Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

The Ninja Turtle Makes A Pilgrimage

Today was a public holiday in Zhenjiang, China. Rather, it was a “make-up” holiday for 端午节, which fell on Saturday 20 June this year. 端午节 is sometimes also known as Dumpling Festival or Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth Festival (because it falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month), and from its various names, one can only guess at the significance of this wondrous day.

This is a holiday to commemorate the poet and politician 屈原 (c. 340–278 BC) who lived back in the Warring States era of the Zhou Dynasty. A quick summary of his story goes as such: patriotic chap served in high offices, his royal leader allied with the enemies, chap gets banished for opposing royal leader’s decision and accused of treason – btw chap gets all emo and writes plenty of poetry during this period – some years later their city is betrayed by allies and in despair, chap flings himself into a river full of piranhas. The local folks panic and race out in boats (hence the Dragon Boat Festival), chucking sticky rice dumplings into the river to feed the fish so they won’t eat his cadaver (hence the Dumpling Festival).

This is the version taught to the Ninja Turtle as a child. There are several other pretty cool legends involving dragon worship or celebrating a female character called 曹娥, both of which are pretty amazing but neither of which are familiar to the Turtle, so she dare not elaborate, but here’s the gist. Coincidentally, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month falls pretty close to the summer solstice (longest day of the year) in the northern hemisphere, so perhaps it was all simply an excuse to party hard?

Anyway, the Ninja Turtle knows it’s a public holiday in Zhenjiang, China this Monday because no surprises, she’s right here. Catching the early morning flight bright and early at 8am from Singapore to Shanghai yesterday, she rode another 4 hours in a car to reach Zhenjiang. Since it was a public holiday, she got to do a spot of sightseeing with her relatives and a new acquaintance at possibly the most famous landmark of Zhenjiang – 金山 (Golden Hill).

Jin Shan Temple in Zhenjiang.

Jin Shan in Zhenjiang.

金山 (Golden Hill) has quite the history to it. Although standing only at 44m tall, it houses 金山寺 (Golden Hill Temple), built some 1600 years ago, and has a pretty cool story attached to it. The legend of the White Snake (白蛇传) in Chinese literature goes as such – some young boy eats some immortality pills and pukes it out; a white snake spirit who’s like, hundreds of years old swallows the pill and takes on a beautiful human form. A tortoise grows jealous of the snake’s immortality. Some years on, the boy grows into a man and meets this beautiful snake-woman and they fall in love, while said tortoise turns into a human monk called Fahai. Man dies of shock when he discovers his wife was a snake, snake-woman revives dead husband with magical herbs, and husband still loves her.

All well and good except the tortoise-monk had a vengeful streak so he imprisons clueless husband in 金山寺; snake-woman tried to free her husband by flooding temple and some innocent folks died as collateral damage, but her powers were limited cos she had a bun in the oven. Tortoise-monk captures snake-woman and imprisons her in some pagoda while her husband was consigned to life as a monk (but later their kid comes back to save them or something… look, it was like the ancient version of Game of Thrones meets The Hobbit plus some Xena/Hercules thrown in for good measure and it all gets rather complicated with animal-people so the Ninja Turtle can’t remember it all OK? But Google will give you more if you’re so inclined.) Apparently this was a story started as an oral tradition and is now one of the four great Chinese folktales. And  金山寺 was the setting of this epic tale, so the Ninja Turtle could only gape like an idiot while wandering around the site the entire morning.

The lotus flowers were only beginning to bloom...

The lotus flowers were only beginning to bloom…

Going in, the first sight was of vendors selling joss sticks, to be burnt as offerings to the gods/spirits/something.

Going in, the first sight was of vendors selling joss sticks, to be burnt as offerings to the gods/spirits/something.

So of course the Ninja Turtle HAD to buy some.

So of course the Ninja Turtle HAD to buy some.

A photo with her 三姑 (auntie on dad's side of the family; his third sister) at the entrance.

A photo with her 三姑 (auntie on dad’s side of the family; his third sister) at the entrance.

Walking in, the Ninja Turtle quickly learnt that there was in fact, more than one temple; in fact there were a cluster of them. She didn’t take any photos out of respect since it was a religious site with people praying and all, but she did spend a good long time gaping at the incredible sculptures of the four sky gods, the eighteen arhats, the various buddhas and the Goddess of Peace. Her new acquaintance taught her how to kneel on the red silk pillows, offer prayers and the proper etiquette to bow.

Here is an idea of the various temples and pagodas at the site. The colour yellow/gold indicates royal endorsement, specifically from some emperor dude called Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Here is an idea of the various temples and pagodas at the site. The colour yellow/gold indicates royal endorsement, specifically from some emperor dude called Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The writings of the emperor (the Ninja Turtle poses with her 二叔 - uncle on dad's side of the family, second bloke in the family which means Papa Turtle is the oldest male in the family).

The writings of the emperor (the Ninja Turtle poses with her 二叔 – uncle on dad’s side of the family, second bloke in the family which means Papa Turtle is the oldest male in the family).

View from the top of Golden Hill.

View from the top of Golden Hill.

On the way back down, the Ninja Turtle was treated to the sight of people throwing coins (trying anyway) into the mouths of the stone sculptures. Apparently if the coin goes in, the person will get wealthy.

On the way back down, the Ninja Turtle was treated to the sight of people throwing coins (trying anyway) into the mouths of the stone sculptures. Apparently if the coin goes in, the person will get wealthy.

Second Uncle Turtle explained that these were Buddhist scriptures that were conversations between Buddha and the Sky Emperor (think along the lines of Plato's The Republic if you will).

Second Uncle Turtle explained that these were Buddhist scriptures that were conversations between Buddha and the Sky Emperor (think along the lines of Plato’s The Republic if you will).

What Second Uncle Turtle explained to the Ninja Turtle while strolling through the temples was this – that everything is nothing and nothing is everything. What we see around us is all but an illusion, and what is eternal (that is, the soul) is invisible to the eye. What we cannot see remains eternal, and all that surrounds us is transcient and temporary.

To quote John Oliver – Holy Shit. That’s some pretty heavy stuff to be talking about on a public holiday Monday morning. Contemplating Life, the Universe and Everything before wine o’clock gives the Ninja Turtle some serious heebie-jeebies. Fortunately, distraction was at close hand…

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So wraps up the Ninja Turtle’s adventures on her first morning in Zhenjiang, China. It was an emotional morning, and she was left contemplating how despite being of Chinese descent, there was so much of Chinese history and culture she was unaware of. The world is a large place, and in a cosmopolitan globe-trotting generation, there’s a lot we learnt of ourselves by seeing the unknown in new places, but sometimes, the only way we can truly know ourselves is by returning to our roots.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Scotland’s Independence – A 700 Year Old Story

Come September, the good men and women of Scotland will have to vote on a referendum on the issue of Scotland’s independence from the UK. It will be a democratic process, with plenty of debate leading up to the big day. Some are for it, some against it, and quite a good few simply don’t care.

Seven hundred years ago, however, the Scots faced the same issue with far less indifference, and battles for freedom involved war cries to “take no prisoners”.

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2014 celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn

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Where Robert the Bruce won the battle against Edward II and birthed a legend

They say history is told from the perspective of the victors, and the tales of Robert the Bruce’s courage certainly did plenty to foster loyalty and a sense of national pride.

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The men who fought at Bannockburn bought Scotland 400 years of independence thereafter

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So 700 years later, people come to gather at the site of the battlefield to celebrate Scottish music

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Contribute to the making of the Great Tapestry of Scotland

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Indulge in delicious food made by gorgeous sisters (the carrot cake was amazing)

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Meet up with other members of the clan

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Recruit members and volunteers to enriching the cultural knowledge of the land

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Share expert knowledge in Scotland's history

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And of course, to finally have a haggis burger with cheddar and whisky confit, washed down with a pint of ale

The sun came out quite unexpectedly for the day and being woefully unprepared for such good luck, GodzillaPin is now probably the first person in history to get sunburnt in Scotland.

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Food, Travel

Summer Holidays Trip #1

It’s a good thing GodzillaPin is dating a runner, for every time the Ninja Turtle travels with GodzillaPin, she inevitably finds herself running. Running after buses, running after trains, running through Charles de Gaulle airport for the umpteenth time as they make it to the gates 30 seconds before closure. They had to run almost the length of terminal 2E, and even had to beg several custom officers to let them skip the security queue. No surprise when they were informed that they were the last ones to board. The Ninja Turtle would have been consumed with burning shame, except they found themselves on premium economy class for once, and were treated to a nice mid-morning snack (breakfast for the Turtle).

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GodzillaPin had the same except with beer

Upon touchdown however, the battle recommenced. GodzillaPin got through quick smart with his EU passport but the Turtle… After almost an hour’s battle to get through the customs, they were reunited with Mother Turtle, who flew in from Singapore for this trip.

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Welcome to Edinburgh! The view from the rental apartment

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A little bit of sightseeing in town...

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And planning out an itinerary that would feature a highlight from one of the international festivals at the moment

Edinburgh is beautiful. The next five days promise to be magical.

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The day ended with dinner at Ondine's; they've won an award for the Best Restaurant of the Year Scotland 2013-2014

Never mind the Rock and Roll Edinburgh Semi Marathon was cancelled, the Ninja Turtle has done enough running for the day.

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Food, Travel

Having A Nice Day

After being awake for 20 solid hours yesterday, the Ninja Turtle did not want to wake up this morning. She would have happily stayed in the comfortable bed, except a solid stream of sunshine punched through the curtains, insisting she that she get up and get going.

So the day commenced with breakfast on the balcony, where the sun was so hot, the duo sat in their T-shirts and shorts while watching passersby on the street below wrapped in scarves and coats. They fixed themselves a quick breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit and almond-orange biscotti hastily made by the Ninja Turtle the day before they left Metz.

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It was lovely outside, with plenty of sunshine. The Promenade des Anglais by day was just as beautiful as it was by night.

and the most interesting sights on the Promenade itself.

Yes, that's a stroller with a baby in it. Mommy's wearing rollerblades, while daddy is on a kick-scooter beside her. What a family.

Yes, that’s a stroller with a baby in it. Mommy’s wearing rollerblades, while daddy is on a kick-scooter beside her. What a family.

The rest of the day was spent simply wandering around.

They visited the famous Marché aux Fleurs, which was probably doing exceptional business today, given what today is.

They visited the famous Marché aux Fleurs, which was probably doing exceptional business today, given what today is.

In case one forgets, the confiseries (candy shops) do a very good job at reminding everyone about it too.

In case one forgets, the confiseries (candy shops) do a very good job at reminding everyone about it too.

The Ninja Turtle grabbed the chance to buy some herbes de Provence at the Marché aux Fleurs, while GodzillaPin wandered around, stuffing his face with free samples of pesto and anything else he could find.

Herbs and spices at the Flower Market.

Herbs and spices at the Flower Market.

Then, they decided to pop by the Parc de la Colline du Château.

GodzillaPin getting his exercise for the week.

GodzillaPin getting his exercise for the week.

Now, there is an elevator for visitors who have restricted mobility, and up the top, there are wheelchair ramps and all, but for those who are capable of climbing, do it. If there is just one good reason to do it, it’s for the view. Sure, you can ride up and walk down, but there is something magical about going higher and higher, while progressively seeing farther and farther. The experience can only have as much meaning as you choose to put into it, but GP and the Turtle thought it was pretty magical to do it that way.

View from 1/3 of the way up the hill.

View from 1/3 of the way up the hill.

Also, by the time they reached the top, they’ve worked up quite an appetite. So down they went, using the elevator, and wandered back to Vieux Nice (the old town). They found a very chic little eatery called Ark, which had a balcony that looks out to the sea but the wind and traffic noise drove them downstairs, where hidden behind a glass panel, they were comfortably installed on couches under the Mediterranean sun, and proceeded to polish off 2/3 of a bottle of wine between them. For 19€, they also got a set menu lunch that included entrée, main and a coffee. GodzillaPin took grilled capsicums and sauté octopus, while the Turtle chose a Caesar salad and duck parmentier.

There is no need to provide a list of reasons to visit Nice, considering how many tourists come here, but there is a very good reason to visit at the moment. Tonight kicks off the opening ceremony of Carnaval de Nice 2014, which explains all the street closures, grandstands and murals that are impossible to miss. Of course, the duo knew about Carnaval before arriving – it was the only reason why the Ninja Turtle was willing to come to Nice for a second time in 2 years.

OK fine, it wasn’t the only reason, she’s got a race to run on Sunday too, but the race is tied in with Carnaval so it counts as ONE big reason.

OK fine, it wasn’t the only reason, she’s got a race to run on Sunday too, but the race is tied in with Carnaval so it counts as ONE big reason.

Of course, all that lovely sunshine doesn’t hurt either.

Of course, all that lovely sunshine doesn’t hurt either.

The Carnaval will commence only in 2 hours’ time, so the duo will wrap it up here for now and write about it later. For now, they’re ready to hit the streets and party ‘cos it’s Friday night!

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