Category Archives: Cultural Fusion

Italian for a day… in Vancouver

Italian Day, Commercial Drive, June 9

Italian for a day… Italian is actually the third language I learned, while I learned to play accordion. It is the language of music.. Rossini, Puccini… and O Solo Mio. I grew up near Commercial Drive and had lots of Italian-Canadian friends, and later I even had Italian girlfriends. I played accordion for their families. I cook fettucini and linguine noodles with beef stir-fry and Chinese oyster or soy sauce. And maybe… I will organize a dragon boat team for the Italian Cultural Centre.
These two ladies were dancers in the flash mob that took place in front of the main stage, after the speeches finished.  About 20 dancers with carnivale masks did a synchronized routine – spectacular!  One of their mothers took this picture for me.






My friend Giulio Recchioni is the Cultural director for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre. OMG… I am still wearing my kilt. I had just come from the Dragon Zone Regatta, racing with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. I think Giuilo would be a good paddler. Maybe we can create a dragon boat team for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre.


Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reads from the city proclamation to announce “Italian Day in Vancouver”

After the speeches I chatted with Vancouver councilor Tony Tang (who wants to wear a kilt), Burnaby MLA Richard Lee, and Michael Cuccione – president of the ICC.
Sardines on the big grill, at the PCOV – Portuguese Club of Vancouver – always a big line up here.

The Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy parade dragon has been very active in 2013 – will we be at the Dragon Boat Festival?

Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy dragon boat team is very multicultural, and very community-minded.  The team began in 1997 under the name Celebration Team, and was renamed Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy in 2002, named after the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner event, that had its first public dinner in 1998.

This year’s team has members with origins from around the world, as well as multiple generations in Canada.  But our parade dragon has been especially busy in 2013.  In June, we might make an appearance at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, as well as the On the Edge International Conference for Scottish and Irish Studies.

Here is a recap of our dragon parade activities so far….
In MAY Asian Heritage Month, we were commissioned to do our dragon walk at the Vancouver Opera pre-show lobby, during their May 4-11, production of Tea: Mirror of Soul.2013_May_Opera 014at Vancouver Opera pre-show with Alma Lee (founder of Vancouver International Writers Festival)


MARCH 17, for the past 8 years we have been in the Celtic Fest St. Patrick’s Day Parade
with either a dragon boat float, or our parade dragon.  This year, we ended up on the cover of 24 Hours Newspaper.

556952_10151400971289302_2138235483_nOur picture

February 17
The Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

January 27th
and our world famous Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner – as interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland, and filmed for local newscasts, and US Public Radio + many other media over the years.
DSC_0044_857158 - Piping in the VIPs

“One Big Hapa Family” featured on KCTS TV

Here’s a great documentary about interracial marriage and families… by my friend Jeff Chiba Stearns .
We featured a special edit at the 2011 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner – which in turn inspired the creation of the Hapa Palooza Festival in Vancouver, created by another friend Anna Ling Kaye.

New Opera Tan Dun’s Tea: Mirror of Soul

Wow… so many people have been saying that Vancouver Opera’s current production of Tea: Mirror of Soul, composed by Tan Dun, is a must see.

The visuals are stunning.  The music is compelling.  The topics of love, family, guilt, loss, death are standard in many operas.  But combined with a unique blend of Chinese music and story that includes references to the Monkey King, and the art of tea ceremony, this opera pushes and challenges boundaries on many levels.  The most striking is its use of water, paper and rock as musical and visual themes.  There are large water bowls on each side of the stage, and musicians hit, slap or drip the water to create a fascinating aural soundscape.  Paper is used as visual forest for scenery, or it is hit with drum sticks to create thunder, or rolled to create thunder.  As well the opera chorus holds sheets of paper and uses it like percussion, complimenting the orchestra.


Nancy Allen Lundy has played the character of Lan in every production of Tea: a Mirror of Soul.

This is the setting for the exquisite singing, that is a blend of traditional classical opera and Chinese opera.  American soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, performs Lan.  She is the only artist to have ever played this role in productions around the world.  She sings like a bel canto bird on some songs, while on others she bends her notes like in Chinese opera style.  It is different for ears accustomed to Western opera – but it is exciting that Vancouver Opera would mount this production.  Find out more about Nancy Allen Lundy from the Opera Blog

It’s also a perfect blend for the cultural diversity of Vancouver.  Much is made of Vancouver’s large Chinese population, as well as the local music scene which features lots of cultural fusion artists such as Silk Road Music, Orchid Ensemble, and even Mozaico Flamenco – which performed a full scale of Cafe de Chinitas this past weekend.

Tan Dun is more well known in North America as the composer of the soundtrack for the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  I loved both the movie and the music which featured cello superstar Yo Yo Ma.  Ten years ago, I witnessed Vancouver Opera concertmaster Mark Ferris perform Tan Dun’s “Crouching Tiger Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra” with the CBC Radio Orchestra-  with featured Chinese erhu virtuoso George Gao  It was amazing.

The opera opens with the main character Seikyu, a former prince now a monk in Kyoto Japan, performing a ritualistic tea ceremony.  He sings of bitterness, and the monks ask him why.  Then then begins to tell a story of ten years past when he was in China, and in love in the Princess Lan.  The action then shifts to China, as the sets seem to magically transform.

But this opera is more than just the music.  There are so many levels of story,

The opera runs again on Thursday May 9th and Saturday May 11th, start time is 7:30pm.  Don’t be late or you will miss opening preamble and musicians walking up the aisles.

This review – is still in process – check back for more!

Watch these videos about Tea: A Mirror of Soul – posted by Vancouver Opera on youtube.

Naomi’s Road at West Vancouver Library is great… looking forward to April 23 at Italian Cultural Centre

Erica Iris and Hiather Darnela-Kadanoga play Obasan and Naomi, in a scene when the family leaves Vancouver on a train.

I saw the production at West Vancouver Library on Friday April 19th, and we both really enjoyed it.  Sam Chung returns as Stephen. The new singers are all good. Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga plays Naomi, Erica Iris plays the 3 roles Mother, Obasan and Mitzie. Henry Chen plays Daddy, Bully, Rough Lock Bill, Trainmaster.

I saw the original production in 2005/06 five times and enjoyed it immensely.  West Vancouver Library isn’t the best place to the performance because lighting was not the best, and the performer’s faces were often in shadows.  Close to 50 people came to the library for the free performance.

The performances by all singers are strong, and the storyline is strong.  Watching the perfomers, we were amazed at both the choreography of the movement on stage, as well as how the small versatile set is used and moved to simulate so many scenes: Powell Street, Living Room, Train, Internment Camp.   There were tears in my eyes as I watched the pinnacle scene of the opera.  It makes a powerful statement against racism and bullying.

Tickets are still on sale for Tuesday’s April 23 performance.

buy tickets on-line here:

There will be a limited number of tickets available at the door.

Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga (soprano) plays Naomi

Erica Iris (mezzo-soprano) performs as Mother, Mitzi, Obasan

Sam Chung (tenor) plays Stephen
Photographs courtesy of Vancouver Opera, and available from the Naomi’s Road press kit

Aboriginal & Asian-Canadian issue of Ricepaper Magazine successfully launched at Historic Joy Kogawa House

Ricepaper Magazine launch: Aboriginal + Asian Canadian issue

Six writers read at our issue launch for Ricepaper Magazine at Historic Joy Kogawa House. I am pleased to be chair of Historic Joy Kogawa House Society, and on the board of Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop – publisher of Ricepaper Magazine… This is one of the best issues of Ricepaper that I have seen over the 16 year history of the magazine.

Ricepaper Magazine launches

Come and celebrate our new Ricepaper Magazine issue at the launch party at Historic Joy Kogawa House on April 6th… featuring Aboriginal and Asian Canadian writers….

On April 6, 2013 from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm, the Historic Joy Kogawa House is hosting our Special Double Issue Launch Party. The event will coincide with the opening reception for the Text/Textiles exhibit, featuring collections from international textile artists. The opening reception will begin at 12:00 pm and Cherry Blossom: A Textile Translation Retrospective exhibit will be available for viewing until Sunday, April 21.

It is one of the best Ricepaper issues I have seen, as a member of the ACWW board… and so pleased to host at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I am chair of the board. My cousin Sharel Wright is one of the authors in the magazine and will be in attendance with her mother Rhonda Larrabee, Chief of Qayqayt First Nations…

The launch party will also include the first of a three part public reading series:

Saturday, April 6 will introduce featured writers published in the new issue of Ricepaper magazine: Carrie Calvo, Michelle Sylliboy, Russell Wallace, Wanda John Kehewin, Elaine Woo and Jonina Kirton. The reading will be from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

Saturday, April 13 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, Joy Kogawa House will host a family reading with Jacqueline Pearce. The author of The Reunion will enthrall the audience with her story of a friendship between a Sikh girl and a Japanese Canadian during World War II.

Saturday, April 20 will showcase a group of poets from The Planet Earth Anthology, published by Leaf Press. The reading will be from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

The Silk Purse Gallery in West Vancouver is also exhibiting new artwork in Cherry Blossom: A Textile Translation. As an expression of the changing season from winter to spring, artists from Canada, USA and Japan come together to display the range of inspiring art on silks, sculptures, books and clothing. Opening reception is on Tuesday, April 2 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, and the exhibit is open until April 21.


June 21st… 23 years cancer free on National Aboriginal Day

June 21st, it’s National Aboriginal Day, so I wore my Robert Davidson t-shirt, with my Yellow Macleod kilt for Kilts Night @ Doolin’s Irish Pub.  And I met Jaime Sanchez, who introduced himself to me, identifying our mutual friend David Wong.  I think Jaime looked at me, and said “You must know David Wong… who else would know a Chinese guy wearing a Aboriginal design t-shirt with a Scottish kilt.”

June 21st was National Aboriginal Day… Kilts Night… my nephew’s 9th birthday… and also the 23rd anniversary of my near-fatal cancer diagnosis in 1989. Here’s a blog story I wrote 5 years ago, how they year’s longest day, on Solstice, became my longest night. Sure glad I’m alive now – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Kilts Night last night… 😉

Here is a blog story I wrote 5 years ago on the 17th anniversary anniversary of my cancer diagnosis:

Summer Solstice: My longest day 17 years ago « Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy

17 years ago, my doctor asked me to come down for a visit. I had just been to the doctor on the Monday, June 19th. For a few months I had…

Gung Haggis dragon boat team practice – 2nd last practice before Rio Tinto Alcan Festival

Good practice today!  We focused on race tactics as well as race day procedures.  Some of our paddlers only practice on Sundays or Wednesdays, so we will do the same thing on Wednesday.

After a warm-up, we explained where the team tents will be set up, and where the marshalling area will be.  At last weekend’s regatta, races were 15 minutes apart.  We then went through loading the boat, and how busy it will be on the dock, and leaving the docks to the race staging area on the water.

We did some paddling warm-ups for rotation, hips, reach and rate, then practiced some starts, then paddled to the race staging area in East Bay.  We quickly found the Hydro Dragons coached by Dan Hebert, whom I have known for about 10 years.  Dan called a race start between our two boats.  The start was close – both teams pulling hard with each stroke.  As I drummed for Gung Haggis, I stole glances at the Hydro team, watching the boat beside us.  I called a Power Series, and the team responded, digging deep for 20 strokes.

At the half way mark, the Hydro team pulled forward, and had to move to the left, as there was a boat anchored in the East Bay, in the middle of what will be the race course next weekend.  Our boat took in some water as Dan’s coach boat cast a wake in our path.  Some of our paddlers were distracted by the unexpected surprises of course change and boat wake.  This is a good exercise in dealing with unexpected surprises.  The Hydro Dragons proved to have a strong finish, and crossed the finish line before us.  We congratulated them, then did our own race debrief.

We then headed for the Center Bay of False Creek and did some exercises to help improve our race starts: front half and back half race starts.  This served to show the newer paddlers how well the veteran paddlers perform, and to inspire them.  The back half proved to be powerful, but with some timing issues and room for improvement.  We do believe in our new padders, and want to encourage them – there is great potential here that will be realized not in the next weekend, but later this summer.

We had our paddlers switch sides to work out on both sides of the body.  This is something we regularly do to encourage body symmetry and help develop paddling technique for both sides of the body.  We next worked on power series drills for front, middle and back thirds, while the rest of the team paddled 60% effort.  Next we turned the team over to veteran paddler Keng Graal who is also one of the team’s drummers.  Keng explained how she calls for the team, and what she expects.  She called a short race piece, to allow the paddlers to get used to her voice.

As we approached the startline in the East Bay, beside the island, we gave the paddlers a rest, and practiced some commands for positioning the boat.  We asked the paddlers to back paddle, and left front draw, right side draw – all to get the paddlers used to what may happen on Race Day.

We did one final race piece of 500m, with Keng as drummer.  This was good.  Keng is a demanding drummer that commands attention.  She first came to the team about 7 years ago in 2007.  She had been a drummer for the CC Riders dragon boat team for Columbia College.  We trained her to be a paddler.  The first race she did with us was 1000m.  She survived…  She stayed with the team… and has paddled with us in many races and has really grown into a team leader.  She is small, but really pulls a lot of water for her size.

We look forward to a great weekend for June 16/17.  We have great leaders on this team with Keng, Steven and Debbie as assistant coaches, Deb as steersperson, Karl and Gio as lead strokes, Xavier as “master of the kilt!”

Everybody on this team brings something.  It might be strength, experience, or a great sense of humour.  We encourage and acknowledge every person’s personality, and especially the cultural diversity that each paddler brings.  We have fun and we both encourage and tease each other, as well as respect each other, and what each person brings to the team.  This is good team building.  This is a good team.  I am having fun, and especially getting to know our new paddlers.


We only had 16 paddlers out on the water this Sunday – but we had fun…. and that is what is important.

Paddlers out on Sunday were:

Karl & Gio

Keng & Amelia

Caroline & Xavier

Steven & Walter

Florian & Gerard

Pedro & Todd

Justin & John

Pierce & Sabina

+ Deb Martin as steersperson.

Gung Haggis brings Chinese dragons and lions to St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dragons invade St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Vancouver 

Lions and Dragons and more Dragons – oh My!  Gung Haggis Fat Choy entry in the CelticFest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Vancouver. “Perhaps
no group spoke to the modern mixing of cultures better than the Gung
Haggis Fat Choy revellers who wove in and out of the action Sunday
morning. The colourful Chinese dragons and green attire represented the
relatively new hybridized festival that originated in Vancouver. A
coincidental celebration of both Robert Burns Day and the Chinese New
Year brought the new celebration that
creates an interesting
mix of poetry, music and food every January.

“I think it’s an interesting idea — we have these Chinese unions combined with St. Patrick’s Day,” said Nick Hsu.

The 43-year-old was part of a group of family and friends who travelled up from Seattle to parade.

Vancouver St. Patrick’s Day parade takes over streets of downtown


It was one of the best entries yet for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy troupe in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade… Past years have seen a large Taiwanese dragon boat as a parade float.  But for 2012… we had 2 Chinese Lion dancers + 1 five-person parade dragon + walkers holding 5 more dragon hand puppets to help celebrate the Year of the Dragon.Paddlers from the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in Vancouver were joined by martial artists friends from Seattle.  In Seattle, the 2012 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Seattle dinner was a benefit for Belltown Martial Arts Club, which have participated in the Seattle multicultural dinner for most of the past six years.  The Vancouver Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner celebrated it’s 15th dinner in 20012, and the dragon boat team has been paddling since 2002.

For 2012, I brought some of my dragon boat hand puppets from home, as I did for the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade, when I had walked with the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens.  We interacted with many of the children watching the parade, who were delighted to see the plushy dragon toys!  We encouraged them to “pet the dragon’s head for good luck”, which many children including adults such as CelticFest chair Joanna Hickey did.

Gung Haggis paddler Xavier MacDonald strutted the streets in his kilt with a Chinese lion head costume – photo Todd Wong


Decorating the car, and everybody wears a necklace with green hats optional!  What a great group of people!  We were entry #73, and we decorated the car from the middle of Granville St. Bridge – then moved onto the Howe St. onramp, as the parade filed into order starting at Drake. St.

Video from St. Patrick’s Day Parade – look for Gung Haggis Fat Choy sign at 0:19 + interviews at 9:36

of people have crowded downtown Vancouver’s Howe Street this morning to
watch as bagpipers, Irish dancers and hurlers–of the sporting variety
–paraded with dreadlocked dancers, green samba queens and even a roller
derby team.