“Bringing back a bit of Scotland for everyone” was how Toddish McWong described the 2010 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.
Throughout the evening, Todd Wong, creator of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, shared stories of his recent trip to Scotland. He had gone to Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.for the finale weekend of Scotland Homecoming Year, and wrapped up a long year of Scottish celebrations that had started with the 250th Anniversary of the poet Robbie Burns and finished with a closing reception at Scottish Parliament where a life-size picture of him had been included in the photo exhibit This Is Who We Are: Scots in Canada. By the end of the evening, Bill Saunders, giver of the Immortal Memory, had received a bow tie in Burns Check brought all the way from Burns Cottage in Alloway, and almost every guest walked home with a lovely Burns 2010 calendar courtesy of Visit Scotland, which had been shipped from Edinburgh specifically for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner.
The evening started off soon after 6pm, with a piping in of the head table and performers by the Gung Haggis Pipes & Drums, led by pipe major Bob Wilkins. All the guests rose to greet the procession, as host Toddish McWong, introduced the band and the performers to the audience.
The pipers and the performers stood at the front of the stage. It was an amazing array of colours and costumes as wollen tartan kilts and chinese embroided silk clashed and complimented each other.
Co-host Tricia Collins dressed in a Saltire blue Chinese silk top and wore our Fraser
Hunting Tartan mini-kilt from the Gung Haggis dragon boat team. She shared with the audience how her own Irish-Chinese ancestry came to Canada via Guyana (British Honduras), similar to the first governor of Canada, James Douglas, whom she is writing about for her next project..
Joy Kogawa read the “Selkirk Address” to bless our food and dinner. In 2006, Joy was our featured author and she read a new work then. The Historic Joy Kogawa House Society is one of the non-profit organizations that receives monies raised by the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.
Joe McDonald performs “The Rap to the Haggis” as he “cut ye up wi' ready slight.” Co-host Tricia Collins looks on, as she witnesses this strange ritual for the first time.
Wong leads a chorus of “Gie her a Haggis” and “Gie Vancouver a Haggis”, as she rouses the finale to this rowdy and interactive version of the sacred Burns poem.
5 “men” were selected to recite the Burns poem “A Man's a Man For All That” included “The Bearded Lady”. Left to right included a Judge, Parks Commissioner/teacher Stuart Mackinnon, Kilt afficianado and dragon boater Raphael Fang, The Bearded Lady, and a kilted friend from Richmond. All stout men who gave good readings of the verse, finalizing with Mackinnon singing the last verse.
Throughout the evening, Wong and McDonald led singalongs of “When Asian/Scottish/Chirish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Loch Lomand.” These singalongs encouraged audience participation and took a warm surprise turn when McDonald had men only singing “Ye take the High Road” chorus of Loch Lomand, immediately followed by an outstanding version of the Women only singers.! The women were clear winners!
Special poet of the evening was Larissa Lai, who read from her new book of poetry Automaton Biographies. Each year the Gung Haggis dinner features a different poet. Larissa also briefly explained how she teaches Burns at University of BC, in her role as an Assistant Professor in the English Department.
Special theatrical performance was done by playwright/actor Marcus Youssef accompanied by writer/comedian Charles Demers. They did a stage reading of Youssef's critically acclaimed play Ali & Ali and the Axis of Evil. The segment poked fun at Multiculturalism and Scottish history and culture, to great effect.
Birds of Paradox is a musical instrumental trio, featuring Lan Tung (erhu), Ron Samworth (electric guitar) and Nealamjit Dhillon. Their playing was sublime and took turns highlighting each performer. It was exciting to see the erhu played with soaring passages, trading phrases with the picking and fretwork of the guitar, all accompanied by the polyrhythms of the tabala drums. Of note, Dhillon had first performed with Joe McDonald at the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinners in 2001 and 2002 as the musical duo Brave Waves.
Highland Dancing was the surprise hit of the evening performed by Aidan and Alex Huang from Kelowna, sons of drummer Dan Huang. They are only 6 and 9 years old, but they showed poise and control as the young boys are experienced competitors in Highland Dance competitions. The boys certainly enjoy their Chinese and Scottish heritage.
Bringing the evening to a more serious tone, Bill Saunders, president of the Vancouver & District Labour Council, gave the Immortal Memory. He recounted Burns life, from a “ploughman's poet” to the “toast of Scottish high society” in Edinburgh. He described the values and beliefs of the poet, then went on to postulate what Rabbie would be like today as a poet. Saunders painted a portrait of a young community activist, fighting for social justice and gender equity, wearing a hoody, criticizing the elite, and protesting against the economic and social conditions that promote and cause homelessness.
Raffle tickets were drawn and the top prizes were quickly given out: Vancouver Opera tickets to Nixon in China, The Monkey King, upcoming productions from Firehall Arts Centre, Neworld Theatre and UBC Opera. Arsenal Pulp Press and Harbour Publishing had donated books such as Larissal Lai's first novel “When Fox is a Thousand” and Charles Demers' “Vancouver Special” as well as Fiona Tin Wei Lam's “Enter the Chrysanthemum.”
The Gung Haggis Pipes and Drums, performed again, first weaving their way through the audience, easily filling the large restaurant space with the skirl of the pipes and the beats of the drums. They winded their way to the stage, and performed 3 numbers. Todd and Tricia thanked the volunteers, production coordinators and the audience before leading a singalong of Auld Lang Syne with the first verse in Mandarin Chinese.
The evening ended with lots of smiles and compliments. Here are some of the comments:
“Awesome night, Todd!! Great job. ” – Desmond Rodenbour
“Gung Haggis Fat Choy was just as Amazing as I had always dreamed. You should be very proud of what you've done.” – Lorraine Murphy
“I just wanted to say thanks for your efforts and creativity in bringing
about the Gung Haggis Fat Choy event. I attended tonight for the first
time, along with a mix of Scottish and Chinese friends and we all
enjoyed ourselves and our table-mates.” – Paul