Monthly Archives

May 2014

Destinations South Korea Tea Places

Tea at Seonamsa Temple on Mount Jogye

Coming back from our two weeks spent in Korea felt like waking up from a dream. To me, the experience of being in Asia is always surreal. I remember talking to friends before I left, and telling them about how even though I had definitely lived for more than five months in Japan, sometimes I still caught myself wondering, “Did that actually happen?”. So different it is from the experience of daily life here. As time passes, again I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about Korea. Then, I’ll have to go back to Asia again.

So, with that said. Here is my first post from Korea. Our friends from Halifax,  Danielle and Gordo, were our hosts while we were staying in Suncheon (순천시). They were also our excuse to go and see Korea in the first place. Even though they are living in a typical, small one-room and kitchen apartment like most English teachers are given (in fact, their furnishings were a bit above-average), we still managed to live and sleep all four of us plus two doggies all quite comfortably. They also got me addicted to Coconut Oil, which you can use for just about everything, and which I suggest you go out and buy/try immediately. You can it on your face, in your oatmeal, in your coffee, makes pancakes with it, etc. Seriously: go and try it (bonus: it’s also super healthy for you, medium-chain triglycerides for energy and is very stable at high temperatures. Plus, whenever you use it you get to smell like you’re at the beach).

An adorable cup with a barley tea sample that we were handed on the street in Suncheon-si. More tea, please!

Seonamsa temple is relatively close to Suncheon-si, located in the west end of Mount Jogye Provincial Park in Jeollanamdo Province (for Canadians – Korean provinces are much smaller than Canadian provinces. For example, South Korea’s largest province is Gangwon at 20,569 km². Nova Scotia is 55,284 km², and is Canada’s second-smallest province after P.E.I.). Danielle and Gordo had described to us what a special place Seonamsa was, and how they even offered walk-up tea ceremonies. I love tea, and I hadn’t seen tea ceremony since Japan, so I was very, very encouraged to go. We were so lucky that Danielle had an afternoon free from classes, so she was able to come with us to spend time and be our tour guide in the mountains.

We took a bus ride from Suncheon-si (luckily, bus service in Korea is great, with most city buses going to even remote tourist and temple locations, for only a couple dollars – very unlike Halifax) up through the mountains to the temple bus stop. I think it only took about 45 minutes. Once we were there, we hiked up the 1km path through the mountain that takes you to the temple entrance.

Seonamsa lived up to its hype as a beautiful and spiritual place.


So many temples have been destroyed by fire. Nowadays, there is no shortage of fire extinguishers located on temple grounds.

Halfway up the trail to the main temple complex, there is a gathering of smaller buildings which is where tea ceremony is held. As we approached, there was a small group of women weeding the gardens out front. We timidly approached them to ask if we could have a tea ceremony, and they warmly welcomed us. One of the women bid us entrance into this beautiful little building with glorious in-floor heating and soft, purple carpets (seriously, the Koreans know how to do cozy rooms. Japan, are you listening?).

The Tea Ceremony

Our host sat us at a low table near an open window that looked out onto the foliage of the temple grounds. Over the crest of the mountain next to us we could see the sun beginning to set (it sets early in the mountains), and so we were bathed in a golden light as our host spoke to us in Korean and told us in what sounded like poetry, the way of Korean Tea Ceremony. After she finished, I had the same feeling of contentedness like I had just lain in the sun for a two-hour nap. She was probably wondering why I was gazing so ardently at her, but after she left I confirmed with Rob and Danielle that we all felt like we could’ve just sat there listening to her for hours.

Our host served us these small treats that had traditional symbols associated with tea stamped into them. One was the kanji for cha (茶) that I was pretty excited to recognize from Japanese (no surprise really, as Korean language also has it roots in Chinese characters). I think the treats were made out of barley (please, someone correct me if you know I’m wrong), and had a sweet, grainy taste. We ate them with the bamboo skewers you see in her left hand.

And we haven’t even been to the main temple yet!

Despite feeling like we could sit there in that pool of sunlight sipping tea for eternity, we paid the fee for the tea ceremony (the equivalent of only a few dollars apiece. More than worth the experience), gathered ourselves up and continued our hike up the mountain.

Seonamsa’s Main Temple

Seonamsa’s famous bridge, Seonamsa Seungseongyo


We finally reached the entrance to the main temple!

A beautiful example of a classical Korean temple paint job.

It’s common to buy a roof tile to write your wish on. The tiles are then used during temple construction and become a part of Seonamsa.

Tiles to buy and write on to be included in the temple. 


I had to take some pictures of our beautiful guide once we got to the end of our climb. She had been so good in telling us everything about the temple!



Once we had seen all the temple grounds, we beat it quickly back down the mountainside with the last of the day’s light. Once the sun leaves the mountains it becomes chilly very quickly. We waited below for our bus to come back to get us, minds full of what we had seen, but bellies substantially less so. But, all the restaurants near the bus stop had already closed for the night!

This little restaurant near the bus stop overlooking the bridge reminded me of Howl’s Moving Castle – with its steam pipes and thrown-together appearance.


Luckily, I was distracted from the hunger and cold by these lovely flowers near the bus stop. Never go into the mountains without a sweater!

Mmmmmm. Kimchi Jji Gae.

Because our friend Gordo is an excellent chef, as well as a super-par human being, when we got back to the apartment he already had a hot and spicy pot of Kimchi Jji Gae (김치찌개) waiting for us.  This hearty kimchi soup might have been one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  I’m craving it again just looking at this picture.  Does anybody know any good spots in Halifax that make Kimchi Jji Gae?  I would dole out a large amount of love and appreciation if you told me where I can find this here.

Wow, that post ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would. Thanks for sticking around! If you have any more questions about Seonamsa, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. For now, I’m going to find some food.


Surprise Pants! Surprise Photoshoot!

When I arrived home today, there was a mysterious package sitting on my doorstep.

Hm, what’s this? I didn’t order anything from Amazon…

Inside, there was a simple note that said:

“Ms. Mel, I love these pants. I hope they fit you. Bought at Church Sale – thought of you when I saw them! – Jo Jo”


These pants are so funky cool and totally fit with the lime green sweater I wore to work today.  Jo Jo was my professor at Bishop’s, and the culture of Church Sales is deeply embedded into the burrough of Lennoxville where the university is located (Also, how awesome is Bishop’s that profs and students actually keep up their relationships after graduating? Very, that’s how much).  My boyfriend once owned a large persian-style rug that he bought for only $35 at one of the fabled Church Sales, and he had it for years in our apartment (one of the theatre student party spots), and refused to part with it despite its pattern having all-but faded, and there being (more than several) questionable stains on it. It then lived for a spell at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax, but has now taken up residence in the basement of another theatre employee (and so the legend continues). So, as you can see, there’s quite an ideology behind some of the epic and thrifty Church Sale finds. These pants are friggin’ awesome, and were seriously the best thing I couldn’t have imagined finding when I got home from work on this cloudy, foggy day. Thank you, Jo Jo!

p.s. Speaking of my boyfriend (let’s call him Rob), here he is. He liked the pants too.

pps. Rob took this while I was writing all the above.  Now I can fully disclose my bad blogging posture:


Bluenose Marathon 10K Playlist

Yesterday I accomplished something that I’m really happy about. I ran the 10k race as a part of Halifax’s annual Bluenose Marathon, and finished at a pretty stoked 1:13:37 (I was aiming for around 1:10 – running over the MacDonald bridge is hard!).  This makes me happy for two reasons:

1.  I just recently started running after doing it a couple times last year.  I’ve never been athletic, but now that I’m in my almost-mid 20s, I’m developing a now-or-never attitude towards the endeavour of physical goodness.  I was inspired by ESPN’s 5th Anniversary Body Issue Portfolio that I found at Atlantic News  last spring, which features awesome shots of athletes at the top of their game.  I was also inspired by my Mom, who’s turning 50 next year, but can run 10k in 55 minutes, can bike over 100km, and is currently training for an Ironman later this summer.

2.  I used to back down from sports because I usually saw myself as falling somewhere in the bottom 30% when participating with an average group of my peers.  Because I’m competitive, I would get really down on myself for not being more of a natural athlete, and use the “Well, it’s not my thing” or  “Hmm, if only it weren’t for my asthma I’d be great at sports, but gee, my asthma sucks, so I guess sports aren’t for me,”  excuse to convince myself to chicken out because I couldn’t handle not being good at something.  So, I decided to get over that boring, ridiculous attitude (Go figure, you can enjoy something without having to be the best at it!).  My asthma does hinder my endurance sometimes, and if I forget to take my puffer before I go for a run, then I’m pretty much walking up every hill.  But, I’m not dying, and I’m doing something a lot better for myself than sitting still.  My favourite side-effect of running is the focus I find when I come home after.  It makes me super productive, and feel-good! It can put a positive twist on a crappy or mediocre day.

Also, from how training has been going so far, I think I might be able to shave a couple more minutes off there before my next 10k race on June 22 through the Salt Marsh Trails.

Now, with the feel-goods out of the way, here’s the playlist:

1.  I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers.

2.  Pompeii – Bastille

3.  Love Me Again – John Newman

4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John

5.  Live and Let Die – Wings

6.  Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz) – Macklemore

7.  I’m Writing a Novel – Father John Misty

8.  Life on Mars – David Bowie

9.  Leeds United – Amanda Palmer

10.  Oasis -Amanda Palmer

11.  Cherokee – Cat Power

12.  Carry on My Wayward Son – Kansas (BEST!)

13. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

14.  Bloodline – Orenda Fink

15.  Eet – Regina Spektor

16.  Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – The Flaming Lips

17.  Faster – Janelle Monae

18.  You’ve Got Time – Regina Spektor

19.  Starman – David Bowie

20.  Loose Lips – Kimya Dawson

21.  Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival

22. The Monster (feat. Rihanna) – Eminem

23.  THE FINALE:  The Pokemon Theme Song!!! Oh yes, this is the best at the start or finish of a run (but let’s be honest – it’s great anywhere).  This innocent, heartfelt, childhood chanson about wanting to be the best and improve yourself while making friendships is something that strikes a chord in awesome 90s kids everywhere.

So there it is!  It’s eclectic, but it works for me.  I also made a YouTube Playlist if you want to rock out to these while you clean the house (or make food, or whatever).

Also, the Black Keys just released their new album, “Turn Blue”, and I’ve been listening to that lately too. It’s pretty sexy.

UPDATE: Bonus! My boyfriend snuck Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman onto my iPhone playlist the night before (we have a running relationship gag with this song). So, as I was pounding my way back over the MacDonald bridge, trying to psych myself up for the last 3k, all of a sudden my ears were greeted with the sassy sounds of soul; this gem:


Pinup: Emily R.

I early December, I did a pinup shoot with Emily. She’s an aspiring actress who (as of this writing) has just moved out to Hollywood to have her shot at living the dream. You can also follow her “brutally honest” YouTube Channel where she videoblogs about her day to day life as an aspiring actress while working a minimum wage job and looking for her big break. She also runs a blog called Lifestyle Over Work where she writes her musings, and is on Twitter @EmilyReviczky.

It takes a lot of guts to move from the cozy east coast of Halifax all the way out to glamorous Hollywood, but she’s got all the charm and her YouTube vids are super funny! So, I think she’ll be able to hack it. She’s also got gorgeous gams, beautiful blonde locks and green eyes. Which, you know, doesn’t hurt either (let’s be real here, Hollywood). Check out this stunner below while considering adding her to the roster of your next upcoming feature film:

p.s. I love finding things around the house that I can use as props in shoots. The strawberry apron she’s wearing is my pottery class apron from Yamaguchi Prefectural University! I bought it for ¥100, about $1.25 at the 100円ショップ (the equivalent of our Dollar Store).

Bonus: Here’s Emily’s most recent YouTube video!


“Cascade” Album Release by Andriana Chobot

First of all: Happy Mother’s Day! To all those mums out there: raising a child is a formidable task, and you are all very brave.

This cross-borders project has been awhile in the making.  Back when we were all back at university in Quebec together, sound designer Shawn Bisson (an OIART grad from Goose Bay, Labrador, living in Halifax), singer-songwriter Andriana Chobot (a displaced Ontarian in Vermont) and I talked about making an EP followup to her first release, “Besides”.  A few graduations, an airplane visit,  cross-country migrations, plus lots of internet messages, Dropboxing and hard work (mostly from Shawn and Andy) later, I’m really happy to say that Andy released her second EP, “Cascade” yesterday.  You can check it out and buy the digital download or physical copy here from CD Baby.

You can also buy it off iTunes:

Below are copies of the album design that I came up with, including the overlay templates so you can see how the album fits together.  All the photos were shot during a whirlwind visit from Andy last fall, where I attempted to show her a bunch of Nova Scotia while simultaneously working part-time and shooting.  I made her get up early lots of mornings to arrive at locations before the early morning light dissipated.  The waterfall featured on the album is Waddell Falls in Truro, Nova Scotia.

p.s.  As a bonus, here’s the video (made of pictures – not even real video, sheesh)  that I made four years ago to Andy’s hit “Starving Artist” when Andriana released “Besides” at university.  This was a reoccurring theme song for most of the undergrad arts degree students. Once upon a time ago it was up on Youtube, but I took it down ages ago because I think the production quality is so bad compared to what I’m capable of now, haha.  Nonetheless, here it is for old time’s sake:

05/15/2014 UPDATE: We discovered this review of the album on the foreign releases page of a Japanese online CD store. Next step: Big in Japan! When bootlegs and torrents are available, that’s when we’ll know this album has succeeded.