Category Archives: Travel reports

Scotch tasting in Victoria


I visited with my friend Mary, who bicycled across the Isle of Islay a few years ago.  While we have talked scotch before, we have never drank any together… until Thursday night.

Favorites for the evening were the Macallan 12, Glenlivet and Laphroaig.   The Macallan 15 had previously been served at the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner when Famous Grouse came as a scotch sponsor – the 15 is smooth, the 12 is nice… but I don’t much care for the 10.  Usually it’s the Glenlivet 12 that is usually served in bars and restaurants, so the 18 was nice and rich (I have a bottle of Glenlivet 15 Oak waiting to be opened).  Laphroaig is a lovely smoky Islay… one of my favorites!

I had never had the Arran Malt before.  They are the same distillery making the Robert Burns single malt – that none of my whisky drinking musician friends will touch… (except one, and he bought it on sale).  This Auchentoshan select was nothing special… I think Mary said she uses it for cooking.  But the Auchentoshan Three Wood is one of my favorites – very rich.

It was great fun to be tasting with Mary and her husband Mike, I hope to host them for an evening of tastings when they come to Vancouver.

In 2011, Mary and Mike spent the summer in Scotland.  From June to August, they hiked, biked and sailed in some of the remote areas of Scotland.

Check out Mary’s blog here:

Todd & Deb travel to Hornby Island

Hornby Island is a jewel of the Northern Gulf Islands:
We go to Hornby for the Thanksgiving weekend

Much of Hornby Island is covered with sandstone – Todd sits on top of a nature sculpted rock – shaped by multitudes of wave action.  We had a great time walking on Sandpiper Beach – just around the corner from the more famous Tribune Bay. – photo Deb Martin

It had been about 15 years since I last visited Hornby Island.  I had talked with my girlfriend Deb for years about going to visit my cousins who have lived there since the mid 1970's.  My first visit to Hornby was around 1970 on a family trip.  I remember swimming and my father creating rafts for my brother and I to paddle on in Tribune Bay.  I had many trips in the late 1980's and 1990's.  I watched my cousin's children grow up, and now they have left the island and live out of province.

Hornby definitely has a laid back feel, and you can almost feel transported back into the communal hippie love vibe of the late 60's and early 70's.  We visited the Co-Op store and the ring of little shops next door to it – that constitute the “downtown” business centre of Hornby Island.  We also visited the Community Hall where a Fall arts and market fair was happening.

Thanksgiving Dinner was on Sunday at my cousin's home.  They had invited some of their friends, and slowly I realized how I had met some of them 15 years before.  After the dinner, I played my accordion – like I had done many years ago at Thanksgiving dinners on Hornby.  My cousin Wayne also played some flamenco on his guitar.  Also attending the dinner was their artist friend Wayne Ngan who specializes in pottery and painting.  We went to visit Ngan's studio the next day where I bought a small pot.

This is a picture at the pottery studio of Heinz and Gerhard.  Past visits in the 80's and 90's always found me selecting plates, cups or bowls.  This visit selected the large blue vase that can be seen in the bottom left corner of the photo.

On our 2nd day, we drove out to Ford's Cove and visited the marina where all the fishing boats are docked.  It was almost so cloudy and misty that you couldn't see nearby Denman Island. The store is very small but not unlike a lot of marina stores up and down the coast.  It has a little bit of everything and especially a large dvd rental collection.  I had an Americano coffee as my cousin had told me they had good coffee.

In the afternoon we walked out to the bluffs at Helliwell Park.  This is an amazing park with a fragile ecosystem along the bluffs.  There are also lots of sandstone sculpted rocks along the shoreline.  But it was very windy, and we were careful not to get blown about.  It's a very steep drop off the bluffs.  We didn't have enough time to walk the entire loop trail, as we went to visit another friend of my cousin's whom I had also met 15 years ago.  She is now housebound due to old age, and I was asked to play my accordion for her.  It was a great visit of sharing stories and playing music.

Deb stands on Whaling Station Bay – the tide was coming in.  We went back on the next morning and saw the wide expanse of beach at the shallow bay.  It's a great place to swim in the summer because the shallow bay keeps the water quite warm.  I have promised Deb that we will return when it is warmer – maybe a Long weekend visit in May sometime in the future?

Here are the links to our 3 days or travel photos on Flickr photo site

Thanksgiving trip to Hornby Island

Thanksgiving trip to Hornby…

Thanksgiving on Hornby Day 2

Thanksgiving on Hornby Day 2

Hornby Island Day 3

Hornby Island Day 3

Burns Ceremony at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria

Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle celebrates Robert Burns with a haggis ceremony each year in splendid form

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Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria BC was built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, but unfortunately he died before it was completed.  During his lifetime, Dunsmuir became one of the richest men in North America, as well as premier of BC.  His son James also became premier.  While many cite them for using Chinese miners in their coal mines as strike breakers – it was also the Dunsmuirs who argued against higher Chinese head taxes, and the Exclusion Act – if only so they could have cheap labour.

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“His knife see rustic Labour dight, an' cut ye up wi' ready sleight
Trenching your gushing entrails bright”

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Ye Pow'rs, wha make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o'fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

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All photos by Deb Martin
See more here on my flickr site

Paddle for Wild Salmon begins in Hope, and will land in Jericho on Day 5

Todd Wong
is honoured
to be “Paddling for Wild Salmon”, on the “Salmon are Sacred” journey.

Todd Wong

We started the 5 day journey down the Fraser River from Hope to Chilliwack –
I steered 1 of 5 voyageur canoes, past mild turbulence and eddies.  We had salmon lunch at Cheam Beach.

We had great fun paddling from HOPE to Chilliwack, with salmon lunch and
dinners today. Great to have Wendie Jimmie as a lead stroke, she
normally paddles War Canoe. Special thanks to Elly Edwards who visioned
this event, with support from Alexandra Morton to help raise awareness of the dangers of fish farms to wild salmon.

Story about the Paddle for Wild Salmon – landing in Chilliwack
yesterday. I steered our boat with my dragon boat/voyageur canoe
experience, while our lead stroke Wendy Jimmie was a veteran paddler of
war canoe racing. She is one of the paddlers who will paddle across the
Salish Sea from Vancouver Island to Jericho on Sunday.

Silver Medal @ 3rd Banff Dragon Boat Races

Silver medal @ 3rd Annual Banff Dragon Boat Races, Aug 14/15, 2010.  Banff is named after Banffshire in Scotland, so I wore my new Macleod tartan.

It's been a busy week…..

Thursday I attended my Uncle Victor's funeral
Then… my girlfriend Deb and I drove to Vernon to stay at her parent's home in Vernon, enroute to attend the 3rd annual Banff Dragon Boat Festival.

On Friday morning, we went for a short kayak/canoe paddle, as 4 of our dragon boat team members had joined us at Kalamalka Lake.  We paddled just around Rattlensnake Point, for a good stretch of our paddling muscles.  Then after lunch we headed on the road to Banff.  It was longer than we expected.  I made the mistake of googling for road distance and calculated travel times – that did not take into account winding roads nor road construction.

When we reached Revelstoke, we all agreed not to take the scenic circle route of going to Radium Hot Springs, but instead to proceed straight to Banff.  Along the way, we had a brief stop in Golden BC, and a short visit to Lake Louise.

Upon arrival to Banff, we checked into our motel where the team was staying then headed to the Banff Brewing Company for a bite to eat and some socializing time with team members.

Saturday morning, we climbed on board the buses that took us to Lake Minewaka, where the 3rd annual Banff Dragon Boat Festival was being held.  Our first 200m race was a doozy.  The Dynasty style dragon boats are tippy enough with a round hull as opposed to the traditional double hull dragon boats – but we really did not need the Lane 4 boat Bear Scare going off course and forcing Lane 3 into our lane, and continuing to cut across the lanes until they finished off course, as lane 1 collided into us too.  A time penalty was accessed to Bear Scare team.  We finished off our Saturday racing with a 500m that saw us place 2nd.

Saturday night we went to a social at The Paddock bar, organized for all the dragon boat teams.  Then we went to the Legendary Wild Bill's restaurant where many of our team member's orders got terribly mixed up.  Steaks ordered as rare came out as well-done, and the prime rib that my girlfriend ordered came out as rare.  We did send it back to be returned as well-done minus the vegetables.  We can't recommend the service, but the restaurant was very interesting with cowboy decor, and a fun dance floor that saw a few of our team members joining in for some line dancing.  We did not stay for the KISS tribute band.

On Sunday, we came second in our semi-final heat that placed us into the C Final.  Then we relaxed and took lots of photos at the gorgeous Lake Minewaka site.  I was interviewed for a Banff Tourism video, as the film crew Matt and Jeff asked me questions about why I was in Banff, and what I enjoyed about my visit.  I enthusiastically told them I was in Banff for the dragon boat races, and the water was soooo much cleaner than in Vancouver, and it was great to see all the abundance of wildlife in Banff.

I also told them that I was wearing my kilt, because: 1) Banff was named after Banffshire in Scotland as the town's founders were from Scotland; and 2) the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team celebrates BC's founding pioneering cultures of Scottish and Chinese.

We raced in the C Final Division on Sunday afternoon.  It was a very tight race.  We were behind on the starts but caught up to the leading teams at the half-way mark.  We closely raced to the finish line against our ealier nemesis Bear Scare and an Edmonton team named Rice is Right.  We appeared to pull ahead and challenge Bear Scare for the finish.  All our paddlers dug in deep and reached out for front water, as our drummer Keng called for Power Series.  We called an early finish, and our team paddled harder, knowing we had good cardio training as our team core had been paddling since March – long before Calgary teams could get on the water before the ice melted on the Bow River.  Lanes 1, 2, and 3 all crossed the finish line, practically together.  Further behind in Lane 4, was the Red-Eyed Dragons, which were led by our team captain's cousin. (Talk about family rivalries!)


Spirit of Vancouver GHFC dragon boat team with a strong core of Gung Haggis paddlers, Gung Haggis alumni paddlers, 2 brand new first timers, + Richard's cousin from Calgary.

1/10th of a second was all that separated us between 2nd and 1st place.  Rice is Right came 3rd. We came in second place , as Bear Scare came 1/10th of a second faster than us.

Oh well…. medals for us!!!  We were happy!

2010 BC Book Prizes: Fred Wah wins Poetry Prize

2010_April_BC_BookPrizesGala 004 by you.
Fellow nominees for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize: Larissa Lai for “Automaton Diaries” and Fred Wah for “Is A Door”.  Fred will be interviewing Larissa Lai for an upcoming issue of Ricepaper magazine.  Fred was the eventual winner of the poetry prize!  The banners of each prize hangs in the background.

was great to attend the 2010 BC Book Prizes. Very happy to see my
friends Fred Wah and Larissa Lai nominated for Dorothy Livesay Poetry
Prize – Fred won! and Charles Demers was nominated for Hubert Evans
Non-Fiction Prize.

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My pals!  Fred Wah with Cara Ng and Charles Demers – who was nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.  Charlie was going around saying I was responsible for his expected niece/nephew.  In actual fact, Cara's brother met his wife on the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  Fate took its course as they fell in love, married last year, and are expecting a baby this year.  I am still trying to recruit Charlie and Cara and Fred to the dragon boat team.  We will have the “most literary” and “most poetical” dragon boat team in Canada!

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and Masako Fukawa &
Stanley Fukawa, and Dal Richards
nominated for Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. Great to make new
friends with many of the authors such as Ian Weir, Lori Culbert, Ehor

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Todd Wong, Masako Fukawa &
Stanley Fukawa – authors of 
Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fishermen”, and Ann-Marie Metten.  Ann-Marie and I are the executive director and president of Historic Joy Kogawa House Society.  We invited Masako and Stanley to come do a reading at Joy's childhood home.

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Terry Glavin, last year's winner of the Lieutanant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence, accepts for Stan Persky, the 2010 winner!  Shirley Yew, president of the West Coast Book Prize Society and Lt. Gov. Steven Point present the award.

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Ian Weir, author of Daniel O'Thunder – nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, chats with Charles Demers nominated for non-fiction.

And always great to spend some time with Shelagh Rogers!

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Shelagh Rogers emceed the BC Book Prizes Gala at Government House.  I emceed the BC Book Prizes Soiree back on April 7th, in Vancouver.  Shelagh is a great supporter of Historic Joy Kogawa House and the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.  I hope soon to have a Gung Haggis dinner in Nanaimo or Gabriola Dinner with Shelagh as my co-host!

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And of course there was dessert!

Starting the Easter weekend in Vernon: Visiting Betty McChan and Helmut's Sausage Kitchen

Here I am, back in Vernon, or more specifically Coldstream for the 2009 Easter weekend.  My girlfriend Deb and I drove up yesterday to spend some time with her parents and their border collie dogs.

It was a long tiring trip through the light rain, light snow on the Coquihalla and Connector highways.  Thankfully, there wasn't a snow storm.  We didn't get the big windstorm that hit Vancouver, but there were moderate winds pushing the car along the highways.  Lots of Canadian content on the cd player including Michael Buble's “Live at Madison Square Garden”, Bruce Cockburn's live solo album “Slice O Life” and Gordon Lightfoot's “Gord's Gold.”  After hearing that Lightfoot had re-written his lyrics of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, I have decided to write new lyrics to his classic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” to include a Chinese-Canadian perspective.  Maybe I will call it Chinese-Canadian Railroad Trilogy or Chinese-Canadian Railroad Tragedy… we will see how it pans out.

One of the first things I did upon arriving at “The In-Laws” was to pet all the doggies greeting our arrival.  Val literally jumps on me, trying to lick my face, while the younger dog Tess simply brings me a pine cone to throw for her.  Finally, she has somebody to throw pine cones for her again.  Definitely a “fetchit” dog! 

Next I walk down to private dock that sits on Kalamalka Lake.  It's a beautiful lake, nicknamed the “Lake of Many Colours”.  I am hoping to do some paddling this weekend in canoe or kayak.  But now, it's time to socialize, catch up on news, then have a great dinner. 

After dinner, we fall asleep watching Disney's “The Princess and the Frog” .  Darn – I had really been looking forward to the movie, with its portrayal of jazzy cajun spiced New Orleans, and its inaugural debut of African-American characters and culture.  Maybe it is too politically correctly sanitized, or stereotypically traditional, or maybe my sense of disbelief cannot be suspended.  A talking firefly that survives multiple hits, and never becomes bug splat?

Saturday, I wake up to the heavy splashing of white capped waves on Kalamalka Lake.  No kayaking today.  I joke that maybe I could take a kayak out and surf the waves to Alexander's Pub, and somebody could come pick me up.  No takers.  Chances of being cold and wet are high, and I dislike the combination terribly.

There are no dim sum restaurants in Vernon.  Too bad…. but I have a wonderful lunch date with Betty “McChan” and her husband Don.  Betty is a former Canadian National Highland Dance Champion…. and she is Chinese-Canadian.  The picture I saw of her, was an archival copy of Chinatown News from the late 1950's.  I first met Betty in 2006 when she came to Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.  This past New Year's was the first time we visisted in Vernon.  We have a wonderful chat about Gung Haggis Fat Choy, local Vernon Viper hockey, Larry Kwong the first Chinese Canadian to play in the NHL, dim sum, tai chi, and whether or not Betty will borrow, hire or purchase a Chinese Lion dance costume. 

For our first visit to Betty's place, just after New Year's, she had made a wonderful classic Cantonese style Won Ton soup.  This time it was her husband Don in the kitchen.  He made a delicious omelette with a side dish of corned beef hash brown potatoes.  Spontaneously, I asked if he had ever made a haggis hash.  He hadn't, but he liked the idea.  I told him about the a capella group The No Shit Shirleys who had performed at the 2006 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner, and how whenever the group performs their version of Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) they tell the story about haggis-fried rice that they had at the dinner.  They thought it was soooo delicious.  Betty and Don had attended that dinner and they thought The Shirleys were wonderful performers, and the fried rice was good too!

On my way back to my Vernon home-base, I spot the Vernon Sausage Company, and it's delicatessen Helmut's Sausage Kitchen.  I have tasted some of Oyama Sausage at Salt Tasting Room in Vancouver, and decide to purchase some local tastes for tonight's appetizer plate.  I select a few slices of the Soppressata salami, Prosciutto Westphalia,
Bauern schinken (a cured beef), 1 slice of the huge corned beef, and 6 slices each of the Helmut's
Farmer Salami and the Kirsch-Salami.  I also pick some cheeses: Provolone,
Smoked Gruyere, and Smoked Gouda.
  The meats only cost me $3.12… wow!  It's a wonderful cured meat and cheese platter.  Everybody is complimentary.  And much cheaper than going to Salt Restaurant, but without the incredible comfits and sauces that they match to their platters.  I eat so much that I don't have as much room for the wonderful turkey dinner we have. 

Hmmm…. did I use the word “wonderful” too many times.  I like my visits to Vernon.

Todd Wong goes electric guitar

Dylan went electric…. Norah Jones has gone electric guitar now… 

Todd Wong shucks his accordion for a red electric guitar

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It was a friendly music night at the home of Vernon friends, Jeff and Carol.  Just before New Year's Eve on Dec 30, we had gone up for a music night of classic folk and rock tunes.  I had taken my accordion.  It was lots of fun, similar to the musical ceilidh of Christmas and celtic songs at the McMordie household before Christmas back in North Vancouver.

With my accordion we had played some Elvis tunes, blues tunes, folk tunes even classics like Four Strong Winds, Hotel California and Del Shannon's Runaway.  We even sang accapella for Stan Rogers' classic North West Passage.  I also played some celtic accordion tunes from my music books, as one of the musicians had led off on flute with The British Grenadiers.  I also tossed off my standards of Hungarian Dance #5 and O Solo Mio and Tourna A Sorrento. 

But I had left my music stand behind.  So on January 2nd, Deb and I returned to the house and found ourselves at another music night – but without my accordion.  Carol offered me her red electric guitar without even asking if I could play guitar – even before offering me the keyboard in the corner.

Wow!  I hadn't ever played an electric guitar before.  I have my own accoustic guitar that I have strummed occasionally since high school lessons – but never an electric hooked up to an amp, and with a session jam before!

My finger picking was decent and I tried out the chords to House of the Rising Sun.  We played through Annie's Song, as I used to play a lot of John Denver back in the 70's.  But I was hungry for some Johnny Cash music. 

I think we really need to play a version of Ring of Fire, at the 2010 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner since I discovered that Johnny Cash had Scottish ancestry.

2010_January_Vernon_NewYearsDay 053 Carol and Jeff's music house, with special guests Todd and Deb.

Toddish McWong goes to Vernon BC and meets Betty McChan and Dan McHuang.

Toddish McWong goes to Vernon BC and meets Betty McChan and Dan McHuang.

2010_January_Vernon_NewYearsDay 036Toddish McWong meets Betty McChan:  Todd wears the Ancient Fraser Hunting Tartan – the first kilt he ever wore, while Betty wears her father's jacket made from the Chan plaid.

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.  

2010_January_Vernon_NewYearsDay 083Todd and Deb walk the dogs in Kalamalka Park

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
Scottish connections. 

2010_January_Vernon_NewYearsDay 039 Some of Betty's newsclippings when she was 10 years old and a Highland Dance champion!

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!”

2010_January_Vernon_NewYearsDay 047 Todd Wong, Dan Huang and Dan's wife Allison who plays bagpipes!

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!

Olympic mascots go to Scotland with Toddish McWong

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Quatchi, Miga and Sumi go to Scotland with Toddish McWong and Quatchi brings back a kilt

2009 was Homecoming Year for Scotland.  It was an invitation to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns on January 25th, and went all through the year until November 30th St. Andrew's Day.

The year started with Visit Scotland CEO Philip Riddell bringing a special bottle of 37 year old Famous Grouse whisky to auction off at the 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.  By November, there was a photo exhibit at Scottish Parliament titled This Is Who We Are: Scots in Canada.  It featured many Canadians of Scottish ancestry including Todd Wong aka Toddish McWong, who is not Scottish, but hosts the largest Burns Supper in Vancouver.

Exhibit creator Harry McGrath invited Todd to come attend the Homecoming Scotland finale weekend events and attend the Closing Reception for the exhibition.

Todd decided in the last days to attend the event, and quickly invited his friends Quatchi, Miga and Sumi to visit Scotland with him.

They arrived in Scotland, late on Saturday night, November 29th  in Glasgow.  They traveled to Edinburgh and visited many Robert Burns displays in the museums – but had lots of fun at the Scottish Parliament reception on St. Andrew's Day.  After the reception finished, they retired to a pub called Jenny Ha's – but Todd had to return to do a radio interview back to Vancouver BC on CBC Radio.

These pictures are their adventures exploring Scotland from Nov 29th to Dec 5th., 2009.

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Sumi Quatchi and Miga are excited to travel on the airplane

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We are excited to see a Harry Potter train on the Welcome to Scotland sign

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Todd and Sumi pose for a picture with the Visit Scotland display at the Scottish Parliment.

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There is a life-size picture of “Toddish McWong” featured in the Culture section of the exhibit “This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada” at Scottish Parliament.  Sumi attends the closing night reception with Todd.

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Harry McGrath (the tall dapper feller) is the creator of the This Is Who We Are exhibit.  Todd and Sumi pose with Harry's brother, niece and sister-in-law.  Harry started off the project simply by taking photos of same-named places in both Scotland and Canada.  You can find the project at

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George Anderson is almost the only other fellow wearing a kilt (besidess Harry McGrath's brother-in-law and a junior piper).  Todd had originally insisted on wearing a kilt every day in Scotland.  But he quickly found out that many Scots don't have kilts, or only wear them for special occasions.  After a few days in the Scotland cold Todd started sneezing and went back to wearing his jeans for the trip to Ayreshire.

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Sumi makes a new friend at Jenny Ha's pub, where we all head off to following the reception.

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Todd makes friends with a border collie and a black lab, beneath Arthur's Seat in Hollyrood Park.

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Todd visits the Telfer Wall – the old wall that used to surround Edinburgh city.

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Sumi finds a seat in the Telfer Wall, Edinburgh Castle is in the distant background.

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Sumi visits the pubs at The Grass Market.  Apparently this is where all the hen and stag parties happen, but we didn't see any animals.

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Finally!!!  A monument to an animal!  Sumi pays homage to the monument to Greyfriar's Bobby – the little Skye Terrier doggie that held a 14 year virgil, guarding his master's grave site, at the Greyfriar's kirkyard (church yard).

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Sumi visits the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  He really liked this ancient picture of a boar.

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Todd went to The Vaults – Scotch Whisky Tasting Society, and drank Sumi, Quatchi and Miga under the table.  They refuse to allow any of the pictures from that night to be published.

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Sumi doesn't have as much as a hangover as the others, but still feels a bit green.  He does agree to take a picture beside his two favorite single malt scotches from the tastings. 

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Off to the Edinburgh Castle.  Sumi, Miga and Quatchi enjoy the view from the cafeteria.  It's a very cold day so Miga decides to stay indoors, especially since she is still suffering a hang-over from the night before.

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Sumi poses on a ancient cannon at Edinburgh Castle.

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Not to be outdone, Quatchi enjoys the view from a cannon at Edinburgh Castle too!

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After the castle visit, we go to the Scotch Whisky Experience and meet poet Robert Burns.  Quatchi and Sumi enjoy the poems of Burns, especially A Man's A Man For A' That, and To A Mouse.  Miga is feeling much better and can actually stand the sight of whisky again.  She excitedly seats herself on Robbie's shoulder.

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It's been a good day visiting Old Edinburgh.  Miga, Quatchi and Sumi enjoy the music and company at #1 High Street, at The Tass.

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Todd always seems to find accordions somewhere.  A whole bunch of local musicans meet at The Tass every Wednesday Night.  Todd and this fellow talked and talked about accordions and Robert Burns.

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Jennifer works at The Cafe Royal, the oldest and best Victoria pub in Edinburgh.  She is originally from Victoria BC, and was very happy to meet some fellow BCers.

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Sumi, Quatchi and Miga met some new friends including a Highland Cow, and a local named Teddy McBear.  They tried to help fit Quatchi with a kilt.  This was a great little shop at the Christmas fair at The Princes St. Park beside Waverly Train Station.

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Sarah is a student at University of Edinburgh.  She is originally from Singapore/Malaysia and spoke English the best of any other Asians that we met.  Probably because she grew up speaking English along with Malaysian and Chinese.

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We met Vicky at her father's hotel and restaurant in Ayr.  It's called the Glen Park Hotel with bar and restaurant.  Vicky actually lived in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighborhood for a year.

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We also went to the Two Dugs pub in Ayre.  Catherine was our bar server and she helped give us answers for that night's weekly Trivia Contest run by a fellow naed Pat.  Quatchi is emailing to Catherine.

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The Big Day!  We finally go visit Burns Cottage.  This is the birthplace of Robbie Burns just 250 years ago on January 25th 1759.  It is Burns' birth that is the inspiration for Homecoming Year Scotland.  The Alloway Post Office is in the background, across the street.

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We were very lucky to have a short tour of the brand new renovated displays inside Burns Cottage with
Burns Heritage Park’s Manager Caroline Glenn.  The new displays at Burns Cottage opened to the public on Nov. 30th, St. Andrew's Day with a presentation by First Minister Alex Salmond (whom we saw at the This Is Who We Are reception).

Caroline Green says on the Burns Heritage Park website:
“The Living History school visits allow school children to get a real
sense of Robert Burns’ life and to hear expert commentary on his work.
It’s a pleasure to be able to continue to educate the public and Robert
Burns even 250 years after he was born and the new Robert Burns
Birthplace Museum will ensure that this tradition continues for many,
many years to come.”

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Inside the Burns Cottage gift shop, we made friends with “Rabbie Bearns” and his partner “Jean Armour”

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Sumi, Quatchi and Miga go to the Burns Monument Park and visit the Brig O'Doon – made famous in the Burns poem Tam O'Shanter.  It is on this bridge that Tam O'Shanter excapes the ghosts who can't catch him but only the tail of his grey mare.

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We discover a Chinese restaurant around the corner from the Burns statue in Ayr.  Todd immediately starts planning to create a future Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner for some time in the future.  The waiting staff is Caucasian – but the owner is Chinese from Northern China near Shanghai.  She tells Todd that for some reason, the Scots people don't seem to like eating seafood.  And they complain if you include the heads and tails of chicken, duck and fish on the plates.

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We hang out, while Todd speaks with the owner.  We can't stay for dinner because Todd forgot his passport in Edinburgh at the Cafe Royale, and we have to leave.

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On our last day of Scotland we have a traditional breakfast with marmalade. Todd remembers reading all about marmalade from books about Paddington the Bear.