I come to Vernon at Christmas time with my girlfriend and we spend lots of time with her parents and their friends. Soon after my arrival on December 26th, Bill (my girlfriend's father) tells me that he met a Chinese guy from the Kelowna Pipe Band – that I have to meet. It turns out that the Kelowna Pipe Band played with the Okanagan Symphony, and the Chinese guy playing the drums stuck out sooo much, that Bill had to go talk to him. In the next few days, Dan Huang and I will play lots of telephone tag.
Over the next few days, my girlfriend and I celebrate Christmas with her parents. We visit with their friends. We go for walks in Kalamalka Park with the doggies. We celebrate with two of our best friends in Vancouver who come up on December 28 to celebrate New Year's with us… and her birthday.
Our friend Randall, an opera singer, comes to visit. We talk about music, opera, and living in Europe. The next night we visit some other musical friends and have a singalong – we play classic rock and folk songs. Good thing I brought my accordion.
My friend Craig and I go skiing at Silver Star. We take it easy because it's the first day of the skiing season for both of us. I share that when I was in grades 5, 6, and 7 – my parents brought me and my brother to learn to ski by taking us out of school for a week in February. We ski green and blue runs + one black diamond run called Chaos. We meet a Scottish woman, who is amazed that I organize the largest Burns Supper in Vancouver. She asks me to recite something by Burns. I launch into a very fast version of the first verse of “Address to a Haggis.” She laughs in enjoyment.
On New Year's Eve, I receive a phone call from somebody at CBC Radio, for “On the Coast”. They want to ask me questions about Auld Lang Syne, because it is originally a Scottish tradition – and apparently I am an expert in “All Things Scottish” (their words). Luckily it's about things I know such as the lyrics are attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns, and when to join and cross hands with people in a circle while singing Auld Lang Syne. I add in that Hogmanay (Scottish New Year) is a lot like Chinese New Year because people make a lot of noise to scare off bad ghosts or spirits, and both Chinese and Scottish people want to pay off their debts before the new year begins. Oh… and they also like to eat and drink a lot, and visit friends.
After 7 days, I
finally see and talk to some Chinese-Canadian people. And… they both have
Betty Chan is a former Highland Dance champion,
teacher and judge! We actually met a few years before, when she had emailed me about the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner, and came to attend the 2006 dinner.
It's a great meeting, as Betty tells us stories about her Highland Dance competitions when she was a child of 10. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, she was a champion Highland Dancer. She taught Highland Dancing for a number of years, and even became a member of the judge's panel of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. She has since retired.Back
around 2002, at the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives, I
first saw an archival issue of Chinatown News with a picture of Betty.
Betty was so good, that there were many media stories written about her. Even a “Chan plaid” was made up for her. When Betty went to show us the “Chan plaid” she brought out her father's jacket which he had made in Hong Kong. She insisted that I try it on. It's a good fit, and an honour to be wearing it. Her father Ernest Chan was the first Chinese Canadian to receive the Order of Canada. Betty tells me that I look dashing in her father's Chan plaid jacket! Wow!
The other guests arrive with extra won ton wrappers. We fold some pork won tons, we sit down at the table… and after 7 days in Vernon, I finally have
some Chinese food as Betty served us a wonderful won ton soup! It has bbq pork, water chestnut, siu choy – my girlfriend says is “absolutely fabulous” and “out of this world!”
Dan Huang is drum sergeant of the Kelowna Pipe Band. After days of telephone tag, we had set up a meeting. Dan shared how he started playing in a pipeband- because his wife played the pipes, and the band was short of drummers – so he gave it a try, having grown up playing violin, piano and other instruments. The band kilt is the only one he wears, and many people ask to have a picture taken with him, because the sight of an Asian guy in a kilt playing drums in a pipe band is quite unique in the Okanagan.
And…. it turns out that Dan and I are actually related. His maternal cousins are my paternal cousins. So we are not actually related, as we don't share a common ancestor. But, he brought a picture of his ancestors circa 1940. Dan showed me his great-grandfather, his 6 wives, then pointed out the 1st born child (his mother) and the 2nd born son standing beside his young wife – who was my dad's oldest sister! What a small world!