Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Stories, Travel

The ALESIA Trail

A long time ago, when the Roman civilization was flourishing and France was still known as Celtic Gallia (Gaul), there lived a chap who dared defy Julius Caesar. He was known as Vercingetorix, and you may have come across his name, which is strewn liberally all through pop culture, most notably in the Asterix comic book series or film. Wikipedia says his name meant Great Warrior King, and  as a chieftain of the Arverni tribe, he attempted to unite the Gauls to rebel against the Roman legions. When Caesar built not one, but two fortifications to cut off both the city, as well as the Gallic allies who came as relief, the Gauls lost the Battle of Alesia and the Roman Empire was created. Vercingetorix was held captive, brought back to Rome, marched the streets and finally executed.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

It’s a sorry end, but the man went down as a hero. So widely celebrated is this part of Gallo-Roman/French history, that the running community has decided to celebrate it with the Alesia Trail, a trail race that takes runners through the forests and villages of Burgundy, in the ancient battle site of the Battle of Alesia (52BC). It offered four distances – 16km, 25km, 34km and 51km. The Ninja Turtle won her bib on RunningHeroes, which included the post-race meal, and she was absolutely stoked.

After fourteen races since the end of February 2015, this was to be the Ninja Turtle’s fifteenth and last race of the year, and as luck would have it, a final hurrah to summer.

The duo rolled into town a day in advance and took a moment to enjoy the landscape of the Burgundy countryside during the bib collection. Alise-Sainte-Reine sits atop a huge hill, and the view was magnificent, but it did mean that the race will finish with a climb back uphill, and what a mother of a hill it was.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

GodzillaPin decided to calm the Turtle’s anxiety by taking her sightseeing, so they drove to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where their B&B accommodation was, and popped by the lolly factory and the medieval crypt. By the time they checked into their B&B, the Ninja Turtle was tired enough to sleep. They were greeted by their host, who was very friendly, but when she inquired who was running the race and what distance, the Ninja Turtle was met with a rather impressed and skeptical look.

But first, a pre-race meal at the Cheval Blanc.

The next morning, the duo woke up bright and early, and their host served up a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit salad, yogurt, breads and spreads. The Ninja Turtle also got a whole flask of coffee to herself, which came to 4 cups! They were joined by the other two guests in the B&B, a couple from Paris who were also in town for the race. The husband was running the 16km, and the same look of disbelief crossed their faces when GodzillaPin announced proudly that the Turtle was doing the 34km.

Some fun facts from the organisers:

1600 runners across the four distances. 26% of all runners were women, and 74% men. 15% (240 runners) were doing the 34km distance, and the average age of all runners was 41. There were to be 160 volunteers, which meant 1 volunteer to 10 runners. The runners will run a combined distance of 41138km in 8 hours!

A map of the 34.2km route.

A map of the 34.2km route, with a climb of 1200m (3937ft) and a total elevation profile of 2393m (7851ft).

While driving to the starting line, the Ninja Turtle decided to err on the side of over-dressing, with the option to remove layers, than to risk freezing through the race. Although the forecast was a nice sunny day, it was 9°C (48°F) at the starting line with cold winds. She made it to the starting line with barely a few minutes to spare. The duo hadn’t counted on a traffic jam to happen, but with the road closures on narrow streets, it was inevitable. GodzillaPin dropped the Turtle off, and she hiked uphill to the starting line. The queue for the toilets were too long, so she found a bush close by. GodzillaPin joined her a few short minutes later for a good luck kiss, and off the runners went.

Ready... steady... GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

9am flag-off for the 34km race. Ready… steady… GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

After a long and hard season that culmulated in a half marathon PR just two weeks ago, the Ninja Turtle had just one simple objective: to simply finish the race and enjoy herself while at it. There are some runners out there who snub this absolute lack of competitive spirit; perhaps you believe that if one ain’t pushing hard, there’s no difference from doing just a training run, so why pay the money to join a race? Well, that may be the case for road races, but as far as the Turtle is concerned, there is no way her training would take her through the forests and hills of ancient battlefields, and she runs her trail races as experiences to be lived. Besides the faster one runs, the sooner the experience is over, which makes it terrible value for money. That’s not to say the Turtle doesn’t make an effort, she still runs in these events, because everyone else is doing it and it’s a great sensation to be flying through the landscape. Also, this race had 2 time limit checkpoints.

Landscape like this.

Landscapes like this. Lovely Charolais cows soaking in the sun, staring at the nutters running by.

The race had four water stations,three of which offered up food, and one of them with a time-check. The first of which these was in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where GodzillaPin waited to capture some photos of the Turtle.

The villages offered up a picturesque change from the countryside and the forest landscapes.

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It was truly a fantastic experience, as most of the race took the runners along soft forest soil, which was an absolute pleasure compared to some of her previous races. That said, the Ninja Turtle does not wish to downplay the difficulty of the race, as there were moments where runners still had to deal with sharp rocks, and at two points, the course became very technical, and runners were obliged to use cords to descend and to climb up the impossibly steep trail. To get an idea of what the Ninja Turtle lived, one of the participants from the previous edition made a video of the race.

The Ninja Turtle passed the mid-point time check and clocked in at 2h 13m 29s, ranking 164 overall. By the time she’d crossed the finish line, she’d finished the race in 4h 11m 3s, and moved up to 134 of 211 finishers. It was a pleasant surprise too, to discover that she ranked 10th among the women (29 finished), and 4th in her age group category (11 finished). Perhaps they’re not terribly impressive results to some, given the size of the competition, and frankly, the Turtle didn’t care. She was simply glad to receive some post-race TLC from a couple of amazing volunteer physiotherapists. She also enjoyed the chance to socialise with some of the other runners (they saw Asterix, a Roman soldier, and here the Turtle poses with Getafix), and quite possibly the reincarnation of Vercingetorix himself! Guilhem had run the race twice before, and this hardcore young man is the face of Alesia Trail. That’s him on the poster! He also did spectacularly well, coming in 10th overall in the 51km. And he’s only 22…

Overall, it’s been a great race season, filled with extreme experiences, new PRs, personal growth and above all, the chance to celebrate the love of running.

The Turtle has no doubt that 2016 will bring more racing fun and adventure, but for the moment, she is ready to hang up her running shoes for a few weeks, for she has earned a much deserved rest.

The happy end to a chapter.

The happy end to a chapter.

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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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Running, Travel

Trail des Tranchées 2015

This is a recap of Race #4 of the season, the Trail des Tranchées 2015, also known as Hell and Highwater, or What Was I Thinking? or Never Again. First of all, a little trailer from the organisers…

Since the Ninja Turtle has spent all week trying to recover from the ordeal and catching up with work, she cannot afford to re-write this story and so she’s taking the lazy way out by sharing an excerpt of a private communique with a fellow-blogger-running-expert-turned-good-friend, to whom she owes a huge debt for being a listening ear and a personal cheerleader when she was completely flipping out before the race. Thank you, Rod. You’re the man.

The story will be punctuated with some images, which is the second reason for the delay. Given the weather conditions, GodzillaPin was unable to follow the Ninja Turtle during the race to take photos. The official photos were only just released a few hours ago, as the organisers were taking their sweet-a** time uploading them. Anyway…

The Story

“Sunday’s run was… interesting. We lost an hour due to daylight savings, so I woke up after 5h of average sleep. Due to the weather, some participants didn’t even both showing up, apparently. Not enough to be noticeable, but it was the word on the grapevine.
Lost an hour to daylight savings

Lost an hour to daylight savings

Anyway, the Yellow Alert weather forecast warning for rains didn’t deter the organisers from giving us the green light, so off we went in the wind and rain.
The 43km race route took us along the trenches of WWI, and it was a resounding success when it debuted last year.

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But instead of marvelling the forts, hide-outs and bomb craters, this year’s rain meant we were sometimes almost knee-deep in mud, and sightseeing was the last thing we felt like doing. The winds from the previous night of up to 80kph had succeeded to rip some trees apart, and the primary issue was safety. Even at the first fuel stop (12km), so many were already moaning about how sick and tired they were of it, and how they wanted to go home. It felt like we were re-living the war!
As you can imagine, the 1000m elevation, with 95% muddy trails, over 43km in a highly technical terrain… it was pure survival mode. So many people were slipping, sliding and falling, but I took care to slow down rather than risking a fall.
I made friends with a few guys, who were all buddies in a trail running club. I’d helped one of them twice, once by picking up his lost water bottle and another time when I offered to wash his wound with some water, and after that he happily introduced me to his mates as his copine Singapourienne, cheeky bugger.
TdTofficial16
I was grateful for the company though, and we all ran/walked together as long as we could, telling jokes and stories to keep morale up, until I had to break ahead for a bit. Past the 25th km I so badly wanted walk but my temperature was dropping perilously fast, so I had to maintain at least a jog to avoid hypothermia. My small body size was no match against the 60kph winds and 3+ hours of rain, despite eating copious amounts at each fuel stop to generate heat.

The organisers were sick bastards who threw in a few hill climbs of over 40% incline, in the last 10km. These were super muddy, and at one point, I slowed down by just 1.5 seconds, and found my foot sinking into the mud to knee level. I almost lost my shoe, and was stuck so fast, I couldn’t move. I looked around for help but I was all alone (in the rain, in the mud, with another 6km to go, I wanted to cry), so I used both hands, grabbed my thigh, and yanked my leg out.

TdTofficial2

Are you beginning to see how this isn’t even running, let alone a race, anymore? There were ZERO spectators through the whole course, and of course, no entertainment.
Some runners decide to become the course entertainment.

Some runners decide to become the course entertainment.

I only began to notice how perhaps I’ve underestimated myself, when I started overtaking people in the last 10km despite these conditions.
When it doesn't stop pouring with rain, and the wind wants to blow you to Spain, just keep running with a smile, cos you've still got another 25 miles...

When it doesn’t stop pouring with rain, and the wind wants to blow you to Spain, just keep running with a smile, cos you’ve still got another 25 miles…

I tend to be one of the shy ones who hang around at the back of the starting line, but I overtook about 2 dozen men towards the end. My fastest kilometre splits were also the 42 and 43rd kilometres, which tells me I must have my pacing down pat.


The final torture came at the home stretch – out of the forest and into open space, back to the village, it was over 1km of exposure to the tempest. I’d been going for almost 5h 30m and all I could think of was the finish line beer. A middle-aged gentleman came up from behind and overtook me, but then slowed down to look back at me. I yelled at him “don’t slow down now, mister, we’re almost at the end!” and he said OK and pulled ahead.

But after 200m, something wasn’t right, he was beginning to lope weirdly. I pulled up and asked if he was all right, and he grimaced “I’ve got a cramp and it’s only getting worse”. So I linked my arm around him and said, “come on, we’re almost there”.

He wanted me to go ahead but I refused, and linked my arm around his, and kept talking to distract him and give him a mental boost. After 100m he was struggling even more, so I threw his arm over my shoulder, and supported as much of his weight as I could (thank God he was not much bigger than I am). I half-dragged this poor man the last 300m, and we crossed the line together.

Code of trail runners AND soldiers in combat: leave no man behind.

Code of trail runners AND soldiers in combat: leave no man behind.

I opened my finish-line beer immediately, and it was the sweetest nectar in the world. I forgot to look at the official time we finished, but it seemed completely irrelevant at that stage. I’d done the hardest race in my life, in the shittiest conditions, and I learnt that in the face of adversity, I simply become stronger.”
Epilogue
There are challenges, and then there are challenges. The Ninja Turtle started running in races because each and every one presented a unique opportunity for her to challenge herself to do better. Yet, it’s fair to say that this race was, hands down, the absolute best and worst race in her life, thus making it one-of-a-kind.
For readers with a stats fetish, here are the figures:
Official time: 5h 34m 47s
GPS time: 5h 33m 24s
Category ranking: 12 out of 17 women
Overall ranking: 127 out of 154 finishers
The worst marathon time in the Ninja Turtle’s running life, but her most splendid performance. Of the 205 participants who registered, a few probably DNS, while plenty others obviously DNF’ed. Finishing this race wasn’t only a success, it was a life-changing and epic journey.
When her courage wavered, she thought of her country’s late former Prime Minister, and his steel will, discipline, focus and determination.
When the elements made a difficult route overwhelmingly tough, she thought of the soldiers who braved four years of this hell during the WWI. Most of them were young men, far from home, scared and lonely. They died so we could enjoy the freedom to pursue such insanity today.
When the trucks carrying all the DNFers back to the village rolled past, and it was so easy to just raise an arm and say “I surrender”, she thought of family and friends who loved her and believed in her. OK, so they weren’t necessarily informed in advance about her signing up for this, just in case she got yelled at, but surely they are all retrospectively proud of her.
Like trail running, life is ugly, messy, painful, and full of shit. There are too many ways to hurt yourself, and at the worst of times, it feels like a neverending journey. There are times when we ask the question “what are we doing here?”
But like trail running, life throws us beautiful moments too – the chance to make new friends, plenty of good food to enjoy (even if it’s only raisins, bananas, cake and Coke), and when you dare to face a challenge that seemed far bigger than yourself, it is only then you open up your heart, look into your soul, and learn what you’re truly made of. That, my friends, is priceless.
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Arts and Culture, Running, Travel

Running Along the Thread of Time

My shadow and I went for a run today
I said “Christopher, come out, let’s play!
It’s been too long since you last ran
You look quite tubby in fact, my man!”
Christopher nodded, so off we went
To tackle the first of many ascents
He broke no sweat, and kept up with ease
While my breath was visible as I wheezed

A silent world on a Saturday dawn
The sun kissed us as a new day is born
While the earth lay dormant, gefroren und weiß^
Encrusted in a shell of sparkling ice
Lone witnesses to such glorious beauty
Our hearts sang in silent harmony
Our feet shuffling to a joyful dance
Through a lost village in a corner of France

The winding road rose up to meet us
We tackled each hill with minimal fuss
Passing the ghosts of Quatorze-Dix-Huit*
Des cimetières, monuments et villages détruits **
How much of our lives we owe to the fallen
In this hour of peace, may they not be forgotten
We bowed our heads in respect as we passed
These little reminders – dead hands of the past

Four hours and forty minutes later
26 miles, we’d also run out of water
I was cramping badly in both my thighs
While the sun had vanished in the skies
The headwinds reached 50kph
A windstorm was slowly starting to rage
Christopher’d vanished, I was now alone
To make the final stretch back home

So I did the sane and responsible thing
I gave my better half a ring
“Come pick me up!” I shouted into the phone
While all around, the angry wind moaned
That night in bed, all stiff and sore
I thought of my shadow, I thought of war
I thought how I’m so undeservingly lucky
To have been born in the 21st century.

20150228_102409

Montfaucon d’Argonne, in the footsteps of the fallen of 1914.

^ frozen and white
* WWI (also known as The Great War, or 1914-1918)
** the cemeteries, monuments, and destroyed villages

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Our Living Heritage

This week, the Ninja Turtle had the excellent fortune of being invited to the private residence of one of Mother Turtle’s oldest friends, Auntie Sylvia, with the express purpose of learning how to make ang ku kueh. What? you say.

A little bit of context: just as the French people don’t simply call themselves français when speaking among themselves, but rather from the geographic region of origin: i.e. “je suis Parisenne/Bretonne/Vogienne/etc“, the Ninja Turtle identifies as Teochew, in reference to the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, where her forebears originated from.

Ang ku kueh, or 红龟粿, translates literally to Red Tortoise Cake. Red because it’s an auspicious colour for the Chinese, and tortoise for its longevity, good fortune and prosperity (or so says Wikipedia). Looking at the key ingredients – sweet potato, mung beans, tapioca starch and glutinous rice flour, the Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised to learn that this dessert is in fact, gluten-free! (It’d be a long stretch calling it Paleo-friendly with the food colouring, but hey, 80/20 rule, right?)

Although ang ku kueh is still widely available for purchase in local bakeries, the sad reality is, like the spoken language of Teochew, the art of making traditional desserts is slowly dying in this globalised world. Hence, when the Ninja Turtle received the invitation to learn from Lao Sim, a master of traditional cakes, she jumped at the opportunity.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

As most expert cuisiniers are wont to do, the way Lao Sim treats the food scale borders almost on the ornamental – that is to say, she can be quite unspecific with quantities. When her students requested to measure and record the quantities, they would be met with the retort “ah ka ah ka jiu hor lah, ming jing zhung!” which translates to “a guestimate will do” but said in the tone that implied food scales were for weaklings.

From many years of experience, she works with her eyes and her hands to determine how much of what ingredients to use. Her judgement will yield either a frown followed by a brisk addition of some flour, shaken straight out of the bag, or a slug of liquid into a mixture, or a satisfied nod and grunt of approval, whereupon the work would proceed to the next step without fanfare.

As such, the Ninja Turtle feels compelled to disclaim that despite her best efforts in recording, some ingredients’ quantities weren’t always made clear, hence she cannot take 100% responsibility for queer results. Nonetheless, if you are feeling adventurous, here is a recipe with photos.

Ang Ku Kueh Recipe
Equipment
Food scale
Blender
Steaming baskets
Moulds for ang ku kueh

Preparations

Skin of the ang ku kueh

The following list of ingredients is to make one batch. If you’re making two batches – one sweet and one semi-salted, the quantities must be doubled. To differentiate the two types, work with each batch separately and leave out the red food colouring in one batch, or substitute it with another colour if you’re feeling wacky.

  • Glutinous rice flour 300g
  • Tapioca starch 300g
  • Course sugar 7 teaspoons
  • Pinch of salt
  • Unspecified quantity of oil
  • Blended sweet potato 650g
  • Sweet potato liquid
  • Red food colouring

Fillings

Half-salted filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • 3 tablespoons shallots

Sweet filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 500g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • Unspecified quantity of oil

Heat warm water. Add sugar.
Let sugar dissolve over medium heat – do not caramelise.
Add bean powder and stir to a paste.
Add glutinous rice flour to make paste sticky.
Add oil to make the paste smooth.

Sweet and half-salted fillings must be worked on separately. Don’t confuse the batches!

Putting it together

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable...

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable…

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Arts and Culture, Stories, Travel

The Spirit of Australia

Another day, another adventure into the heart of Australia. This time, the Ninja Turtle took a trip along the Murray River.

Australia's longest river commencing in the Australian Alps, traversing three states - NSW, VIC and SA.

Pelicans on the Murray River

The Murray is Australia’s longest river, commencing in the Australian Alps and traversing three states – NSW, VIC and SA before reaching Lake Alexandrina, where it empties into the Indian Ocean. The first explorer who traversed the Murray was the celebrated Captain Charles Sturt.  The significance of the Murray cannot be understated – it is a water source exploited for livestock and agriculture, a popular destination tourism and recreation, and of course, a natural habitat for native wildlife.

On the way down south, the route took them through Jervois. Many early settlers sought valuable land along the Murray for agriculture and animal husbandry – the history of cattle farming in Jervois goes back a couple of hundred years. Only a few years ago, this whole stretch of flatland were emerald green pastures, irrigated with water from the Murray and dotted with dairy cows.

Looking something like that.

Looking something like that.

Sadly, South Australia suffered a drought in 2008/2009, which saw the government pressuring the dairy farmers into selling back their water rights. Today, little remains of what used to be a thriving dairy industry, and much has turned into scorched and unproductive land.

Vast stretches of dry emptiness.

Vast stretches of dry emptiness.

Milk from the few surviving dairy producers go into making cheese...

Milk from the few surviving dairy producers go into making cheese…

Specifically, mozzarella

Specifically, mozzarella!

Next, they took a ferry across the Narrows at Narrung – a choppy opening between Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, to reach Raukkan.

Along the way, they passed many of these dried out salt lakes with a thick white crust of salt. Yes, Australia is very dry.

Along the way, they passed many of these dried out salt lakes with a thick white crust of salt. Yes, Australia is very dry.

To get an idea of just how big Lake Alexandrina really is, here's proof. The lighthouse in this photo is the lighthouse for the lake, one of its kind in Australia.

To get an idea of just how big Lake Alexandrina really is, here’s proof. The lighthouse in this photo is the lighthouse for the lake, one of its kind in Australia.

Raukkan is a small Aboriginal community

Raukkan is a small friendly Aboriginal community

It is one of the very few around where visitors do not need a special pass/permit to enter

It is one of the very few around where visitors do not need a special pass/permit to enter.

Some of the architecture around are the original buildings constructed back in the 1800s during the settlement. They are built with limestone from the area.

Some of the architecture around are the original buildings constructed back in the 1800s during the settlement. They are built with limestone from the area.

Raukkan is also the birthplace of David Unaipon (he worked as a sheep shearer in that very shed).

Raukkan is also the birthplace of David Unaipon (he worked as a sheep shearer in that very shed).

David Who? you say… Well, you may better know him as this man:

Unaipon, who has been called "the black Leonardo", is an indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people

Unaipon, who has been called “the black Leonardo”, is an indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people.

Some quick facts about David Unaipon:

– He was a  writer, inventor, public speaker
– He created a basic design for the helicopter about 2 decades before the first one was invented
– He served as an advocate for indigenous welfare
– He wrote poetry and stories that were published in books, but was never credited (he could also quote Milton)
– Of course, despite all his achievements, success was denied him due to overt and pervasive racism
Here is a timeline on David Unaipon’s achievements. Here is an excellent write-up by Kidman on the life of David Unaipon.
For all their "otherness" society treats the Aborigines with, they are no different from the rest of us.

For all their “otherness” society treats the Aborigines with, they are no different from the rest of us.

They live, they love, and they die... as we all do.

They live, they love, and they die… as we all do.

Acknowledging the traditional landowners is an important step to reconciliation for past wrongs, and it is with the hope of reaching a better mutual understanding, that Australia shall truly be able to progress.

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Arts and Culture, Travel

Hello Adelaide!

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and it was with great reluctance that the Ninja Turtle left Sydney – and Sonic the Hedgehog – for the next stop in her itinerary: Adelaide.

So many things to do, so little time! Functioning on 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night while travelling was beginning to take a toll, and the Ninja Turtle saw an impending crash ahead. Luckily, she has amazingly understanding friends who helped her switch gears and slow down.

Catching up with old friends lovely dolphin cruise at Port Adelaide.

Catching up with old friends over a lovely dolphin cruise at Port Adelaide.


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Everyone on board...

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For the captain is ready to set sail!

The weather was finicky – they got the sun, the clouds, the wind, the rain all within 2 hours of the cruise.

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Blow wind blow!

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Some folks fishing for cockles


The cruise ship had a restaurant bar and the Turtle and friends settled in to a relaxing lunch on the water.
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Thanking the real Captain for a safe and pleasant trip before disembarking


As they waited for the weather to change, they decided to kill some time at the Larg’s Pier Hotel.
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Built in 1882, this building is rich in history. It was used as a lookout for German ships during the WWII. Later, it became a favourite hotel for Australian bands such as ACDC to perform in during their early career days. Today, it is an award-winning accommodation with wonderful service at the bar.
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Retaining a lot of its original architecture and design

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It boasts a stylish yet relaxed atmosphere

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And rattan ceiling fans never seen before by the Ninja Turtle

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Hot chocolates and cappuccinos = Happiness

Thousands of people come into our lives, but only a very few stay for long. Friends are the Ninja Turtle’s most precious treasures in the world. Friends worth travelling halfway across the world for.

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