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Korean Language 101: Basic Phrases For Travelers

Are you planning a trip to Korea? Whether it’s for business or pleasure, learning some basic Korean phrases can greatly enhance your travel experience. While many Koreans speak English, knowing even a few key phrases in the local language can help you navigate transportation, order food, and connect with locals on a deeper level.

In this article, we will provide you with essential Korean phrases that every traveler should know. From greetings and introductions to emergency situations and cultural etiquette, we’ll cover all the bases so that you feel confident communicating in Korean during your travels. So let’s dive in and start learning!

Greetings and Introductions

Before you start exploring Korea, it’s important to learn some basic greetings and introductions like ‘annyeonghaseyo’ for hello and ‘jal jinaeseyo’ for goodbye. These common expressions are essential in establishing a friendly connection with the locals. In Korean culture, showing respect is highly valued, so using the appropriate greeting depending on the time of day is crucial. For instance, saying ‘annyeonghaseyo’ in the morning and ‘annyeonghi gyeseyo’ in the afternoon and evening shows your politeness.

Greetings also involve a bowing gesture that varies depending on who you’re talking to. If you’re meeting someone older or higher in rank than you, bowing deeper than them is respectful. However, if they initiate the bow first, following their lead by reciprocating with a similar depth is appropriate. These cultural nuances may seem overwhelming at first but understanding them can make your communication more effective.

Introducing yourself is also vital when meeting new people. The phrase “jeoneun [name] imnida”means “My name is [name],”which can be used when introducing yourself formally. Koreans usually ask about each other’s age as it determines how they address each other respectfully using honorifics or casual language. So don’t be surprised if someone asks your age during an introduction!

Knowing these basic phrases will help create a positive impression among locals while traveling around Korea. Now that you’ve learned about greetings and introductions let’s move on to directions and transportation without any further delay!

Directions and Transportation

In this discussion, you will learn about asking for directions, taking a taxi or bus, and buying tickets. Asking for directions is an important skill when navigating a new city or country, and we will cover key phrases to help you communicate effectively with locals. Taking a taxi or bus can be convenient ways to get around, but it’s important to know the local customs and procedures. Finally, we will discuss how to buy tickets efficiently and avoid common mistakes that travelers make. With these skills in hand, you can confidently explore your destination with ease.

Asking for Directions

If you’re lost in South Korea, don’t hesitate to approach locals and ask for directions using phrases like ‘어디에 있나요?'(Where is it?) or ‘이 길을 따라가면 되나요?'(Should I follow this road?). Koreans are generally friendly and willing to help, so don’t be shy about asking. However, keep in mind that not all locals may speak English fluently. It would be helpful to have a map or a translation app ready just in case.

Here are some tips to make the process of asking for directions smoother:

  • Familiarize yourself with common landmarks near your destination.
  • Using public restrooms can also serve as a way to confirm if you’re headed in the right direction.
  • Be specific when asking for directions and provide context (e.g., “I’m looking for the nearest subway station”).
  • Repeat important information back to the person giving you directions to ensure understanding.
  • Thank them after they’ve given you directions and consider offering a small token of appreciation like candy or gum.

When navigating around South Korea, taking a taxi or bus can also be an option.

Taking a Taxi or Bus

To navigate around South Korea efficiently, you may want to consider taking a taxi or bus. When taking a taxi, it’s important to be aware of the local customs and etiquette. For example, it is customary to sit in the back seat and not engage in conversation with the driver unless necessary. Additionally, it’s common practice to pay with cash rather than credit card.

If you prefer public transportation, buses are a great option as they are readily available and affordable. However, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the bus schedules and routes beforehand as they can be quite complex. Be sure to check the destination signs on the front of each bus before boarding and have exact change ready when paying your fare. With these tips in mind, navigating through South Korea should be a breeze.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about buying tickets: Once you’ve decided on your mode of transportation, be it by taxi or bus, the next step would be to purchase tickets for your journey.

Buying Tickets

When you’re ready to travel in South Korea, it’s important to know how to purchase your transportation tickets. Whether you’re taking a train, bus, or subway, buying tickets is easy and convenient. Most ticket offices have English instructions available, so there’s no need to worry about the language barrier. If you have trouble navigating the system, don’t hesitate to ask for help from the staff.

If you’re arriving from another country and need transportation from the airport, look for information desks or kiosks that provide shuttle services or taxis. They will usually provide guidance on how to find accommodations and other tourist attractions as well. Once you’ve arrived at your destination and settled in, don’t forget to explore local cuisine by ordering food at restaurants or street vendors.

Ordering Food

When ordering food in Korea, it’s important to have a basic understanding of food vocabulary. This will help you navigate menus and communicate your preferences to restaurant staff. Additionally, knowing how to order at a restaurant can make the experience much smoother and enjoyable. Finally, if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies, it’s crucial to know how to communicate these effectively in Korean.

Basic Food Vocabulary

Craving for some delicious Korean food? You’ll want to know these basic food vocabulary words before ordering your next meal! Traditional Korean dishes, such as bibimbap and bulgogi, are popular among locals and tourists alike. Bibimbap is a rice dish topped with vegetables, meat, and egg while bulgogi is marinated beef or pork grilled to perfection.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy to eat on the go, popular street foods like tteokbokki (spicy rice cake), kimbap (rice rolls), and fried chicken are great options. Tteokbokki is a must-try for those who love spicy food. It’s made with chewy rice cakes in a spicy sauce that packs a punch. Kimbap is similar to sushi but with ingredients like ham, cheese, or tuna instead of raw fish. Fried chicken may not be traditionally Korean but it has become a popular snack in recent years.

Now that you know some basic food vocabulary words, it’s time to learn how to order at a restaurant.

Ordering at a Restaurant

To successfully order at a restaurant in Korea, it’s important to familiarize yourself with common menu items and phrases. Popular Korean dishes include bibimbap, bulgogi, kimchi jjigae, and samgyeopsal. When ordering, it’s polite to use the honorific form of speech by adding “-yo”at the end of your sentences. For example, instead of saying “I want bibimbap,”say “bibimbap juseyo”which translates to “please give me bibimbap.”Additionally, it’s customary to wait for everyone at your table to receive their food before starting to eat.

Restaurant etiquette is also an important aspect when ordering in Korea. It’s considered rude to call out or snap your fingers at servers. Instead, try raising your hand slightly or making eye contact with them. When paying for your meal, it’s common for one person in the group to pay for everyone else as a sign of respect and generosity. Remembering these small gestures can go a long way in showing appreciation for the culture and cuisine of Korea.

As you move on to learning about dietary restrictions in Korean cuisine, keep in mind that many traditional dishes contain meat or seafood products. However, there are still plenty of options available for vegetarians and those with other dietary needs.

Dietary Restrictions

If you have certain dietary restrictions, it’s important to be aware of the ingredients used in Korean cuisine and communicate your needs clearly when ordering at a restaurant. Vegetarian options are available in some restaurants, but it’s important to double-check with the server if any meat or seafood-based products were used in the preparation of the dish. You can say “Chae-sikjuui”which means ‘vegetarian’ or “Sa-seuji”which means ‘vegan’ to let them know about your preferences.

If you have allergies and intolerances, it is crucial to inform the servers about your condition. Some common allergens such as peanuts, shellfish, soy, and wheat are present in many Korean dishes. Therefore, it is essential to ask for recommendations on what dishes are safe for you to consume. The phrase “Jeonjibulmyeon”means ‘I have an allergy,’ while “Jeonjisaeng-gakhaeju-seyo”means ‘Please be careful because I have an allergy.’ Remember that being clear with your requests will help ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable dining experience in Korea.

When shopping and bargaining in Korea…

Shopping and Bargaining

When shopping in Korea, it is important to know how to ask for prices, negotiate prices, and make purchases. To ask for prices, use the phrase “얼마예요?”(eolmayeyo?) which means “How much does it cost?”When negotiating prices, keep in mind that bargaining is not common practice in Korea and may be seen as impolite. Finally, when making a purchase be sure to say “감사합니다”(gamsahamnida) which means “Thank you.”

Asking for Prices

Want to know how much something costs? Just ask the vendor using simple Korean phrases like ‘이거 얼마예요?'(How much is this?) or ‘얼마에요?'(How much does it cost?). Here are some tips to help you when asking for prices:

  • Be polite and respectful while asking for prices.
  • Use the correct form of politeness based on your relationship with the seller.
  • Pointing at the item you want can help convey your message more clearly.
  • Ask if there is any discount available if you plan on buying multiple items.
  • Comparing prices from different vendors before making a purchase can help you get a better deal.

Asking for prices is only one part of shopping in Korea. If you’re interested in negotiating deals and getting discounts, stay tuned for our next section where we’ll give you some tips on how to negotiate effectively.

Negotiating Prices

To effectively negotiate prices in Korea, it’s essential to understand the cultural differences and customs surrounding bargaining. Unlike Western cultures where haggling is often seen as confrontational, in Korea, it’s considered a way of building relationships and showing respect for the seller. Therefore, it’s important to approach negotiations with a friendly attitude, keeping in mind that maintaining harmony is crucial.

When negotiating prices in Korea, start by expressing interest in the item or service you want to purchase. Ask questions about its quality and features while showing appreciation for the seller’s workmanship. Then, politely inquire about the price and offer a lower amount while explaining your reasoning. Be open to counteroffers and don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t reach an agreement. Remember that successful negotiations are based on mutual respect and understanding.

As you become more comfortable with negotiating prices in Korea, making purchases will become easier. Keep these techniques in mind as we move onto the next section about making transactions without any language barriers.

Making Purchases

You can easily make purchases in Korea by understanding the cultural customs and using friendly negotiation techniques. When shopping in Korea, haggling is common practice, especially in markets or small shops. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are certain local shopping customs to follow.

To successfully negotiate prices in Korea, try these haggling techniques:

  • Start with a lower price than what you’re willing to pay.
  • This allows for room to negotiate and reach a mutually beneficial price.
  • Be friendly and polite.
  • Building rapport with the seller can go a long way.

Additionally, it’s customary to remove your shoes when entering some Korean stores. You may also be expected to bow slightly when greeting the shopkeeper or thanking them for their service. By following these local customs, you can show respect and build trust with the seller.

Understanding these cultural nuances will help ensure successful transactions during your travels in Korea. In the next section about ‘numbers and money’, we’ll dive deeper into the specifics of making payments while abroad.

Numbers and Money

In this subtopic, you will learn about counting and basic math, currency exchange, and tipping. These three key points are essential for any traveler who wants to navigate the shopping scene smoothly. You will need to be familiar with numbers and basic math skills for bargaining, as well as knowing how to exchange your currency efficiently. Additionally, tipping is a cultural practice that varies from country to country, so it’s important to know what is expected of you in each place you visit.

Counting and Basic Math

Counting and doing basic math is essential for any traveler in Korea, so make sure to brush up on your skills before heading out! In addition to knowing numbers for currency exchange, it’s important to be able to count items when shopping or ordering food. Here are three mathematical skills you may need during your trip:

  1. Counting objects: When buying souvenirs or snacks at a market, you’ll want to know how many of an item you’re getting. Practice counting in Korean with small objects like candies or coins.
  2. Adding prices: Basic math for shopping is necessary when calculating the total cost of your purchases. Memorize common numbers like 10,000 won (about $9 USD) and practice adding them together.
  3. Telling time: Knowing how to tell time in Korean will help keep you on schedule during your trip. Learn the words for hours and minutes and practice saying different times throughout the day.

Now that you’ve mastered some basic counting and math skills, let’s move onto currency exchange.

Currency Exchange

Let’s delve into currency exchange and make sure to get the most out of our money while traveling in Korea! As a traveler, it is important to find the best exchange rate possible. Before exchanging your money, research the current exchange rates online or at a local bank. Keep in mind that many banks in Korea are closed on weekends, so plan accordingly.

When exchanging currency, be aware of any restrictions on foreign currency. In Korea, there are limits on how much foreign currency can be exchanged without proper documentation. Additionally, some places may not accept certain currencies such as coins or older bills. To avoid any complications, it is best to carry cash in larger denominations and convert them at reputable banks or exchange offices.

Now that we have covered the basics of currency exchange, let’s move on to tipping etiquette in Korea.


Now that you know how to exchange currency in Korea, let’s move on to another important aspect of Korean culture – tipping. In general, tipping is not a common practice in Korea and may even be considered rude or unnecessary in certain situations. However, there are some instances where it is appropriate to leave a tip.

When it comes to etiquette for tipping in Korea, it is important to understand the different types of tipping practices. For example, at restaurants or cafes, service charges are usually included in the bill so leaving an additional tip is not necessary. However, if you receive exceptional service or want to show appreciation for your server, leaving a small amount as a token of thanks is acceptable. On the other hand, when using services such as hair salons or spas, it is common to leave a small tip for your stylist or masseuse.

Moving forward from this topic of tipping etiquette , it’s crucial for travelers to also familiarize themselves with emergency situations while traveling in Korea.

Emergency Situations

In emergency situations, it is important to know how to ask for help in Korean. If you experience a medical emergency, it is crucial to be able to communicate your symptoms and condition accurately. In the unfortunate event of a crime, knowing how to report it properly can aid in resolving the situation quickly and efficiently.

Asking for Help

If you ever find yourself lost or in need of assistance during your travels in Korea, don’t hesitate to ask for help using these basic phrases. If you’re looking for directions, you can say “어디에 있나요?”(Eodie innayo?) which means “Where is it?”or “길을 잃었어요”(Gireul ilheosseoyo) which means “I’m lost.”You can also ask for general help by saying “도와주세요”(Dowajuseyo) which simply means “Please help me.”

Asking for emergency help or seeking medical assistance may require more specific language. In case of an emergency, dial 119 and say “화재입니다”(Hwajeoimnida) if there’s a fire or “도와주세요”(Dowajuseyo) if it’s another type of emergency. To seek medical assistance, say “의사를 부르세요”(Uisareul bureuseyo) which means “Call a doctor.”Remember that asking for help is always better than staying silent and potentially jeopardizing your safety.

In the event of a medical emergency, it’s important to know how to communicate your needs clearly. Let’s take a look at some useful phrases in the next section.

Medical Emergencies

Be prepared to communicate your medical needs clearly in case of an emergency by learning these useful phrases. If you have insurance coverage, make sure you know how to express this in Korean so that medical providers understand what treatments and services are covered. You may need to contact your embassy for further assistance if you require significant medical attention or hospitalization.

When seeking medical help, it’s important to be able to explain your symptoms and any medications you’re taking accurately. Useful phrases include “저는 아프다”(jeoneun apeuda) which means “I am sick,”and “의사를 불러주세요”(uisareul bulleo juseyo) which means “Please call a doctor.”If you need medication, ask for a prescription by saying “처방전이 필요해요”(cheobangjeoni piryohaeyo). Remember that clear communication is crucial in a medical emergency, so take the time now to learn these essential phrases.

Reporting a crime is another important aspect of staying safe during travel.

Reporting a Crime

To ensure your safety while abroad, it is important to know how to report a crime in case of an emergency. The following steps will help you understand the process of reporting a crime and assist you in getting the help that you need.

  • Contact local authorities immediately: Dial 112 for police or 119 for ambulance/fire.
  • Provide detailed information about the incident: Try to remember as many details as possible about what happened, when it occurred, who was involved, and any other relevant information.
  • Contact your embassy or consulate: They can provide assistance with legal matters and communicate with local authorities on your behalf if necessary.
  • Follow up with authorities and keep records: Make sure to follow up with local authorities regarding the status of your case. Keep copies of any reports or documentation related to the incident.

It is essential to have emergency contacts readily available at all times during your trip. In addition to knowing how to report a crime, make sure you have contact information for your embassy or consulate in case of other emergencies such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. Being prepared can make all the difference in ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip.

Moving forward into cultural etiquette, understanding cultural differences can enhance your experience while traveling.

Cultural Etiquette

Understanding cultural etiquette in Korea can greatly enhance your travel experience and show respect for the local customs. One of the most important aspects of Korean culture is bowing. Bowing is used to show respect, gratitude, apologies, and greetings. The depth and length of the bow depends on the occasion and the status of the person you are addressing. Generally speaking, a slight nod or a shallow bow is enough for casual interactions while deeper bows are reserved for more formal occasions.

Another essential aspect of Korean culture is politeness levels. Koreans use different levels of honorifics based on age, status, and familiarity with each other. It’s crucial to use appropriate titles when addressing someone older or higher in rank than you are. Also, using polite language shows respect towards others and enhances your chances of receiving good service.

Showing respect in interactions goes beyond verbal communication; it also involves body language and gestures. For example, avoid pointing with your index finger as it’s considered rude; instead, use an open hand gesture to indicate direction or location. Furthermore, removing shoes indoors is customary in Korea as it helps keep floors clean from outside dirt and dust.

Lastly, table manners play a significant role in Korean culture. Before eating at a traditional restaurant or someone’s home, wait until everyone has received their food before starting to eat; this shows consideration towards others’ needs first. Additionally, slurping noodles or soup loudly is acceptable as it indicates enjoyment but burping at the table is not.

Understanding cultural etiquette in Korea can help you navigate social situations confidently while showing respect for local customs. As you explore this fascinating country further into its technology and communication realm where smartphones have become ubiquitous among locals…

Technology and Communication

When traveling to Korea, it is important to be aware of the country’s technological landscape. Wi-Fi and internet access are widely available in most areas, including hotels and cafes. To make phone calls, you may need to purchase a SIM card or use a rental phone service, but international calling apps such as Skype and WhatsApp can also be used over Wi-Fi. For messaging, popular apps include KakaoTalk and Line which allow for free texting, voice messages and video calls.

Wi-Fi and Internet

You can easily connect to Wi-Fi and stay connected to the internet throughout your travels in Korea. Most hotels, cafes, restaurants, and public places have free Wi-Fi available for customers. You can also find free Wi-Fi hotspots at major tourist attractions and subway stations.

If you don’t have access to Wi-Fi, there are many internet cafes in Korea where you can use a computer and pay by the hour. These cafes usually have fast internet speeds, so it’s a good option if you need to download large files or stream videos. Just make sure to bring your passport with you as it’s required for registration at most internet cafes.

Now that you know how to stay connected online during your trip, let’s move on to making phone calls.

Making Phone Calls

If staying in touch with loved ones is a priority for you while traveling in Korea, then making phone calls will be an essential part of your trip. To make local and international calls, there are several options available to you.

  • Using public telephones may be the most economical choice, but it can also be the most challenging. You will need to purchase a T-money card or cash card from convenience stores or vending machines before using a payphone. Instructions on how to use these phones are typically in Korean only.
  • Renting a mobile phone at the airport or purchasing a prepaid SIM card may be more convenient, especially if you plan on using data services during your stay.
  • Calling through hotel phones is another option, but it can often come with extra fees added onto your bill.
  • There are also many telephone booths scattered throughout major cities that allow you to make domestic and international calls with ease.
  • Finally, consider using popular messaging apps such as Line or KakaoTalk which offer free voice and video calls over Wi-Fi.

When it comes to making international calls from Korea, dialing out can get confusing due to different country codes and area codes. However, most Korean telecommunications companies have English-speaking customer service lines that can assist you with any issues that arise. If calling back home isn’t urgent, we recommend taking advantage of Wi-Fi calling through messaging apps instead of paying high roaming charges. Speaking of messaging apps…

Sending Messages

To stay connected with your loved ones while traveling in Korea, try using messaging apps like Line or KakaoTalk which offer free voice and video calls over Wi-Fi. These apps are widely used in Korea and are available for download on both Android and iOS devices. With these apps, you can also send text messages to your friends and family back home.

When sending messages in Korean, it’s important to be familiar with common abbreviations used in texting. For example, “ㅇㅇ”is often used as a short form of “yes”or “I understand”, while “ㄴㄴ”means “no”. Additionally, Korean emojis are popular among locals and can help convey emotions that may be difficult to express through words alone. By adding a few simple Korean phrases to your vocabulary and utilizing these common texting methods, you can easily communicate with the people you care about while exploring all that Korea has to offer.

Moving on to useful phrases that will come in handy during your travels…

Useful Phrases

When traveling in a foreign country, it is important to be able to express gratitude, apologize, and ask for assistance when needed. You may find yourself in situations where you need help or want to show appreciation for someone’s kindness. Knowing key phrases such as “thank you,””I’m sorry,”and “can you help me?”can go a long way in making your travels smoother and more enjoyable. By mastering these basic expressions, you will be better equipped to navigate unfamiliar situations with confidence and courtesy.

Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude is a fundamental aspect of Korean culture, so it’s essential to learn how to express thanks in Korean. Here are some common phrases that you can use to show your appreciation:

  • 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida) – This is the most common way to say thank you in Korean. It’s polite and formal, so you can use it in any situation.
  • 고맙습니다 (gomapseumnida) – This phrase is also used to express gratitude, but it’s a bit less formal than 감사합니다. You can use this with friends or people who are younger than you.
  • 정말 감사합니다 (jeongmal gamsahamnida) – This phrase means “thank you very much.”Use this when someone has done something very kind for you.

Expressing gratitude is important because it shows that you appreciate what others have done for you. In Korean culture, showing gratitude is also a sign of respect and humility. When someone does something nice for you, take the time to thank them using one of these phrases.

Moving on from expressing gratitude, another important aspect of communication is apologizing.


If you accidentally offend someone, it is important to express your regret and apologize sincerely. In Korean culture, formal apologies are highly valued and can help to resolve conflicts quickly. You can use common phrases like ‘미안해요'(mianhaeyo) or ‘죄송합니다'(joesonghamnida) to convey your remorse.

When apologizing, it is important to use a polite tone and make eye contact with the person you are speaking to. Additionally, you should avoid making excuses or shifting blame onto others. Instead, take responsibility for your actions and offer a sincere apology. By doing so, you can demonstrate respect for Korean customs and show that you are committed to building positive relationships with those around you.

Asking for assistance in a foreign country can be daunting, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Asking for Assistance

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it while traveling in a foreign country, as locals are often happy to assist you. In South Korea, asking for assistance is not uncommon since the people are friendly and hospitable. If you’re lost or unsure about something, don’t be afraid to approach someone and ask for directions or clarification.

To make the most out of your trip to South Korea, it’s important to know how to ask for assistance in Korean. Here are three phrases that may come in handy:

  1. “숙소를 찾고 있어요.”(Sugso-reul chaj-go i-sseo-yo.) – This means “I’m looking for accommodations”and can be useful when asking locals for help finding a place to stay.
  2. “공항을 어떻게 가나요?”(Gong-hang-eul eo-ddeoh-ke ga-na-yo?) – This translates to “How do I get to the airport?”and is helpful when navigating through unfamiliar territory.
  3. “도와주세요.”(Do-wa-ju-se-yo.) – This is a simple yet effective phrase that means “Please help me.”You can use this whenever you need assistance with anything during your travels in Korea.


In conclusion, mastering basic Korean phrases can greatly enhance one’s travel experience in South Korea. From greetings and introductions to ordering food and navigating transportation, knowing how to communicate effectively can make a big difference in making connections with locals and getting around the country. Additionally, understanding cultural etiquette and emergency situations can be crucial for any traveler.

When it comes to technology and communication, knowing key phrases like “Wi-Fi password”or “Can you help me find my way?”can be extremely helpful when navigating unfamiliar territory. And of course, having a grasp on numbers and money is essential when shopping or bargaining.

Overall, taking the time to learn some basic Korean phrases before embarking on a trip to South Korea can not only make for a smoother journey but also show respect for the local culture. With these tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to confidently navigate through any situation that arises during your travels in this beautiful country.

James Yeong
James Yeong

Once a quaint dweller of the English countryside, James is now a vibrant voice narrating his adventures in the bustling heart of South Korea. Since relocating to Seoul in 2019, James has immersed himself in the dynamic tapestry of Korean culture, from the serene temples tucked away in mountainous terrains to the neon-lit streets of modern cities.

This blog has become a haven for those seeking an outsider's yet intimate perspective on South Korea, often shedding light on hidden gems and local favourites rather than just the typical tourist hotspots. With a keen eye for detail and a writing style dripping with wit and warmth, James has managed to amass a devoted readership from all corners of the globe.

Whether you're planning a trip to the Seoul, the surrounding cities or just vicariously traveling from the comfort of your couch, Jame's tales of exploration and discovery are sure to ignite a passion for the Land of the Morning Calm.

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