonic with our Pringles and a glass of Rioja with our pot noodle to round the day off. We know how to live!

    By the time we had finished all Border activities it was gone midnight until the train started moving through Mongolia so with a need to awake at 5:30am for a 6:50am arrival it was bed time and the good news was that the beds were nowhere near as hard as we thought and we had no problem sleeping through to the alarm.

    We are up, packed and ready for arrival at a new Capital City....Ulaanbaatar!
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  • Day24

    Back in the Ulaanbaatar

    September 18, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Back in Ulaanbaatar (UB) we have two days before we take the train to Beijing. As far as the blog is concerned we are keen to complete Mongolia before we leave the country as censorship rules in China may well block FindPenguins. We know that WhatsApp and Google are blocked so we must assume the worst and it could well be that we have little contact with the outside World until we are home on 23rd September. We’ll see.

    So once arriving back in UB on Tuesday we visited the National Museum, then while walking across the square in front of Government House witnessed a number of wedding photo sessions taking place. We discovered that any couple getting married in Mongolia are allowed to have some photos taken inside the barriers around the Parliament and more specifically in front of the Genghis Khan statue. We then did some shopping (including some cashmere bargains for Janet) and had a very nice Indian meal to close the day.

    On Wednesday we had originally been hoping for a free day, however on the flight to the Gobi we realised that there was part of our day tour to the Terelj National Park last week that was not covered, this being a visit to the huge Genghis Khan monument - some way out of UB. We are still not sure if our UK agent or the local tour company were to blame, however this is a key sight and it needed to be done. Unfortunately it was a 2 hour drive there and the same back, so with 90 minutes actually there we lost half a day but it was very worthwhile as the pictures show. This stainless steel monument to Mongolia’s National hero was completed in 2010 and is truly gigantic, dominating the hilltop as Genghis faces the town of his birth some miles away.

    Our guide today was our old friend NK who had only just recovered from his return trip from the Gobi and our driver was another of our acquaintances from the local tour company, Eggy.

    After our trip it was back to the hotel for a packing session as we prepare to leave UB for Beijing tomorrow (Thursday) with the final train of our trip departing at 07.30am and arriving at 2.30pm, 31 hours later.

    As we now have the facility to send videos a couple are included below. You can also view our arrival at the summit of the Dune on this link:

    https://youtu.be/XEEH2AIanm0
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  • Day18

    Getting to know UB

    September 12, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    We arrived at Ulaanbaatar (aka UB) Station bang on time at 6.50am. Our bright young female guide Davka and our driver, a little old bloke in a flat cap interestingly named Egg (that’s no yolk....sorry I mean joke) were waiting on the platform right by our carriage.

    Egg whisked us back to the hotel by 7:30am (that’s enough of the egg jokes!) and we were checked in to our very nice hotel, showered, breakfasted and out by 9am for a three hour City Tour with Davka and Egg.

    Ulaanbaatar has a population of 1.4 million and to a certain extent feels like any other Capital City. It has some high rise offices and apartments but they don’t totally dominate the vista. One thing we realised quickly was that the traffic is a nightmare. Throughout the day we were either entrenched in or witnessing some horrendous traffic queues and most of the time it was probably quicker to walk.

    However when the traffic does move you are exposed to one of Ulaanbaatar’s greatest dangers...crossing the road! Where there are traffic lights it’s fine but most crossings here are the equivalent of our zebra crossings and in theory the rule is the same as ours - motorists must stop to let you cross. No chance. You literally have to take your life in your hands at an appropriate point and just go for it. Our favoured tactic was to use locals as a human shield so at least we would not die alone.

    After the City Tour, Davka helped us to get Mongolian SIM cards for our mobiles. For 31 pence each we are now covered for calls and internet for the duration of our 9 day stay! Then the luxury of a few hours rest before our first evening out in Mongolia.

    After some research we had a 15 minute wander from the hotel to the ‘Hop and Rocks’ Brewpub for a beer brewed on the premises, then for dinner we had chosen a local speciality, the Mongolian Hotpot which we enjoyed at the well appointed Bull Restaurant located in busy Seoul Street. As we had been warned we had to wait a while for a table and were pleased to see we were the only foreigners in the place. Mongolian Hotpot consists of sitting at a table with an induction hob built into the the glass table top which heats a boiling pot of stock. You are then presented with an array of vegetables and noodles, together with our chosen selection of beef, which you submerse in the broth for varying amounts of time before eating, using a selection of dips from the choice presented. We chose the local draught beer ‘Legend’ to go with it. It was great fun to eat this way and the quality of the ingredients was great - we were delighted with our choice.

    So we went to bed content and with the chance of a good sleep before Thursday’s trip to the Terelj National Park. Davka was again our guide and our driver remained the same although his name seemed to have adjusted overnight from Egg to Eggy!

    Now Davka is a real character. She is 38 and speaks great English, which, after completing University in Mongolia, she travelled to New Zealand to learn. Her time in NZ has certainly enhanced her vocabulary as the occasional use of words such as ‘loo’ and phrases such as ‘pissed off’ shows. She is also very good at letting us know her personal temperature which tends to be ‘very cold’ or more regularly ‘very hot’ to which is normally added ‘Oh I’m sweating so much!’ and on one occasion ‘I’m sweating so much I hope I’m not smelly’ (which she wasn’t by the way). She is a self confessed non-conformist to Mongolian culture. We have spent much of our time here laughing and joking with her and also with Egg/Eggy once Davka had explained to him what we were laughing at.

    The trip to Terelj National Park lasted all day and we travelled 70 km North from UB to get there. This Park is part of the Mongolian Steppe and very different from what we will be seeing in the Gobi. It is a vast expanse of grassland with wide flat areas surrounded by hills. It is teeming with Mongolian livestock, that is primarily Cattle, Yak and Horses, together with dwellings and the occasional ‘resort’ hotel to blot the landscape a little. We spent time just looking at the wonderful scenery through the car window and having the occasional walk to look at a landmark. Lunch was a ‘Tour included’ gargantuan Mongolian feast of various meat related dishes at a 4* Hotel deep within the National Park which was unexpected and extremely filling. An enjoyable journey back was frustrated by hitting UB at rush hour so arrival at our Hotel in the City was around 6pm. We have decided that the traffic in UB is the worst in the world.

    Now tomorrow (Friday) we leave UB for a few days to travel to the Gobi. Yesterday we were informed that our flight there was timed at 6.20am and that we would be picked up from our hotel at 4am. That can safely be described as a very early start!

    We were also advised that the guide and driver who are looking after us in the Gobi have already set off as they are driving there to be ready and waiting for us. It takes them more than a day to drive the 700 km plus to get there. There is certainly a lot of commitment from the travel company to give us a good holiday.

    So after the lunch we had there is no need for any dinner, just a wander out from the hotel for a couple of drinks then bed by 9am for a 3am alarm call. The weather has been mixed today but the forecast looks very good for the Gobi (fingers crossed please). We are hoping that our Mongolian phones will be able to transmit the blog while we are there but nothing is guaranteed and we potentially have ‘radio silence’ for our four days away from UB.
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  • Day24

    Last call in UB

    September 18, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    Just to mention a few things before we close on Mongolia.....

    Brief history of Mongolia. The Mongolian hero Genghis Khan created the biggest Empire the world has ever witnessed in the 13th Century which ran from Poland to Korea. The Khan dynasty eventually collapsed and by the 1600’s Mongolia was overrun by the Manchurian Chinese who ruled the country until 1910. At that time the Chinese were driven out by the Mongolians with assistance from Russia. Mongolia was then truly independent for ten years, however in 1920 the Russian Bolsheviks led by Lenin exerted more control on Mongolia (peacefully) and from then until the break up of the Soviet Union in 1990 Mongolia was ruled from Moscow, with a substantial number of Russian soldiers stationed in the country. In 1990 a peaceful revolution saw the Russians withdraw and Mongolia became an totally independent country again.

    Oddities here include.......The Mongolian language is strange and sounds to us like a mixture of Russian, Pakistani and Welsh! It was a beautifully scribed language, used for centuries, that was written top to bottom rather that side to side. The Russians outlawed its use in 1940 and converted all script to Russian letters which remain to this day. The traditional Mongolian written language is now unfortunately dead.

    Vehicles drive on the right in Mongolia, however their cars are a complete mix of right hand and left hand drive cars, as many of their cars are bought direct from Japan where they drive on the left. This mix and match arrangement certainly does not help the traffic problems in UB and some of the more eccentric driving arrangements we have witnessed outside of the capital.

    We were surprised to see virtually no bicycles nor motorbikes on the roads in UB. One reason is that it’s too dangerous due to the kamikaze car driving. The other is that no one in their right mind would attempt to ride them between October and May when it is normally below 20C.

    We‘ve been so very lucky to have enjoyed brilliant weather every day whilst in Mongolia with brilliant blue daytime skies and clear starry nights, however we read that Ulaanbaatar is officially the coldest Capital City in the World with an average minimum of -25C in Winter.

    Their currency Is the Tugrik (3,200 to the £). There are no coins and the smallest note is 50 Tugrik = 1.5 pence and the biggest 20,000 Togrik = £6.25.

    It’s now definitely goodnight from us here in UB.
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  • Day23

    Ein Tag in Ulaanbaatar

    September 22, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Der Tag fing mit einer schönen heißen Dusche an, und da wir im Zug überhaupt nicht geschlafen hatten, ein kurzes Schläfchen...
    Frisch ausgeruht haben wir den Nachmittag bei 26 Grad genossen.
    Wir haben dem Gandan-Kloster einen Besuch abgestattet, dort stellten wir fest, dass es hier in der Stadt auffällig viele Kinder gibt.
    So viele haben wir in Russland nicht gesehen.. weder in Schulen, auf dem Nach-Hause-Weg....

    Ab morgen früh sind wir 4 Tage unterwegs und machen unsere Tour in die Wüste Gobi. Wir haben einen Guide und einen Fahrer,
    da es Nachsaison ist, sind wir nur zu 4.
    Übernachtet wird bei unterschiedlichen Normaden in deren Jurten.
    Und ich habe dafür fast 2 Millionen ausgegeben....ok es sind Tugrik, aber bei der Summe ist mir das Herz schon etwas in die Hose gerutscht....
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  • Day19

    Hey Mongolia

    October 26, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    Sowie die Ausreise aus Russland, war auch die Einreise in die Mongolei ein kleines Abenteuer. Nach einer weiteren Stunde ohne Pässe und ohne die Möglichkeit den Zug zu verlassen hatten wir es endlich geschafft und waren legal auf mongolischen Boden 😊
    Im Zug lernten wir noch ein mongolische Pärchen kennen, mit welchen wir nach 0 Uhr noch mit einem Bier auf seinen Geburtstag anstießen. 🎈
    Das letzte Mal schlafen und dann war das Abenteuer Transsibirische / Transmongolische Eisenbahn auch schon vorbei.

    Am Bahnhof in Ulaanbaatar angekommen wurden wir direkt von einer netten Dame aus dem Hostel
    empfangen und zum Hostel gebracht. Fünf Minuten später wurde uns das Frühstück serviert - so kann es weitergehen 😁

    Wir schauten uns, bei bestem Wetter die Stadt ein wenig an bevor es nach einem kleinen Nickerchen zum Abendessen in ein Hotpot Restaurant ging 😍

    Morgen startet dann eine 4 tägige Tour durch die Mongolei. Abenteuer garantiert 🙃
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  • Day42

    Ulanbataar

    October 12, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ☀️ 0 °C

    An unserem letzten Tag in der Mongolei sind wir mit Anya zum Narantuul Market gefahren, um dort nach günstigen mongolische Produkten aus Wolle oder Leder zu schauen. Am Ende hatten wir alle auch etwas gefunden, so z.B. Socken, Handschuhe aus Yak-Wolle oder Schals aus Kaschmir.
    Am Abend wollten wir eigentlich ein Konzert zur mongolischen traditionellen Gesangs- und Tanzkunst ansehen, doch leider mussten wir dort angekommen feststellen, dass es am Wochenende nicht stattfindet. Zum Glück waren wir nicht die Einzigen, die vor verschlossenen Türen standen.
    Danach sind wir zum Abschluss nochmals in ein mongolisches Restaurant zum Abendessen gegangen und sind danach zurück zum Hostel um zu packen. Anschließend saßen wir noch im Hostel mit vielen anderen Leuten zusammen und haben uns gut unterhalten.
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  • Day41

    Rückfahrt nach Ulanbataar

    October 11, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ -1 °C

    An diesem Tag frühstückten wir im Auto, da die Sonne leider auf sich warten ließ, es leicht schneite und die Temperatur wirklich nicht hoch waren. Der Kofferraum wurde zur Küche umfunktioniert, der Motor lief und heizte das Auto. Danach machten wir uns auf den langen Weg zurück nach Ulanbataar. Einen Großteil des Weges legten wir auf einer asphaltierten Straße zurück, welche an manchen Stellen aber (trotz Mautgebühr) nicht besser war als die Fahrt durch die Pampa. Somit geht die Reise durch die großen Weiten der Mongolei 🇲🇳 leider zu Ende. Wir haben viele tolle Sachen erlebt, die Kultur der Mongolen kennengelernt und viele interessante Dinge dazu von unseren Guides erfahren.
    Am späten Nachmittag im Hostel angekommen, genossen wir die erste Dusche seit 11 Tagen. Jetzt wissen wir diesen Komfort wieder sehr zu schätzen. ☺️
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  • Day28

    Ulanbataar

    September 28, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Nach 22 Stunden haben wir dann am frühen Morgen die Hauptstadt der Mongolei, Ulanbataar, erreicht.
    Auf dem Bahnsteig erwartete uns bereits ein Mitarbeiter des Golden Gobi Hostels und brachte uns zur Unterkunft. Dort angekommen bekamen wir zunächst ein Frühstück. Danach begannen wir mit der Tourplanung. Es ergab sich, dass wir noch am selben Tag aufbrechen würden...
    So machten wir uns noch schnell auf den Weg zum Sightseeing in der Stadt. Danach mussten wir dann noch das Geld für die Tour besorgen. Kurzzeitig waren wir damit auch Millionäre, da wir ca. 4 Millionen Tugrik 😝 abheben mussten... Weiterhin waren wir auch noch einkaufen und haben festgestellt, dass es in der Mongolei sehr viele deutsche Produkte, insbesondere Schokolade, gibt und sogar von „Gut&Günstig“.
    Um 1 Uhr ging es dann auf zur Tour. Wir sind eine Gruppe von 5 Leuten, Mark (Brite), Anya (Kanadierin), Ran (Israeli) und uns beiden. Weiterhin haben wir natürlich einen Fahrer und eine englischsprachige Führerin bzw. Köchin. Wir waren zunächst zwar skeptisch, dass wir mit dem Van überall hinkommen würden, es hat sich jedoch gezeigt, dass unser Fahrer wirklich super ist. 😉 Nach ca. 500 km kamen wir abends dann bei der Nomadenfamilie, bei der wir in einer Jurte übernachten. Nach dem Abendessen mit mongolischem Milchtee (Suutei Tsai) gingen wir auch ziemlich zügig zu Bett, da wir auch von der Zugfahrt noch müde waren...
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  • Day23

    Im Zug von Russland in die Mongolei

    September 22, 2019 in Mongolia ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Wieder ein früher Start.... wir sind um 8:15 in Irkutsk losgefahren und hatten unser Abteil ersteinmal für die nächsten Stunden allein zur Verfügung.
    Wir haben den Ausblick sehr genossen, denn das ist nun wirklich die schönste Strecke der Transib... entlang am Baikal... wunderschön das Blau des Wassers und die Weite, einfach traumhaft ! (Auch wenn ich mich etwas anstrengen musste, um aus dem Fenster sehen zu können).
    Leider waren die Fenster extrem dreckig... erstaunlich dass unsere Bilder so gut geworden sind.

    Mittags ist dann ein älteres Ehepaar aus Israel zugestiegen, sehr interessante Leute.
    Raffael ist wohl schon seit 25 Jahren in Rente, er und seine Frau Rahel gehen regelmäßig auf Reisen, außer Island haben sie wohl schon alles gesehen.
    Die Transib war wohl auch ihr erstes Mal.... für die Beiden sehr anstrengend und der Reiseleiter hatte wohl das Programm sehr stramm gestrickt.
    Doch auch hier genossen wir eine tolle Freundlichkeit, immer wieder kam ein Anderer aus der Reisegruppe vorbei, brachte Datteln aus Israel zum probieren oder Wurst, Käse, Knabberreien.
    Wir waren froh über unsere Begleiter, denn der Zug war vollgestopft mit "echten" Backpackern... sie kamen etwas laut und seltsam rüber.

    Spannend wurde der Grenzübergang Russland/Mongolei !
    Um 20 Uhr stiegen die ersten Zollbeamten in Naushki zu. Wir mussten unsere Pässe abgeben (ein komisches Gefühl) und alles an Gepäck auf die Betten legen. Es kam ein schlecht gelaunter junger Beamte der alles nachschaute, wir mussten im Gang stehen und Haltung bewahren, möglichst unauffällig sein.

    Er maulte unseren Schaffner noch an, weil eine Decke nicht von der oberen Ablage heruntergenommen war.
    Nach 2 Stunden hatten wir alles hinter uns gebracht und es ging weiter.

    10 Minuten später in Suhe-Bator kamen die mongolischen Beamtinnen zur Kontrolle.
    Alles ging sehr streng vonstatten, der Ausweiß wurde entgegengenommen, man wurde aufgefordert, der jungen Beamtin ins Gesicht zu sehen- ein kurzer Blick- wieder wurden alle Pässe eingesammelt, und wieder mussten wir warten.

    Zwischen den beiden Kontrollen hatten wir uns schon "Bettfertig" gemacht und so saßen wir alle 4 im Schlafanzug auf unseren Betten und warteten.
    Für Rahel und Raffael war es tatsächlich richtig anstrengend und wir alle waren erleichtert als es nach nur einer Stunde weiterging und wir endlich schlafen konnten.
    Die Ankunft war um 6:50 in Ulaan Baator, dort haben uns herzlich von der Reisegruppe verabschiedet.
    Wieder waren wir um eine Begegnung reicher geworden und haben tolle Menschen kennengelernt.

    Bilder aus dem Zug..
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