Wednesday, January 28, 2015

birthday party

I got invited to a two-year-old boy's birthday party one weekend and I was really excited about it, which I think is an indication of the state of my social life. I like birthday parties, especially kids' birthday parties, and now that I'm not a kid anymore, I don't get invited to a lot of children's birthday parties, since, you know, I don't have children.

Plus this birthday had a bouncy castle!

Yes, there are bouncy castles for rent in Cambridge Bay. We don't have a McDonalds' or a movie theatre to rent out for your child's birthday party, but for a fee you can rent out a bouncy castle in the elementary school gym, which is pretty damn awesome.

I might be wrong about this, but they didn't have bouncy castles when I was a kid, so I missed out on that whole thing, which makes me kind of sad about my deprived childhood.  Because now as an adult it's kind of uncool for me to be joining in the bouncy castle with all the little kids; at least that was the impression that I got from all the weird looks I got from the children.

Plus the occupancy notice of the castle said that the maximum occupancy is about 15 kids aged 2-4 or 2 adults. That's kind of lonely.

The parents of the birthday boy put out an awesome spread for the party, which is really impressive because I'm not sure I would put in as much effort for my own kids, at least not until they are old enough to remember it and appreciate me for it.

For the record, what Koreans like to do for their babies' birthdays is dress them up in ridiculously fancy and equally uncomfortable traditional Korean hanbok clothing, and, as far as I can tell, make them pose for pictures in front of a table full of special birthday food.  The birthday baby almost always look unhappy.

Case in point: my little sister's Dol ceremony, circa 1989. "Where's the bouncy castle, mom?"

This birthday party had everything though. Finger snacks for adults (or "adults" who forget to make lunch for themselves), beautiful Elmo birthday cakes, Cookie Monster cupcakes, loot bags, and don't forget that bouncy castle.

I always find the gift opening process to be a particularly cruel tradition, especially when the children are very young. When you are at a certain age, you don't really understand what a "birthday" is, so it's hard to understand why this one guy is getting all the presents and you aren't allowed to take any.  It's not fair, really, if you think about it, and a couple of toddlers very clearly expressed their displeasure at such injustice. Until they remembered the bouncy castle.

As my birthday gift, I gave books, which my husband keeps telling me is a terrible present for boys.  I don't care.  Books are great. Plus it's a step up from what Koreans give their babies as presents. Rice cakes? Come on! Everyone knows that deep down inside, that baby wants a bouncy castle.

Please come back

Monday, January 26, 2015

new year in Cambridge Bay

the restaurant view of the frozen Arctic ocean

Well, 2015 started out with a huge bang in Cambridge Bay, and by bang, of course I mean two big blizzards in one week. Luckily the weather's settled down since, resting at a fierce temperature of -55 with the windchill on average.  It's cold, folks. The kind of cold where you look up and admire the pretty moon in the sky, and then rush on because it's too cold to linger outside for more than a few minutes, and if you stop to take a photo, your hands will get frostbitten. The kind of cold where if you grip the doorknob with bare hands, you'll instantly feel freeze burn. Even the snowmobiles are frozen and having trouble starting.

It's that time of year where you stay indoors, warm. Until you get driven out of your house because your roof vents are blocked and your house is slowly filling with the smell of sewage. Then you send your most unfortunate household member to climb up to the roof and clear the snow from the vents.  Christine and I sat at her living room window, with binoculars, spying on her neighbours doing this, because sometimes that is what counts as entertainment in Cambridge Bay. do I get in?

It's also that time of year where it's so cold that the vehicles often refuse to start. The automotive garage has been busy this week, with calls from truck owners who all need a jump start.

To make sure that our vehicle continues running smoothly, I went for a little drive out of town. Not very far out of town, of course, since I didn't want to get the truck stuck in the snow, but far enough to get out of town and lose sight of all "city" life.

I'm glad I went out. It's been a while since I've wandered out of town and been able to appreciate the tundra view.

the Distant Early Warning Station

Construction equipment waiting in the snow

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station, under construction

Beautiful Cambridge Bay

I love Nunavut. I love that I only need to walk a few steps out of town and then suddenly I am all alone in the tundra, lost in the beautiful wilderness that stretches on forever.

What I am especially grateful for, despite the astonishing cold, is that the sun has begun to rise again, painting the skies with long extended sun rises and sun sets. The sun still doesn't get very high in the sky, but it's lovely to see, since we missed it. And soon enough the days will grow drastically longer, until it stops setting in May.

a sunrise/sunset over the frozen Arctic ocean

We've also been getting some gorgeous northern lights at night, right outside my living room window.  I still haven't developed the knack for capturing them on film yet, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Also, beautiful moons

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Images of Ottawa

This is my last catch-up post about our holidays. I'll just leave you with a few photos we took around town while we were in Ottawa over Christmas.

our rental car. Nice!

"When I ask it to accelerate, it actually accelerates!"

I spent most of my time in Ottawa doing basic bitch things like asking the Wal-Mart staff where I can find the Natural Food Pantry store, or demanding that the liquor store staff find me Skinny Girl vodka, or driving around in the rented Mini Cooper eating a McDonald's filet-o-fish while blasting the Police, or explaining to seventeen year old girls who are sneaking liquor at the party why I find Dyson vacuum cleaners to be exciting.  All of the city goodness.

Because lately Ottawa has exploded in independent local business goodness, I visited the new Top Shelf Preserves store front and had a long conversation with the sales clerk at Purple Urchin Soap company about what a bath cube is. She told me it's like a bath bomb, which makes sense, except I don't know what a bath bomb was. Despite that, I decided to buy one to treat myself, only to remember after leaving the store that I can't take baths in Cambridge Bay, or else we might run out of water and then I can't flush the toilet.

Cranberry sauce with our turkey dinner

We went to numerous Christmas parties where we drank an awful lot of eggnog and played the traditional Christmas game, Settlers of Catan. We also watched the traditional Christmas film, Die Hard.

Santa can't even

We also did a lot of birthdays. At one point, I ate five birthday cakes in forty-eight hours.

Birthday cake: Kristin and Erin 

Birthday cake: Curley

Birthday cake: Sunmok

Birthday cake: Tyler

Birthday cake: my sister

Birthday cake: ME! (that is actually a birthday cronut)

I missed these skies

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pacific Mall

More stories from my holidays - continuing on my Asian immersion experience in Toronto

I took my husband to Pacific Mall, the largest indoor Chinese mall in North America, located in Markham, of course (where else?).  The mall corridors are named after famous Hong Kong streets, and the shops are filled with huge crowds of Chinese people, and tourists who want to look at the huge crowds of Chinese people.

Like China, the mall was crowded and it was nearly impossible to find parking. Eventually after circling around and around, we just illegally parked the car in a spot that arguably could be a parking spot if you didn't look too closely, and we didn't think anyone would look too closely.

Pac Mall used to be really famous because of the way the shops would openly sell very illegal pirated copies of movies, video games and TV shows. Basically, you'd go into the shop, scan the very expansive catalogues, and indicate to the shop clerk what Korean drama you wanted to purchase. The store clerk would take your money, tell you to wait five minutes, disappear and re-emerge with a freshly burned DVD of whatever you wanted. Nowadays, in the age of Netflix, I wondered if the open-air bootleg industry was still thriving at Pacific Mall.

It seemed like despite the rise of the Internet, the pirates were still in business. We still found the "video store", with their stacks and stacks of movie selections, and angry signs that mysteriously read "No!! Sony player".  They weren't as plentiful as they used to be, though.

I am told these photos do not do the grime of Pac Mall justice

We grabbed some bubble tea from an area that seemed to be the Bubble Tea zone and checked out some of the other shops. They sold all sorts of things, but especially cell phone accessories. A few years back, these places were all about the little ornaments you could hang from your cell phones. Now that iPhones have replaced the flip phones, it's now all about iPhone covers and selfie sticks.  Each store had more angry signs that said things like "PLEASE DO NOT TRY OUT THE LIGHTS OR NAIL CLIPPERS". We did not try out the nail clippers.  I spent the majority of my money at the Korean cosmetic stores. We also bought a pair of knock-off Crocs, which to my disappointment were not called "Clocks".

Pacific Mall is a pretty magical place. Terracotta warriors guard the public bathrooms. The oddly familiar looking electronic store "Best Shop" is on the top floor. The food court is just past the "Luck" Bridge, and is like a step into Asia, with the ramen noodle stands, pig's heads and whole ducks hanging in the display cases, and a tattoo shop located right in the middle of the food court. It reminded us of shopping in Bangkok.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Toronto's (north) Korea Town - or, How I Ate For Forty-Eight Hours Straight

More stories from my holidays.

With 3 shootings in Ottawa in the last 48 hours, it was time to leave for peaceful Toronto.

One thing I miss when I am up north in Nunavut is that sense of belonging to my Korean heritage. I am one of the very few Koreans in Nunavut and the only one in the Kitikmeot region. I consider myself to be a multi-faceted person, so being a Korean-Canadian is not the only thing to define me, but it is an important part of my identity, and sometimes it's nice to be back in a place with lots of other fellow Korean-Canadians. Like in Toronto.

We were in Toronto for about 48 hours. We pretty much spent the entire time eating.

Ah, Korean food, how much I missed you. Back at home in Cambridge Bay, sometimes my husband will cook kimchi chigae or I'll fix up some kimbap. In Ottawa, people speak of going to "the Korean restaurant" as though it is a uniform solitary type of cuisine, usually in the form of bulgogi, bibimbap or sushi (which is actually Japanese). But in Toronto, there are so many choices. So many restaurants each with their own specialty. The Myungdong place that specializes in mandu dumplings, kalguksu noodles, and shabu shabu. Buk Chang Dong which is my go to place for soondubu chigae (soft tofu stew). The Ichiban restaurants that is a Korean take on Japanese cuisine. Even the food court at the Galleria supermarket has its treasures.  So no, I didn't go to the new aquarium or the Aga Khan Museum while I was in Toronto. I didn't even step a foot downtown. My entire trip to Toronto was spent in North York, mostly around Yonge and Sheppard, amongst my peeps eating and drinking,and I have no regrets, although I do have a few extra pounds.

My trip of glorious gluttony started off at our relatives' home, where they had ordered Korean food to be catered to the house.  Lots of seafood. Make no mistake. We ate a lot at this dinner.

what are you looking at

Then as the older generation sensibly got ready for bed, us youngsters headed for the Yonge and Finch area (which I affectionately like to refer to as "North Korea Town", to distinguish it from the other Korea town, down at Bloor and Christie), to eat some more.

First we stopped off at my cousin's condo, where we took a break from dinner by eating more snacks and having a few relaxing drinks. Then we headed out to try out the soju bangs.

Korean-style drinking is a wonderful cultural experience that must be tried. For one thing, the accompaniment of food with your drink (anju) is essential and many Korean bars will serve for an assortment of dishes to go with your drink for free, somewhat similar to the concept of the Spanish tapas. I am of the strong opinion that this is a practice that North American establishments should adopt. Waistlines may bulge, but it also stops you from getting ridiculously wasted.

What do you drink? Soju, of course. Poured for you by someone else, preferably your host or someone younger than you, with both of yours hands holding the receiving glass. With a toast, possibly as part of a drinking game that involves a lot of singing. Chased down with cheap beer. It could be Molson; doesn't have to be a fine beer, because beer is just what you drink between your sips of soju.

one of the brands of soju. This name means "like the first time". Koreans love to be nostalgic about innocence.

The first place we  hit up was The Fry, which despite its very English sounding name, was a very Korean soju bar. This place is known for having one of the best Korean fried chicken in Toronto, so of course we had to order a couple of giant platter of chicken to go with our drinks. Plus more anju, in the form of corn, chips, salad, and other random snacks.

We were eating at the Fry to kill time until a table was ready at the joint next door, Han Ba Tang. The manager knew our crowd and visited us at the Fry to assure us that a table was being prepared and that he was asking his kitchen staff to stay extra late especially for us so we can try his food. Which was a good thing, because by the time we got into Han Ba Tang, it was half past midnight...but we still had room in our tummies to eat more.

Han Ba Tang, which aptly means "One More Round" 

So of course we ate some more. Han Ba Tang is known for its clever modern twists on traditional Korean dishes, like kimchi fries and kalbi tacos. But this is no Asian fusion joint with notions of the exotic served by waiters who don't speak Korean - other than our table, most of the patrons at the bar were fresh-off-the-boat Koreans.

Kimchi fries, topped with bulgogi

Makgoli, another type of Korean liquor, traditionally drunk out of wooden bowls

Seafood stew with ramen noodles, which are apparently the perfect midnight snack

And then by 2AM it was time to head out...and move on to a noraebang, Korean karaoke, where we continued to consume.

Korean karaoke is an essential part of a night out

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

special lady day

I decided that one day of my holiday would be devoted to having the perfect day: doing nothing but things that I enjoy and pampering myself. Ideally this would have happened on my birthday, but since my birthday falls on a holiday and everything is closed, I picked another random day instead.  I was going to have the perfect day. I was not going to change out of my pyjamas.

It started off with...a trip to the dentist. Okay, so maybe that was not quite how I would have planned it, but that was the only time slot that my dentist could fit me in, and, well, oral hygiene is important. Also, at least I could have a chai tea at one of the fanciest hotels in Ottawa, bizarrely located in the middle of an industrial park in the Silicon Valley of the North, Kanata. In my pyjamas.

I then moved on with the rest of my Special Lady day, working out at the gym. This may not sound like a special treat for some people, but it felt great for me to go for a run, seeing how the only treadmill in Cambridge Bay has been broken for a year and it's too cold to run outside.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a breakfast sandwich and a latte at Quitters Coffee in Stittsville, served to me by the owner Kathleen Edwards, a musician I very much admire. Recently she quit music to open up this lovely coffeeshop. It's a lovely venue, with the new Beck album playing on the speakers as she chatted up her clients and talked about her plans for the shop in the future.

And then I was off to the best part of my day: Le Nordik in the quaint village of Chelsea, Quebec. This is one of my favourite places to be. It's a spa that is partially located outdoors, so you can soak in a hot tub while enjoying the beautiful forest scenery of the Quebec countryside.

But first I had to get there. This was a bigger challenge than I expected, as in the years I have moved away from Ottawa, I have apparently forgotten how to drive to Quebec.  This happens, I suppose, after a few years of living in a community that only has a handful of roads. But eventually I found my way to the spa and allowed myself to be lost in the wonderful bliss that is Le Nordik.

Of course, by the time I got to the change room of the spa, I realized I had forgotten my bathing suit.  But dammit, I was going to make this work, and ended up wearing my sports bra instead.

I tried out the saltwater pool, which has enough salt content that people can just float in it, like a sensory deprivation tank. I floated in it, willing my mind to transition into a state of mindful relaxation, where you notice and accept without judgment the sensations that your body feels (like the urge to scratch your butt).   Sometimes, if you want to keep your mind from wandering, it helps to concentrate on a mantra (like My Sharona...M-m-m-m-My My My, Woo!)

After the salt water pool, I moved to the regular water circuits. The general routine is to do hot, cold, rest, hot cold rest.  For me, that was hot (eucalyptus steam room), cold (standing under icicle-lined waterfalls), wine. Hot (sitting in lotus position in the earth sauna), cold (running through the snow), massage.  My Swedish massage in the massage cabin was heavenly. The French woman worked my hips and back which made a bunch of emotions bubble up from deep down inside, causing me to compose a poem in my mind during the masage and then immediately forgetting it as I dozed off.  Basically, Le Nordik is a wonderful place with many places to doze off.