Monthly Archives: October 2005

Artist Gwen Boyle Unveils SUAN PHAN: the jade abacus gateway sculpture

Artist Gwen Boyle Unveils SUAN PHAN: the jade abacus gateway sculpture

My new friend Gwen
Boyle is unveiling her latest art installation in Chinatown at the
intersection of Keefer Street and historic Shanghai Alley.  I
visited the site, but her jade abacus is still covered up for the
Saturday unveiling. 

Gwen tells me the following:

“My grandfather's beautiful wooden magical abacus was
the main concept behind Suan Phan As a public artwork Suan Pahn will
foster dialogue between strangers (this happened all afterenoon we were
working it was great fun).. about family … as with all first
generations – there are tales… especially when I drive around the
street with my mother with her memories.. somewhat fading but still

Along a short walk, I showed my girlfriend the Shanghai Alley attractions
featuring: Millenium Gate, designed by my architect cousin Joe Wai, the
Han Dynasty Bell, and the 8 panels depicting Chinese Canadian History
that my cousin Hayne Wai was involved with.

Below is a press release I wrote for Gwen.

October 29 Saturday 3 – 5 p.m.

Shanghai Alley, Vancouver Chinatown approximately

35 West Keefer St. between Carrall St. and Abbott St.

1/2 block West of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

You are invited to the unveiling of a large jade abacus, an interactive public artwork in the form of a sculptured gate by artist Gwen Boyle. The work is entitled Suan Phan which frames a functioning abacus of carved jade beads.

The artist's
purpose is to mark time past and the flow of life through historic
Shanghai Alley as Chinatown enters a period of urbanization. The
sculpture was commisioned by Pinnacle International with the City of
Vancouver, Public Art Program.

Artist Gwen
Boyle spent her childhood in Chinatown living with her mother and
grandfather who was a respected jeweller and goldsmith, Dong Jam Lung.
He formed traditional icons out of chinese gold and was one of only
three goldsmith working in that mode in North America during the

Gwen's 104 year
old mother, Mrs. Daisy Dong will perform the unveiling. She arrived in
Canada at age 6, in 1907. Meet the artists and her mother at the
reception following the unveiling.

Check out a CBC Radio interview of Gwen at:

Other Vancouver public art by Gwen Boyle includes:

Foot Notes (1994) Fifty-seven unpolished black granite tiles with words randomly into the sidewalk.describing False Creek Basin.

Time and the Riverrewinding earth's time tape  (1998) in Lang Park, in Richmond BC.

New Currents An Ancient Stream (1994) – a cascading urban 
stream at the Southwest corner of Alberni and Bute St.

Here's a picture of author Joy Kogawa enjoying Gwen's installation work
New Currents An Ancient Stream which features the quote from Leonardo
da Vinci:
“In rivers, the water you touch is the last of what has passed, and the first of that which comes; so with time present.”

For information contact:

Gwen Boyle


Janice Wong on City Cooks & Vancouver Museum Tuesday… + reflections of Sounds Like Canada…

Janice Wong continues to make the rounds with her book Chow. 

Monday: City Cooks

Tuesday: Vancouver Museum

City Cooks airs on
Monday morning at 9:30am and 12 Noon, as Janice tells her stories with
Simi Sara.  Janice reports that Simi was great to work with. 
There will be a skill testing question to win a copy of the book. 
Hint, the question has something to do with Janice's father, Dennis.

I heard Janice's radio interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada
on Friday.  It was a very warm and friendly interview, with
Shelagh asking many questions about Janice's family ancestors and how
they came to Canada, and how her parents settled in Prince Albert,
Sasketchewan.   I particularly enjoyed hearing about Janice's
first ancestor in Canada, Rev. Chan Yu Tan,
who arrived in 1896, as a Methodist lay preacher for the Chinese
Methodist Church (especially since he is my great-great-grandfather).

also brought some chicken wings, steamed sable fish and beans with dow
see (bean curd) and presented the food in a laquerware box, and Shelagh
complimented Janice
on the presentation, and also upon tasting the food.  Shelagh was
also particularly interested in hearing the stories about how Janice's
father was born premature, and his mother wrapped him up in blankets
and put him in the oven to keep him warm.

Another fascinating story was how Janice had started the book as a gift
for her family, after her father died.  A friend encouraged her to
turn it into a book, and Whitecap Books appreciated her  creative
in the book design, recognizing Janice as an accomplished and
professional visual artist- Janice Wong Studio.

Janice also told stories about how her parents met in Nanaimo
Chinatown, and seeing her grand-Uncle Luke Chan in Hollywood movies
that her father would point out, such as “The Mysterious Mr. Wong,” as
well he was

in movies with Clark Gable, Bela Lugosi and Katherine

Afterwards, Janice sent me this e-mail:
“The interview with Shelagh was
fun.  She's such a warm person.  I met Philip (Ditchburn) and
he mentioned your geneology connection.  I don't think the
producer told Shelagh about you and me as Philip mentioned it after the interview and she was pleasantly surprised.

Vancouver Opera's Turandot: a Canadian production of an Italian Opera of a Persian fable set in Peking China

Vancouver Opera's Turandot: a Canadian production of an Italian Opera of a Persian fable set in Peking China

October 22,25,27,29, November 1,3, 2005
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Vancouver, BC

Sally Dibblee and
Renzo Zulian, as Liu and Prince Calaf in Vancouver Opera's Turandot –
photo Tim Matheson, courtesy of Vancouver Opera

It was a night to wear your chinoiserie to the Vancouver Opera
to celebrate the Vancouver Opera's season opener of Turandot.  So
many people were wearing Chinese influenced outfits as well as
cheong-sams and jackets from Chinatown, that I could have mistaken myself at a Chinese New Year Dinner.  Turandot is an opera
based on a fable about a Chinese princess who challenges every royal
suitor to answer three riddles correctly, or else they are be-headed.

I was intrigued by how an Italian opera based on a Persian fable set in
Peking would play.  Would the characters be stereotyped Asians
such as many old and current Hollywood movies?  Would the music be
pale imitations of Asian music, reduced to catchy hooks?  Would it
be Chinese egg noodles dressed up with tomato sauce and called

Puccini’s opera Turandot (first performed 1926), sets him up as one of
the pioneers of World Music, incorporating not only actual Chinese folk
melodies into the music score but also traditional percussive
instruments.  Chinese tam tams (gongs) were visible in the
Vancouver Opera orchestra pit.

“The main musical theme, which is associated with the Emperor and
Princess Turandot herself, is the chinese folk meloday Mo Li Hua
(Jasmine Flower),” says Opera chorus member Heather Pawsey,
who has performed the song in Mandarin at Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner
events.  “Apparently Puccini had a music box on his desk which
someone had brought him from China, and that was one of the songs it

Renzo Zulian is outstanding as Calaf, the Prince of Tartary.  His 3rd Act performance of Nessun Dorma rocked the house to thunderous
applause.  Of course, everybody knows Nessun Dorma from the Three
Tenors performance at the 1990 World Soccer Championships now, and forever associated with Pavorotti.  In
the 1st act Calaf falls in love with the princess Turandot, and answers
the three riddles in the 2nd act, setting up a stand-off with a
resistant princess determined not to take a husband.

Audrey Stottler made her Vancouver performance as Princess
Turandot.  This is her signature role, which she has even
performed at Bejing’s Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace for
generations of Chinese emperors.  Stottler sang brilliantly and
was a very convincing ice princess, confident that no prince would ever
solve the riddles, and she would continue in her solo quest of
dictatorial absolute power forever.  

The libretti is based on the 1762 play Turandot, by Carlo Gozzi, 
Puccini wanted his version to give Princess Turandot a warmer and more
developed role than the shallower ice princess of the Gozzi play.  

“God it’s great, I love it!” exclaimed Vancouver Opera concert master
Mark Ferris about the Puccini score for Turandot.  “I’ve been
practicing it all week, it’s so rich.  Mozart operas can be so
finicky, but Puccini is very deep.”

“Lots of pentatonic scales, “he confirmed about Puccini incorporating
Chinese folk melodies into Turandot,” Ferris himself is familiar with
Chinese music having performed Tandun’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon” score last year with the CBC Orchestra, as well as having a
written a violin caprice based on Chinese structures (that was first
performed publicly at the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner event).

Court bureaucrats
Ping, Pang and Pong played by Michel Corbeil, Peter Blanchet and
Gregory Dahl, dwarfing Renzo Zulian as Calaf, Prince of Tartary – photo
by Tim Matheson, courtesy of Vancouver Opera.

The characters of Ping, Pang and Pong are pure “commedia dell’arte,” commented culture and food critic Tim Pawsey, also husband of Heather Pawsey.  The three court bureaucrats are
performed brilliantly by Gregory Dahl, Peter Blanchet and Michel
Corbeil.  They provide an intellectual foil to the cold-hearted
princess, questioning amongst themselves the role they have become as
an executioners’ committee, as each of her suitors is put to death.

“Never should two character tenors be on stage at the same time” said
General Director James Wright, as he introduced the performers at the
after party, commenting on their wonderful ensemble work.  All three actors
provided wonderful physical acting both on stage and in the
bigger-than-life costumes on wheels they wear for the public square
scenes, which seem to heighten the both the comedy and the fairy tale

Ninety-four people are on stage for the execution and public square
scenes including the main characters (4), supporting characters (5),
chorus (55), children’s chorus(17) and supernumeraries (13 non-singing
roles).  With an additional sixty-four orchestra members in the
orchestra pit, and led by conductor Tyrone Paterson, a spectacular wall of sound and sight was created, as
both the emperor and Princess Turandot stood tall on moving scaffolds,
filling the large stage.

This is opera at it’s grandest. It’s a perfect introduction if you have
never seen an opera before.  Everything is just as it should be –
over the top in spectacle, drama, and singing, and the orchestra’s
performance was exquisite. We chatted with some of the orchestra
members after the show, and they were having a great time, and wishing
they could see the action on the stage.

And in the end, it didn’t matter how accurately reflective of Chinese
culture, the opera really was.  This was in fact an Italian
version of a Persian fable, and was perfect in its context.  The
costumes, backdrops and projected images taken from actual Chinese
motifs were accurate enough to portray a realistic sense, as well as a
fairy tale atmosphere.

But still I wonder what Turandot would be like if it were sung in
Mandarin, since most people in the audience are not fluent in Italian
and read the sur-title translations anyways.  Vancouver Opera has
featured Asians playing the lead roles in past productions, such as Liping Zhang in last
year’s production Madama Butterfly, Jianyi Zhang in 1999’s La Traviata, Zheng Zhou in 2000’s Lucia de Lammermoor, or local Vancouverite Grace Chan

who performed in Lucia di Lammermoor, Romeo et Juliette, and Pirates of Penzance

One can only wonder
what will happen when Vancouver Opera attempts the Canadian Opera Iron Road about the Chinese labourers building the Canadian railway, or fully reflects onstage
Vancouver’s growing Asian population, and its reputation as gateway to
the Asian Pacific.

See also the Vancouver Opera “Insight” articles:
East Meets West and Falls in Love
by Gin-Chung Chan

Turandot: Innovative and Traditional by David Shefsiek

Fabled Singer – Audrey Stottler interviewed by Doug Tuck

Nikkei Voice asks Japanese Canadian community for support to preserve Kogawa House

Nikkei Voice asks Japanese Canadian community for support to preserve Kogawa House

Joy Kogawa at Kogawa House, the house she left at age 6, never to return. 

Katherine Mika Fukuma, the English Editor of the Nikkei Voice, has come
out strongly in favor of the effort to save the Joy Kogawa House in her
October 2005 “Editor's File” column. The Nikkei Voice is the national
forum for Japanese Canadians.

Katherine's editorial, “The JC community is again in need of your support,” is nearly half a page long. It reads in part:

“As you may have already read in the Globe and Mail (Sept.24) or in the Vancouver Courier (Sept. 28), the house of Obasan (Joy Kogawa homestead)
is currently in danger of being demolished. According to sources, the
owner of the Marpole, West 64th Avenue house–in which Joy Kogawa lived
until her family was relocated to Slocan Valley when she was six years
old–applied to the city of Vancouver for a demolition permit in

The news came as a disappointment and a shock despite the fact that the
city of Vancouver will be planting a cutting of the cherry tree from
the backyard of the Marpole home on city hall grounds this fall as a
way to commemorate the experience of Japanese Canadians during the
Second World War.

Other joyous news for Kogawa this year included her book Obasan chosen as the Vancouver Public Library's One Book, One Vancouver selection for 2005, as well as the premiere of the Vancouver Opera's World Premiere production of the opera for young audiences and their family, Naomi's Road.
The Vancouver Opera presented four public performances before the
production embarks on a province-wide tour, visiting more than 140
schools and community venues throughout B.C. between October 25 and May

Furthermore, there was discussion at the September 19, 2005 meeting of
the City of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation of the possibility
of naming the new Park for Marpole (at West 72nd Avenue and Osler
Street and Selkirk Street) “Joy Kogawa Park.” This park will be a
neighbourhood park, with a design element representing a Japanese theme
to reflect the history of the area.

Now, wouldn't all these events create more than enough meaning to
declare the property, or the house as a historical landmark? If it is
impossible to purchase the entire property, at least the house itself
should be saved, before it is too late.

The house represents more than just a literary icon's childhood home.
It is packed with a historical essence of the kind of lifestyle of the
prewar Japanese Canadians and may be the last of its kind. Once it is
declared a historical landmark much can be done. (Of course, it
shouldn't end up as just a museum!)

I surely hope that Vancouver councillors are smarter than those in Toronto…Preserve our nikkei history and heritage and help educate our future generations.”

Nikkei Voice, 6 Garamound Court, Toronto, ON, M3C 1Z5
Phone: 416-386-0287
FAX: 416-386-0136

Publisher: Frank Moritsugu
Owner: Nikkei Research and Education Project of Ontario
Circulation: 3000  Subscription: $35.00  Frequency: 10/year

Yusuke Tanaka, Japanese Editor/Advertising Manager

Alexis Mazurin, CBC Radio 3 host, passes away

Alexis Mazurin was a youthful energetic ball of energy.  I
remember him saying hi to me as bumped into each other at the steps of
CBC or the Library. 

I can picture him as an amazing performer when I saw the Hot Sauce
Posse in action at Asian Comedy Night, produced by Vancouver Asian
Canadian Theatre.

It was shocking for me to learn that he had first suffered a severe
heart attack while attending Burning Man in the Nevada desert, and
finally made his transition after a long coma.  Alexis was 27.

No doubt, many of us will feel this is tragic at such a young
It is more tragic what the world will miss because of what Alexis will
not be able to create.  In 1989, I almost died from a serious
cancer tumor when I was 29 years old, in 1989.  Now 16 years
later, I am amazed at what I have accomplished, and been able to give
to the world.  What Alexis could have given our communities in the
next 10 years, 20 years or 30 years…. will now be up to us.

There are some good tributes to Alexis:


CBC Radio 3


AlexMazurin Blog

Hot Sauce Posse

Free Performance of Naomi's Road

Free Performance of Naomi's Road

Vancouver Opera Touring Ensemble

Mon Oct 24th, 2005
3:30 pm
Vancouver Public Library
Central Branch, Alice Mackay Room

Admission is free and all are welcome.

This performance has come about as a result of the ongoing teacher's
strike so the library apologizes for the short notice. They ask people
to please pass this information on to anyone whom you think may be
interested in attended, including day camp groups.

I talked with soprano Jessica Cheung, who plays Naomi,  tonight at
the Vancouver Opera  reception/cast party following the openining
night of Turandot.  Jessica says that the children in the schools
are really recieving the opera well.

In particular, the children really respond to “the bully” scene, and
when Naomi is trying to decide whether or not to give Mitzi her doll
back.  Jessica reports that she is really enjoying the
performances and is looking forward to taking the production to
Vancouver Island next week.

For further information contact:

Barbara Edwards
Community Relations Librarian
Vancouver Public Library

Busy Weekend ahead… Turandot at Vancouver Opera + more…

Vancouver Opera's Turandot opens up.

22, 25, 27, 29, November 1 & 3

All performances 7:30 pm  Queen
Elizabeth Theatre

The lead singer, Audrey Stottler, performs her signature role as
Princess Turandot, a role she has performed at the Forbidden City
Imperial Palace in Beijing.  Puccini did research authentic
Chinese melodies for his masterpiece opera, known for Nessun Dorma, one
of Opera's most famous tenor arias.  But expect stereoptypical
portrayals of Chinese characters such as the court administrators named
“Ping”, “Pang” and “Pong.”

Goh Ballet and the Modern Dance
Company of Guangdong perform a special 10th Anniversary celebration for
the special sister province relationship between Guangdong, China and
British Columbia, Canada.  Thius takes place tonight at the Centre
in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

Janice Wong visits Shelagh Rogers on “Sounds Like Canada”

image image
Janice Wong visits Shelagh Rogers on Sounds Like Canada.

a message from my cousin Janice Wong, author of the book CHOW, about her upcoming interview on
CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada, with host Shelagh Rogers:

"Alicia got Sounds Like Canada on board! Yay! 

If you happen to be near a radio on Friday morning at 10.30, Shelagh  
Rogers will be talking to me about "Chow." I'm actually looking  
forward to this one, though I have to do the interview at 6:30 a.m.!!  
I'm just hoping to be coherent and not too froggy at that time of the  

morning! Her producer is from Prince Albert too!

They want me to bring Chinese food into the studio at 6:30 in the

morning... I feel like I'm a Chinese take out delivery person, now!"

Maybe I should put them in Chinese take-out boxes, but I left

them all in my studio."

I have since suggested to Janice to
tell Shelagh that since having written CHOW, that she keeps discovering
new connections in both her ancestry and extended family… for
instance… Her Dad's cousin in Seattle, Carole, is married to Gary
Locke the former Washington State governor, and her father's cousin,
Henry, had married the aunt of former Governor General Adrienne

Shelagh…”  Janice could say… “I have just discovered a
relationship between you and me…  apparently we're family.”

“Me!?!?!?” Shelagh might exclaim
surprised, but very interested, because Shelagh's father had only told
her about two years ago, that there was First Nations Cree blood in
their ancestry.

“Yes, Shelagh…  you and me… are both members of Clan Gung Haggis Fat Choy!”

Paul Yee in Vancouver for Writers Festival and new book launch for Chinatowns

Paul Yee was featured at the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival on
Tuesday and Wednesday.  He will be sticking around town, as he
will be launching his new book Chinatowns, published by Lorimer, at the
Vancouver Museum on Oct 25th.  Janice Wong's book Chow will also
be featured.

Paul's new book is a pictorial history of Chinatowns across
Canada.  Paul's first illustrated history book was Saltwater City:
an Illustrated History of Vancouver's Chinatown.  This book won
the inaugural Vancouver City Book Award, and will be revised next
spring by Douglas McIntyre.

I first met Paul in 1986, when he chaired the Saltwater City exhibition
at the Chinese Cultural Centre.  This was a wonderful celebration
of 100 years of Vancouver chinese history for Vancouver's
Centennial.  I will look for some old pictures of Paul from the