Who is Toddish McWong? And how did you come up with Gung Haggis Fat Choy?
“Toddish McWong” was born on a snow covered day in the highlands
surrounding Vancouver, way back in 1993. It was on Burnaby
Mountain, at Simon Fraser University that mild-mannered psychology
student and SFU tour guide, Todd Wong, was asked to help out with the SFU's annual Robbie Burns celebrations. Wong first
declined but the tour guide leader later begged Wong to reconsider.
“You're my last hope,” she said. Wong relented.
Wong was befuddled with the idea of a Chinese guy (him) wearing a
Scottish kilt and having to show his bare knees out in the snow.
But with a background steeped in Asian Canadian history, community
service and multiculturalism, Wong quickly realized that he was having
an epiphanetic multicultural moment. He, a 5th
generation Canadian was learning about Scottish-Canadian culture
with its strange traditions of men wearing skirt-like attire, carrying
swords, playing funny sounding musical instruments and eating exotic
On top of that, the Chinese Lunar New Year fell on January 27th only
two days away from Robbie Burns Day, which is always January 25th in
celebration of the Scottish Bard's birthday. “Gung Haggis Fat
Choy!” said Wong, “I can celebrate two cultures at the same
time.” And thus was born the persona of Toddish McWong with his
growing appreciation of Scottish Canadian history and culture.
Flash forward to 1998, and Wong was putting together a Chinese New
Year Dinner party for about 12 friends. Lo and Behold, the Lunar
New Year again fell two days away from January 25th, Robbie Burns
Day. Dinner plans were quickly made to incorporate both Chinese
New Year and Robbie Burns Day traditions as Wong scurried off to the
Vancouver Public Library to research Robbie Burns Day and discover
Scottish songs for himself to play on his accordion.
A dinner of 16 in a friend's living room was the setting for the
first Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner hosted by Toddish McWong,
along with co-host Gloria Smyth. Todd cooked and organized most
of the dishes. Gloria hired the bagpiper. They invited
their friends. Fiona brought a haggis. Margot toasted the
lads and lassies. Others brought poems related to Scottish and
Chinese culture, or songs and food. It was a smashing
The following year in 1999, Wong decided that for the dinner to be
recreated – he no longer wanted to cook 8 courses for 16 people.
The dinner was moved to a small Chinese restaurant and turned into a
fundraiser for Wong's dragon boat team. 40 people
attended. A raffle draw was created. A bagpiper was
hired. People read poems… Wong played his accordion and led
singalongs to Scottish songs…
And each year, the dinner grew in size… practically doubling each
year from 40 to 60. First it outgrew the New Grandview Szechwan
Restaurant at 100, then it outgrew the Spicy Court Restaurant at
200. In 2003, the dinner found a home at the Flamingo Chinese
Restaurant on Fraser Street (named after Simon Fraser – the same chap
that the university was named after, and the same tartan that Wong
first wore as a kilt), and the dinner size reached 390 people.
In 2001, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop became a beneficiary of
the dinner as Wong became an ACWW board member. This also
recognized the contributions of ACWW president Jim Wong-Chu, who
had guided Wong in organizing the dinner event since 1999. It is
Wong-Chu's poem “Recipe for Tea” that has become a Gung Haggis Fat Choy
classic read along with Robbie Burns' own Address to the
Each year the quality of the musical entertainment has improved and
expanded. Highland dancing was added in 2002. Pat Coventon
led a small sized house band in 2003 with friend pd wohl on guitar,
vocalist Karen Larson on drums and another friend on violin. Jazz
bassist Harry Aoki did duets with vocalist Margaret Gallagher.
And 12 year old Alex Sachs played solo violin and then a band
accompanied duet with Toddish McWong on accordion himself.
For 2004, the dinner grows every upward and onward.
Actor/director Adrienne Wong will co-host with Toddish McWong.
Joe McDonald returns with an expanded Brave Waves lineup featuring
Andrew Kim on sitar. Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibault from Silk Road
Music will also perform. Special guests soprano Heather Pawsey
performs on Sunday, and violinists Mark Ferris and Alex Sachs on
Saturday. Award winning highland dancing teen-aged brothers
Vincent and Cameron Collins perform on both nights.
Also on Robbie Burns Eve, CBC television in BC, premiered a regional
television special titled “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.” It featured
– The Paper Boys with chinese flautist Jing Min Pan set in the Dr. – Sun Yat Sen Chinese Classical Gardens,
– Silk Road Music Ensemble in Vancouver's Chinatown,
– George Sapounidis singing in Mandarin accompanied by the Vancouver Dance Academy
– Joe McDonald's Brave Waves with LaLa on vocals
+ origins of Toddish McWong and Gung Haggis Fat Choy
+ mini features on Robbie Burns, Chinese New Year and haggis.
2004 closed when Toddish McWong
was invited to chat with Peter Mansbridge on CBC TV's The National,
when The National started its Road Stories in Vancouver.
In 2005, the dinner moved to
the largest Chinese Restaurant in North America – Floata – in
Vancouver's Chinatown. CBC Radio's Shelagh Rogers host of “Sounds
Like Canada,” came to co-host an intimate dinner of 600 with Toddish
McWong and Tom Chin. Haggis Lettuce Wrap made it's debut.
Mayor Larry Campbell attended dressed in kilt with Chinese
jacket. The Scottish and Chinese Canadian MLA duo of Jenny Kwan
and Joy McPhail switched cheongsam and tartan.