Sunday, October 1, 2017

return to Iqaluit

When we first arrived in Iqaluit, we had a five-hour layover before we had to get back on the plane to Yellowknife via Rankin Inlet. The new airport hadn't opened yet and the old one was still a short walk to downtown, so we decided to take the opportunity to do a little walking tour of town.

As soon as we stepped out, a truck honked at us for stepping too close too the road and a young raging woman leaned over to scream at us to get off the frikking road. Almost at the same time, another older woman who was having a smoke outside the bar waved at us with a big smile, "Welcome to Iqaluit!" A friendly young man noticed our bewilderment and came over to help us with directions. I guess it was clear that we stood out as tourists, maybe because we were dressed for Ottawa summers, not Arctic summers.

Welcome to Iqaluit indeed, Canada's Arctic capital city that is both warm and friendly like a small town, cold and bewildering like an urban city.

Everyone sees Iqaluit differently, depending on where they're coming from.

For many Canadians, it's often their first and only glimpse of life in Canada's Arctic, even if it's not strictly speaking within the actual Arctic Circle. They fall in love with the unique architecture that make the buildings look like they are dancing on the tundra landscape, the Inuktitut stop signs, the sleds parked in the driveways, the old Hudson Bay Company store on Apex beach. They write home about this charming small town in the north where everyone is friendly enough to say hi to you when you pass even if you don't know them, where the grocery prices at the Northmart are shockingly high but everyone seems to be used to it, where Inuit artists will approach you while you eat dinner at the restaurant to show you their latest creations.


For Inuit coming to Iqaluit from the other communities, Iqaluit represents a big exciting bustling city, which may be painfully far away from home, but is worth the move for all of the economic and educational opportunities it offers that the smaller communities lack. For Northerners, Iqaluit is no small town but instead is the New York City of Nunavut, where Nunavummiut go to watch a film at the only movie theatre in the territory, to get a chance to scarf down a shawarma, get a coffee at the Tim Horton's, get a haircut and fill cavities at the dentist, and have a beer at the bar - all of the things that we see on TV as city life but aren't available in many of the remote communities. Historically, the Inuit have for centuries understood the importance of migrating in order to follow better opportunities, whether it's to track the caribou or to start a new program at the Nunavut Arctic College, but it doesn't mean that they don't feel the sacrifices they make. In the middle of this booming, ever-developing northern city that is twice as big as the next biggest community in Nunavut and still growing with new faces every year, it's easy to still somehow feel lonely and homesick.

For the folks who are from Iqaluit, the city is of course home, but even they have seen the city undergo so many changes and expansions over the decades that it can be hard to recognize from the memories of one's childhood. So many new buildings, new projects, new residents - the Arctic landscape has seen rapid change in just the last few years, and Iqaluit is no exception.

When I was living in Nunavut in a smaller town in the western Kitikmeot region, for me, Iqaluit was not quite like getting to visit a southern city nor did it feel like home the way Cambridge Bay did with its cozy community feel. I generally only went to Iqaluit as part of work, so it did feel hurried and busy. Unlike other northern communities, Iqaluit is big enough with multiple neighbourhoods that you can't just walk everywhere you need to go. On the other hand, the buildings are all numbered, rather than having fixed addresses, as thought it was still the tiny community of Frobisher Bay, so if you weren't familiar with the layout of the city, it could be tricky to get around. I found myself often taking cabs (which are shared taxis, in Nunavut, for a fixed price), even if it turned out that I was just going down the street. In that sense, the challenge of getting around and needing a vehicle made Iqaluit indeed seem like a big city.

I was in Iqaluit first on a layover, and then back again a few days later for work. What really clinched Iqaluit as a city for me, was not the Francophone Centre or the mosque, but the opening of the brand new Aquatic Centre. It was like a spaceship that had landed in a Western movie. It's huge, ultra-modern, and even has a water slide. I went for the really nice gym, which was nicer than some of the gyms I've been to in Ottawa. I went pretty much every day.

I also got to play a few games with the local ultimate frisbee scene at Iqaluit's Glorious League of Ultimate (I.G.L.U.). My favourite Arctic frisbee team will always be Cambridge Bay's, but the Iqaluit players are a fun group of folks and I'd love to play with them again.

Gloria the tourist (I was actually visiting the Law Society)
I also took my opportunity there to eat Arctic char with almost every meal I had.

Eggs benedict with Arctic char

but also lots of Chinese food at the Navigator Inn, of course

My colleague took me for a drive around town, because she's sweet like that. I got to ride around in her truck with her adorable kids. This was a treat, not just because I got to hang out with her kids, but because, as I mentioned, you can see a lot more of Iqaluit with a vehicle, including some of the breathtaking rocky and mountainous tundra landscape.

 hanging out at Apex Beach
the old Hudson's Bay Company store in Apex

Apex beach

awesome road trip buddies

It was so nice to have a chance to get back to Iqaluit, one of the most fascinating cities in Canada, home of the most heart-warming stories like this. And to have a chance to return to Nunavut, the land that I have not stopped thinking about ever since I left.
More stories of the north to come!

Qulliq lighting ceremony

Monday, September 11, 2017

Folk on the Rocks music festival in Yellowknife

We got pulled over by the police on our way to the gig. In our driver's defence, the speed limit on the highway had suddenly been changed to from 60 km/h to 20 overnight, in anticipation of the festival goers that would be swarming the roads on foot that night. To the police officer's credit, he let us off with a warning and he didn't make a big deal of the fact that I was obviously scrambling to put on my seat belt.

We had been invited to perform at one of the biggest music festivals in the Canadian North: Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It was a fantastic opportunity and experience and I was stoked for another chance to go back up north to one of my favourite cities in Canada.

With a population of less than 20,000, Yellowknife is a small town, even by Canadian standards. But it's one of the largest cities in the Canadian North, larger than any community in Nunavut including Iqaluit, so it tends to be a thriving hub for arts and culture in the north. Every time I go back there, I'm pleasantly surprised by just how much this city has going on for it - including a delicious culinary scene featuring a variety of ethnic flavours and fine dining, and lots and lots of fish; a tight-knit queer scene; and so much awesome music.

Although I've performed in Yellowknife several times before, including at NWT Pride, this was my first time experiencing Folk on the Rocks. I thought I had an idea of what to expect, but it was way cooler than I could have dreamed of.

First of all, the festival is held in the woods on the shores by a lake, specifically Long Lake. I had known that before, but I had not clued in that this meant that it was a beach festival. I love walking through soft sand, and there was no shortage of that. And with the long hours of daylight that comes with summer in the north, it was such a magical feeling to be dancing to indie band Operators in my bare feet in the sand while the sun set - and it was almost midnight!


beach party aftermath
Despite the fact that it's a small town music festival, it featured multiple stages and lots of programming, so yes, festival goers do have to choose between the various acts that are all performing at the same time - tough decisions for music lovers!

Shad on the main stage
The Trade-Offs on the Lakeside Stage
It was clear that the festival had put a lot of thought into organizing the event. Because Yellowknife has soooo many artists and other creative folks, everything was splashed with mural paintings, even the outhouses and the trash cans.


The festival has also gone to great lengths with respect to social responsibility. I was impressed by all the efforts to preserve the festival space so that it could continue to be used in future years. There was recycling and composting available everywhere. We discovered this when we (gasp) threw out our paper plates in the trash can, and a volunteer hurried up to us to remind us that the plates   In response to an incident last year, the festival also designed a safe space policy which included the Safety Squad, volunteers dressed in purple who make sure everyone is partying safely.

Also, the hospitality was pretty great. The green room, for example, had a view like nothing else.

The artists' hospitality section also featured a fried fish dinner catered by the one and only Bullock's Bistro, one of the most famous restaurants in Yellowknife, known for their delicious fish sauce - don't try asking what the secret ingredient is though....

On Sunday, we wandered around town, trying to find a place to grab a bite and a little drink. I'd forgotten that everything is closed on Sundays in Yellowknife. Everything. Even the few restaurants that are usually open on Sundays were closed, because the owners were off at Folk on the Rocks. And that was the truth: Folk on the Rocks is the place to be in Yellowknife.

meeting up with old friends at the festival
 Because our flights were sponsored by the northern airline Canadian North, we ended up flying through Iqaluit, which ended up being its own adventure - but that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A day off in Vancouver

in Vancouver for work

(Original entry date from February 2017)
I lived here eight years ago but apparently that is long enough to forget where everything is. Including where I used to live and where I used to work. I thought I remembered the layout of downtown Vancouver, but my memories only came in snippets, and I found myself getting lost more often than I thought I would - standing on a street corner, utterly disoriented as to what direction was where. Sometimes I could glimpse the water....but the ocean surrounds downtown on three sides. Sometimes I would see the mountains. Where were those? For some reason, I can usually find my way around if I can see the sky. But the tall skyscrapers and condos loomed above me and I could not remember where I had come from.

But what I did remember was where my favourite food places were.

I hit up the food court at the H-Mart downtown Vancouver where I used eat all the time because I was a cheap student missing my mom's Korean food. I ordered the last chajangmyun that was available, basically Korean spaghetti if you substitute Italian tomato sauce for black bean sauce. The small child who wanted to order it after me was NOT happy.

but I was so happy with my chajangmyun
unhappy child with no chajangmyun

I also met up with some girl friends at Chewy's for some tasty tasty British Columbia oysters. Unfortunately, there's been a problem with BC oysters being tainted this year, so we ended up being served oysters from Prince Edward Island. They were still delicious but it was kind of funny.

Vancouver also seems to be all about arugula grilled cheese sandwiches, which I feel like is pretty symbolic about the kind of thing that Vancouver does to food.

On the one morning that it didn't rain, I went for a jog around Stanley Park, which was full of tourists, couples jogging with mathcing backpacks (soooo romantic :D !) and Korean families carrying large selfie sticks, all enjoying the sea air and ocean view and all serving as interesting obstacles on my running route.


Vancouver is also always a great opportunity to visit my mother's side of the family. My grandparents loaded me up with so much dried squid to bring to bring back home, I'm sure I looked like such an Asian stereotype, multiple plastic bags of dried squid on the SkyTrain.

my grandmother, always feeding

my cousin has gotten really tall

Most of my trip was spent working (as I was there on business), but during one of my breaks, I took a walk to the harbourfront, just for a chance to lay my eyes on the ocean and the mountains. Despite my family roots here, I never grew up here but I always miss the mountains and the oceans. No matter how long I've been away from this city, I never forget how much I love it.

selfies with my super cute cousin