Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner

Name: Fipe
Age at interview: 43 years
Occupation: Cacao Foods Manufacturer Business Owner

Ethnicity: Samoan
Country of birth: Aotearoa New Zealand

Company: Living Koko

In this video
0:00Early Years, Aspirations, and Challenges
10:56Moving to Australia
12:39Starting a Dance Group and Re-engaging with the Performing Arts
16:35Travelling and Finding a Sense of Self
20:28Performing Arts for the Pasifika Community
23:17Cultural Strengths
26:28Running a Pasifika Centred Business
30:44Challenges and Strengths at School
35:58Cultural Practices and Community
37:48Role Models
39:17Reflecting on the Journey
41:50Advice for Pasifika Youth
44:55Future Aspirations

Early Years, Aspirations, and Challenges


Talofa lava. My name is Fipe Preuss. I grew up in Samoa and also in Māngere in South Auckland. My major interests when I was at high school was the arts and mainly performing arts.

When I grew up, I wanted to be a rock star. I spent most of my time in the music room. For many different reasons, it was challenging growing up. And it’s challenging being a young person and navigating all these new different ways of being and different situations that you’re in. And I found that as I was approaching what was seen as being an adult. Mentally, I didn’t feel like an adult and I wasn’t making some of the best choices for myself.

So I always escaped through music. When I left, or actually during high school, and when I left high school, I became a classical guitar teacher and spent a lot of time teaching in many different intermediates around Auckland. But I actually got [my] first job when I was 14. So my parents really struggled coming in. Mum was looking after us kids and my dad had some challenges with trying to find his way through living in a new place like New Zealand.

There’s a lot of frustration. And I think sometimes you turn to different things, different distractions whether it was TAB or things like that, and so that obviously ate into our money source too. So I got a job when I was about 14 years old, my first job and started paying for my high school at the age of 14. And then paying for my sister and my youngest sister and my younger brother to help them get through school. Which wasn’t a problem for me.

I knew that that was what we needed to do to get through and then mum was working as well at that time.


Leaving high school, I went straight to […]. I remember looking and trying to figure out what subjects to take. And just guessing my way through it. I knew I wanted to take music. I didn’t think I was good enough.

And even nowadays, there’s lots of moments where I don’t think I’m good enough for spaces and I can’t seem to shake that weed that has grown in my brain for some reason. But I remember choosing music and then almost having a panic attack every time I had to play in front of people. So I became what I call a closet musician.

I was amazing when it was just me. And then when anyone else listened, I freaked out. So my career as a musician was definitely put on hold at that moment in time. I remember having a talk with my mum and her suggesting and hinting that music and the arts isn’t going to get me very far in life. And am I just going to spend my time in the backyard playing the kikala, guitar, or maybe I should do something else?

And so I went and I dropped out […] and enrolled […] and took business management and accounting, which, if we rewind back into school, I was voted the one person who was going to fail accounting from all the teachers. And I also had to re-sit a couple of tests because the teachers believed that I had cheated through them in accounting and in mathematics, even though I was actually quite good at it.

My mother is Samoan. Her name is Lucia Fipe Stanley, and my father is Samoan and German through marriage. So his mother married a German. And his name is Stuart Ivan Benjamin Preuss. So dad’s from the village Vailima and mum is from the village Vaiusu.

I went to to […] and that was extremely lonely for me. I had no high school friends there. Everyone was either trying to make their way through uni, or another polytech or just trying to navigate life out of high school. I think that’s a really, really challenging transition. And we had all gone from this really safe space where we knew who we were within our groups into this big wide world.

And being a very small fish in a big pond can feel really overwhelming. I remember my first couple of weeks at […], not knowing anyone. And I convinced myself if I just walked and looked like I was going somewhere, then I wouldn’t be sitting by myself looking like I had no friends. So I spent a lot of time walking before I connected with people and finally made friends.

But […] was also a challenging time learning about business management, not necessarily being too interested in business management. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. And I think through a lot of my life, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I think it’s a really hard question to ask someone when they’re 16 when they’re 18, even when they’re 30. I want to be whatever I want to be at the time I want to be it. That is my answer.


So I got my business management degree and saved up some money, jumped on a plane, and landed in London. I ended up spending three years in Europe and I had gotten into a relationship quite early in my high school years and we were destined to be married and things didn’t go very well. So the breakup was overwhelming heart-wrenchingly heartbroken I was. I tried to get as far away as I could from Auckland, and from the situation.

And if I looked on a map, the furthest looked like London. So I worked three jobs, I saved as much as I could and I landed in London. I had no friends. And I just moved from place to place still trying to find myself. In hindsight, looking back though, I realised that I needed some space and time to individuate, to actually figure out who I was and not necessarily who I wanted to be in a job position. What did I value and what was important to me.

So it didn’t matter what role or job that I took on it. What mattered was that it aligned with my ethos with my values and being overseas and spending some time alone really gave me that opportunity to see that. So it also bought me lots of ups and downs. I don’t think you ever understand true loneliness until you’re away from everyone and everything that can recognise you or knows you as a person.

So when no one’s looking, who are you? When no one you know is looking at you. Who are you? Well, you get to figure that out and hopefully, create the best version of yourself in that time and there will be lots of ups and downs. I came back to Auckland after about…I worked any job that was offered to me. I did not spend any time in accounting and business management.

I was a child entertainer at a hotel, I was a barmaid, I washed dishes. I loved washing dishes; it was the best [job] I’ve ever had. It was just a great team, a great environment. And I worked through Austria through Germany through Menorca, an island off the coast of Spain. And traveling really made me feel like the world was a friendlier smaller place.

And that you can find so many beautiful like-minded individuals in many different places. It didn’t matter what religion, what ethnicity we were. We all had commonalities within us that if we just spent the time to sit and talanoa and talk, we could figure that out. And you can figure it out even when you don’t know someone’s language. You can see the kindred spirits or the similarities even with a language barrier.

I also realised how much I enjoyed meeting new people in traveling when I went overseas.

Moving to Australia

So I left just before I turned 21 and came back just before I turned 24. I came back to Auckland, lasted three months in Auckland, worked four jobs trying to save as much money as I could, and flew to Melbourne.

Melbourne was never really a place that I wanted to settle. I came here because I was following my heart in a relationship. And that didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would. But I fell in love with Melbourne instead. And Melbourne became my base. I worked in accounting and business management roles for a number of years.

And then in many different industries from infrastructure and building And I think what was great about…it will be interesting if my accounting teacher heard this. What was great about learning accounting was you get to work in many different industries, you get to see so many different kinds of jobs.

And if you’re up for it and if you’re interested in those roles, you can move slightly out of accounting and move more into those kinds of roles too which is what I did at the […]. I got an opportunity at […] and saw things that I just loved and it brought back my love for music. My love for performing arts.

Starting a Dance Group and Re-engaging with the Performing Arts

Growing up in New Zealand is a real gift. A really precious time, especially when you’re surrounded in Pacific Island culture and Māori culture. There is such a respect growing up and seeing Māori culture, going to your friends’ maraes, hanging out in those spaces, seeing those rituals and ceremonies that you have the opportunity to witness or sometimes you’re in it so much you don’t have the opportunity to really be grateful for that space.

In New Zealand, all my friends we’re always part of the Polyfest which is, I think one of the largest Pacific Island festival for young people. And so for every year through high school, you’d choose a dance group, a cultural group that you wanted to be in whether it was the Samoa or Cook Island, Tongan, Māori, anyone.

I was in the Samoan group, but then the Cookies are having lots of fun too and so I ended being in the Cook Island group for a couple of years too. And that brought on my love for hura, hula, and ori tahiti and just all kinds of cultural Pacific dance. So in Melbourne, for a number of years, I was a solo Pacific Island dancer.

I did many festivals, I ran workshops, and I wanted to see Pacific Island culture everywhere. I truly believe we belonged everywhere, and we deserve to be everywhere. And so I would apply for the most random festivals and bring a touch of Polynesia there whether it was a dance workshop, a talk about our ethos, our values. And just anything that could bring us into that space and help us to be seen. When did I do that?

Yeah, yeah, that was a few years now. From there, I was blessed to meet Noelani Le Nevez who is the founder and co-director of Nuholani Polynesian dance group. And together with a number of amazing Wahine, we created and grew Nuholani Polynesian dance.

And again, we were getting into White Night Festival main stage. We were going to Mind, Body, Spirit Festival. And then there were all these other self-care festivals, camping festivals, electronic music festival. All these different spaces, we were just putting ourselves in, readjusting our music to sound maybe a little electronic but just trying to be there and seen. Growing an appreciation for Pasifika culture and dance.

I decided I didn’t want to do accounting and finance anymore. And I guess you can call it my midlife crisis. I had it early. I had it real early.

Travelling and Finding a Sense of Self

And I booked a one-way ticket and landed in Thailand. And I just felt, I think being in a city, in Melbourne, started to overwhelm me and all the expectations on where I should be at a certain point in my life at a certain age.

I found it really overwhelming. Someone who wasn’t married in my 20s or my 30s, I didn’t have children. It started to affect my mental health and I needed just space and time to again be by myself and figure out what I needed for me. So I booked a one-way ticket to Thailand. I ended up living there for a year. I had no idea what I was going to do. When I landed there, I thought maybe I’d be back in a couple of weeks. Maybe I wouldn’t but I found my love for the Moana and ended up doing the majority of my scuba diving courses there, doing my dive course there.

When I travel, I’m not showing up with lots of money. I’m probably showing up with less than a grand in most spaces let’s say because I haven’t saved enough. But it forces me to talk to people. It forces me to work, think outside the square, budget. And I did all my courses through volunteering within different spaces.

So I volunteered there, I got room and board. And I got accommodation and a tiny bit of funds, but also food and board. And they would give me a course for free of charge as long as I worked in the dive shops. So I did that for a year, got the majority of my dive courses sorted. And then I got an opportunity to work in Botswana in Africa, where my sister was living. So I moved to Botswana from Thailand.

The opportunity to work didn’t go through very well. You soon realise who’s talking talk and who’s actually walking it. Unfortunately, sometimes you make decisions on people that are talking talk. And I landed in Botswana, and I still spent six months with my sister volunteering in different spaces, volunteered for a wildlife park that supported looking after the animals, cleaning up after campsites to make sure there wasn’t glass around that could cut lions feet and things like that.

So it was really interesting to go from spending time with the largest animal underwater, which is a whale shark of 18 meters, and spending time with whale sharks and then going and spending time with elephants, the largest animal on earth. And I think for me, it really created an in-depth need to always support the environment, wildlife, the Moana. Always be in a space of trying to contribute back to Papa or Papatuanuku of Mother Earth, which is one of the ethos or part of our business now.

Performing Arts for the Pasifika Community

So coming back from Botswana, I went back into my love of the arts and music, started a music festival called JamGrass, which was an alternative country bluegrass festival that ran for five years and hugely grew over five years. And then took a break from that and decided to put my energy more into Pasifika and indigenous arts festivals, arts, and cultural spaces.

Through that time, I met a beautiful woman called Grace Vanilau, who opened some doors and introduced me to this incredible Pacific Islanders who were doing amazing things yet, role models because I have never seen anyone doing the things that they have been doing and doing it with excellence. It made me say to myself, “Well, maybe I could do that. If they’re in that space, maybe I could be in that space.”

But answering that question with a yes, also comes with a lot of hard work, and a lot of unseen hard work. And as a producer and director of festivals, you’re not on the main stage. So the artists are being praised and supported, which is great, which is why you create these platforms. But a lot of your work is unseen and in the background just trying to create these platforms and get them up and running.

Through that passion of creating platforms for many unseen cultures, My Island Dream was created. And My Island Dream was a project that we ran with the Westside Pacific Youth committee. A group of young people who wanted a mini Polyfest but didn’t know how to activate that space. So as a festival producer, I came in and ran it. And we went through also a 10-week program leading up to the festival to teach the young people on how to create a festival, how to create an event.

For me, for event management, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing an event of 50 people or 3000 people, you still got to tick the same boxes. You still got to put out the invite, you still got to feed the people. You got to get permits maybe. There’s still a whole bunch of things. Your list of things to do doesn’t become smaller and it’s still the same amount of things to do.

Cultural Strengths

So for Pasifika people, we’ve been running events. We’ve been part of big events since we were born. Since you first served your first iputi your first cup of tea, and you got told off that there’s a chip in the cup. That there is a chip in that cup and you got to send it back, and you got to make it again and it better not come out with the tide out, and it better not…You are being critiqued. It may feel like you’re getting told off in front of everyone.

And as a young person in Pacific Island families, we are publicly critiqued with some…guided, publicly guided is a nicer way of saying it. But we’re publicly given feedback by all our relo’s at once. And it’s hard to not take that personal. But it also can give you amazing guidance and a level of excellence for when you go out and you find work. And you want to make sure that you show up 150% with the right cup, and the right attitude, and the right amount of tea with the right hotness and everything like that.

So there’s a lot of things that our parents and our elders have actually passed down to us that at times we felt like we were just being told off, but they’re trying to guide us. So we brought all of that into My Island Dream. We mapped it all out. We spoke about, you know who’s the loudest auntie that you have? Who’s the person that you need to tell for an event that’s going to happen that she will without any guidance will go and tell everyone about it?

Well, if we think of her as marketing, she’s our marketing department. So now let’s look at what we have, or what tools we have within our reach that could do the work that auntie so and so did. How do we use those tools in Facebook? How do we use those tools in Instagram, auntie Facebook, auntie Instagram?

So we pulled in all these different aspects that we have within our family groups, and our family events, and just drew lines to a different language, to a business language, that helped us all run the event together. The event sold out each time. Our last one was over 2000 people. There were over 300 young people performing over 12 schools.

And even to this day, I’m still getting emails from young people at school asking when the next one is going to happen. COVID changed all of that. Us girls, they’d given us time to rethink about how to move forward with My Island Dream. So that’s my arts practice.

Running a Pasifika Centred Business

And then we have Living Koko.

So I have a business called Living Koko, which I co-own with my partner Glen Reiss. And we work with over 130 domestic crop farms in the Pacific Islands, and mainly in Samoa bringing over cacao that has been fermented and dried back home in Samoa and we roast the cacao here. We make chocolate. We’re a no-waste manufacturing space.

So everything is about looking after the environment. How do we create sustainable practices to look after the environment and also our people? How do we make sure that our chocolate or our produce whatever we produce is organic and as healthy as it can be and an alternative for the confectionery chocolate that you find in the shops.

So when I say that, Living Koko didn’t happen overnight. Living Koko is five years old from the moment we started the business, but Living Koko is my whole life. And the way I think, the way I behave, the way I show up in spaces, the way I support the environment, all my ethos, and my being is woven up into this business.

And because of that, whenever I show up for Living Koko, whenever I show up for anything, I realise that I’m showing up as my full self. And my full self includes not just me and my life experiences, but my parents and their life experiences, their challenges moving to a new country, how their challenges had a ripple effect on us as young people, and also our culture, the culture that we have within Samoan community, our rituals and how that affects us in a new space like Australia when you’re trying to push forward a product or just a way of being.

Everything my parents, my ancestors, our cultures all woven up into Living Koko, which feels at time like a huge responsibility. But it’s taken me many years to get to a point where I’m ready for that responsibility. And that’s okay, it’s okay to finally say yes to a huge responsibility at 40. It’s okay.

Besides Living Koko, I still run a lot of creative arts projects. I’m about to release, or we’re about to work on a project called Transitioning Cultural Seeds, which is connecting with many different families from different parts of the world and sharing their slow food processes. And I’m sure we’re going to incorporate that with chocolate too.

But everything we do is about showing up as our full selves. And making sure the , or our relational spaces, are spaces of reciprocity and respect. If back home in Samoa, we would not be able to engage with so many farmers if we didn’t have not only… If we didn’t show up as ourselves authentically as ourselves, but also the relationships that my grandfather and my ancestors, my family have created in Samoa have also supported Living Koko. So when we show up with Living Koko and our family name behind us, that’s the responsibility, but it makes me want to be a better person each time.

Challenges and Strengths at School


As you were talking about your schooling years, I just wanted to know a little bit more about Fipe, even in primary, were there any things that you struggled with in primary school with your learning that you can remember, or did you excel in any particular subjects?

And if you did, what were they? And what sort of support did you get from your parents in terms of your learning dream? So can you just touch on what it was like for your early learning years and if there are subjects that you struggled with or subjects that you did really well in and for what reason?


Yeah, sure. From a very young age, I was very good at solving problems or what I thought was solving them. But I definitely could see clearly a clear pathway of always how to get from A to G where I think a number of my friends struggled with that. I could always see a project plan and that was just the way my brain worked. I could always see how to execute something.

At a young age, as in schooling and what I was learning, I excelled. In primary school, I was two classes ahead of my normal year of school, the one I should have been in. And there was a time where teachers pulled my parents aside and asked if maybe I should go to a special school for that.

But my brain also worked 100 miles an hour. And that kind of mentality when you’re extremely shy, I didn’t know how to speak up. I was going through other things in my, our personal lives, that was adding to my shyness and inability to speak up. So I was actually grateful that I didn’t move schools that I stayed in that. Well, to start with, we wouldn’t been able to afford it. But I was grateful that I had a normal upbringing if anyone’s upbringing is actually normal. Our version of what a normal upbringing is.

Going through puberty, though, with a mind that was racing, and going through high school, I was still excelling at school. But I wasn’t trying. I wasn’t studying. I was probably doing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing. I was expelled twice. I was that girl. All for my own reasons that I went through different rebellious times.

But because I could clearly still see a pathway for problem-solving that gave me a bit of an advantage to a lot of our subjects you know, trying to find x in algebra or many different other things like that. The way my brain works, it calculated that really easily. But I think because of my anxiety, because of working through some of the trauma that I had been through as a child, my mind just started racing and then through high school, it kind of imploded.

Which I think having that opportunity, and I’m always that kind of person that if I get to a point of being really overwhelmed, I will disappear for a couple of weeks. A few years back, I jumped on a pushbike and cycled Melbourne to Sydney. I just felt so overwhelmed by expectation, I couldn’t hear my own thoughts.

Again, my mind starts racing, my mental health starts to decline. And then I find myself halfway to Sydney on a pushbike and with so much more clarity. I need to get away from distractions and things like that to be able to process properly. But I’ve always been the kind of person that needs space.

Cultural Practices and Community


Did you have a lot of involvement within your Samoan community, or did you have expectations from your parents to fulfill cultural obligations? Or what involvement did you have especially what was it like speaking your language at home or did you have to speak your languages at home? What was that like for you?


We did through the church. Our obligations for our community through the church was big. Then as we grew older and later into our teenage years, things changed. My dad was really ill at that time through my teenage years. We all were working so hard to try and just keep ourselves afloat.

So that was a huge struggle for my family, and I think sometimes when you’re…We have a lot of pride, Samoan people. And Pacific Island people have a lot of pride and not having the funds to show up with can be really hard on us and our parents. And so sometimes we just go into a bit of hiding in those spaces.

Most of my mother’s brothers and sisters were still in Samoa, or they had moved to Australia. So as in like first cousins and things like that, we didn’t necessarily have them in New Zealand. We had more of the extended cousins, which we still spent a lot of time with. But it was mainly through the church that we connected with our Samoan culture.

Role Models


Did you have any role models or particular people that you looked up to or that you aspired to that you watched and having watched their journey, I would love to be that person, or I’d love to be doing what they’re doing?


I had a couple of teachers at school, but I didn’t know anyone who had gone to uni. There may have been but it’s also not something that I felt was being flashed around within my generation, or even like the older cousins and stuff. No one was really talking about it.

And when you go to Samoa, it’s always it’s not something that you don’t sit there and talk about your education or brag about it in a way, a very humble way. It doesn’t matter what you got, what little letters are next to your name, you can just make that cup of tea, probably. Nobody care.

No, they care. But it’s not spoken about in that kind of way. So out of my siblings, I was the first to go to uni. So besides music artists that I admired, that I played their music, their guitar, and stuff like that, I couldn’t find anyone.

Reflecting on the Journey


Reflecting back on where you are now and having gone through all of your life experience, is there anything that you would have changed? And I know that you went through this period of exploring this business management and accounting phase. But is there anything that if you were to go back, say wind back another 20 years? Is there anything that you would change or that you would do differently knowing what you know now?


I think I would have liked to have been more confident in my own thoughts and trusted myself better. So I think the transitioning out of high school is such a difficult time because through high school, you’re groomed or you’re guided, you’re guided through the whole of high school and then you’re out of high school and you should be an adult. And I was like, “What’s an adult?”

Because I see some great adults and then I see some adults not performing very well. So I’m like what is…You need to create what your definition of an adult was. And I for many years didn’t trust, didn’t have that trust in myself. I don’t know how you get that. Yeah, therapy.

I don’t know how you get that, and my parents were not necessarily people that…because of their own reasons because of their struggle. They’re in survival mode. So they weren’t showing up to events that I had a lot of pride in. They weren’t showing up to the cultural performances that for school and things like that often things that I really valued.

But they have their own reasons for that. I completely understand it. But you wonder where things could have changed to maybe have…make myself see myself a bit better. Because that flows into everything. Your lack of trust within yourself, it wasn’t just in my work life. It was in my relationships and my relationships with partners with everything.

Advice for Pasifika Youth


What would be three things that you would encourage anyone that’s looking at your journey? What are the three tips that you would be happy to share that you would encourage for those that are looking? If you said, “Hey, this is my life, this is my journey, everyone’s going to have their own. But these are the three things that I suggest that you do, as you’re navigating your early career and looking for that passion that you want to pursue.” What would you recommend?


That’s a big one. I think the first would be to have courage within yourself. We’re all scared. Every day there is something that is going to bring up a fear that is going to trigger you. But if you just keep moving forward and have the courage within yourself, you’ll accomplish your goals. It’s true what they say about do something every day that scares you.

I’ve been doing that for a lot of my life flying to places I know nothing about with no one there and that helped me have the courage to do things to grow my business to have faith in myself. I believe we all have a seat at the table. But I also believe that you need to have a good attitude to be invited back.

I know there’s a lot of hard work and things that go into getting that seat at the table. But I stress you need to have a good attitude and a kind heart and move forward gently so we can all grow together. Unfortunately, you don’t get invited back. You’re a one-hit-wonder there just taking a photo for Instagram, ay. What’s another one.

Just if you don’t know what’s going on, it’s okay to say it. I think I definitely grew up in a space where children was seen and not heard. And so it took me a really long time to find my voice to start with, but then also to find my voice and even have the courage to speak to a manager or a boss or anything like the amount of anxiety that would go through me because I wasn’t heard. I didn’t feel heard as a child.

So it’s okay to ask someone next to you that, you know, what’s happening here? Why is this happening? It’s okay. And that’s the only way we’re going to move in that space respectfully if you understand what’s happening. Sometimes you just got to find the right person to ask.

Future Aspirations


Where do you see Living Koko going in the next five to 10 years? Is this something that you can see it’s going to be you could maybe do for the rest of your life or do you feel there’s another wave coming where you could explore other options?


So I see Living Koko as within the next five to 10 years building a manufacturing space in Samoa. I would like to contribute to employment and exporting more out of Samoa. So what we’ve learned over COVID is there’s so much overreliance on our tourism industry. And many spaces in Samoa aren’t export ready.

We’re probably one of the very few if only chocolate manufacturers that have gone back to the source of where we get the cocoa from to create the products from Samoa. And that is to support the economy, to also be able to export directly to America and to Southeast Asia and stuff and to grow our exports in that way.

I want farming to be kind of cool. I want farming and traditional cultivation back home, working outside, to be seen as a cool thing and not something that has been put down because it had been for many, many years through colonisation and through the hierarchy of jobs and things like that, and roles in community.

But if you don’t have to leave your land to make a good wage that can support your family. Like we all learned that we love working from home, right? We’re like it’s just another kind of working from home. And if we can give enough to the farmers to then employ more people, it’s just a win/win for our communities back home in Samoa. So in five to 10 years, that manufacturing space will be there. We’ve got the premises. We’re just trying to source the machinery and then the time to do it.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
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  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
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  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
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