Category Archives: Visual Art and related events

“CHINESE VANCOUVER THEN AND NOW: 1972-2010” – Vancouver Opera Speaks


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

7-9 pm

Alice MacKay Room, Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch


Admission is free.

An eminent panel explores the history of Chinese in Vancouver, with
emphasis on the Chinese communities' emergence and development since
1972, the year of Nixon's momentous trip to China. Discover how our
city has been shaped and transformed by Chinese culture over the past
38 years. This will be a fascinating evening. Speakers include eminent
architect Bing Thom, UBC historian Henry Yu, and filmmaker and writer Colleen Leung.

Presented in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library.
Opera Speaks @ VPL is sponsored by Omni BC Diversity Television.

Vancouver Olympic Ceremonies: Where was the cultural diversity?

Winter Olympics invited countries from around to the world to multicultural Vancouver, but cultural diversity was missing in the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Apparently the opening ceremonies did feature performers of cultural diversity.  But we missed it.

before the televised official opening… (“Miss Jully Black to the back
of the bus please”)… not “Canadian” enough to be televised…. and
February is Black History month in Canada!

Read Vancouver Sun Pete McMartin's review of the opening ceremonieshttp

The Closing Ceremonies were promised to include more French content,
and to feature Canadian humour and myth-busting of Canadian stereotypes.

Vancouver's cultural diversity was represented in the hundreds of
jumping Grade 9ers holding snowboards in the opening sequence.  My
First Nations 2nd cousin was there – his mother was very proud.  But
all the featured performers were White – with the exception of K-OS. 
And most of the volunteer performers of colour were dressed as hip-hop
dancers, instead mounties, lumberjacks and hockey players.  Because
there are no Asian hockey players in the NHL – but that's another
Canadian Myth that's been busted since Larry Kwong played one game in
the NHL in 1948, 10 years before Willie O'Ree became the first black
hockey player in 1958.

A Few days later the same Pete McMartin quoted Tung Chan in an opinion piece –
Opinion – An Olympic Games as white as snow

But read the comments to the above piece, or to Craig Takeuchi's pieces in the Georgia Straight.
2010 Olympic closing ceremony: Why wasn't there any aboriginal content?

Vancouver 2010 Olympics: The Great White, er, Multicultural North?

Despite all the crowd cheering, street filling patriotism, when Canada
wins a gold medal hockey game, there is still a dark anonymous racism
that haunts all the internet comments, and rears its head at any hint
of “affirmative action” or ethnic inclusion.

This is the next story.   This is the next stage of insight. 

The aim of the Closing ceremonies was to have some fun, poking fun at
Canadian stereotypes, and doing some “myth busting.”  But one of the
myths that got reinforced is that Canada is White.  Despite generations
of immigration from all around the world, Canada cannot find a
performer of colour good enough to speak at or perform at and during
the Closing ceremonies. 

Would it have hurt Canadians if one of the chorus line lumberjacks,
mounties, or hockey players had been a shade of colour other than
white?  Would we have heard a chorus of boos, if one of the mounties
had worn a turban?

We know that racial discrimination in sports can be cruel to kids growing up, so it can't be
a wonder why our top athletes are mostly White.  But we have succeeded in
the Arts.

Where was Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters?
Canadians of multi-ethnicity are cool and sexy.  What better examples
do we have than actors Kristin Kreuk of Smallville?  or Lisa Ray of
Bollywood?  Even Keanu Reeves primarily grew up in Toronto, despite
being born in Lebanon – but we didn't hold Steve Nash's birthplace of
South Africa against him.

First Nations actors Graham Green and Tantoo Cardinal were good enough
for “Dances with Wolves” but not for the Closing Ceremonies?  And
Tantoo just received her Order of Canada too…

Our authors Joy Kogawa, Thomas King are amongst the most studied
authors in our Canadian high schools, colleges and universities. Wayson Choy and 7th generation descendant of Black Loyalists
George Elliot Clarke are also amongst our most loved – these four authors also are Order of Canada recipients.

We are not saying that Canada should enforce racial inclusivity
guidelines for its sports teams.  But we are saying that the closing
ceremonies lacked the representation of Canada's population, and it
reinforced every sad stereotype of Canada.  Alongside the Mounties,
lumberjacks, beavers and moose was the sad realization that Canada is
only populated by White people, despite multi-generations of accepting
people from all over the world.

And where are the bagpipes?

Canada's first Prime Minister, BC's first Premier, and Vancouver's
first mayor were all born in Scotland.  Has the former largest ethnic
group of Vancouver so much assimilated into mainstream culture, that
they have forgotten their ethnic roots?

The SFU Pipes and Drums is the six time and current World Champion pipe
band.  There are more bagpipers in Canada then there are in Scotland –
or is this a Canadian myth that we are not proud of?

Bagpipers have performed with Uzume Taiko, and Delhi 2 Dublin, – two
internationally recognized examples of cultural fusion music happening
in Vancouver.  To me, these are the examples of performers that should
have been featured at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, demonstrating
how Canadians have come from all over the world, put aside our racial
differences, and blend our cultures, and our shared our histories

This is the Canada that I am proud of – not the beer swigging garage
band party music that was featured – without any relevance to the
historic Olympic successes that we witnessed over the past 17 days

2009 Year of Gung Haggis Fat Choy from Royal BC Museum in Victoria to Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

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.

Photo Library - 2907 by you.

January 20th

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.

Raise Money for your Favourite Charity with Limited edition bottles of The Famous Grouse up for Auction

January 20th
Georgia Straight news article

Georgia Straight: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

January 22nd

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

2009_January 178 by you.

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

DSC_3928_103489 - Mayor Gregor Robertson doing the honours by FlungingPictures.

February 4th
Louis Lapprend makes a youtube video of the 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner event

Gung Haggis Fat Choy 2009 Dinner highlights on Youtube

February 15th
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.

March 15th

Gung Haggis Pipes & Drums & dragon boat paddlers… brave the snow in the Vancouver Celticfest St. Patrick's Day Parade

2009_March 104click here for Flickr photo set

April 6-11th Tartan Week in Vancouver

Tartan Day and Scotland Week celebrated by SFU's Centre for Scottish
Studies with Michael Russell, Scottish Parliamentary Minister for

April 20th
Purdy Party at Joy Kogawa House with Shelagh Rogers, John Asfour &
3 nominated poets for BC Book Prizes: Daphne Marlatt, George Stanley
and Nilofar Shidmehr

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May 19th

John Asfour, Kogawa House writer-in-residence gives reading at
Vancouver Public Library with Marcus Youssef and Adrienne Wong of
Neworld Theatre

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May 22nd – Todd and Deb go kayaking on Mayne Island

Kayaking in the Gulf Islands: we visit Belle Islets Chain

and visit

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

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June 20/21

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team has a great weekend at Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival

2009_June 060 click for Flickr pictures

July 18th

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team places 4th overall at Richmond Dragon Boat Races

July 24/25

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team heats up Vernon Races

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August 8th

Todd Wong elected to board of The Land Conservancy of BC

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October 10

Gung Haggis paddlers compete at Ft. Langley Cranberry Festival Canoe Regatta: 1st in B Final 5th in A Final

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November 29
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.

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November 30
Toddish McWong arrives in Scotland for inaugural visit and reception at Scottish Parliament for “This is Who We Are”

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November 30

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)”

December 4th
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.

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December 21st
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. 

December 31st
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

Swine Flew – not just a paper trick.

SWINE FLEW….. When Pigs Have Wings!

Swine Flew by Joseph Wu Origami

Origami Master Joseph Wu also has a sense of humor to accompany his nimble fingers and creative mind.

A few years ago he created a design called “When Pigs Have Wings” which I first saw at the Pacific Origami Conference at the Hotel Vancouver in November 2007

Did you know that Joseph Wu created the origami for the Stolichnaya vodka print ads? + many more!

Wu's latest work is in Canadian Business magazine:

Coffee Break Origami - Canadian Business magazine by Joseph Wu Origami.

Joseph Wu says: “I've been doing origami for Canadian Business magazine's “Coffee Break” page.
This is the first one featuring Chinese money eating US money.” (October 12, 2009)

Vancouver 2010 Aboriginal Art Exhibition features artists from across Canada

Aboriginal artists from across Canada, featured at Vancouver 2010 exhibition,

Over 50 artists were featured at the Vancouver 2010 Aboriginal Art Exhibition at Canada Place in Vancouver BC, Oct 17/18.  It's a two day free exhibition with sales to the public.  On Friday evening, a live auction of highlighted artworks was held with proceeds going towards the Vancouver 2010 Aboriginal Youth Legacy Fund.

Many of the artists were commissioned to create artworks for the Olympic venue sites.  These works are featured in the book,
O Siyam: Aboriginal Art Inspired by the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which will be available in stores on November 2 the first official Games-related book to be published.  Pre-ordered copies of the book can be made at the exhibition.

2009_Oct 015 by you.

Alano Edzerza (right) is an amazing young artist that I met. Melissa (left) is his friend who helps him plan events. Melissa is wearing a shirt that Alano designed, for her marathon running competitions.  Behind them is a 3-panel design of flying ravens. I really liked it's three dimensionality, and repeated motif.  It stands out to many of the flat 2-dimensional designs I have seen in aboriginal art. Alano also designed a 3-panel work featuring killer whales, which inspired a commission from GM place of killer whales. Born in 1981, this 28 year old artist has both a remarkable maturity, and an extensive collection of works and his own gallery.  So impressive is Edzerza's work that Roy Henry Vickers was sending people his way at the exhibition.

2009_Oct 008 by you.
Councillor Lois Joseph of the Lil'Wat Nation Mount Currie Band is very proud of Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Museum, recently build in Whistler BC.  She said it is a collaboration by two nations, Squamish and Lilwat, and it is designed to showcase the history, culture and artworks of the Lil'Wat and Squamish peoples who have been a big part of the Sea to Sky country.  I have visited Aboriginal Cultural Centres in Alert Bay, the Haida Gwaii Museum, and even the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii.  I will definitely go visit on my next trip to Whistler.

2009_Oct 011 by you.

Roy Henry Vickers was one of the first aboriginal artists to recieve mass popularity in BC.  His striking serigraphs are available as postcards and prints.  He is also recipient of Order of BC, and Order of Canada.  His Aerie Gallery in Tofino is a must-see. When I found him, he was playing with a computer image of a five-finned killer whale on a lap top computer. He shared with me the very personal story of this very special whale which also includes the story of his “Chieftainship, Tlagwigila more commonly spelled,
Tlakwakila which means Copperman. Tlakwakila is from the house of WAKAS
and my adopted family,”

Mr. Vickers and I talked about commonalities about Chinese and First Nations peoples.  He said “There is no Yellow Skin, only a person, there is no Red skin, only a person, There is no black or white skin, only a person.  We are all the same race… We are human.”

When I told him about Gung Haggis Fat Choy, and how the give recognition to BC's pioneer cultures the Scottish, Chinese and First Nations instead of Canada's two solitudes of French and English… he shared with me that his mother was English. 

I thanked him for sharing his wisdom and helping make our society a better place.
Check out:

2009_Oct 013 by you.

KC Adams is from Winnipeg, but she doesn't identify herself as Metis, because she is part Scottish – not French-Canadian.  She is tuned into the growing Mixed-Race culture of Canada, but doesn't call herself a hybrid or mixed-race.  Instead she calls herself a cyborg, reflecting our new technology culture for the 21st Century. 

Her artwork also reflects her post-modern, post-colonial viewpoints.  She plays with stereotypes and juxtaposes them with contrary images.  The portraits are beautiful, clean, and dressed in white.  The words on the clothing say things like ““AUTHORITY ON ALL ABORIGINAL ISSUES”,
You can see her Cyborg series here:

KC's websites states:

Cyborg Hybrids is a photo series that attempts to challenge our views towards
mixed race classifications by using humorous text and imagery from two cultures.
The Cyborg Hybrids are digital prints of Euro-Aboriginal artists who are forward
thinkers and plugged in with technology. They follow the doctrine of Donna Harroway’s
, which states that a cyborg is a creature in a technological,
post-gender world free of traditional western stereotypes towards race and gender.

KC laughed when I told her about Gung Haggis Fat Choy – but she got it.  Juxtoposing cultural images and language in ways that reflect a new understanding – that's what we both do.  We recognize Mixed-Race heritage.  She was intrigued when I told her that there were people in Madagasca called Metis, but were of Chinese and Madagascar heritage, in this former French colony. But Metis means half, just like the Hawaiian term Hapa.

2009_Oct 016 by you.

While at the exhibition, my friend Sabine found me and said “You have to see Jean Taylor.”  Her biography states her “Tlingit name is Khàsx’ ân Tlâ is from the Dakhł awèdi Clan of the
Teslin Tlingit Nation in Teslin, Yukon Territory. She is also a member
of the Tlingit Haida Central Council of Alaska.”

Her artwork captures the spirit and minuitae of aboriginal cultural life.  There are scenes of dancing, farming, running with sled dogs.  It's beautiful, reflective and wonderfully presented.
Check out:

Foo's Ho Ho is open again… and only Chinese restaurant serving old-style Cantonese food

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Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant is a landmark in Vancouver Chinatown… and open again!

Where can you get good old-style Cantonese food in
Vancouver?  Today, there are many styles of Chinese food from Hong
Kong, Beijing, Hunan, Shanghai, even Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean and
Japanese.  The new immigrants that speak mandarin now out-number the
Cantonese speaking pioneer immigrants and their descendants.

Many many years ago, all the best restaurants in
Chintown all had neon lights.  The Ho Ho Restaurant at the corner of
Pender and Columbia St. had a long tall vertical neon sign that
featured a hot steaming bowl of rice

hoho_old.jpg image by flytrap_canada
The Ho Ho Rstaurant displayed a wonderful neon sign from the 50's to the 60's

Keith McKellar's book “Neon Eulogy: Vancouver Cafe and Street” writes and interesting description of the Ho Ho Restaurant. 
photo courtesy of Christian Dahlberg

Back in the 1950's, 60's and 70's… Vancouver Chinatown was the place
to go for late night eats, Chinese banquets, and you could see the 5th
Dimension, The Platters and many other great performers at the Marco
Polo Restaurant and Night Club – which was across the street from the
former Ho Ho Restaurant.

I grew up during the late 60's and 70's.  Our family used to sit in the
upstairs window booth seat, where we could look outside at all the
pedestrians.  I remember buying Bruce Lee posters from the many stores
on Pender St.  Sadly, this era of Chinatown is now long gone.  Ethnic
Chinese have moved out to the suburbs and the restaurants and stores
followed them.  New immigrants no longer came to Strathcona or
Chinatown as the first stop, many move straight to Richmond, Coquitlam,
Shaughnessey and even North Vancouver.

changed, and restaurants closed.  The Ho Inn had a fire.  Foo's
Restaurant closed.  The Ho Ho closed. I remember sitting in the The
Marco Polo when owner Victor Louie was closing down and offering my dad
some of pictures on the wall.  My father was a sign writer, and he used
to do all the show cards and other signwork for The Marco Polo.

back James Sam, known as “Sam” re-opened the Ho Ho Restaurant site,
renaming it Foo's Ho Ho in recognition of these by-gone restaurants. 
Sam had formerly worked at WK Gardens, Marco Polo
and Best Wun Tun House.  Foo's Ho Ho became the place to go when you
wanted old-style Cantonese cuisine, or to reminesce about the good old
days of Vancouver Chinatown.

I have had many memorable visits to Foo's Ho Ho:

But in July 2009, it was announced that chef Sam was
in the hospital with cancer, and that Foo's Ho Ho would soon close.  My
friend Jim Wong-Chu organized a dinner for a “last night dinner” at
Foo's Ho Ho, and invited lots of our friends who enjoy Chinese Canadian
history, and its food.

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see my July 12th blog story:

Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant to close in Vancouver Chinatown: It's the end of an era for Cantonese restaurants

was a great dinner, and good to see old friends and talk about the
foods and dishes that we love to eat. Sam's wife Joanne was in the
kitchen cooking up many of Sam's signature dishes for us.

A week later, Chef Sam, of Foo's Ho Ho, passes on the the Great Kitchen in the Heavens. A memorial was held for Sam on July 30.  After a grieving period, Joanne decided to re-open.

August 20th, we were back at Foo's Ho Ho
Restaurant.  Jim Wong-Chu invited some friends to again talk about
food, and how we can highlight it's connections to Vancouver Chinese
history.  The dinner was attended by: Col. Howe Lee and Judy Maxwell of
the Chinese Canadian Military Museum; my mother's cousin Gary Lee –
who's interview for the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy
had been filmed at Foo's Ho Ho; media artist Ray Mah – who had designed
the Saltwater City logos for the 1986 exhibition; and Dr. Jan Walls.

We hope to have more dinners to highlight the food and Vancouver Chinatown history.  Stay tuned…

Oh… but what did we eat?

Feast your eyes on these pictures!

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Free soup that comes with our meal: meat and melon with vegetables

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Special order: Garlic Chicken!

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My favorite: Chicken stuffed with sticky rice

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Egg Foo Yung, a trade

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Bitter Melon with Beef and black bean sauce

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Another favorite!  Curried potato slices with beef.

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Taro with pork

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Tofu and Fish!

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Dr. Jan Walls, our chef Joanne, and Jim Wong-Chu

See my pictures:
August Dinner at Foo's Ho Ho

August Dinner at Foo's Ho Ho

Thoroughly Modern Millie scores both hits and misses, but is splendidly cast

Diana Kaarina stars in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Asian-Canadian actors steal the stage in TUTS' Thoroughly Modern Millie

Theatre Under the Stars at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park

July 15 to Aug. 22

Tickets $32 to $39,

Falling in love is one of the most wonderful things in life.  There's lots of “falling in love” in the Thoroughly Modern Millie production by Theatre Under the Stars.  This makes it a wonderful choice to see with a date.

Diana Kaarina is wonderful as the title character Millie Dumount, who hops off a bus from Kansas and makes her way in New York City.  Set in 1922, Millie decides to find a rich husband, by seducing her boss.  Trouble is, first she has to get a job, and a place to live.. 

Millie settles in at the Hotel Priscilla, a place for young women.  It's on the wrong side of 42nd St., and run by the very strange Mrs. Meers – who may be Chinese or not.  Millie has a series of adventures that include getting a job as a stenographer, going to a speakeasy during prohibition, getting arrested, and going to a fabulous party in the penthouse suite of socialite Muzzy van Hossmere.

Everything about this musical is campy, and over the top.  The music is a pastiche of well-known melodies from other productions.  The plot contains misplaced identities, misunderstood intentions, star-crossed lovers, and a kidnapping.  But the wonderful dancing and singing numbers make you forget that everything seems cliched.  Indeed, Thoroughly Modern Millie is designed to pay homage to old musicals, with tongue-in-cheek fun.

Diana Kaarina brings a lot of experience to this production.  She created the role of Miss Dorothy Brown (Millie's BFF) for the First National tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003).  Kaarina brings lots of Broadway experience, having been the closing Eponine in Les Miserables (2003) and also playing roles in Rent and The Phantom of the Opera.

Kaarina brings a touching humaness to the character of Millie.  She isn't just the talk-talking gold digger who wants to marry her boss, but she also cares for her friends and is willing to make sacrifices.

All the lead roles are played well.  Meaghan Anderssen plays the ditzy Miss Dorothy Brown with great comic aplomb, which she did so very well in last year's TUTS production of Annie Get Your Gun.

Danny Balkwill plays Jimmy Smith, the poor but dashing young son of a gardener.  Audience members might recognize him as one of the competitors in Canadian Idol. 

Seth Drabinsky plays Trevor Graydon, the boss that Millie wants to marry.  Drabinsky excells in elocution, as he sings “The Speed Test” which is a Gilbert & Sullivan parody, complete with Busby Berkeley styled dancing.  Wow!

I didn't expect to see Asian-Canadian actors or Asian characters in
Thoroughly Modern Millie.  But it was there in subtle ways… and not
so subtle ways.  The program points out that lead actor Diana Kaarina is Half -Finnish and Half-Chinese. Either way, she is still a beauty, similar to Smallville actor Kristin Kreuk who ancestry is Half-Dutch/Half-Chinese.

The subplot involves the character of Mrs. Meers who runs the Hotel Priscilla, and also employs two Chinese henchmen for a side business of kidnapping.  Sarah Rodgers is over the top, as Mrs. Meers – so highly unbelievable character, that she can only exist in a musical.  Aaron Lau and Daeyoung Danny Kim play the characters of Ching Ho and Bun Foo.  They strive to make the characters realistic, speaking in only Chinese, and also performing some martial arts moves on stage.

While I found it refreshing to see Asian actors playing authentic Chinese characters speaking good Chinese, without being traditionally stereotyped. The stereotypes still persisted in other ways.

Racial stereotypes of Chinese in Thoroughly Modern Millie

I was shocked
that this musical contained lots of out-dated Chinese stereotypes including:
a Chinese laundry, kidnapping for white slavery, bad Chinese accents,
and a female actor in “white face” playing a white woman masquerading
as a Chinese woman. Much less culturally sensitive than Robert Downey
Jr playing a black man in Tropic Thunder

of the sub-plot is that white girls are sold into white slavery and
shipped off to China, by the character of Mrs. Meers, a white woman dressed up as a Chinese woman –
who doesn't even have a proper Chinese accent – She keeps
mis-prounouncing her “L's” as “R's”

She keeps saying things like “Ssssso saaaad, to be arrrr arrrrone in dis worrrrld”

I realize that this is supposed to be a fun frothy romp, and every character is stereotyped to extreme measures…

Asian ethnic actors play the Asian roles and do NOT speak in bad
Chinese accents – but actually in good Cantonese.  The play makes fun
of the stereotypes…

But I still felt uncomfortable watching
the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in this way.  There are many
people in today's audience who don't realize the origins of such
stereotypes, nor the harm that was caused over decades of racism.

Check out what the Asian American theatre review had to say about the
two Chinese henchmen, singing “Mammy” in Chinese – originally sung by
Al Jolson, wearing a “black face” when he played a black man on stage.

The original movie was made in 1967 starring Julie Andrews and Mary
Tyler Moore. Japanese-American actor comics Jack Soo and Pat Morita
played the Chinese henchmen. The Broadway musical debuted in 2002, with
the roles of the Chinese henchmen expanded. They only speak in proper
Chinese. It's the white actress playing a white woman who disguises Read Moreherself
as a pastiche of Asian stereotypes and accents. The purpose was to
“cleverly” make fun of racial stereotypes. Almost every character is
stereotyped to extremes in this post-modern Broadway musical.

arguable that the perpetuation of stereotypes in any form is still
de-humanizing and destructive OR have we come far enough that we should
be able to recognize such stereotypes for what they are, and be able to
laugh at the stupidity and ridiculousness of the people who perpetuate

The best use of “Clever” parodying of racial stereotypes was in Marty
Chan's “Mom, Dad, I'm Living With A White Girl.” The stereotypes take
place in the main character's dream about him mother and father
becoming a dragon lady and her loyal henchman. In this case, the
context is about racial and cultural stereotypes, and easily understood
by the Read Moreaudience.

in Millie, while the 2 Chinese characters are played very straight and
respectful, speaking in good cantonese, and humourously holding up
sheets of laundry for a clever display of “subtitles” – The fact
remains that they are still Chinese laundry workers, part of a “white
slavery” kidnapping operation.

The character of Mrs. Henessey
is still a white woman pretending to be Asian, by wearing a “painted
face”, speaking mixed up Asian accent, and perpetuating stereotypes.  Check out youtube portrayals of Mrs. Meers.

Otherwise – the cast is GREAT!
the lead who plays the title character Millie Dumont is Broadway
veteran, Vancouver born Diana Kaarina, half-Chinese and half-Finnish.

Other reviews

Vancouver Sun review: Millie shines in a show burdened by too much business

Georgia Straight: Thoroughly Modern Millie full of relentless enthusiasm

Gay Vancouver Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie is throughouly enjoyable | Theatre

Flower Drum Song hits all the right notes: Vancouverites should see it and demand more!

Flower Drum Song makes you laugh and sing…
It's Rogers and Hammerstein in 1950's San Francisco Chinatown!

May 29-June 14
Waterfront Theatre
Directed by Rick Tae
Produced by Joyce Lam
Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre

This VACT production is amazing, it should become a Vancouver regular.  Who knew Asian Canadians could put on such a good song and dance musical, worthy of being included into “Theatre Under the Stars” or at any of Metro Vancouver's stages. 

Actor Jimmy Yi is a knockout!  He plays Sammy Fong the night club owner who might or might not get married to Linda Low, played coquettishly by Lannette New.  But Linda might also marry Wang Ta, played by Isaac Kwok.  Or Ta might marry Mei Li (Rosie Simon).  And somebody else also has a crush on Ta.  Sound confused?  You should be.  It's a classic Love triangle times 2 with some great songs and dance numbers thrown in.

But then there is also Ta's father Wang Chi Yang, played by BC Lee (now known as the former Vancouver City Councilor), who wants to lay down the family law as he insists that Ta should be married, and sets out to set up a traditional Chinese style arranged marriage.  Gee… Sammy Fong has a picture order bride just arrived into town… how convenient.

Jimmy Yi as Sammy Fong with Lannette New as Linda Low – photo courtesy of VACT

Okay… forget that the characters and the setting are Asians in San Francisco's Chinatown.  This could be a plot similar to Shakespeare's As You Like It, or Gershwin's Girl Crazy, or Lerner and Lowe's Brigadoon, or Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.  Love, trying to find the right person, and the ensuing moral dilemmas are universal themes in every language and culture. 

Flower Drum Song originally debuted in 1958 on Broadway with dance great Gene Kelly choreographing the moves.  This Rogers and & Hammerstein musical has everything.  Dancing, singing, corny jokes, love stories… and controversy!  It's a classic tale of old traditions versus assimilation into the New World. Addressing social issues within the Broadway musical format is the legacy of Rogers and Hammerstein.  They aptly addressed racism, sexism and classism with their hits Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. In particular, The Sound of Music addressed how some Austrians objected to Nazi Germany taking over their country prior to WW2.  The King & I addressed how the kingdom of Siam dealt with and resisted the growing colonialism of Asia by European nations.

Set in 1950's era San Francisco, this VACT production addresses the nostalgia of the era.  Director Rick Tae has found the balance for the show in a post-modern politically correct environment, by willingly playing up the campiness of the 50's beatnik era language.

It is the older brother Ta (Isaac Kwok), the first born son, that is caught in the middle.  He wants to please his father, but he also wants to forge his own identity.  Kwok is a recent graduate from Capilano University's Musical Theatre program and does a good job in the lead role, singing and acting his way between the show's generation and love match issues.  His strong voice and good looks should could easily find him cast in leads for Brigadoon and other shows. 

Lannette New has a tough job, living up to the role of Linda Low played so excellently by Nancy Kwan in the 1961 movie.  The Low character is flamboyant role of a night club performer – sexy and independent – not your typical Chinese daughter-in-law material. New reigns in the energy with sweetness and presence.

With Vancouver's huge Chinese population, you would think ethnic Chinese actors would get tired of the perennial stereotypecasting playing Chinese waiters, kung fu baddies, chinadolls and gangsters.  But where do people get the chance to expand their horizons and resume lists?

For the past 10 years, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre has been producing plays to showcase Asian Canadian talent, and feature works by North American Asian playwrights such as David Henry Hwang.  Asian comedy nights have become annual features that grew into sketch comedy contests.  The Sex in Vancouver series was adapted from the Sex in Seattle series originated by Kathy Hsieh and Serin

Producer and president, Joyce Lam also had a vision to put on Rogers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song as a full production in Vancouver.  Incredibly, it had never happened before.  Two years ago she saw Jimmy Yi, in the staged reading by APPLAUSE! Musical Society, and in that moment, she knew she had her casting for Sammy Fong.

Amazingly, the original 1958 production got six Tony Award nominations, and spun off some
national tours and the popular 1961 musical film version. It also marked the
first time in musical history that a mostly Asian cast appeared on the
Broadway stage.

But the work and film fell out of favour in the late 1960's due to criticism of the gender and racial stereotyping of the era, in the wake of the rising civil rights movement.

2002, playwright David Henry Hwang reworked the original music and
storyline for a Broadway revival that received multiple Tony nominations, a Grammy nomination for the

More later

REVIEW: “The C-Word” play is full of c-words: Chinese, Canadian, colou-blind, change, characters… “C” it for yourself!

What is the C-Word that is the meaning of life?

The C-Word cast
(Foreground, from left): Preet Cheema (Akesh Gill), Grace Chin (Kelly Cho), Sheryl Thompson (Ashley Hennessey).
(Background, from left): Fane Tse
(Steve Chung), Raahul Singh (Pal Prasad). Photo by Terry
Wong, courtesy of The C-word.

The C-Word
  April 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2009
written by Grace Chin

at the
Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island, Vancouver

The C-Word is an engaging play… even before you sit down in the seats.  What is the C-Word?  Is it for  Chinese?  Or the derogatory Chink word?  Does it mean Coloured?  Is it a four letter word that belongs below the belt?  One for male appendage, or for female anatomy?

Is the C-Word something more abstract, profound and perhaps “Complicated”?

Or is it “Compassion” or “Cheating”?

In the opening scene, “The Love Guru” is giving a seminar on how to get some action for his male clients.  Pal Prasad (played by Raahul Singh), gives a short talk about goals, and what it takes to follow through.  It's about intention and going after what you want.  It could be any personal development seminar, but this is about the C-word.

Next we meet girlfriends Kelly Cho and Akesh Gill played by Grace Chin and Preet Cheema.  They are on a shopping trip and talking about Kelly's upcoming wedding plans.  Soon we learn that Kelly has a live-in boyfriend named Steve Chung (Fane Tse) who is a yellow guy, while Akesh is single, but she doesn't like brown guys.

Things become complicated when Steve goes to see his old friend Pal to ask for some advice, and compare his relationship and impending marriage with Kelly to Pal's long term “open relationship” to a blonde woman named Ashley (Sheryl Thompsson).  What follows becomes an intercultural Vancouver-style dramedy of errors, innuendo, suppositions on the study of relationships. 

Excuse me… the proper words are cheating, commitment, compassion, change, comic and consolation – after all this is “The C-Word.”

“The C-Word” is the third play by Grace Chin.  Twisting Fortunes was co-written with her TF Productions partner Charlie Cho, and was a delightful comedic romp, set to Vancouver's caffeine drive.  “The Quickie“, Chin's first solo playwright experience, explored multicultural speed dating.  “The C-Word” goes to the next level, exploring a search for meaning in relationships.  This is Chin's most frank and sexual play to date, and hints at the darker sides of relationships and human nature, not to mention weddings.

In all three productions, Vancouver's multicultural society is the setting, but it is the intercultural nature of the characters where the culture clashes occur.  It's not just a Chinese-Canadian 2nd generation immigrant experience that is explored, but also South Asian this time around too.  And somehow this is juxtoposed with what might be mainstream Canadian or possibly alternative sexual lifestyles.

From the beginning, the characters are all interesting and engaging.  The topics are easily relateable to the audience… unless you don't have any friends of a different ethnicity, or have never dated.  The pacing is good, and the diaglogue never flags.

The casting all works.  Raahul Singh has fun being the egotistical “Love Guru” and his character makes reference to the Mike Myers movie.  More cultural references abound as character development exploration occurs when Kelly and Ashley try to figure each other out, and what their men may see in each other.  Here the extremely self-critical Kelly tries to get a handle on the brazen Ashely, she labels a “Samantha” compared to her “Miranda” – or is she really a Carrie Bradshaw?  Grace Chin actually displays a bit of each of the Sex in the City characters in her role of Kelly.

Much of the action revolves around Kelly and Pal, but while Steve's character seems stalled and doesn't give Fane Tse a big range to play with, Preet Cheema gets to push her character Akesh in the 2nd Act.  Supporting actors Lili Lau Cook and Vincent Cheng provide wonderfully surprising turns as Kelly's parents.  Mel Tuck directs this ensemble cast.

Previous productions

a take-out love story

an accidentally Asian romantic dramedy


See previews in Review Vancouver and

Blogger Night at the Opera… Rigoletto gets thrown to the net surfers!

BLOGGERS RULE at the Vancouver Opera… Live Blogging for Rigoletto!

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Local Bloggers sat in the lobby during intermission, live blogging opening night at Rigoletto. (l-r) Monique Trottier “So Misguided”, Rebecca Bollwit “Miss 604”, Tanya “Netchick”, Kimli “Delicious Juice” – photo Todd Wong

Opera is one of the most intercultural art forms.  It forces its audience to listen to foreign languages, as it tells stories from different cultures.  Okay, it also presents a lot of stereotypes and racial chariactures too!  But today's productions will balance historic stereotypes with 21st Century sensitivity for cultural diversity.

Vancouver Opera has been one of the most innovative arts organizations to find new ways to market themselves, whether creating Manga comics for promotion, marketing to the Asian population base in Vancouver with the Voices of the Pacific Rim recital, or beginning live blogging with Carmen and now Rigoletto operas.

Opening Saturday Night at Vancouver Opera, there are lots of people dressed up in the finery.  The lineups are deep and long for the cappucinos or wine.  Over at the East side of the lobby, 6 bloggers sit madly typing into their laptop computers during intermission.  It's Live Blogging Night at the Opera.  It started with a few bloggers being invited to blog Carmen in January.  And now a few more have been invited to blog Rigoletto. 

Some of the audience members are curious.  Some are demanding.  Some are complaining about the sound in the balcony.  One audience member insists that they are not having a true opera experience unless they are drinking wine.  One of the bloggers writes that she is having sooo much fun people watching, she finds it hard to touch type at the same time.

I bring out my camera and ask the bloggers for a picture.  Actually I yell out, “Bloggers… smile for the camera!”

They all look up and smile.  I will post the picture laters…

I recognize Miss 604 Blogger, Rebbecca Bollwitt.  She recognizes me and writes on her blog that “We were just visited by Karen Hamilton of who is here to enjoy the show as well as Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

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Rebbecca Bollwit “Miss 604”, Todd Wong “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”, Tanya “Netchick” – photo A. Youngberg/T. Wong

Back on January 18th, she was live blogging the Canucks hockey game.  I comment that she probably wishes she was at the Canucks vs San Jose game.  She says “yeah.” 

It turns out that blogger
is a rower, now interested in dragon boat paddling.  I tell her that my Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team has been featured on television documentaries for German and French public television, as well as the CBC.  It would be pretty cool, if she joined our dragon boat team… we have lots of opportunities for blogging.  Oops, I forgot to tell her we will have a parade entry in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

At the opera, it's always interesting to see who is there in the audience.  I spy an older couple, a male caucasian with an Asian woman.  They are always at major arts events.  I think he used to work at the CBC.

I chat with Doug Tuck, VOA Marketing and Selina Rajani, Communications/Media.  I introduce them to my date for the evening, Alexandra Youngberg, my CUPE 391 Vancouver Library workers president.  Alex loves this production of Rigoletto.  She loves music and sings in a choir.  Alex has even sung O Solo Mio, while I played my accordion.

The 2nd and 3rd Acts are wonderful ( I will write my formal review tomorrow).  Some members of the audience give a standing ovation to
Eglise Gutierrez who plays Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter.  We all stand up up for
Donnie Ray Albert who plays Rigoletto.  It's quite the multicultural cast.  Donnie Ray is African-American, born in Louisiana.  Eglise is born in Cuba.  Sam Chung, Chinese-Canadian born in Winnipeg, steps out of the Vancouver Opera chorus to play his first supporting role with Vancouver Opera in the role of Matteo Borsa. I congratulate Sam at the reception following.

During the reception, I also chat with Michael Mori, who is hapa Japanese-Canadian.  Kinza Tyrell, chorus master tells me how exciting this production is, and asks me how I know Sam and Michael.  “Well… through events at Joy Kogawa House, because we really supported, and raved about the Naomi's Road opera. 

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James Wright, VOA General Director congratulates the cast at the opening night reception – photo T. Wong

My old friend Walter Quan is here!  We first met back in 1986, while we were volunteers for the Salt Water City exhibit celebrating 100 years of Vancouver Chinatown history.  We recently had lunch in Victoria 2 weeks ago, when I had to return the life-size photos to the Royal BC Museum.

Opera Manager James Wright spots me, and waves at me.  So does orchestra concertmaster Mark Ferris, who along with his wife Gloria, have been friends for years. Mark performed at the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner. Meanwhile, the bloggers are noshing at the food tables, taking pictures of the event, and chatting amongst themselves.

I think it's great that Vancouver Opera is connecting with bloggers.  Back in December 2004, I blogged my own review of the VOA production of Madama Butterfly: Madama Butterfly Review: Vancouver Opera Nov 27 to Dec 11.

Since then, I have also reviewed:

Check out the opera night blogs:

Blogger Night: Rigoletto