Gung Haggis Fat Choy puts a dragon (not a snake) in the 5th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon team: Stuart holds the paddles, while Joy, Deb, Hillary, Richard, Michael and Leanne (out of picture) hold up our new parade dragon! – photo Julie
The 15 foot long Chinese dragon undulated up and down in the air above the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Vancouver’s Granville Street. A mini version of the larger 10 or 20 person dragons used in Chinatown Chinese New Year parades, it jerked hesitantly. Five Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team members carried short poles sporting a yellow body with red scales and blue and yellow ridge.
It flowed unsure of itself, as the leader lowered and raised the head and the body followed. It ran from one side of the road to the other, slowing down to flap its mouth and pay attention to the children.
A Chinese dragon in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade? Didn’t St. Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland?
Ahh… but this is multi-inter-cultural Vancouver. Dragon boaters paddle in kilts, and bagpipers perform in the Chinese New Year Parade. And the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner serves up deep-fried haggis won tons. Welcome to Vancouver!
Yesterday I was in Chinatown looking for some kind of dragon to use for our parade entry. I had only learned the day before that the trailer used for Fraser Valley dragon boats had some safety issues. Damn!
It would have been very cool to put a “Fraser” dragon boat into the Celtic Fest St. Patrick’s Day parade, and have our dragon boat team members wearing the Hunting Fraser tartans (okay we call them “sport tartans”).
I checked around to try to find a Vancouver area dragon boat and trailer to use as a replacement. But no luck.
For the first three years of the festival, I had featured a Taiwanese dragon boat, that we pulled on a trailer. Very colourful. Very ornate. Very good audience reaction, as we “paddled” on the boat and banged the drum.
But this year… Sorry – no dragon boat… so we improvised…
I looked in Chinatown stores at seven foot long plastic expandable dragon decorations. They looked cheap. Some looked pretty cool, with bright jewel cellophane coloured assembled pieces for its head. $49.
But then I saw a larger cloth covered dragon for $148, like the kind used in the Chinatown parades, but with only two poles.
Then I saw a large dragon face staring at me, with a large pink tongue sticking out. A large round body, stretching 16 feet long alongside the staircase leading to the second floor. Wow! It’s yellow head was about the same size as the large Chinese Lion head mask that I have. I wanted it!
A big commitment buying a parade dragon like that. As I was looking at it, a woman said to me, “ Are you Todd Wong?” My daughter Shane did a lion dance at Gung Haggis Fat Choy!”
“Hi… uh… that’s great! Nice to see you… was that at SFU?” I answered (I didn’t remember ever having a Lion Dance at a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner).
“No… it was about a month ago, in Seattle!” She said, “My name is Sam.”
In Seattle Bill McFadden had organized a grand Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner with 5 Lion Dancers. The mother and daughter had popped up to Vancouver from Seattle for the day, just to see a martial arts demonstration earlier that day on Saturday. We had a wonderful conversation about Lion dancing, and what a beautiful dragon we were looking at.
“We don’t have a dragon at our school,” they said. “This dragon is gorgeous! It would be great to have.”
I bought the dragon.
The weather was chilly today for the March 16 parade this morning, high overcast. But 5 Years…. and NO RAIN!!! Incredible!
Our dragon boat team members started assembling about 10:15am. It took awhile for some of us to find us, because our car had been “temporarily” ushered into the “walkers” area instead of the “motorized” area, so that we could unload the car and decorate it.
Our paddlers marveled at the new dragon making its’ public debut. We struggled trying to screw in the poles to the dragon. We put green Gung Haggis Fat Choy shirts on our participants. We put kilts on the people who didn’t show up in them. We put green plastic bowler hats on the men or tiaras on the women, and we gave everybody mardi-gras style green, purple and blue beads.
We were festive. We were fun. We were happening!
People seemed to like the Chinese dragon we had on 5 poles…
and the Chinese lion head character…. Michael lead the dragon first. He is 1/2 Chinese, 1/8 Irish and 1/8 Scottish. Following and supporting the dragon were Leanne, Richard, Hillary and Joy.
Lots of interaction with the audience, playing to the cameras… giving attention to the children. Raphael and Stuart carried dragon boat paddles. I wore the large Lion Head mask.
Todd Wong and Lion Head mask – photo Michael Brophy
We got lots of crowd reaction, when Raphael and I started sitting over the front fenders on the car hood, paddling dragon boat style.
In the parade we saw lots of great pipe bands, Irish dancers, Scottish highland dancers and even horses and Irish Wolf Hounds.
It was nice to see a Korean parade entry, and a Chinese Falun Dufa entry. Apparently for the Chinatown parade – they wouldn't let Falun Dufa participate, because it is a “hot issue” for the Chinese embassy. And I even found two Chinese bagpipers. Xi “Jonsey” is in the J.P. Fell pipe band and Fu Cheong is in the Irish Pipes and Drums.
Jonesy Wu and Todd Wong – Celtic loving Chinese-Canadians in kilts – photo Michael Brophy
After the parade, we visited the Celtic village set up on Granville St., then dipped into Ceili's Irish Bar for some food and well-deserved Guinness beer. It was great to be back at the very site where Thursday night, I had won the inaugural “Battle of the Bards” playing Robbie Burns!
But I couldn't stay long, as we still had a dragon boat team practice, and I was coaching!
THANK YOU VERY MUCH to the Celtic Fest organizers for having us in the parade. We are glad to add a multicultural aspect to the festival, and hope to organize an event for “Celtic-Asian-Canadians” next year – celebrating Celtic-Asian-Canadian literature, music and arts!
The rain started about 4:30pm in Vancouver after the most successful St. Patrick’s Day Parade ever.