Robbie Burns Was a Tiger…
what about you?
2010 welcomes the Year of the Tiger
on February 14th.
Zig Zag: The Paths of Burns exhibit, Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow
In 1759, a wee bairn of a boy named Robert was born in a cottage in the village of Alloway, in Ayrshire Scotlandm, on January 25th in the last days of the Chinese Lunar Year of the Tiger. Four days later on January 29th, Chinese New Year of the Rabbit occurred.
250 years later, Scotland celebrated the year of 2009 as the Year of
Scotland Homecoming, from the 250th Anniversary of Burns' birth on
January 25th, to November 30th St. Andrew's Day.
Kelvingrove Museum, Glasglow
Something special about Robert Burns and his poetry have endeared him to the people of Scotland and around the world. He is said to be one of the most translated poets into almost every language around the world. At the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, we sing the first verse of Auld Lang Syne in Mandarin Chinese.
Do you think the Year of the Tiger qualities fit Robert Burns?
Year of the Tiger qualities
The Tiger is said
to be lucky vivid, lively and engaging. Another attribute of the Tiger
is his incredible bravery, evidenced in his willingness to engage in battle
or his undying courage. Maybe he’s so brave because he is so lucky.
Tigers do not find
worth in power or money. They will be completely honest about how they
feel and expect the same of you. On the other hand, they seek approval
from peers and family. Generally, because of their charming personalities
Tigers are well liked. Often, failing at a given task or being unproductive
in his personal or professional life can cause a Tiger to experience a
depression. Criticism from loved ones can also generate this type of Tiger
reaction. Still, like all felines, Tigers always land on their feet, ready
for their next adventure.
The Year of the Tiger seems to have been significant in the development of Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner events.
On May 11th, Todd Wong was born in 1960, the Year of the Rat. He is a descendant of Rev. Chan Yu Tan, who arrived in Canada in 1896 as a Methodist Lay Preacher. Todd is from the fifth generation that his family has lived in Vancouver.
Toddish McWong in 1993
The first time I wore a kilt was in 1993. Chinese New Year was January 23rd, the Year of the Chicken. Robbie Burns Day was January 25th. I was to wear a kilt and carry a claymore (Scottish sword) in the Simon Fraser University Burns Day ceremonies. Realizing that the two most important days in Chinese and Scottish culture were only 2 days away from each other, I coined the phrase “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” and called myself “Toddish McWong.” My picture appeared in the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province… and even though I wouldn't wear a kilt or participate in a Burns ceremony again for years… friends would still tease me about wearing the kilt and call me “Toddish McWong.”
The next time Chinese New Year came close to January 25th was in 1998. The Year of the Tiger began on January 28th. This was the first Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner on Sunday January 25th. It was held in the livingroom of a North Vancouver townhouse. My friend Gloria and I invited 14 of our friends to help create a multicultural mixing of Chinese and Scottish traditions… and everything in-between and beyond. I had never before been to a Burns Supper before, and had to go to the Vancouver Public Library to look up directions. I brought in poems from the 1998 anthology “Many Mouthed Birds” Contemporary writing by Chinese Canadians. Even back then, the emphasis was on mult-culturalism and inter-culturalism, as we invited friends to play a song or read a poem.
Here are some of the words from that first invitation:
We are creating a celebration of Canadian culinary portions to celebrate the proximity of Robbie Burns Day (Jan 25) and Chinese New Year (Jan 28). We ask you to help us share our unique perspective of multiculturalism with all Canadians, so that we all may better understand each other.
This Sunday, on January 25, we are creating a “Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner” for 20 invited friends. Haggis will be bagpiped in at 6pm sharp and served with traditional “neets and taters.”[sic] Accompanying the haggis will be an assortment of Chinese sauces such as black bean, sweet and sour & chinese plum sauce to help facilitate the palatability of this “offal” dish.
It is important for Canadians to know that we are more that “Two Solitudes.” We are “multi-solitudes” and we must be proactive in our association and integration to avoid separation anxiety and solitary depression. As former lieutenant governor David Lam said, “Multiculturalism is like a pot-luck dinner, everybody brings something – and if you can’t, you offer to wash the dishes.
2009 saw the closest occurrence of both Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year, as January 25th fell on Chinese New Year's Eve. It was also the designated year of Homecoming Scotland, a global celebration to invite all Scots and Scottish descendants home to Scotland to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. Chinese New Year ended with the Year of the Rat and welcomed the Year of the Ox. The Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner was one of several Burns Suppers around the world that received one of 250 specially made bottles of 37 year old Famous Grouse blended whisky. 250 for the anniversary of Burns. 37 for the age of Burns when he died. These bottles were auctioned off for charity. We chose to donate 50% of money raised to go to the Burns 250 project, of the Scottish National Trust, for which I discovered that they have a Chinese punch bowl that Robert Burns used at the wedding of his brother Gilbert.
Homecoming Year celebrations went on all through 2009. In October, I received an invitation to Scottish Parliament for the Closing Reception of the “This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada” exhibition. I decided I had to go to Scotland. On November 28th, I finally arrived at Glasgow Airport for my first trip to Scotland, after spending way too many hours in a plane from Vancouver on January 27th, and a 7 hour stopover in Amsterdam. Exhibit curator Harry McGrath had told me that my picture was “featured rather prominently” – but he didn't tell me if was life-size!
Toddish McWong in 2009
My visit was only one week, but I saw many Burns exhibits at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgove and the Zig Zag: The Paths of Burns at the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. I traveled to Ayr and saw the same Robert Burns Statue that is in Vancouver's Stanley Park. Further down the road, I visited Burns Cottage where Burns was born in the village of Alloway. Burns National Park contains the soon-to-be demolished “Tam O'Shanter Experience” which is being replaced by the Burns Birthplace Museum. A short walk past the Church is Brig O' Doon – the site of the bridge in Burns' famous poem Tam O'Shanter.
Burns Cottage, Alloway Scotland
And now it is 12 years after that first “accidental” Gung Haggis Fat
Choy dinner. The Year of the Tiger is again coming after Burns
Birthday. But much later in 2010, on February 14th. For the City of Vancouver, this is also the Year of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games (Feb 12 – 28). What is next for the Legacy of Robert Burns? Well in 2010 Summer, the Robert Burns National Birthplace Museum will open… in the Year of the Tiger.
Burns Birthplace Museum – opening Summer 2010.
Here's a website for 1645-1899
Year of the Tiger