Questions to ask myself for GE 2015

After listening to so many rallies and the various parties’ questions and responses, I need this cooling-off day more than ever. The photo above was taken from the Punggol Park Connector Network (PCN) and this is an example of good planning. As you can see from the photo, the scenery is nice and I love it. But it’s not perfect. The river gets polluted occasionally with algae (boom) as in the photo. But after some cleaning up, it will be back to the little nice greenery corner in our concrete garden. I thought this is quite apt to illustrate the current political environment in Singapore where PAP has done a great job but still, there are problems here and there. Are we right to expect a perfect government (aka PAP) ? Are we wrong to demand a proper check and balance in the parliament for policies that are, hopefully, more sound ?

On this cooling-off day, I am going to think through these questions and cast my vote on 11 Sep 2015 carefully. I belong to the “sandwich class” where I am likely to get the least subsidies/benefits but pay the most taxes. Am I complaining ? No, I am not. I am more than happy to contribute to the nation’s building towards SG100. I am, too, worried about my children’s future, and my own future. I am also want to do my part to build a better environment for the future generations, and for myself when I retire.

What should I look for in a Member of Parliament (MP) ? 

Fundamentally there are 3 requirements that are important to me.

  1. Ability to plan and formulate sound policies
  2. Passion to serve the people
  3. In touch with the ground

Some people have the ability to lead but don’t want to serve. Some people have the passion to serve but lack the ability. Some people have both the ability and passion to serve but are out of touch with the ground. Most, if not all, PAP candidates possess #1 without a doubt. #2 and #3 may be questionable for some PAP candidates. For example, when Dr Lily Neo called for the government to increase public assistance handouts to the poor in 2007, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan asked “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”. It’s scary when these words came from the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. Dr Balakrishnan clearly lacks #2 and #3.

On the other hand, we have oppositions like Mr Tan Jee Say making irresponsible comments such as giving $300 monthly allowance to help the elderly in their retirement. He said the money will come from the additional “profit” that GIC have made with our CPF monies. I hope he doesn’t spend every single cent he has in his bank account and leave nothing for rainy days.

So if I see a candidate with all #1, #2 and #3, it will be a no-brainer for me to vote him/her into the Parliament, regardless of his/her party.

Party or Candidate ? 

I was constantly reminded that we should vote for PAP as they are proven ( for the past 50 years ) and only they have the qualities to form the government. There was even a note circulating around to warn voters on the possibility of having a freak result where PAP loses the majority of the seats. In the industry I work, we call this FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubts).

Am I voting for the party or candidate ? Is PAP going to lose the election ( and rights to form the government ) if I vote for opposition candidate in my constituency ? I can only influence the 1, 4, 5 or 6 seats out of the 89. How can my vote over-throw PAP ? If it really happens, then it can’t be a freak result as it means the majority of Singaporeans actually voted for the oppositions. With all the careful planning of the electoral boundaries, this freak result will never happen. Besides I also believe that the majority of the oppositions are not ready to win their constituencies (yet).

Thus, am I voting for the party to form the government or candidate to represent me in Parliament ? Like it or not, PAP will form the government with the majority of the 89 seats. I don’t see how PAP can lose AMK, Tampines, Pasir-Ris and many more. Surely we don’t have that many irrational voters ? The question is just how many seats will be taken up by credible ( I hope ) oppositions.

Voting for the past or future ?

For the past 50 years, PAP has done a fantastic job in governing Singapore. With the limitations we have, nobody could have possibly done a better job than LKY and his team. While we reminisce our achievements for the past 50 years, we also need to understand that the election tomorrow is about the team who will lead us to the next 50 years, not the team who had led us to success in the past 50 years. If the candidates standing for election today are LKY, Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, Devan Nair, S. Rajaratnam, Ong Teng Cheong or Tan Cheng Bock, I will vote for them regardless of their party. These forefathers of Singapore served with passion and were always on the ground to understand the needs of the people. But seriously how many MPs today really serve with passion? How many really know what the people want ?

So I say, follow my heart and vote for the person with the 3 attributes mentioned above. If all the candidates don’t ( which is the case in many constituencies ), then vote for the lesser evil which should be PAP in most of the cases.

Check and Balance

I am a firm believer of “check and balance”. No matter how many times I check my work, there will always be mistakes ( some are even very simple and glaring ones ). Thus, I always believe in having a third party to provide alternative view and perception. We learnt in school that groupthink is bad, isn’t it ? However, we also don’t want to hinder progress with the endless and mindless debates as well. So where’s the balance ?

As far as I can remember, the oppositions in Singapore have never been very strong. Even if they were voted into the Parliament, they rarely make noise for they only make noise during rallies. Once in a while, we may get a credible and responsible opposition candidate ( with the 3 attributes above ) who will challenge status quo, provide alternatives ( not just empty talks ) and not veto for the sake of it. Chiam See Tong is a good example but oppositions like him are few and far between. Sylvia Lim and Dr. Chee Soon Juan are two whom I think also fit the bill.

Just-in-Time Learning

I am a JIT guy; never do homework way in advance and 临时抱佛脚 is my strength. This time is no different. My impression of Dr. Chee Soon Juan had never been positive. Though I don’t think he is the “madman” that the media made him out to be, I was skeptical about his character and even feared that he would create havoc in the Parliament much like  J. B. Jeyaretnam. *** Please do not get me wrong. I have huge respect for people who made sacrifices to build a better Singapore and JBJ is definitely one of them. ***

However, my impression of Dr. Chee has somewhat changed after hearing his rallies, doing some reading and research on him for the past week. Whether it is his sacking from NUS, his hunger strike, how he ousted his mentor, how CST denounced him in parliament, his acceptance of the invitation from the students of the Williams College to the so-called “alternative panel” discussion in 1995 or his imprisonments, I feel that I can give him the benefit of doubt that he was victimized. He is definitely not a saint but I feel I can trust his character, his belief for democracy and his care forb the people. I could be wrong but here are some links for you to judge for yourself what kind of person he is. ***  Please watch the video in link #1 and #4 below, at least. ***

  1. A video of his family life. This is what triggered my curiosity for this man.
  2. CSJ’s first rally in GE 2015. Skip to the 19th min if you just want to listen to his speech in English.
  3. CSJ’s lunchtime rally at Raffles Place
  4. A surprise video message to Dr Chee Soon Juan by his family. Can you sense the warmth and sincerity?.
  5. CSJ’s explanation of CST’s “sacking” from SDP
  6. A recent interview with CSJ where he shared a lot of his views, which I find them consistent with what I read

The road ahead

The Road Ahead
We have just celebrated 50 years of independence and the next 50 years will be more challenging.

I don’t want groupthink in the Parliament but not at the expense of synergy either. I want credible opposition to provide check and balance but not at the expense of mindless debates.

Much as I like LHL, I think his party is lacking in people who have the passion to serve. He put scholars to run ministries that they have no experience in. Is it fair for Lui Tuck Yew to take the blame for our transportation woes when he is a SAF Navy scholar with major in Chemistry? Dr Ng Eng Hen is a medical doctor and yet he doesn’t run Ministry of Health but the Ministry of Defense.  Gan Kim Yong was the CEO of NatSteel before he joined politics and now he is the Minister for Health ? These people are highly successful in their own areas of expertise but does it mean that they will also excel in any other fields ?

Why not give the people within each ministry a chance ? Even if they do not have the same number of aces in their academic certificates as these scholars, surely their experience can make up for them ? You need to be part of the system to know what nuts are loose, isn’t it ?

After the dust is settled, I hope LHL will put the right people to the right jobs and ministries. Ability and passion to serve are equally important to leave behind a legacy, as demonstrated by the founding members of modern Singapore. Majulah Singapura !

 

Bali – Kuta Paradiso Hotel Bali

 

Kuta Paradiso Hotel Bali

For the 5 days that we spent in Bali, we stayed in only one hotel and that’s Kuta Paradiso Hotel Bali, which is located at the South Bali, Kuta. I reckon most people would choose to move from place to place as they travel in Bali, just to experience the different types of accommodation such as resort, villa, spa, etc. For us, it was a conscious decision to stay put at a resort and not to move every other day. In hindsight, we should have chosen to stay in one of the villas for 1~2 nights and saved us a few hours of traveling each day.

What’s great about this hotel is definitely its location; centrally located in Kuta area. If you turn right upon leaving the hotel, you will reach the Discovery Mall in 5 minutes. If you turn left, you will reach Kuta square in about the same time. Shopping, restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, Western, Seafood, etc) are easily available in the vicinity of the hotel. If you head towards the back of the hotel, you will reach the famous Kuta beach in less than 5 minutes. Really, I couldn’t ask for a better location than this. 🙂

Our super big double super-singles bed

The hotel staff helped to join the 2 beds for us

We booked the room via one of the online travel sites and the system didn’t allow us to specify our requirements very clearly then. We wanted a king-sized bed, but were given 2 single beds. The hotel staff, however, was very kind and helped us to put the 2 single beds together so that it became a super king-sized bed. Kudos to them for their great hospitality and affability.

A good spread of food

Good variety of condiments for the porridge

Egg station

Local Balinese Delights

Tropical fruits served in a fruit carving bowl

Snake fruit, or Salak

On one hand, the front-desk staff was very helpful and made special arrangement to accede to our request for the room configuration. On the other hand, they were also very “inflexible” in some of their policies.

Breakfast was included in our booking. However, it was only for 2 people per day and we had 4 in each room. In other words, 2 of us from each family ( remember that we had 2 families? ) won’t be able to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. Even though we had a total of 4 nights x 2 guests x 2 rooms = 16 vouchers, we can’t swap or combine our vouchers. The hotel’s policies are very rigid and it’s strictly 2 guests per day, based on the breakfast vouchers which were dated. Despite our appeal and reasoning, the front-desk simply refused to budge.  So much so for “customer service”, eh?

Anyway, we tried our luck the next morning and we gave them our daily voucher for 2, but with 4 of us walking into the restaurant. Guess what? It worked cos they didn’t even bother to check ! We did that for the next 3 mornings and the success rate was 100%. Now, your mileage may vary and please don’t quote me if you are caught for trying to “smuggle” into the restaurant.

As you can see from the photos above, their breakfast is very good and they have a very good spread  from International to Chinese to the local Balinese food. It’s your loss if you can’t enjoy the breakfast. 🙂

Carvings like this are very common in Bali

Besides a good breakfast spread, the hotel also has a very nice swimming facility. We spent a fun morning on our last day at the pool; playing water games such as basket-ball and volley-ball. These games are available on a first come first serve basis and there is no formal rental process for the balls – finders keepers, losers weepers, simple as that. But do remember that we are all civilized people and thus let’s share our “loot” when you are the “finder”. Sharing is, afterall, one of the virtues that we want to teach our children, right?

Nice pool

How about a game of basket-ball ?

I am not too bad, eh ?

Pool volley-ball ?

Yes, I got the ball …

Generally, I like the hotel. It’s spacious. It’s centrally located amongst the amentities like shops, pharmacies, money-changers, restaurants, malls and perhaps most importantly, the Kuta beach.

Kuta beach in the morning

Kuta beach with its myriad of activities like para-sailing, kite-flying and surfing.

Temples are found everywhere in Bali, beach included. Thus, if you are also into photography, do spend some time in the early morning walking around the vicinity of the hotel and be in awe by some of the architectures.

A typical Balinese temple

A peek into the backyard of rich family

A small temple at a road junction

Ok, that’s all I have for my 5 day trip in Bali. I am sure I will be back to this beautiful island again and next time, I shall stay in a villa ! 🙂

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Bali – Jimbaran Seafood at Ganesha Cafe

 

Ganesha Cafe

So I have come to the last night of our 5-days-4-nights Bali holidays and we finally got to eat the famous grilled seafood at Jimbaran. The weather for the past three days had been rather erratic and we always had to postpone this dinner due to the bad weather.

Rows of tables at the beach

We came with great anticipation; and with great expectation come great disappointment. The ambience was fantastic, no questions on that – dinning by the sea, waiting for sunset, everything was perfect, until the food was served.

 There are many seafood restaurants in Jimbaran, all serving the same food;  lined up in a row. Our driver brought us to Ganesha Cafe, which is the first one as you approach the stretch of restaurants. Let’s start with the positives first – ambience. We arrived at about 5pm and it was freaking hot and sunny. Being their first customer, we had the privilege to choose any table we wanted and we even got them to move one of the beach umbrellas to us. Their service is not fantastic but definitely not rude either. I am perfectly okay with their service as they were, at least, responsive to our requests.

Not all tables come with an umbrella and we had to request for one.

Another thing I like about this place is that there is no pressure for you to finish your meal quickly. We took our time to play at the beach, sip cold ice lemon tea while waiting for the sun to set. One thing that we grew to love in Bali is their grilled sweet corn (or “jagung” in Bahasa), which is usually sweet and juicy. If you come across one, try it and you will thank me for giving you this recommendation. 🙂

“jagung” man (again)

Grilled Sweet Corn over Traditional Charcoal

Yum yum …

That’s about all the positives that I can think of and let’s talk about the “no-so-good” areas, shall we? Firstly, it rained just before the sun set. OMG, we didn’t get a single view of the sunset for our entire trip! Okay, this is really nobody’s fault and in fact, we were quite lucky to “grab” the last available table which was inside the restaurant. There were families who were slower than us that had to settle for tables outside, where they were only partial sheltered.

Choosing our seafood

Secondly, which is also the most disappointing reason, the food sucks! This was the only meal in our entire trip that we didn’t finish everything.

Grilled Squid

I almost fainted when I was served with this plate of grilled squid. There was no presentation, no taste and it was very difficult to chew. Then came our grilled chicken & fish (see photos below), which were everything but appetizing.

Grilled Chicken

Grilled fish

BBQ Crab

Grilled Prawns

Then we forgot that chilli is basic part of  Balinese diet. Thus their definition of BBQ is the same as BBQ with chilli; their definition of stir-fried vegetable is the as good as stir-fried vegetable with chilli. I think you get the idea. Chilli is automatically added to any style of cooking. 😦

Imagine we had a table full of food, but there was nothing that the kids could eat. So I guess this was the real “killer” for the night. If you have the chance to read this post before your trip, please do take note of these experiences we had and hopefully you will have a better time (than us).

Obviously their prayers for good weather didn’t really work … 🙂

Enjoying herself before the rain

Music by the beach for a small token

Jumping – A must for every trip. 🙂

Night view of the restaurant

And the star for the night goes to … ** drum roll ** … Jagung !

 

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Bali – Ubud Monkey Forest

We have quite a few members in our group who are terrified of monkeys, let alone close encounters with them. So you may have guessed, the Monkey Forest was not in our original plan. But since we had some time before our dinner at Jimbaran, we managed to convince them to go for it anyway. As it turned out, the experience wasn’t as daunting as we had imagined. In fact, I find the monkeys were not as aggressive as those in Uluwatu. Just relax, don’t bring any food and walk through the forest quietly; leave the monkeys alone and they will leave you alone too. I think you will be fine, really.

Entrance to the Monkey Forest

As with most other attractions in Bali, there is an element of integrity when it comes to admission charges. After we bought the tickets at the entrance booth (see photo above), there is no more gates or check-points. In fact, I had the tickets intact with me even after I left the forest. Sometimes, I really wonder will anybody know if I didn’t buy the ticket or I bought insufficient tickets? Since the charges are quite reasonable and of course we are people with integrity, we bought the full tickets. 🙂

 The so-called “forest” is more like a park; no dirt tracks and everything is very well maintained. For that matter, we didn’t even see any monkey poops on the pavement. Instead, we saw monkeys everywhere.

A baby monkey

Looking at how these monkeys behave sometimes put us (as human beings) to shame; at least they know how to treat each other with respect, look after each other and perhaps more importantly, not afraid to show their love, affection and care for each other openly. Human beings, sometimes, are too skeptical and often double guess each other’s well intentions. Sigh.

Monkeys grooming each other

A family

And did I mention before that temples are everywhere in Bali? So right in the centre of the forest is yet another temple. This temple was locked and although I could see devotees inside, I couldn’t get in.

A temple inside Monkey Forest

Now, for those who are afraid of monkeys and don’t believe me when I said you will be alright if you leave the monkeys alone, take a look at the photo below. These are my travel mates who are afraid of monkeys and see how excited (or brave if you like) they have become? LOL.

Who can resist the cute monkeys ?

It’s gonna be kinda weird if there is no “monkey business” in this forest/park that is full of monkeys, right? Fret not. For the more adventurous ones, you can buy some bananas from the store at the entrance and have a ball of time with the monkeys. You can take a look at the photos below to get some ideas. 🙂

Fun

This monkey conveniently sat on this tourist’s shoulders to eat the banana … LOL.

 

A group photo with the local kids

Image Source: monkeyforestubud.com

Useful Information – Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:  

General Information:

  • http://monkeyforestubud.com/index.php
  • Open hours: 8.00am to 6.30pm daily
  • Address: Jalan Monkey Forest, Padangtegal, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia (80571)
  • Admission Charges: There is a nominal entrance fee (something like IDR15,000 if I didn’t remember wrongly)

 

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Bali – Ubud Centre and Market

Ubud (pronounced as “Woo-Bood”) is a small town in central Bali, about one hour drive from Kuta. There are three main streets in the Ubud town: Jl Raya Ubud, Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Hanoman, which forms a circle around the town. From the google map below, the street “Jl Wenara Wana” should be the same as “Jl Monkey Forest”. 

Our guide dropped us just outside the Monkey forest, i.e. Jl Monkey Forest, and a leisure walk round the town (clockwise) took us about 2 hours, excluding the time we spent in the Ubud palace and Dirty Duck restaurant. Hopefully this will give you an idea on how much to spend in this serene town.

As a cultural centre of Bali, you can find a lot of shops selling art pieces like paintings, wood carvings, hand-made dresses and accessories. If you are a shopper (especially ladies), then this might just be the place for you. There are a lot of individual shops or boutiques that sell pretty unique items and I guess most of them are handmade, and that’s why.

Besides shopping, there are also a lot of spas and cafes. Walk, shop, drink and then massage. Sounds good? Well, this is the place then. 🙂

 

Shops like this are common in Ubud

Another shop

A shop-owner making her daily offerings to the god

An interesting household where there are 2 entrances due to the sloping ground

Walking further along the road, we reached the Ubud Market, which is located near the junction of Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Raya Ubud. Generally, I think this place sells more factory-made products. Even the paintings sold here seem to be mass produced with uncanny similarities. 🙂 

We were told to bargain at this place but the prices seemed to be already quite reasonable (by the local standard). We bought some items and we didn’t bargain much, i.e. 10% ~ 20% or just rounding amount. Maybe it was because we were early (and possibly one of the first few customers for the day) and that’s why the prices they quoted were quite reasonable. Or maybe this is really the place to shop. Whatever it is, your mileage may vary and this information is just for your reference. 

Ubud Market

Another view of Ubud Market

T-Shirts, shawls and scarves are found in Ubud Market

Ornaments found in Ubud Market

Not sure if fatigue was the cause, but none of us was in the shopping mood that day. We were done with our shopping in less than 20 minutes in this market, which is not very big to begin with.

Anyway, just diagonally across the road is the Ubud Palace where the admission is free and it’s not too bad a place to explore if you have some time to spare. That’s my next post by the way, stay tuned !
Useful Information – Ubud Centre : 

General Information:

  • Opening hours: Most of the shops are open by 11am
  • Convenience stores and money changers are available
  • Transportation within the Ubud centre is not necessary. We could cover the area easily on foot, with plenty of rest stops like cafes and restaurants.
  • There are many performances in Ubud. You can refer to this link for details.

Estimated traveling time by car:

  • Kuta  Ubud Centre : 60 minutes

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Bali – Luwak Civet Coffee Farm

It started to rain when we were at Mount Batur. Despite having spent (or rather wasted) one hour taking shelter in a souvenir super-mart (warehouse),  the unrelenting rain showed no signs of stopping. We had to make a decision – to continue with our itinerary in the rain, or to go back to our hotel and call it a day. Reluctantly, we chose the former.

Inside the coffee plantation

Our guide brought us to a local coffee plantation, Satria Agrowisata, which is more like a setup to provide education and coffee/tea tasting than a plantation. Don’t expect to walk between rows of coffee trees. Instead, there will be many different types of plants, spices, fruits, etc planted along the pathway with proper identification for you to improve on your general knowledge. 

It was rather unfortunate that the weather wasn’t permitting and we didn’t explore the plantation as much as we would like to. Nevertheless,  we had a good time at the plantation, sipping our hot coffee / tea while enjoying the greenery (in the cold). 

A hut with a visual display of the coffee making process

We spent quite some time in this hut (see photo above) where the process of the coffee making was displayed, including a demo and hands-on if you like.

Just slightly beyond the hut is the main store where we got to taste the different types of tea and coffee (Ginseng coffee, Bali cocoa, Ginger tea, Rosella tea, Lemon tea, Lemon grass tea, Rice tea, Vanilla coffee and many more). And yes, you will get to taste all of them. Of course there is no free lunch (or tea/coffee in this case). The samplers are generally very nice and you can buy them from the store. Although the prices are generally quite expensive, I am not sure if you could get them elsewhere or in the super-mart. We bought quite a few packs back and the taste is quite authentic.

Free Samplers for Tasting

Nice ambience for coffee / tea tasting

Luwak coffee (or Civet coffee) as you know, is the most expensive coffee in the world. There are tons of information out there in the Internet if you are keen to find out more about this “amazing” coffee. Although coffee is part of my daily diet, I am not a fan of Luwak coffee, simply because of the way the coffee is being prepared or processed. 🙂

This is the infamous Asian Palm Civet cat that produces the world’s most expensive coffee

According to the plantation guide, their Luwak coffee is produced by wild Civet cats and not those in captivity. These wild cats have free access to the coffee berries in their plantation to pick the best berries. These coffee berries will eventually passed out of their bodies pretty much intact. Every fortnight or so, the farmers will then go into the forest in search for their feces and will bring them back for processing. Does it sound yucky? Yes, it sure does…

The forest where the wild Civet cats reside

Dried feces of the Civet cat

The smaller coffee bean is the one that was passed out by the Civet cat

While all the other samplers were free of charge, Luwak coffee was not. We paid about USD$5 for one small cup of Luwak coffee just to try. Surprisingly, none of us liked it. Contrary to what most people said, I find the Luwak coffee is more bitter and it’s also a little sourish. Is it worth the price? Let’s put it this way, I will take the Singaporean Coffee-O any time.

 

It’s time to go

Useful Information – Luwak Civet Coffee Farm : 

General Information:

Admission Charges:

  • Free

Estimated traveling time by car:

  • Mount Batur  Luwak Civet Coffee Farm: 20 minutes

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Bali – Tegallalang Rice Terrace

Tegallalang Rice Terrace, which is situated in the northern end of Ubud, offers some stunning views of a rice terrace and is a good photo-stop before our next destination, Mount Batur. It’s only a short distance from Ubud centre and if you would like to have a quiet and tranquil morning or afternoon tea, I would strongly recommend this place to you.

Tegallalang Rice Terrace

Tegallalang Rice Terrace

On a hindsight, there are two things that I regretted not doing when I was at the rice terrace. I should have allocated more time (two hours would be nice) to go down the muddy path into the terrace. I saw people doing it and some of them also got a local villager to bring them around the terrace (for a small fee / tips). Secondly, imagine sipping a cup of coffee by the beautiful rice terrace. Can life be better that?

Due to some poor planning (and probably research) on my part, this shall always remain as one of my greatest regrets for this trip.

Tea houses overlooking the rice terrance at the background

This farmer is perpetually there all the time, just to pose with tourists for a small fee / tips.

There are many shops selling souvenirs and handicraft by the road

More shops. Remember, bargaining is a must here.

Some say Bali has one of the most beautiful rice terrace in the world. Most beautiful? That I am not sure. But most photogenic? I can attest to that; just look at the perfect postcard photo with the old farmer!

Useful Information – Tegallalang Rice Terrace : 

Admission Charges:

  • 20,000 IDR per car

Estimated traveling time by car:

  • Ubud  Tegallalang Rice Terrace: 20 minutes

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