Monthly Archives

February 2015

Destinations South Korea

South Korea’s Dreamy Camera Café

We had landed in South Korea an hour ago.  Rob was in Asia for the first time, and I was in South Korea for the first time.  I couldn’t believe we’d hustled enough time and money together to make it back over the Pacific only a year and seven months after I returned from Japan.

We were decompressing on the train heading from the airport into Seoul’s city centre, happy on the ground after the 14 hour flight.  I was staring out the window trying to convince my body like it knew what local time was, in trying to deny the jetlag I had felt the last time I came to Asia, and Rob was checking his Facebook feed.

“You’d like this,” he passed me his phone.

There was a Buzzfeed article from that day about a cafe shaped like a vintage camera. In South Korea, ‘just outside Seoul.’ It’s name was the Dreamy Camera Café.

Me: “We have to go,” I said.
Rob: “Mel, we have no idea where it is. It could be towns over.”
Mel: “Nope. We’re going.”

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Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

This quote has become such a pop-culture cliché that I almost didn’t use it. But then I thought how snobby of me to discontinue a good saying only because it had gotten so popular that it had gone out of style in my books. I was doing the equivalent of “That saying is such a sell out.” Hello? Sayings don’t sell out. They become stronger and take on new meaning and ideas through repetition, and isn’t that the idea with all good things, eventual success? I know that’s how I feel about musicians and artists, so I thought I also needed to give literature and quotes a break too.

This indie-folk-wanderlusty-pacific-scene-renaissance of ‘Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost’ / ‘All Who Wander Are Not Lost’ / however-you-phrase it,  seen so often on Tumblr, Instagram, Etsy, Chapters, etc. does take the phrase slightly out of context.  Most people who see it think ‘lost’ as in ‘lost in the woods’ or ‘hey, where am I?’, or ‘I have no idea where I’m going,’ whereas lost in the original version has more of a connotation of ‘forsaken’.  I guess a modern traveller could use it in this way too, depending on how dramatic they envision their reason for travel.

Here’s the full poem, from Lord of the Rings:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

In the books it’s used as poetic foreshadowing, first occurring in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo in Bree, alluding to Aragorn and the integral role he will come to play in the battle for Middle Earth.  In the movie the first four lines are left out, and only the last four lines are spoken by Arwen when her father is reforging Narsil for Aragorn.

With J.R.R.’s fervour for epic quests, I’m sure he’d take it’s new pop-culture use by romantic travellers to heart with good will and the spirit of adventure.

Speaking of, this photo is of my first night ever in Tokyo Japan. I had just come from the airport after somehow negotiating the directions with my taxi driver in (Japanese? Not sure, it’s all a blur). I was so, so, so happy, despite being jet lagged after 20+ hours of travel. My first real long-haul flight. Getting to Japan had been the dream of kid Mel since forever, so I thought I had to celebrate with some form of selfie. This is taken looking out from my hostel bunk on the 20-something floor over Tokyo at night.

Also, during this past vacation I started a pet project to go back and improve all the posts I made in the early days of my blog while I was in Japan.  At the time, I was too busy running around doing things to flesh out the posts more like they properly deserved. Also, when I switched fmor Tumblr to Squarespace and imported my content, a lot of the formatting and images were lost along the way. If you’re interested, I would recommend these posts:

I plan to keep updating all my old posts until all the lost images and stories are restored and remastered. ;- )

As usual, click on the photo above to download the full-res wallpaper.


Favourites from the StArt Festival

The StArt Festival is a two-night showcase for emerging artists in Halifax that happens at The Bus Stop Theatre in the dead of winter. Despite the baby-it’s-cold outside, The Bus Stop is a warm and cozy venue. I was more than happy to spend two nights with the crew as they delivered a fresh batch of Halifax talent to the crowd. This is the festival’s second year running; it was nice to see The Bus Stop packed on both nights. On the second night they even needed to add an extra row of chairs because they more than sold out the house (during a snowstorm, nonetheless) .

Yalitsa Ridden (associate producer)

Yalitsa Ridden (associate producer)

Karen Gross (co-producer)

Karen Gross (co-producer)

Alanna Griffin (co-producer)

Alanna Griffin (co-producer)

Shooting in a theatre reminds me of when I first got my camera in university – I spent a lot of time documenting life inside the drama department. In retrospect, a strange choice; stage lighting works well for the purposes of theatre, but is absolutely terrible to shoot in. It creates harsh lines, unflattering shadows, and a dynamic range that’s hard to capture with any sort of camera. It’s also extremely hard to change your lighting. You can’t just reach up 50 feet into the catwalks and adjust intensity – you’re reduced to praying there’s a friendly lighting-tech on hand who might be willing to bring up the house lights and dim the spot a bit so your photos don’t look completely washed out. Trial by fire, no better way to learn!

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 4

As you may have heard, we’ve been a little bit snowed-in here in Halifax as of late. The fight to keep our driveways and sidewalks cleared is a battle in which all Nova Scotians have becomes comrades at arms. Many a knowing smile and nod I got from passerbys as I shovelled out my driveway in the wake of the the well-meaning plowman’s most recent icy dump on our doorstep. I like to think we, as a province, are pretty resilient in winter, even if we do complain about it an awful lot.

Δ Serial – Season 1 Podcast. I binge-listened to this last Sunday during the mega slush-blizzard we had. There was nothing to do but stay inside and I had wanted to listen to this but hadn’t found the right time during my regular schedule. Holy cow –  this podcast is surreal. I couldn’t believe at first that I was listening to a ‘live’ piece of investigative journalism. The ethics and potential bias problems just seemed so large for a story that was dealing with real people facing real consequences, and issues of this magnitude, especially since it was conveyed in an entertainment format.  That being said, I was hooked and I think it was very ballsy to produce.  From a narrative standpoint, the ‘ending’ of course was a bit unsatisfying, just because of the time constraints of the project (about 1 year) and the reality constraints (hello, this is real life. There isn’t always tidy closure).  This podcast has stirred a lot of conversations and I’ll be really curious to see what they do for their next season. If you haven’t heard of it, go and check it out.

Δ Which Haruki Murakami Character Are You? I got an erotically compelling ear. 

Δ My Dad, the Pornographer, learn about the clandestine cabin life of an early erotica writer.

Δ How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life, an article about the sometimes unnerving social mob power of Twitter.

Δ Here’s Why Harvard Added a Fashion Blogger to Its Curriculum, proving that a career in blogging is nothing to sniff at.

Δ Kaihla Tonai’s My Preferred Methods to Help Combat Anxiety is such a nice piece. She’s also an A++ elopement and wedding photographer.

Δ The Wall Street Banker Who Became a Monk, this guy knows what thinking is.

Δ  The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit , like a story out of my 7th grade English class. 

Δ  How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – – Florence and the Machine’s latest video. This would have made a great travel blog title.

Δ Do you sometimes get your best ideas after exercising?  What Happens to Our Brains When We Exercise and How It Makes Us Happier might explain that.

Δ This Interview with Amanda Palmer is from a Danish documentary about female representation in the music industry, and is one of the best talks I’ve heard from her.

Δ  History of Japan podcast is my favourite Japanese History podcast. Not only for the occasional dry wits of its host, Isaac Meyer, but also for his thorough coverage of events and thematic special episodes. He also has quite a few etymological tangents, which I love.  I’m about 20 episodes in out of 89 available so far. This vacation has really been all about the podcasts!

Δ  Experience Japanese History Through Film — On the same note as the previous link, this is a great list of historical Japanese films (plus anything by Akira Kurosawa).

Δ  Australia’s Oldest Man Knits Sweaters for Tiny Penguins — that’s everything I want in a headline, really.

Δ  Style Out There: Decora Fashion in Tokyo — Watch the video! This quick little docu shows some insight into the lives of decora girls in (where else?) Tokyo. 

Δ  300 Awesome Free Things — A great resource for any entrepreneur or digital denizen.

Δ Rise & Shine: The Morning Rituals of Great Creative Minds — Good news: If you sleep in until noon, there’s hope for you yet!  

Δ If I had money to burn, I’d definitely subscribe to Try the World, a box full of fun stuff from different countries every couple of months? Fantastic! Like Epcot in your mailbox. 

Δ A handy resource for all your Japanese Emoticons; my personal favourite are (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ 

Δ San Diego – Golden Hour Surf From Above is frighteningly beautiful surf video shot using a drone. 

Δ Rejected Princesses does cool features on some of history’s badass yet sidelined women.

Δ  Becoming Lorde — I’ve always been fascinated by this singer songwriter since she appeared in public. Her voice and songwriting style seemed to really stand out for me. Hearing her speak, she seems like a pretty down to earth chick, like the kind of person you’d go to the beach with.

Δ  Gisele Bündchen’s Underarmour Ad is populated by live comments made by people voicing their opinions on Gisele.  Not only is the concept and execution great, but the ad changes tone with each viewing.  It will always amaze and not amaze me the terrible things people say about other people. 

Δ  Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan brings to light some of the cultural difficulties to be reckoned with to bring AirBnb to the land of the rising sun.  Any foreigner who has spent time in Japan will recognize the familiar anti-foreigner and isolationist sentiments that are the default setting for many Japanese people. I think the author does a fair job of portraying it in an empathetic light.  Scary foreigners!  If you are ever traveling in Japan and at any point feel threatened… remember, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.

Δ  The Photographers Behind Some of the Most Iconic Images of Our Time, I have this book and I love it.  

Δ  Joni Mitchell, Unyielding, some beautiful photos of Joni looking ethereal.  She looks so goddamn wise. Sounds it too.

Δ  Worldwide Instameet 11 is coming up March 21-22, 2015. Nothing arranged in Halifax yet, but I’m keeping my eye on it.

Δ Eating Less Meat is Better for the Planet Than Ditching Your Car, food for thought.

I was on vacation from my weekday job this past week, so I got to spent lots of time indulging in leisurely readings, catching up on films, walking while listening to podcasts, making ridiculously indulgent breakfasts every day, and taking gratuitous cat photos.  

Something else happened that made this week even better: I called the registrar of the Master of Journalism program I’d applied to, because I wanted to make sure they didn’t need a copy of my high school transcript. As it turns out, everything was fine and the applications committee had reviewed my case the day before. The registrar had me on a list of people to call that day with some news… an offer for a spot in their program! **cue the happy dance** 

I’ve been told the official letter will come in a week or two in the mail, but I was too excited to keep it secret and immediately texted my whole family.  I’d been nervous about getting my academic plans finalized for the fall since deciding back in December that I wasn’t passionate about pursuing law school. I was also nervous about telling my family I wasn’t going to law school, it being one of those age-old careers which symbolizes ‘success’ in pretty much every culture (including mine). To my delight, I had severely underestimated my family and they all came back with extremely supportive remarks, including their observations about how this path was such a good fit for me, with my love of travel, words, and languages.

In defence of those pursuing law school: all my hats off to you. It is a kickass profession, but decidedly not for me at this juncture.  I’m glad I’ve spent this past year and a bit working with one of the best law firms in the city though. Otherwise, I always would have wondered.  Now I know and it’s given me that much more chutzpah to go after this thing I really want.

There is so much to look forward to right now, including (for today) seeing a visiting relative from the rockies and eating pizza. Life is great. I hope you get some pizza too. Do it, go get some pizza. You deserve it. 

Happy Sunday,





Never Be Limited By Other People’s Imaginations

Mae Jemison is cool as shit.   Let me tell you why: not only was she the first African American woman to travel in space, but she also had a great sense of humour and never let anyone dissuade her from pursuing a career in science.

In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist,” Jemison says. “She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.”  (Haynes, Karima A. “Mae Jemison: coming in from outer space”, Ebony, December 1992.)

Jemison got a medical degree from Cornell university, and spent two years abroad with the Peace Corps. working in Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as doing vaccine research with the CDC.  Jemison is also a badass because she never gave a damn about the conventional hierarchy.  She went to space in 1992, and then resigned from NASA when she returned in 1993 to pursue more philosophical applications of social science and technology.  Oh, and did I mention she also built a dance studio in her home and has choreographed and produced several jazz and African dance shows?

She is also the first real astronaut to make a cameo appearance in an episode of Star Trek.

So the next time your trajectory seems to be heading down an unconventional path and it scares you, just think of Mae Jemison and remember not to let other people’s expectations crowd your judgment.

p.s. This post is part of a weekly series I do of free wallpapers featuring one of my photos and a famous quote.  Click on the image above to download the full-sized wallpaper.