Monthly Archives: November 2004

The Modern Japanese Canadian Experience: Views of and from Japan / Views of and from Canada


This sounds great and will provide good context on the Japaneses Canadian redress issue.

Opera Speaks series at the Vancouver Public Library


The Modern Japanese Canadian Experience: Views of and from Japan / Views of and from Canada

Program highlights 

The Vancouver Public Library and the Vancouver Opera present a series of public forums on the themes and characters in Vancouver Opera’s productions.

The social experience of contemporary Canadians of Japanese heritage is profoundly varied, and influenced by many factors, including age, family origin, economic status, career and the many circumstances confronted by living in a North American community that has grown from being predominantly mono-cultural to become exuberantly multicultural. How have the experiences of Japanese in Canada changed through the generations? How has the view of Canada from Japan changed, and how have Canadian perceptions of Japan changed? What role have artists played in changing perceptions? This wide-ranging forum will address these questions and many more.


Friday, November 19th 2004




Central Library
Alice MacKay room – Lower Level
350 W. Georgia St.
Phone: (604) 331-3603




Vancouver Opera

Battery Opera: Reptile-Diva Nov 16-20, 2004

Reptile-Diva runs Nov 16-20, Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver.

Battery Opera opened their new show Reptile-Diva last night at the Roundhouse in Vancouver.  It was exciting and surprising… as I anticipatingly awaited each next word or move by Battery Opera founders and performers Lee Su-Feh and David MacIntosh.

Reptile-Diva blends dance, martial arts, song and performance art all together in a highly entertaining and provocative performance that is actually a compilation show that re-configures 3 different earlier works: A Character (1992), Brick (1996) and Domestik (1999). 

This unique combination is self-described as “two characters journey through cultural debris and construction materials, looking for love, losing their skins…” and creates a scenario that also incorporates and utilizes autobiographical intrigue about this unique husband-and-wife team that claims to have met in 1985 when McIntosh was riding a bicycle in Kota Baru and was hit by a car, and Su-Feh found him in the street bleeding.

But everything about Battery Opera seems to be like that.  It hits hard like a car… or in McIntosh's solo piece, a brick… or as in Su-Feh's solo piece, it bleeds… literally with pain and red paint as she splatters a brush on a large sheet of paper.

The shock that anything could happen, or that anything could be said is like a distillation of Life, or in this case their lives, as they recount stories from their past experience.  They tease them out, drawing on the familiar that everybody can relate to somewhere at sometime, juxtaposing cultural references seemingly at odds with itself, then transformed into a new context.  Everything is relative and everything depends on perception.  McIntosh and Su-Feh shift the sands of perception and art and ask the audience to see and listen in new ways.  You can almost hear the audience go “Aha!” or “Oh…” or “What the hell?” as one tries to make sense of the performance.  Okay… maybe it was just me not having seen experimental dance/theatre for awhile, as this was the first time I witnessed Battery Opera live in performance.  But this was exciting!

A Character opened the show and alternated in with Brick, each divided into 3 sections.  Su-Feh steps out in an Asian martial arts-like costume, performing an exercise with a sword.  A sexy red beaded dress hangs suspended and captures her attention.  Thus begins a tale and dance of seduction, perception and identity.

Brick challenges the concept of work, based on McIntosh's own experience in the construction industry. Three monologues each provoke the audience about the qualities and perception of work. 

Domestik was presented after the intermission, Su-Feh describes it as “some kind of ode to living 19 years with the same man.” In this piece, Su-Feh starts by sweeping the floor with an Asian style broom, while McIntosh works out with a punching bag.  A dialogue of movement and sound begins, transitioning into a domestic dispute that most of the audience could relate to in their own lives as confirmed by the knowing laughter.  Echoes of the earlier pieces seemed to appear, as Su-Feh performs martial arts moves with the broom.

How does one truly write a review of Battery Opera? I can only say, it has to be seen to be believed.  Entertaining and memorable, Battery Opera creates a dynamic tension between performers, between audience and actors, between concepts and ideas.  Definitely something to encourage your friends to see.

Jan 30 Gung Haggis Fat Choy 2005

Gung Haggis Fat Choy: Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner will be held January 30, 2005 at the Floata Restaurant in Vancouver Chinatown, #400, 180 Keefer St.

I am excited by the move to Floata Restaurant, which provides a great stage, lighting, sound and video equipment that will allow us to improve performance presentation while seating 600 to 700 patrons in one evening.  

Shelagh Rogers, host of CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada, will be co-host with me, along with Tom Chin from Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre.  Both are excited to be part of the show and will bring great chemistry to our presentation.

Returning performers include: Bagpiper Joe McDonald and Brave Waves, his world fusion band; Opera soprano Heather Pawsey; Scottish dancing brothers Cameron and Vincent Collins.

New for 2005 are: Chinese musicians and storytellers Karen Wong and Zhongxi Yu from Dragon River Shadow Puppet Theatre;  Governor General's Award winning poet Fred Wah. Contemporary songstress La La, who sang Auld Lang Syne in the CBC tv special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.”

More performers to be named and details to be released… stay tuned!

Jan 28 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Highland Games at SFU

Gung Haggis Fat Choy at Simon Fraser University.  The whimical spirit of Toddish McWong returns to his conception of inspiration at the invitation of the SFU Recreation Department to help create a unique multicultural event.

What could possibly happen when the concepts of Gung Haggis Fat Choy are applied to the centuries sacred traditons of the Highland Games?

Stay tuned…

Jan 17 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Poetry Night

Scottish Poets, Chinese Poetry, bagpipes and accordion, plus a Governor General's Award winning poet?  Add them together and what do you get? The return of Gung Haggis Fat Choy Poetry night at the Vancouver Public Library.

Hosted by Alejandro Mujica and Ariadne Sawyer for World Poetry, and Todd Wong for Gung Haggis Productions.  This event brings together their two unique visions of world and multicultural poetry.



“Tribe of One” wins Best Documentary at American Indian Film Festival

“Tribe of One” was awarded Best Documentary at American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco on Sunday Nov 14th. The NFB film is directed by Eunhee Cha and concerns the story of Rhonda Larabee (my mom's cousin), as she grew up in Vancouver's Chinatown/Strathcona neighborhood thinking she was Chinese/French, but as a young adult learned that her mother was actually First Nations.  And thus began Rhonda's journey of First Nations self-discovery that saw her resurrect an “extinguished” indian tribe, and become chief of the Qayayt Band.

The following is an excerpt from Chief Rhonda Larrabee's e-mail to me about the experience!

First, they showed our film on Tues night (9th) and introduced Eunhee and me.   After the film, they called us up to the front and had a q & a period.   There were so many questions that after 30-40 mins. they had to stop it as there was another film to be shown.   

It wrapped up on Saturday with a luncheon in the afternoon (we got all dressed up) and the Awards Show, which will be televised in the U.S. sometime later on.   Since ABC & CBS were sponsors, we're hoping we'll be able to get it here.
The best news is that our film was nominated in the 'Best Documentary' category, along with two other films.   We were on pins & needles at the Awards show…they showed the first clip about the Tootoo brothers – the hockey players and then our clip and the third clip was about the Alaskan Aboriginal Olympic Games, which was amazing.   We thought we were Out, but then they said “The winner is —— A Tribe of One!!”
Eunhee and I screamed and ran up to get our award – she made a speech and then my turn came.   Then we were whisked back-stage to the back and had a photo session and a TV interview!   It was just like the Oscars!    You should google the American Indian Film Festival and see how big this festival is.   It's 29 years old and one of the most respected festivals in the U.S. 
We don't have our pics yet, but am going to get them pretty quick.     It was the most amazing week.   We met all the aboriginal film stars — Gordon Tootoosis, Tantoo Cardinal, Tina Keeper, George Leach, Michael Horse — and many many filmmakers, directors, up-and-coming young stars.  
I'm still on Cloud 9….    Bryan is too — he's at work today and can't think straight – we left our hearts in S.F.
Will talk to you soon.   Kinda busy for the rest of the week — am speaking at UBC on Wed and the Justice Institute on Friday.   And still have to squeeze work in….



Nov 11 – Chinese Canadian Veterans: My Uncle Dan

Rememberance Day, Nov. 11, 2004

I went to the Victory Square Cenataph ceremonies hoping to take pictures of my grand-uncle Daniel Lee, with his group of veterans, Pacific Unit 280.  For the past few years, Uncle Dan and his fellow executive member Ed Lee, from Unit 280, have helped to organize the Victory Square Cenataph ceremonies.  This is amazing, given the racist history of the Candian Government and Armed Forces that initially did not want Canadians born of Chinese ancestry in the armed forces.  When they returned from fighting overseas, they were insulted again when the Canadian Legions initially refused to allow them as members.  Much has now changed and the veterans of Unit 280 are proud to have served for both Canada and for enfrancisement rights for all Chinese Canadians.

I am very proud of Uncle Dan.  Not only does he spend weeks on cold street corners selling poppies, or talking to elementary schools.  He also devotes a lot of time to veterans causes.  So much that he was awarded the Award of Merit – The highest award that is given for community service amongst the veterans.  He received it in September 15th, at the 47th Dominion Convention of Army, Navy Air Force Veterans, held in Saskatoon SK.  He is the first Chinese Canadian to receive this particular Award.

To receive an Award of Merit, you must first recieve the Medal for Appreciation, which Uncle Dan recieved in 1987.  In 1999 he next recieved the Award for Service

Following the Victory Square Cenataph ceremony that went from 10:30am to 11:30am, I then walked to Chinatown with my friend Bob Brinson.  We found my father and his elder brother James who was visiting from Edmonton.  Uncle James has lived in Alberta for the past 40 years, and although he visits Vancouver regularly he had never attended a Vancouver Cenataph ceremony despite having served in WW2.

We all went to see the inaugural Rememberance Day ceremony at the Keefer St. Chinese Pioneer Memorial, which was scheduled to start at 12:30pm.  Uncle James was worried he wouldn't know some of the veterans, after almost 60 years after WW2.  But some of them recognized him, and asked him to join them standing in formation facing the monument.  He politely declined. 

The Chinatown Cenataph ceremony began with the arrival of City Cousellor Raymond Louie, himself a Chinese Canadian pioneer descendent relative of the H.Y. Louie family.  Raymond laid the wreath, sent by the City of Vancouver.  Interestingly, it was this very wreath that sparked the Chinatown ceremony. 

Last month, the City announced that it would lay a wreath at all the cenataphs including the Chinese Canadian pioneer memorial.  This sparked the necessity of a ceremony, which was coordinated between Unit 280 and the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.  Retired Colonel Howe Lee led the ceremony, and spoke to the crowd about the important role Chinese Canadian soldiers played in winning enfrancisement and voting rights for Canadian born Chinese.

There was a good media turnout that took pictures of the ceremony, including the wreath laying and interviewing some of the veterans.  Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, Counsellor Jim Green, and Parks Commissioner Heather Deal, arrived after the ceremony.  It was a surprise visit from them as they had participated in the Victory Square Cenataph ceremony, and no doubt had been busy socializing following the ceremony.  I contributing to the schmoozing and asked Mayor Campbell and Counsellor Green to be in a picture with my Uncle Dan.  Too bad I missed the photo op when Uncle Dan was showing Mayor Campbell his new Award of Merit. 

Following the ceremony, Pacific Unit 280 held their traditional lunch at Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant, which they enjoyed with their friends and supporters.  I was very pleased to be an active supporter and guest, and that so many of the vets recognized me and said hello to me.  They recognize me as my father's son, as their comrade Daniel Lee's grand nephew, and as one of their organizers of their veterans' dinner back in October.

Outrigger Paddling at Barnet Marine Park with Lotus Club

It was great to be back in an OC-6 outrigger again.  The water of Burrard Inlet / Indian Arm is SO MUCH cleaner than False Creek.  It was a beautiful day for paddling – overcast but no rain.

My buddy Craig Brown had wanted to introduce paddlers from the Gung Haggis Fat Choy and Centre for Spiritual Living team dragon boat teams.  We also invited friends of the teams and former paddlers.  We had enough people to take out 4 six person outrigger canoes.

Outrigger paddling is a good way to balance a hard paddling dragon boat season.  With outrigger paddling, you can padde on both sides since everybody sits one behind the other in a row.  Outrigger races can be as short as 10 minutes and as long as 6 hours.  Most in the Vancouver area are 1 to 2 hour races.

Three members of the Lotus Sports Club came out to help us steer. Imagine my surprise when I discovered who they were!  Grace Morrisette was my first dragon boat coach back in 1993, when I paddled as a spare with the Hamazaki-Wong sponsored  Headliners.  We won the inaugural Novice division that year… Steve Pith, paddled with E-One Moli Energy when I coached that team in 2000 and 2001.  Steve came out in a solo outrigger and demonstrated paddling technique for our first timers.  Cindy, I have met at the various Lotus regattas over the years.  The great connection is that she is also involved with Girl Guides and had connected with one of my former paddlers about starting a dragon boat team for Girl Guides.

Going out with the Lotus group was a great cultural learning experience.  Our dragon boat paddlers learned how the Hawaiian culture developed outrigger canoeing and why the term “huli” doesn't mean a form of dancing.  “Huli” is when your boat flips over.  The “Ama” is the pontoon on the left side of the boat.  And Hawaiians love the outrigger teams that travel to Hawaii for races, because they graciously thank you for helping to develop and preserve their sport and culture around the world.

At the Lotus Clubhouse at Barnet Marine Park, we gazed at all the trophies from paddling races and regattas from Vancouver, Portland and Hawaii.  We looked at all the pictures from different events and felt excited for the future paddling possibilities for the coming years.

Oh the paddling! 

The event was created simply to have fun and give people a chance to try outrigger paddling, so we didn't dwell on a lot of paddling technique lessons.  Most everybody had already paddled in dragon boats this season except for the two newcomers in my boat. 

We took off pretty well.  Nobody seemed to have any balancing problems.  Nobody freaked out about tipping.  We reminded people to watch the lead stroke and to stay in time… and that was it!  Oh, and learning to say the words, “Hike, Hut, Ho” which signify when everybody follows the lead stroke to switch sides.  We practiced this a few times, and pretty soon everybody was looking like that had paddled outrigger all season!

After taking a break with all four canoes together.  Two of us started heading towards Twin Islands, before realizing that the other two boats had headed back to the  club house.  Determined not to be the last boat back for the doughnuts and coffee, we brought our boats around and headed back as well.  Our group always had a tendency to keep a fast rate.  Our lead stroke, Kristine, had paddled a lot of dragon boat teams with me over the years, and I had to keep reminding her to bring the rate down.  We finally did a very good job slowing down the pace, so everybody got more water on their paddle.  Every stroke became effortless and we easily caught and passed the boat in front of us. 

Definitely a experience every dragon boat paddler should try.  Everybody was just as excited and enthusiastic as when we started our excursion, but now filled with a “good tired” – the kind that says… “This was a good thing!”