Thursday, March 28, 2013

moon dogs

Last night, my husband told me the sky looked funny. I was half asleep when he told me this, so I couldn't be bothered to get dressed and out of bed to see what he was talking about.  It's funny, eh, how quickly you get used to wonderful things. Oh, look, the Milky Way in the sky. Oh, look, the northern lights. Whatever.

Luckily I had a chance to see it again tonight. It wasn't the northern lights; the sky was cloudy and the moon was full so there was no chance of us being able to see them.  Instead, it seemed like the ice crystals in the air was reflecting all the lights in town and shooting them straight up like laser beams or light sabres.

It was a pretty cool and magical effect. It was like nature was displaying its own Christmas lights, but much, much, much better than Chevy Chase ever could in a family movie. And in March.

 Then I saw the moon.

moon dog

The moisture in the sky was making the full moon particularly brilliant, but I wondered if the halo I saw around the moon was an illusionary glare from my living room window. I threw on my Canada Goose coat and went outside. It wasn't glare from the window glass.  It was, I realized, a moon dog.

When I was in undergrad in Ottawa, my friends and I used to eat at this dive called the Moon Dog Grill, located just outside campus in Sandy Hill. We liked to eat there not because the food was amazing, but because the prices were cheap, which is what students care about.  I only bring this up because the countless number of times I ate there, I never stopped to wonder what a moon dog was. I'd never even heard of moon dogs before, up until I saw it up in the Arctic sky...and then went inside to look it up on Google.

 According to Wikipedia, moon dogs are exactly analogous to sun dogs, which I sometimes see outside my office window, but more rare. They are just as beautiful, the rainbows barely discernible to the naked eye, as though you're catching a glimpse of promise rings that God has put on things in the sky.

It kind of looks like a reflection that the camera has caught on the lens, but that spot of light in the sky is actually what we see with the naked eye

sun dog

I guess these interesting nighttime sights have been happening because the weather has been warming up lately. I use the term "warming up" in a relative sense. It's -30 these days, instead of the usual -50, which I used to find so cold. But now -30 feels like spring. I take off my snowpants and walk to work. The kids celebrate the warm weather by playing out on the playground in the park. We park our cars outside and don't bother plugging it in.

These days, the sun has been rising close to 6AM and setting around 8PM.  It's only March. Soon we won't be seeing much night time around here, which will be an odd feeling. I've always loved the sun, but I think it'll be weird, without night.  I've realized it means we won't be seeing the northern lights.  It'll be interesting to see what new surprises instead the world up here has to show me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

performing in Nunavut on the internet

Thanks to everyone who checked out my debut show in Nunavut / on the internet! There were some technical issues at some points (like the part where I excitedly ran through the house to show you my place, not realizing the microphone was unplugged), but thanks for being patient, especially with the slow internet we get up here.

If you missed the performance, you can see it here:

We also released our new single, Victoria Island:

This song was a collaborative project involving musicians from various cities around the world (including Melissa Laveaux in Paris, Ro Halfhide in Amsterdam, and HIGHS in Toronto). Did you know that there's a Victoria Island in Nunavut (where Cambridge Bay is located) as well as in Ottawa? The song is available as a free download on our bandcamp site.

We have Facebook!

We have Twitter!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

live music show in Nunavut!

logo by Charles Lynch

On Tuesday March 26 at 8PM Eastern Standard Time (that's 6PM Mountain Time, my time), I'm going to be putting on a live show that's going to be streamed at the same time on Youtube, as part of this Canadian live music series called Tuestock that my colleague Jared Davidson is running (he's the editor-in-chief of Jam Jar Words).  

I'll be playing some new Scary Bear Soundtrack songs (that's the name of my band!) right from my very own home, for the whole world to see. I've already talked about how much I love my new home; now you'll be able to see with your own eyes! I'll also be releasing Scary Bear Soundtrack's new single "Victoria Island", which is about both the Arctic and Ottawa (featuring musicians from both places as well as other Canadian cities and Europe). And I'll be debuting a song I wrote about my first northern lights.

If you want to take part, just click on this link on the date at the right time: I've got more information about it here. Also, this is the Facebook page for the event.

See you there!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

frozen ocean hike

We decided to go on another weekend hike. This time we decided to walk along the coastline, right on the waters of the Arctic Ocean itself. It's all frozen this time of the year (and really, most times of the year), but it's still kind of cool to remember that technically, you're kind of walking on water.

This time we were dressed quite warmly.  Generally, it takes about five minutes just to get dressed to go outside. Snowpants, jacket, neckwarmer, hat, gloves, hood...Usually I end up completely covered except for the eyes. Like a ninja.  But I'm not stealth, like a ninja, because people say hi to me when I walk around. I have no idea how they know it's me. How do you know who someone is, when you can only see their eyes? When people wave, is it because they somehow recognize me, or is it just becaues they're friendly? How come Islamophobes complain that burkas are scary because everything is covered except for the eyes, when that's exactly how everybody goes about, in this part of Canada?

my frosty bearded hiking partner

By now, we've adjusted to the wild cold outdoors.  By the way, if I ever give off the romantic impression that I'm roughing it by living off the land, shunning the city folk, closer to nature....don't believe the hype. I'm living in a climate that is regularly MINUS FIFTY FIVE DEGREES. I'm not roughing nothing; I'm doing everything I can to be comfortable. I'm cranking my electric blanket; I'm blasting the humidifier; I get my water delivered by truck and my sewage carted out by truck (different truck); I'm driving the company car for a distance that technically I can walk in ten minutes. I have my fruits and vegetables flown in by plane. I use a sleep app on my iphone to wake me up at regular hours because I can't rely on the sun to tell the time of day. I spend my evenings playing video game and watching the Republic of Doyle online. If I've got some swagger like  McGyver, it's because I think I've done something clever, like cut my own carrots to make my own carrot sticks.

this is all ocean

Anyway, on our hike we saw some pretty cool things, frozen into the ice. Like boats that had been abandoned for the winter.

And also, sleds full of muskox horns. (oh the random awesomeness of Cambridge Bay)

And...this random stick, sticking out of the ice, way out away from the land.  I'm not sure what the stick was for, but a bunch of animals had marked their territory by peeing on it.

Remember the news story about the icebreaker ships that the Canadian government had sent out to find the shipwreck of the Franklin expeditions? This is one of those ships, just sitting on the ice in Cambridge Bay.

Anyway, it was no six hour hike up a desert mountain where baboons chase you into a crocodile pit while robbing you, but it was a lovely walk.  How many people get to say they've been on a stroll out on the frozen ocean? Well, everyone around here. They do it like all the time. But it still seems pretty cool. Like, minus fifty degrees cool.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

inside an Arctic home: paradise cottage at the top of the world

I've been browsing at home showcase websites lately, like Apartment613's Apt Crush, and Buzzfeed's 30 Most Gorgeous Living Spaces In The World.  I honestly feel like I could make an argument that our house is one of the most beautiful homes in the world.

We're a newlywed couple that decided to start our marriage with a different kind of adventure, when we packed up everything we owned and moved to an Arctic community.  In a town without night clubs, coffee shops, bars or restaurants, we often have to find our own entertainment, giving our days a bit of a "cottage life" feel. We play board games, solve jigsaw puzzles, stargaze, play our guitars along with our record player, chat with the occasional Inuk artist that comes to our door to sell carvings, invent new salad dressings and bake our own bread from scratch.  Our home reflects our lifestyle.

Location (location, location)

We live in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a fly-in only community that is about 800 kilometres north of Yellowknife. We live well above the tree line and well within the Arctic Circle, with 24 hours of daylight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter.

From the outside, our house is admittedly unremarkable. Besides the colourful paint jobs, the houses here are built to last the harsh weather, and aesthetics come second. We live in a snow-covered, single storey two bedroom house painted green. Our house is located in what the locals consider to be "the suburbs" - it takes ten minutes to walk into "downtown" instead of the usual five.  For someone that is used to the minimum hour long commutes of downtown Toronto, I think we've got a pretty good location.

What I also like about our location is that this is the view from our living room window.

We live right by the bay that leads out into the Arctic Ocean, which is completely frozen in the winter. Every morning I can see from my window the sun rising over the frozen ocean.  At night, we can see the northern lights from our window, which not a lot of people in the world can boast.  You have to admit, that's quite the location.

Our interior style: Cottage life

Before we moved to Nunavut, we were living in a quaint but tiny one bedroom top floor apartment in Westboro, Ottawa. It was a great location, and a cute place with an adorable street name ("Robin Lane"), but a cramped space for two working professionals. Now we've got a gorgeous living space.  With extra high nine foot ceilings and an extra bedroom, we have almost more room than we knew what to do with.  However, we had quite the task figuring out what to do with the space.

Before we moved in, the house was used by pilots, temporarily residing there until their next flight out.  The furnishing was a random mishmash of whatever belongings the last pilot left there.  Three beer openers, no forks. A broken desk and a broken lamp. When we moved in, we had the original furnishings removed so we could move ours in. We had quite the task ahead of us.

moving in

It took quite a bit of time and muscles, especially for my husband, who has the eye for design in this household. But we were quite pleased with how everything finally came together.

We've found that the modern ultra sleek style of interior decoration doesn't really suit us.  We want to feel like we're living at the cottage: a collection of vintage furniture passed down by one's grandfather, old fashioned china tea sets inherited by one's grandmother. We like the warm look of wood, which is why we adore the fake wood panel flooring and the wooden kitchen cupboards. We like our spaces to look lived in by real people. We don't want our space to scream luxury or wealth; we want it to whisper "comfort" while handing you a hot cup of crowberry tea.

our living room - note the board games under the coffee table. also featuring a beautiful quilt handmade by my friend Meg's mom, who is really awesome.

A decent sized TV is essential for video gaming. Plus inspirational posters of Bruce Springsteen, because who doesn't love that?

This kitchen is where the magic happens.

A big spacious kitchen. My husband is a professionally trained chef, so ensuring we had a nice big working space for him was important. The extra high ceilings mean that we've got extra storage space on top of the cupboards too. 

This dining table is where the magic is eaten.

bathroom, where Keith Richards watches you brush your teeth.

master bedroom, with the quilt I made for my husband when we were dating. Yes, that is a Chinese cat lamp, a great gift given to me by my awesome friend Neha Chugh

The master bedroom is still a little bare because the wardrobe that we had shipped up was shattered while being delivered. Once we replace it, we'll start putting more art on the walls. Still, I like that the bedroom manages to look brightly lit despite all the hues of blue that my husband wanted to keep as a theme there.

Last but not least: our pride and joy is the second bedroom, which we've converted into a jam space.


My husband and I are both musicians, so having a comfortable place where we can play loud music is one of the most important features for us when it comes to finding a home. This is the reason why we'll never be able to live in a small downtown condo in the city. We need a big space where we can make a lot of noisy rock and roll without bothering other people.

Meet Herbie, the Honeywell Humidfier. He's super important. Because the Arctic desert climate is so dry, Herbie helps keep enough humidity in the air so that our instruments (particularly the acoustic guitars) don't warp.

As if this room wasn't sexy enough, this room also doubles as a fitness room. Because we can't just go for a run ouside when it's 40 below, we've hooked up our treadmill so we can watch the Band's The Last Waltz to pump us up while we exercise.

Inevitably our home tends to take on some Asian elements as well, given my Korean background and Rob's relatives living in Thailand who send over beautiful artwork.  The mix of cottage-life-meets-the-Orient is a theme that I grew up with in my own immigrant home as a child.

a lantern we bought from the night market in Chiang Mai during our honeymoon

Thai temple rubbings and a handmade print made by Rob's uncle

A fancy rice cooker (we're talking a couple hundred dollars) given to us by my parents

Arctic housing features

Besides the thick blackout curtains to block out the midnight sun in the summer time, there are certain unique features of houses here to help deal with living in the Arctic.

The mud room.

As you might expect, you need an entire room to store all of your outerwear, including the big bulk Canada Goose Snow Mantra, the thick sturdy Baffin boots, and five hundred or so scarves.

The cold room.

This is an extra room outside the mud room that acts as one more buffer from the cold outdoors.  The inside of this room is lined with snow and frost, so it really isn't warm enough to do anything but stand and smoke in.

A raised bathroom

Our bathroom is raised by a half story because the septic tank runs underneath. As I found out one day when I ran out of water, the ground is too frozen to install sewage pipes.  Instead, the running water is delivered by truck, and the sewage is carted away by a different truck. So in our house, the bathroom is raised from the ground so the sewage tank can be stored underneath.

Lots of storage space.

Because you never know when you're going to be snowed in by a bad storm for weeks, and because of the expensive price of groceries in Nunavut, many of the residents order their supplies in bulk by ship barge once a year. You need a place to store your year's supply.

ALL THE LOTION IN THE WORLD: it's pretty dry up here.

Unsurprisingly, there is no Korean grocery store here, so I had to bring my own.

This switch.

I'm still not sure what it does, but I'm not going to play with it. Yet.

The sign on the bathroom door.

Can you tell pilots used to live here?

You know, the rest of the world likes to make jokes about Canadians living in igloos. We don't live in igloos, not even the Inuit, anymore. But we've gone quite a long way to protect ourselves from the harsh outdoor elements of nature, and as you can see, it can be quite comfortable.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Asian food in the Arctic

Even though Wikipedia takes the time to point out specifically that there are no Koreans in Iqaluit there are, contrary to what you might believe, Asians in the north. Most famously, there's Sandy Lee, who was the first Korean-Canadian to be elected to a legislature when she served as an MLA in Yellowknife. I also heard a rumour that there's a "Chinatown" in one of the northern communities here, named after the one Chinese family living in that particular neighbourhood. Perhaps Cambridge Bay will now have a Koreatown out in the east end.

Sometime I will write about what it's like being Asian in the Arctic, much like the way I wrote about being Asian in Namibia. Somewhat like post-apartheid Africa, there are subtle politics about me looking like the above photo when you're in a place where there is a noticeable class division that often runs along racial lines. But that will be another time. Today I'll answer an important related question: How do you get Asian food in the Arctic?

I've already written about food politics in Nunavut in terms of pricing, but seeing the range of what is available is also interesting. Cambridge Bay does not have a local Chinese food takeout restaurant run by an endearing Chinese family. The local grocery stores do however have an surprisingly adequate supply of some of the basics that you can cook on your own: spring rolls, thai curry sauce, soya sauce, ginger. Notably, however, neither grocery store carries sesame oil, a key ingredient in Korean cooking, which makes me glad that we brought up our own supply of sesame oil.

and, pretty much every other key ingredient in Korean cooking.

So in short, you gotta make your own. We've been having fun experimenting with different fusions of my heritage and local cuisine. For example, muskox ma po tofu:

Ma po tofu is one of my favourite Chinese dishes, and substituting the ground meat for ground muskox was easy, delicious, and possibly even healthier, given the fact the muskox meat is much leaner than beef or pork.

We also have been having fun with Arctic char sushi maki rolls.

okay, so I might have to work on presentation a bit more

Arctic char is a yummy delicacy that trendy restaurants in, say, Manhattan, will pay top dollar for. If you see Arctic char on the meny at your local fancy restaurant, chances are it came from the meat plant here in Cambridge Bay. For these sushi rolls I used Arctic char jerky, which gave it a distinctive salty taste. I'm going to try raw char next time, maybe soaked in a little vodka, if I can ever get my hands on vodka.

But hold on, you say. How do you get a steady supply of the most important dish in Korean cuisine? That is, of course, kimchi. It's not like you can find nappa cabbage growing around these parts, right? And unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to get the family recipe for kimchi-making from my grandmother before we moved up north. The answer? Canned kimchi.

Yes, canned kimchi really does exist, and you can buy it from Asian grocery stores in Toronto, and ship them up. It doesn't taste anything like my grandmother's stuff, but it'll do. As an extra bonus, the cans come with nutritional info which just goes to show how awesome kimchi is. A source of vitamin A, C, calcium and iron, and if you eat the entire can (if your mouth is strong enough to take the heat), it's still only 10 calories. I love kimchi.

And of course, we can pack our leftovers in our Korean specialty Glasslock tupperware container.