Taiwan adventures 2015: Part 1 (Penghu)

03 – 05 Jun 2015

Some of us would have heard this song, 外婆的澎湖灣 (1979) by 潘安邦. But how many of you have visited Penghu before? Penghu is an archipelago made up of 64 islands and islets, many people travel here for the summer to enjoy sea sports and the coastal scenery. For the first stop of our 2015 Taiwan trip, we had a 3D2N trip to Penghu (澎湖).

How to get to Penghu?

There are many ways to get to Penghu from mainland Taiwan, you can either take a plane or catch a ferry over. From Songshan airport, Taipei, it took us one hour to travel to Magong airport. Besides Taipei, you can also catch a flight from Taichung, Jiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Jinmen Island. Flights cut down on time but are slightly pricier. There are several domestic air carriers that have flights. If you wish to save on costs, you can take a ferry over from Kaoshiung, but do be aware that the ride takes about 5 hours and the waters can be quite choppy.

A traveling tip for domestic flight to Magong airport, do remember to pack light as the check-in baggage limit is 10kg. However, don’t fret! The excess baggage charges on Uni-air are quite reasonable, TWD17/kg.

Our flight from Songshan airport to Magong airport

Our flight from Songshan airport, Taipei to Magong airport

Accommodation and getting around Penghu

We stayed in La villa de la sirene (人魚之丘) upon the recommendation of a friend. The minsu is tucked inside a cove and overlooks a mudflat. When we arrived at Penghu, the minsu arranged transport to pick us up. For me, one of the main drawbacks on Penghu is the lack of public transport, so in order to get around, you would need to rent a motorbike, cab or join a tour group.

Our minsu, doesn't it look like a lighthouse?

Our minsu, La villa de la sirene, doesn’t it look like a lighthouse?

There are many rooms to choose from in the minsu and all of them have a unique theme to it. Due to the design of the minsu, there was a very special room at the top level, 5F 海洋之樹.This room is a double-floor attic and even the view from the bedroom is amazing. Check out the room here. Jen (小貞) was the main person in charge and she was always so cheerful and welcoming. At first, we didn’t have any activity planned beforehand. However, once upon arrival, she helped us planned our itinerary from scratch and it was a blast. Here were some of my highlights:

penghu map

Penghu map

Penghu Day 1: Sightseeing by cab
Some of the main tourist attractions include visiting a impressive looking centuries-old fig tree, 樑古榕樹 (online sources say it’s more than 300 years old!) This is supposedly a Ficus microcarpa and Penghu’s country tree. At the fig tree stop, don’t forget to try the famous cactus ice-cream (仙人掌冰).

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Wow, such a huge Ficus tree! Glad it is now integrated as part of the Penghu culture & tourist stop

ficus-tree

Next up, we went to the Penghu JhuWan Crab Museum (竹灣螃蟹博物館). It had lots of live crustacean in aquariums and also preserved ones.

crab-museummantis-shrimpPenghu has lots of amazing geographical land forms, so it should be quite exciting for some of you. I would imagine that some of these land forms are those that you will in textbooks but not in real-life.

Whale cave? (鯨魚洞 )

Whale cave? (鯨魚洞 ) Does it look like one?

Basalt landscape (大菓葉柱状岩)

Basalt landscape (大菓葉柱状岩)

It was low tide just before dusk. We managed to do a bit of intertidaling in the mudflats just behind the minsu before heading out for a special dinner.

intertidaling-outside-minsu

We signed up for a dinner cruise (海上浪漫之夜), sounds romantic ahh.. We had to meet at the designated pier at 6.20pm to board a boat for the scrumptious dinner. Almost every dish had some form of seafood and all were fresh and so yummy! If you are a seafoodie, make sure to try one of these meals! After the meal, we also got to try night-time squid fishing, but the whole boat only caught two squids. Not too many squids this time round as it was not squid season yet.

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Lots of fresh grilled oysters and other seafood for dinner

Penghu Day 2: Eco trip & Penghu Fireworks Festival

start-of-eco-trip

We went for a whole day coastal trip at Shagang 沙港東海一日遊. The tour depends largely on the tides. At low tide, we get to go out to the rocky shore just in front of the dock to try to bait crabs, to observe inter-tidal organisms and also to dig for cockles 海瓜子.

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Tri-spine horseshoe crab!

seastarsSo many marine organisms!! Urchins, Pentaceraster sea star and horseshoe crabs (Tachypleus tridentatus), so happy!

In order to everyone to put in their best efforts, the staff said that the food at lunch and tea depended on what we managed to find. The staff also demonstrated one of the traditional fishing methods (抱墩)that people used to trap fishes during a change in tides.

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Digging for sea cockles, “hum” (in Singapore’s context)

hum

Our meal depended on it!

Duoduo the sea dog, who always accompanied us to the rocky shore and enjoyed getting soaked in seawater

Duoduo, the sea dog, who enjoyed getting soaked in seawater

After lunch, we were out to sea to collect the fishing lines that were set up the previous day. According to the staff, whatever that was caught will become food for tea. Besides fishing lines, little pots were also used to catch moray eels which were supposed to be their favourite hiding spots. There were a few flatheads, solefishes, stingrays and eels for meals while the tri-spine horseshoe crab was taken back to the rocky shore for use for visitors’ show & tell session.

leopard moray eels

leopard moray eels

fishing

We also had a chance to try out fishing too using a simple line & hook. Even though we came back with a tan, it was an enjoyable half day out, enjoying the sea breeze and observing biodiversity up close. If you are interested in the full itinerary of this tour, you can take a look, here & here.

At night, we went to town to catch the annual Penghu fireworks festival. The fireworks festival is only held in summer months, on Mondays and Thursday. So if you are interested in catching it, do remember to check out the dates. If you like to know more about the history of the fireworks festival, you can check out here.

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Fireworks to end the Penghu leg of the 2015 Taiwan trip

So that’s the end of short first leg to idyllic Penghu with all its coastal charm. If you want to experience a Penghu islander’s fishing lifestyle and also observe biodiversity in their natural habitat, then you might just fall in love with the place. For more information, you can check out the Penghu Tour Website. For the next leg of the trip, we took a domestic flight back to mainland Taiwan and our adventure continued with the second largest city of Taiwan, Kaohsiung City! Off we go!

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Durian heaven in Ubin

It’s now semester break and I’m helping Tze Kwan for her civet project on Pulau Ubin this June. Each field trip to Ubin consist of two sessions, one in the late morning and the other is in late afternoon. However, in between sessions, we have to occupy ourselves for four hours.

It’s durian season in Ubin in June! We have encountered many visitors who return to the mainland with rucksacks or tupperware full of durian. Since some of us are durian lovers and have long heard about how wonderful Ubin durians are, we went about on the hunt for the king of the fruits. Fortunately, we managed to learn some skills of picking and choosing a good durians from seasoned durian hunters and Ubin villagers. The secret was in three very important points: first the durian had to feel light, second, it should have a flat, clean-cut stem and lastly, possess the lovely durian aroma. Hmmm.. Yumyum! Already drooling at the thought of picking durians.

Even though, we are still noob in the area of durian picking, uncles have been pretty generous. Many see us being suaku and picking unripe fruits have happily shared their spoils with us. You know what’s the best part? Tze Kwan, from her numerous trips to Ubin has also learnt the art of durian opening but she doesn’t like to eat durians. You know what that means…? The durians are ALL MINEEE! Just kidding!

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Even though TK doesn’t eat durians, but she loves to find and opens them up. Maybe a durian shop owner in the making?

All these durian hunting is a seasonal affair and is part and parcel of fun during field trips! So if you love doing field work and durians, you can help Tze Kwan for her fieldwork. And you might just get a bonus Ubin durian tasting trip!

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End of semester blues: Missing my field trips!

It is the end of week 13! Since the semester is over, this also signify the start of marking season. Looking at the pile of reports, I envision the next few weeks being stuck indoors to focus and clear the marking.

So while I try to get over my inertia, I shall look through my photos and reminisce about the past field trips!

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Tripod fish from the LSM1103 Changi Practical

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How will you celebrate World Wildlife Day (03 March 2014)?

Do you know what is on 3rd March?

It’s World Wildlife Day, a special day to celebrate the amazing diversity of wildlife (both plants and animals) that we have in this world. This special day was only recently decided by the United Nations General Assembly in 20 Dec 2013 and it serves as a timely reminder that we are the only planet that has all of these wonderful creatures big and small. Since we get to enjoy the benefits, be it social, economic, recreational or aesthetic value of having wildlife around us, this also means the responsibility to protect and ensure their survival also falls on us.

World wildlife day

World Wildlife Day website (http://wildlifeday.org/)

However, the truth is the wildlife around us might not be doing so well after all.

Habitat loss and illegal trafficking are top threats that wildlife face all around the globe.

Habitat loss is when the original landscape is altered so drastically that it can no longer support the original wildlife diversity. Many areas in the world, including biodiversity hotspots area that lie in the tropics have been rapidly altered for human living and use. This large scale deforestation has far-reaching and devastating effects on the wildlife and it has been deemed to be the “most important driver of species extinction worldwide” (Primm and Raven, 2000). If you wish to have a better understanding of the effects of habitat destruction, you can read Habitat Destruction: death by a thousand cuts by Laurance (2010).

Wildlife crime has been one of the largest threat to wildlife and it has been in the news limelight for 2013. This has even led to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge Prince William speaking out against wildlife trafficking.  Poaching has decimated populations of many well-loved animals such as the rhinos, tigers and elephants. If we do not act to save some of them species, it might be too late and they could be extinct in our lifetime.

Tigers could be extinct by 2022 (http://www.savetigersnow.org/problem)

“While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts. On this inaugural World Wildlife Day, I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably. Let us work for a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. Let’s go wild for wildlife!

Message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

World wildlife day fb

World Wildlife Day Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/WorldWildlifeDay)

This inaugural World Wildlife Day, I would like to echo the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to work towards a future where people and wildlife can learn to live in harmony! So what are you waiting for? Do something for wildlife starting from today! Tell others about your favourite wildlife, find out more about the threats that they face or even support a cause. Remember to visit the World Wildlife Day website or their Facebook page to find out more.

Happy World Wildlife Day, everyone!

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What’s the buzz with GMOs?

After the completion of three MSc modules, I have three more modules to go before the start of thesis. From late June to November 2013, most of my course mates will be occupied with two new ANU online courses: SCOM8021 Ethics, Issues and Consequences in Science, as well as SCOM8027 Science and Public Policy. I have not taken any online modules before, so this will be quite a challenge and whole new experience. Most of the module content are given through weekly readings and written assignments. I have done quite a number of written assignments and I will be blogging about them as I go along.

For Science and Public Policy, every fortnight, we will have to look up on literature on a certain hotly debate issue and write an opinion paper to an organisation. For the first fortnight, the spotlight is on genetically modified organisms (GMO). To me, GMO is not a foreign topic, I have encountered the issues surrounding it back in Junior College for General Paper (GP). I know there is always both sides to an issue, those who support and others who oppose and most of the times both sides have their own valid reasons. 

For my assignment, I started to dig around and read up on both sides of the issues. And I realised a few interesting points –

In the face of increasing world’s population, climate change and limitations to how crops are grown, is there a way to feed everyone sustainably and safely? As I progressed with my research, there is so much literature online about the pros and cons of GM food.

Pro-GM groups think of GM technology as the next green revolution whereby genetics can help to increase food supply and improve nutritional content of food, for example, the Golden Rice project. In addition, many experts in the food security fields do support GM food and here is one in NY Times, 2009 “Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?”

For the non-GM groups, they focus on the health, environment and economic risks that GMOs can bring about. Groups have raised points such as allergens, harm to other organisms in the ecosystems when they eat GM food and gene transfer to wild populations, which can form superweeds. Critics would often give statements such as this in Huffpost Green, 2012 “GMO Debate Heats Up: Critics Say Biotech Industry Manipulating Genes, And Science“.

When moving a little closer to home, I also found that there is a Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) that advises on GMOs issues. Its roles include –  

  1. advise on handling and regulation of GMOs products
  2. evaluate GMOs’ impact on health and the environment
  3. inform the public about GMOs and increase public awareness 

Singapore imports a large amount of food and it is inevitable that many of them will be GM food sources. I was actually unaware of this and there does not seem to be too much emphasis placed on public awareness of GM food locally. There really should be more efforts to do so; more often than not, the fear and distrust of technology comes from lack of communication between scientists and the public, resulting in the public not fully understanding the risks and full benefits of such a foreign technology. 

Lastly, I want to urge you to take some time to read in-depth into the issues and see what your stand/take is? My fellow course mate, Waverly, has also given a good overview of the debate on GMOs and her opinion on the GM Face-off. Each of us has to evaluate the resources and see where your stand lies, at the extreme ends or in the grey zones.

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Misconceptions: baggage that we bring into learning

We all form misconceptions and unwittingly bring them into our learning process. For me, I view misconceptions as a mental baggage that one possesses when faced new knowledge. There are many sources in which a person can form an incorrect concept; it can be from personal experience, culture or even common sense! Hence, when students do not really understand the new concept, they go back to their safety net or common sense ideas and as a result, these misconceptions can impede learning.

However, you might ask, what about young children? Young kids are often referred to have minds like clean slates and any new knowledge taught to them they will be able to immediately take to the new idea. We were then showed this video during the misconception section of our Science Communication & Creative Teaching course.

Simple questions such as “how are seasons formed?” or “How do we get different phases of the moon?” were asked of the participants. These are common questions that almost everyone have come across and learnt before in some part of our education but have we truly understood it?

It was really interesting to see how the kids had their own misconceptions (private theories) and even after learning the new knowledge from their teacher still held on to some part of their own theory. So in reality, each person will have their own form of misconception that they bring to their learning. As a result, misconceptions are highly diverse and are notoriously tough to get rid of, but fret not, there are definitely ways to reduce them in teaching.

Within class, we learnt to

1. introduce cognitive conflict between the students’ misconceptions and the actual knowledge. Only then, students will have to evaluate and rationalise both ideas and hopefully choose the new knowledge to replace their misconception.

2. get students involved in the process of learning. Engage them effectively in demos or hands-on activities, introduce good analogies, ask them for their opinion and get them to publicly commit. All these inquiry and teaching techniques will allow them to gain and accept the new knowledge.

3. Lastly, remember to check on the students’ understanding. Sometimes, we make the deadly mistake of  assuming that the way that students understand is the same as what was taught to them. And often, this can lead to disastrous results and introduce more misconceptions.

If you are interested in more methods, you can refer to this link, as it contains the more comprehensive method to resolving misconceptions. Now that we are more aware of misconceptions in the classroom, actively sought them out and remove them for an effective learning environment.

“Education should prepare our minds to use its own powers of reason and conception rather than filling it with the accumulated misconceptions of the past.” Bryant H McGill

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Analogies – bridging the unknown with familiar

We often use analogies to help explain more abstract concepts of science to others. Using analogies in teaching is not new and there has also been research conducted on the pros and cons of using them. Analogies does create connections between the new knowledge and a familiar example. With the effective usage of analogies, they can definitely aid to simplify complex ideas, promote understanding and provide structure to learning.

While searching online for other research conducted on using analogies in teaching, I managed to find a CDTLink, NUS article (2004) written by Prof Chew Fook Tim, which also had the same points that we went through in class today.

Analogies

However, there are also drawbacks to using analogies and more often than not, there are differences between the analog and the new concept.

During class, Prof Sue Stocklmayer mentioned to check on our usage of analogy, by using the FAR (Focus, Action and Reflection) Guide.

The three steps are:

  1. Focus: if the analogy is necessary & are the students familiar with the analog to begin with?
  2. Action: let students know the similarities & differences between the analog and the concept
  3. Reflection: evaluate on the effectiveness of the analog or if it is creating more confusion.

Failure to point out differences can be detrimental to the student’s learning as it has the potential to create misconceptions, and as the saying goes “an analogy is like a car. If you take it too far, it breaks down” (Ruhl, n.d.).

Literature cited:

Chew, F.T. (2004). Use of Analogies to Teach General Biology to Non-Biology Majors. CDTLink Teaching Methods, 8: 1. http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/link/mar2004/tm3.htm. Accessed on 12 June 2013.

Ruhl, T.S. (n.d.). The Altoona List of Medical Analogies. Altoona Family Physicians Residency of Altoona Hospital Center for Medicine. http://www.altoonafp.org/analogies.htm. Accessed on 13 June 2013.

Further readings: 

Treagust, D., Venville, G., Harrison, A., Stocklmayer, S. &  Theile, R. (1994, July). Using Analogies in Science Teaching. A workshop presented at the annual meeting of the
Australian Science Teachers’ Association CONASTA, Launceston
.

Venville, G. J. & Treagust, D. F. (1997). Analogies in Biological Education: A Contentious Issue. The American Biology Teacher , 59:5, pp. 282 – 287.

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The science behind science exhibits

One of the interface of science communication is through visits to learning institutions such as a science centre or museum. However, do you know that there is a lot of research that goes behind designing an effective science exhibit?

There are many factors to consider and decide on when creating effective and engaging exhibits. Visitors tend to be move around without the aid of a guide, hence they have to be naturally attracted, understand and learn new knowledge from their short duration at the exhibit.

As Frank Oppenheimer, the American physicist founder of the Exploratorium in San Francisco said:

“The whole point of the Exploratorium is to make it possible for people to believe they can understand the world around them. I think a lot of people have given up trying to comprehend things, and when they give up with the physical world, they give up with the social and political world as well. If we give up trying to understand things, I think we’ll all be sunk.” (Quoted in Hein 1990: xv)

So essentially, for any successful science centre or museum, they need to create this  Eureka moment of discovery and make it relevant to every person, regardless of  experience or age group.

During the day 2 of our course, we used the Singapore Science Centre as a case study. We went around to view the exhibits, critiqued and examined the features of a good exhibit and one that we will get put off. Below is the list of good characteristics that we liked in the well-designed exhibits.

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However, if they possessed the below features, we would quickly lose interest and not be motivated to learn or understand the scientific concept.

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Hence, it is really vital that science exhibits can capture the attention of the public and this is the first step to effective science communication and enhancing learning.

We need to awake the innate explorer, reignite the curiosity and encourage discovery in all of us. People need to find that science is approachable and highly relevant in our daily lives. Therefore, we need to constantly sought new ways to enhance the learning experience for the visitors of science learning institutions.

Literature cited:

Hein, H.S. 1990. The exploratorium. The Museum as Laboratory Washington: Smithsonian.

Further readings

Allen, S. (2004), Designs for learning: Studying science museum exhibits that do more than entertain. Sci Ed., 88:S17-S33.

MacDonald, S. (2004), Exhibitions and the Public Understanding of Science Paradox. Berlin Conference “Exhibitions as a tool for transmitting knowledge”, Humbodlt University, 2002. Issue 13. http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue13/macdonald.htm (Accessed on 12 June 2013).

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Importance of inspiring science educators

I am currently enrolled in a ANU-NUS Science Communications programme and one of the modules that I have to take during the June holiday is a Science Communication & Creative Teaching class conducted by Prof Mike Gore and Prof Sue Stocklmayer. Both are distinguished science communicators from the Australian National University and have much experience in communicating science effectively to the public.

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This is a 10 day course and check out the exciting programme lined up for us. We will be learning about various aspects of science communication, the audience, the interface where science interacts with the public, science subjects and even the misconceptions!

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First day of programme – why is science difficult? 

The most memorable part of the day 1 was to learn about the public perception of science. So why is science difficult?

Reflecting back on my past experiences, there were times when it was tough for me to enjoy learning science.  Maybe it was too much jargon, no engagement (too dry/boring) or I thought there wasn’t any real life applications.  These are also the very same reasons why some people are fearful or dislike science. So we were asked then by Prof Sue, “why then do we pursue science?”

Thinking back, it was really down to the individual that made a difference to you, be it a passionate teacher or your parents. For me, it was definitely a combination of both. It started out with my family who nurtured my love for animals and then, in secondary school, I was inspired by the passion of my biology teacher who got us to appreciate the reproductive organs of flowers through her beautiful biological drawings of various fruits and flowers. This continued on to junior college. Even though, I almost gave up on my A’ Levels Biology, luckily I had the “ecology” chapter to hang onto and a highly engaging teacher.

It is now that I truly understand and appreciate the importance of individuals in teaching. For educators and teachers, you might not be able to see the positive changes immediately and things might get disheartening.  But if your intentions are student-centric, then you might have just made a difference and inspired your students!

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Book inspiration from Taipei trip 2013

I just returned from a 10 day trip to Taiwan. During the course of the trip, I managed to do some self-reflection and tried to get inspiration from the places I visited.

One of the places I visited was the Taipei Zoo. There were many interesting things about this zoo. Firstly, it did not have any feeding times or shows that you typically see in zoos. For me, I thought it was pretty neat to see that the emphasis was placed on the animals. Secondly, there were a few areas, especially the insects and reptile/amphibians that was quite well done. The exhibits featured the brief description of individual animals, biology (eg. life cycle) and even included the classification for the animals.

Lastly, one of the highlights of the zoo is their two pandas (Tuan Tuan & Yuan Yuan). Besides the usual display introducing the pandas and their biology, there were several wall murals that used the pandas to highlight their local biodiversity.

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Since pandas are bears, they ingeniously used them to introduce another bear that can be found in Taiwan, the endemic Formosan black bear, 台灣黑熊 (Ursus thibetanus formosanus). This bear is currently listed as endangered under IUCN due to habitat loss and poaching. This bear is currently Taiwan’s largest mammal, it used to share this with another endemic subspecies, the Formosan clouded leopard, which has been declared extinct in April 2013.

This painting also gave the characteristics, diet and the cultural importance to certain indigenous tribes who believe that the black bears are their guardian spirits.

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The next painting was also really cute! The two pandas encountered a flying fox, 台灣狐蝠 (Pteropus dasymallus formosus), whom they thought would drink their blood due to the misconception of their association with vampires. In reality, these flying foxes are actually fruit eaters and are essentially vegetarians.

A while back, I wanted to do a children’s book that highlight local biodiversity. Perhaps, these drawings could be my inspiration to pursue and move this thought forward. Maybe in the near future, we could have common palm civets teaching us about biodiversity in Singapore? Not a bad idea, right?

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