Toddish McWong goes to Vernon BC and meets Betty McChan and Dan McHuang.
2009 was an amazing year for Todd Wong and Gung Haggis Fat Choy
2009 opened with a life-size picture of Todd Wong included in “The
Party” exhibit at Royal BC Museum, and by November 30th – Todd was
encountering a life-size picture of himself at Scottish Parliament in
Edinburgh for the exhibit This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada.
It was an exciting year for the Joy Kogawa House Society, as the long sought dream of a writer-in-residence program became a reality. Montreal Arab-Canadian author John Asfour became the inaugural writer-in-residence and helped writers at Kogawa House as well as hosted events at the house, Vancouver Public Library's Central and Carnegie branches. By Christmas time author Joy Kogawa was enjoying her first Christmas season living in the house (temporarily) since she and her family had been forced to move in 1942 when they were sent to Internment Camps during WW2.
On November 28th, I set foot in Scotland for my first time ever. Since first wearing a kilt in 1993 for the SFU Robert Burns ceremonies and hosting the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner since 1998, I no longer have to say that I've never visited Scotland before. It was a short but exciting trip as I attended the closing night reception at Scottish Parliament for the exhibit This Is Who We Are: Scots in Canada – co-hosted by the Scottish First Minster and Presiding Officer. I also visited Edinburgh Castle and many things Robbie Burns, as I made my way to Alloway in Ayrshire to visit the birthplace of Robert Burns at Burns Cottage. It had only just re-opened to the public and I had a special tour by manager of the Burns National Heritage Park.
This is a review of some my my favorite stories and events from 2009.
January 1st, 2009
A life-size picture of Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong” is included in Free Spirit exhibition at Royal BC Museum. The exhibit closed on January 14th 2009.
VisitScotland comes to Vancouver to celebrate Homecoming Scotland with Toddish McWong and Gung Haggis Fat Choy
and brings special limited edition of 37 year old Famous Grouse whisky to auction off at the 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.
Georgia Straight news article
Georgia Straight: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong
Westender: Gung Haggis celebrates Canadian interculturalism – article by Jackie Wong
January 25th Robbie Burns Day 250th Anniversary celebration at Burns Statue in Stanley Park
250th Anniversary of Robert Burns recognized with poems at statue in Vancouver's Stanley Park
January 25th Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner
2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy: Toddish McWong's 250th Robbie Burns Birthday
Chinese New Year's Eve Dinner was a big success – worth 2 ceremonial
Louis Lapprend makes a youtube video of the 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner event
Seattle Gung Haggis Fat Choy, Sunday February 15th.
3rd annual Gung Haggis dinner in Seattle Washington, hosted by Bill McFadden of the Caledonian and St. Andrew's Society of Seattle. Bagpiper Joe McDonald and Todd Wong travel to Seattle to perform and MC the event.
April 6-11th Tartan Week in Vancouver
May 22nd – Todd and Deb go kayaking on Mayne Island
Kayaking in the Gulf Islands: we visit Belle Islets Chain
May 30th – Final event for Kogawa House inaugural writer in residence John Asfour with Gary Geddes, Ann Erikson and Shelagh Rogers
Another Magical Evening for final event of Historic Joy Kogawa House's inaugural writer-in-residence program
Todd's first day in Scotland
I start off in Glasgow, visit a Haggis exhibit at Kelvingrove Museum, take the train to Edinburgh and attend the official Homecoming Finale ceilidh on the Golden Mile.
CBC Radio interview from Scottish Parliament – On the Cost with Stephen Quinn
“Vancouverite Todd Wong has been celebrating Scottish culture in this
city for years with his Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebration. Now he's in
the home of the Highlands. Stephen caught up with Todd to find out what
he is doing in Edinburgh this week. Listen to the interview.(runs 6:58)”
Todd Wong visits Robert Burns Cottage in Alloway Scotland. After extensive renovations, Burns Cottage is reopened to the public on Nov. 30th. Todd Wong has a special tour with Caroline Green, manager of Burns Heritage Park.
Christmas Party at Kogawa House
This is the 1st Christmas season, that author Joy Kogawa has spent at her childhood home, since they were removed and sent to WW2 internment camps in 1942. Friends and family of both Joy Kogowa and Kogawa House attend.
Todd does a short CBC Radio One interview for On the Coast – answering
questions about the Scottish origins of singing Auld Lang Syne.
To be continued
I am now back in Canada. It was an incredible learning experience for my first trip across the Atlantic to one of the most important cultural and historical ancestral homes for this country called Canada. Canada is probably the most Scottish nations outside of Scotland. Our first prime minister, many of our explorers, BC's first premier, Vancouver's first mayor – were all born in Scotland.
And yet… Scotland is a country that is learning from Canada.
My trip was initiated because a life-size picture and video-interview of me were used in the photo exhibit This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada. I have written about the exhibit here: Toddish McWong arrives in Scotland for inaugural visit and reception at Scottish Parliament for “This is Who We Are”
Here are my pictures from the exhibit and the reception at the closing of the event on St. Andrew's Day
Seven days were spent exploring the towns of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayr. I attended the reception at Scottish Parliament for the exhibition This is Who We Are, and I explored Canada-Scottish historical connections at the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle.
I also visited many exhibits about Scottish poet Robert Burns at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow's University of Glasgow, Burns Cottage in Alloway and the National Burns Historic Park, near Ayr.
Here are pictures from my 9 hour layover in Amsterdam, and my first two days exploring Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Todd's first day in Scotland:
A little bit of Glasgow and Edinburgh
It's been a busy few days in Scotland. I first arrived late on Saturday night, after a 9 hour layover in Amsterdam's Schipol airport. I took the train to central station and went for a walk through the touristy bits – where I also discovered both Chinatown and the Red Light District.
The Bulldog pub was toooo full, so I went to The Blarney Stone where I met an Englishman named Robin. I drank Kilkenney and he drank Guinness. I told him about our 1st Thursday Kilts Night where we recieve a pint of Guinness. He told me it was his birthday, I asked the waitress to give him a free birthday beer. Instant friends + the guy from Boston beside us.
Here are pictures from Amsterdam
I flew into Glasgow late on Saturday night. After all the locals breezed easily through customs, I was left with two people from China to fill out landing forms. (What are these?) I was the last person through, and the service was very kind. I changed some money, and took the bus into town where I soon found a hotel. My plan was to check out the local nightlife. But my shoulder and back were really hurting. I had injured it on the weekend, then reinjured it again on Thursday. This was part of the reason why I now was on holiday. If I can't work… I'm going to Scotland for Homecoming. I quickly fell asleep after taking more Motrin.
Anyone can see this photo (edit)
Sunday morning. I go to Kelvingrove Art Gallery down the street. But
first I check into Beanscene – a local equivalent of Starbucks or
Blenz. Inside the cafe I am greeted by a picture of Johnny Cash.
There is a poster of Norah Jones's new album. I am in the right place.
I order up porridge and coffee. I meet a local man who tells me about some of the local sights to see, after we discuss Johnny Cash. He also tells me that Glasgow's Chinatown is nearby.
Next I meet a Chinese woman who is teaching architecture (or is it art) at the local Art Institute. Ju-Li is from China and has lived in Scotland since 2004. She has just married a man, who has had to go back to America, because he doesn't have a UK passport, even though his grandparents were from Scotland. This man who's ancestors left Scotland for a better life in the USA, is trying to get back into Scotland to be with his Chinese bride. We both laugh at the absurdity of it.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is amazing. It's also part museum. The Main hall on my left has lots of taxidermied animals. There is an elephant, a giraffe, a moose, an ostrich… even a platypus and a cheetah. Suspended from the ceiling is a WW2 Spitfire fighter plane.
It is a thing out of a Christopher Robin or Narnia Chronicles book or movie. Upstairs I discover exhibits on Wild Bill's Wild West Show – when it came to Glasgow, as well as Robert Burns and dinosaurs.
There is even a taxidermied haggis! (photos to show after I return to Canada).
The Burns exhibit features a picture of Burns as Latin American revolutionary Che Gevera– no doubt reflecting on Burns universality for freedom and equal rights.
I had really wanted to visit the Hunterian Museum, which is showing Zig Zag: The Paths of Robert Burns as part of the Homecoming Scotland events. But it is at Glasgow University and consequently closed – forcing me to return to Glasgow on Monday. Anyways, I spend the afternoon at the Kelvingrove, where a Doctor Who exhibit is downstairs.
I get lost trying to find the train station to Edinburgh. I get distracted by the sound of bagpipes, as I find myself on Nelson Mandela Walk. Policemen lead a parade of pipers. About 12 bobbies (policeman) in reflective yellow jackets escort 16 pipers. I think these are the first kilts I see in Scotland.
I discover the Winter Shindig that takes up an entire square. There is
a stage for as one of the finale events for Homecoming Year. But
nobody local seems to know who the band is. There is a large outdoor
ice rink, and a ferris wheel.
I meet two young men wearing kilts. They have HUMUNGOUS sporrans which are FILLED with THINGS. They work for the Glasgow Science Centre. They show me some of their tricks and offer to set my hand on fire. It was cool… and it did not hurt. Okay… I sort of knew the secret, and they confirmed it with me. One of them took a video – very cool… look carefully because it appears that after the flash – a pigeon flys out of above my hand. (video coming after I return to Canada).
Did I say I get lost trying to get to the Train Station? People have been so helpful. But unfortunately I end up at the Central Station where I ask for Edinburgh, and the ticket seller hears Hellensburg. Fortunately I don't get on that train, and go back for a refund. Eventually I find myself on a crowded train to Edinburgh where I spy a man wearing a rugby shirt that says “Famous Grouse.” As Famous Grouse was a whisky sponsor at our 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, I have to go ask about his like for Famous Grouse. Surprise! There is an empty seat beside him, which he offers me. We have a good time talking about rugby, Famous Grouse, as I explain the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner to him, and the lady across from me. His name is Roy Dewar, the lady is Hellen. Roy buys me a Tennent's beer for our 50 minute train ride.
It's Sunday in Edinburgh. I check into my lodging at Salisbury Centre – a holistic health centre, run by a woman whose auntie is a friend of mine in Vancouver. For the evening, I decide to walk into town in search of Homecoming events. I discover the free Caille (traditional dancing) event at The Hub. The band is called Whiskey Kiss.
Whiskey Kiss played the St. Andrew's Day Ceilidh to celebrate the Homecoming Finale – click on the picture for video.
They are led by an accordion player. I like the band instantly – even though he plays button accordion. They have a comely lass playing fiddle and a braw fellow on the drums. A fellow also plays on the penny whistle flute and bagpipes. But the big surprise is the additional of a dj who adds in ambient sounds and scratches – very cool. I love their versions of Van Morrison's Blue Eyed Girl and Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire. But they also lead traditional country dances that include The Canadian Bar Dance, and The Virginia Reel.
People are dancing and really having lots of fun! – click here for video
This is a great little video of the dancing – look for the big guy in a kilt – he's not afraid of a little kilt swirl! Also look for the Asian woman who seems to really be enjoying herself!
Another surprise, there are Asians dancing. Most turn out to be students from university. They are from Taiwan or China.
I chat with some of the young Scots and ask then if they think that St. Andrew's Day should be a national holiday. They agree, but say that St. Andrews' events are slow to catch on.
The patron saint of Scotland is certainly not as big as the patron
saint of Ireland – St. Patrick. I meet a young Scots woman whose
kilted boyfriend is missing a sporan… and kilt socks. He is actually
originally from Bulgaria… but he loves Scottish music and Scottish
women – okay… just one woman in particular.
I really like this photo of two people walking to the memorial ceremonies. After WW2, the Japanese communities in both Canada and USA became the most inter-racially married. This little girl definitely had Asian features but with light coloured hair. Many of my friends of Japanese ancestry also have mixed race heritage, or their children or grandchildren do.
The ceremonies were led by a Church minister and Major (retired) Roy Kawamoto.
Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs laid the wreath for the City of Vancouver.
After the service he shared with me that historian Stanley Fukawa had told him him:
“the JC volunteers from BC had been unable to enlist in this
province. They marched, paraded and trained, hoping that their
demonstrations of patriotism would win public sympathy for giving them
the vote. They were ignored. (Less than a decade earlier, they had been
forced to defend their Powell St. community from a racist mob.)
Undeterred, they travelled to Alberta, then short of its quota of volunteers, and won admission to the war in that province.”
Major (Ret) Kawamoto told me that during WW2, had been arrested for defying the order of evacuation for Japanese Canadians. He was 12 years old at the time, put in jail, then sent to Greenwood internment camp.
My friends Grace Eiko Thomson and John Endo Greenaway introduced me to Mona Oikawa an associate professor at York University in Toronto. When I told Mona that I would put the pictures on my blogsite “Gunghaggisfatchoy.com”, she asked surprisingly “You're Gung Haggis? I check the website many times!”
Japanese-Canadian bugle player and Scottish-Canadian bagpiper. Maybe their ancestors fought against each other in WW2, or as allies or comrades with each other in WW1. No, they didn't play at the same time.
The bagpiper wears the Ancient Fraser Tartan and belongs to the 78th Fraser Highlanders. The bugler is with the 58th Field Artillery Regiment. When I told the bagpiper that I wore the Ancient Fraser Hunting Tartan, he smiled and said “Ahhh… Gung Haggis Fat Choy.”
BC and McNair High School cheerleaders encourage Terry Fox Run
participants and give high-5's as they cross the finish line at the
Richmond run site at Garry Point Park on September 13th, Sunday.
Volunteer Lindsay Pagnucco holds up one of the many Terry Fox Run t-shirts on sale near the registration tent.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie walks with the crowd to the start line.
Platform party for the 2009 Terry Fox Run in Richmond
BC: Terry's Team member Todd Wong, warm-up leader, Mayor Malcolm
Brodie, John Yap MLA, Dr. Andrew Wang (Terry Fox Lab), Councilor
McNulty, Miss BC Sandra Gin, Noel Chalmers (bagpiper).
Andrew Wang of the Terry Fox Lab in Vancouver gave a brief but
excellent talk about how the monies raised are used at the Terry Fox
Lab for cancer research – describing some of the important research
that they do.
Gung Haggis Fat Choy making it's way into the lexicon of journals about Scottish culture:
Dr. Leith Davis writes about Toddish McWong for Scottish on-line journal – The Bottle Imp
Leith Davis of SFU Centre of Scottish Studies, writes that “Gung
Haggis Fat Choy” bucks the trend of “Scottish Discursive Unconscious.”
She writes: “In his contribution to the recent volume on
Transatlantic Scots, Colin McArthur comments on what he calls
the “Scottish Discursive Unconscious,” a restricted range of “images, tones, rhetorical tropes, and ideological
tendencies, often within utterances promulgated decades (sometimes even a century or more) apart”…
“Vancouver, British Columbia, serves as a good test case for McArthur's comments. Like so many Canadian cities,
it has been home over the years to a large population of Scottish immigrants….
“There are indeed traces of the Scottish Discursive Unconscious at work in Vancouver….
Where traditional Burns suppers of today include very little poetry, apart from snippets of the bard's most
famous works, Gung Haggis Fat Choy keeps the spirit of Burns's creativity alive by featuring readings from
Asian-Canadian poets and donating money to the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop, Ricepaper magazine and the
Joy Kogawa House. Kogawa was one of the first Asian-Canadian writers to reach a national popular audience
with her 1981 novel Obasan.
Read the entire article at:
April 6th is Tartan Day the whole world over. And now there is Scottish Week.
The Centre for Scottish Studies, at Simon Fraser University, organized a conference on “Robert Burns in Transatlantic Context.” I was invited by Dr. Leith Davis to perform on the Tuesday evening, and give a presentation on Wednesday afternoon, and attend the closing reception on Thursday evening.
Tartan Week in Vancouver was also the final stop for Scottish Parliamentary Minister of Culture, Michael Russell, who started his week at the Tartan Day parade in New York City, visited Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, then Vancouver again.
Toddish McWong meets Michael Russell, Scottish Parliamentary Minister for Culture, External Affairs and Constitution,
Scottish Development International – photo T. Wong
Last year I was featured in a Vancouver Sun story about Tartan Day. Vancouver Sun: The next celebration – Toddish McWong helps to spread the word about Tartan Day
Then I helped organize a proclamation by the City of Vancouver:
Tartan Day (April 6) proclaimed in City of Vancouver, April 3
This year the major events were organized by Dr. Leith Davis, director of the Centre for Scottish Studies, SFU.
The week started out with a Tuesday evening of music and song for the “Musical Celebration of Burns in North America,” featuring Jon Bartlett and Rika Reubsaat, performing “Burns Songs in BC”, and also Kirsteen McCue and pianist David Hamilton performing Burns Songs by Serge Hovey. This was really interesting because Kirsteen is from Scotland, and she explained that these were the musical arrangements that Burns himself had used, but were only discovered a few years ago.
The third set of the evening featured Gung Haggis Fat Choy performers. After a poem by visiting Scottish professor Dr. Robert Crawford, Dr. Jan Walls explained about Chinese clapper songs. Jan is former director of International Communication at SFU, and also a former cultural attache for the Canadian embassy in Beijing. At this year's Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, Jan performed a song about Robbie Burns to chinese clappers. Leith was knocked out by Jan's performance. This evening Jan performed the Burns poem “John Barleycorn.”
Leith's idea was to introduce all the travelling Burns scholars and conference attendees to a little bit of Gung Haggis Fat Choy. She told them all that it was the “best Burns dinner” she has been to. And she was amazed at how the Gung Haggis event incorporated and promoted cultural fusion.
Leith asked for a performance of “The Haggis Rap” or “Rap To A Haggis”, in which bagpiper Joe McDonald and I rap the immortal Burns poem, “Address to a Haggis.” I introduced it by saying that Joe and I had performed this on CBC national television, and our MP3 version had also been played on BBC Radio Scotland two years ago. Meanwhile, Joe had found a haggis in the kitchen. Gung Haggis dragon boater Debbie Poon followed Joe into the hall carrying the haggis.
We closed off the evening by leading a singalong of Auld Lang Syne with the first verse and chorus in Mandarin Chinese. Then dragon boaters Steven Wong and Debbie Poon helped lead some “volunteers” in a Chinese dragon parade, complete with two children carrying the Chinese lion masks. It was fun, and lots of people thanked us afterwards with positive compliments.
On Wednesday there was a Community Research Forum on “Burns In BC.”
Jon Bartlett and Rika Reubsaat started the forum by talking about the history of Burns dinners in BC. They were followed by Robert Barr who gave a history of the Vancouver Burns Club. I followed with a history of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, its origins and its cultural fusion context.
I explained that BC is a young province. While we are celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns' birth, we only just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the colony of BC. Vancouver is only 123 years old. I explained that to me, the “Two Solitudes” of BC are the Scottish and Chinese. Each arrived from an opposite direction, and lived in conflict. I explained that if the Scots hadn't been in political power, there probably wouldn't have been a Chinese Head Tax or an Exclusion Act to keep the Chinese out of Canada. To which many people applauded my statement. I went on to say that many generations later, there are many Scots and Chinese intermarried, and sharing Scots and Chinese DNA, just like in my family.
I shared how I first wore a kilt for the 1993 Burns ceremony at Simon Fraser University, and how the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinners grew from 16 people in 1998 to 550 people in 2009. A CBC television performance special was aired in 2004 and 2005. And with the SFU Recreation Department, I helped create the SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival in 2005 with dragon cart races, and later with the human curling event. It was a good talk that also included how I was chosent to play Robert Burns for the Celticfest's inaugural “Battle of the Bards” which I won against actors playing Dylan Thomas and W.B. Yeats.
Making Burns relevant in a global 21st Century, is what Gung Haggis Fat Choy events do. The growth of copycat dinners in Ottawa, the Yukon, Seattle and Santa Barbara, demonstrate that Gung Haggis is reaching people in a positive way. While promoting Burns, it also addresses multiculturalism and racism.
Thursday's Scottish Week finale is a reception for Michael Russell, Scottish Member of Parliament.
It's not everyday, you meet an important Canadian parliamentary leader in a pub on St. Patrick's Day…
– but Jack Layton was in Vancouver for Celticfest and the St. Patrick's Day Parade
We had spent 3 hours in the cold preparing and walking in the parade
with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pipe & Drums, and Gung Haggis Fat
Choy dragon boat team, carrying a parade dragon, lion head masks and
dragon boat paddles. We were cold, and in need of warm food and
carbohydrate replenishment. Jack Layton, federal NDP leader had been in the parade too. He often
comes in August for Vancouver's Pride Parade. Jack said he was also in Vancouver to attend an event for Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kensington.
I've known Don for a few years, when he first introduced himself to me at one of Meena Wong's dim sum luncheons (coincidence: Meena had been an assistant for Jack Layton's wife Olivia Chow in Toronto). Jack's wife is Chinese-Canadian MP, Olivia Chow, and they are also friends of Canadian author Joy Kogawa. Wow… Jack and Olivia are a real inter-cultural couple on a national scale! Very Gung Haggis! I had dim sum with Olivia in 2007, at one of Meena Wong's dim sum socials with Chinese head tax activists, see: Dim Sum with Olivia Chow in Vancouver
I asked Jack, if he had Scottish ancestry, which he affirmed. It was on Robbie
Burns Day, January 25th 2003, he became
federal leader of the NDP (New Democratic
Party”). If Robbie Burns was the ploughman's poet, then Jack Layton must be the workers' parliamentarian.
Layton's views of social democracy, probably
best represent Robert Burns's similar views – more
than the other federal leaders. Burns was such a progressive thinker of the Scottish enlightenment, that many of his views were not published until after his death – they would have been considered “that radical”. Remember that during Burns' time, happening around him was the American Revolution, and the French Revolution, as Modern Democracy emerged. But 250 years later they fit very much into a social democratic world. Layton's great-granduncle, William Steeves, was a
Father of Confederation. Layton's own grandfather
Gilbert Layton was a cabinet minister in the
Quebec provincial government, and his father
Robert Layton was a Member of Parliament and
Just as Jack Layton was preparing to leave the pub, our bagpipers started playing some songs. Jack took out his cell phone and started videoing them, then recorded a Happy St. Patrick's Day message. Maybe this will appear on his web page. I used my camera to record the action.
Check it this video:
Our brave troupe of paddlers, pipers and drummers… – photo T.Wong / J.McDonald
Tzhe carries and the dragon in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with help from Stephen – photo T. Wong
Snow and Wind did not deter our pipers and drummers: Front row Bob Wilkins, David Murray, Allan McMordie, 2nd row Barbara, Danny, Patricia, Drummers: Tony & Cassandra – photo T. Wong
Mackenzie led our contingent as “paddle bearer” leading the pipers! – photo T.Wong
And when it was all over… Pipe Major Bob Wilkins congratulated Mackenzie on a job well-done. In all his years of piping and parades, it never snowed on him before. Bob said he “never had so much fun being miserable.”
Here's a picture of the dragons on our car! – photo T.Wong
Check out more pictures on
Toddish McWong's Flickr account