Monthly Archives: December 2004

Winter Solstice Dinner at Flamingo House Restaurant on Cambie St.

We didn't plan to celebrate Winter Solstice with family – but it happened.  My family met with family friends for a dinner at the Flamingo House Restaurant on Cambie St and 59th Ave. in Vancouver.

Chinese Winter Solstice is according to the guidebooks, supposed to be a time of gathering with family and friends, and relaxing after the long hard harvest of the fall.  For us, it provided a wonderful time of respite between the busy-ness of Christmas shopping, organizing for Gung Haggis Fat Choy, and working at the library.  This was a time of joy for re-connecting with good family friends, some of my parents' best friends and their children that I grew up with, and their children now aged 7 and 9. 

There were 12 of us in total.  3 were now grand parents,  3 were now parents, 3 were single adults, and 3 were children aged 18 months to 9 years old.  My goodness – a lot of “3's.”

I introduced my girlfriend to my family friends whom I had grown up with, as we traded stories from our childhood, as well as recent stories of dragon boat exploits.  We all caught up on each other's news and achievements, new job postings and the activities of the children. 

With my Auntie (we called our parent's friends Aunt and Uncle as signs of respect – this also carries over from traditional Chinese culture), I helped order the food.  I selected the set dinner course for 10, which costs $198, and included Peking Duck, lettuce wrap, crab, deep fried tofu, sole, fruit salad with prawns.  It was all so delicious and much more than we all could eat.  And all at great value and price.  Chinese dinners really are the way to go for large parties.  For the quality and quantity of food we had, you would have had to spend about $50 to $60 each per person.  As tasty as the prime rib dinner with tiger prawns that I had at the Keg last week, when my fabulous girlfriend took me out prior to seeing Holly Cole in concert at the Orpheum, I have to say that this was the better choice for a large group, both for value and price. 

Flamingo House restaurant owner/manager Joseph Lee even came over to say hello to me.  Joseph is a very wonderful host.  He always recognizes and remembers me.  Not an easy task if you host hundreds and thousands of people in one of Vancouver's busiest dim sum and up-scale dinner restaurants.  But perhaps it is easier, if said restaurant patron hosts Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinners, called Gung Haggis Fat Choy, in your father's other restaurant called Flamingo Chinese Restaurant on Fraser Street, and he brings said restaurant manager/owner onto the City Cooks television program and asks you to cook specialty Chinese dishes with haggis that you have never before done.  Here's a brief description of our adventure cooking with City Cooks host Simi Sara.  Joseph has a pretty good sense of humour, and he looks good on television despite his nervousness. Check out Joseph's special recipes for haggis wun-tun, haggis spring rolls and haggis stuffed tofu.

But Joseph Lee isn't nervous in his restaurant tonight. Business is good – the restaurant is full.  It is “dong zhi” Chinese Winter Solstice and Western Christmas time – a good time for many families to go out for dinner.  After New Year's the restaurant business will slow down, as it is a traditional time for restaurants to take their holidays or do their renovations.  Then it will get busy for Chinese New Year festivities once again.


New 2005 Gung Haggis Fat Choy poster!

Here is the 2005 Gung Haggis Fat Choy poster, draft only… actual poster will be printed and distributed in a day or so.

designed by Jamie Griffiths – an incredible dancer and multi-media artist + all round human being.

Isn't it fabulous?

Ticket prices were deliberately left off – Here they are as follows:

Early Bird Rate until January 2nd $50 for Adult, $45 for Student, $35 for 12 & Under.  After Janary 2nd – Regular rate is $60 for Adult, $55 for Student, $45 for children. 

Book early for best seating… Only fully paid tables of 10 will go into the queue lineup – book an entire table for yourself and friends – or book individual seats and make 9 new best friends!

For tickets: Call Firehall Arts Centre Box Office: 604-689-0926


Chinese Winter Solstice “Dong Zhi” in Vancouver Chinese Gardens

One of my favorite winter adventures was going to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Classical Gardens last year for Winter Solstice.  It was very magical.  The Garden was lit with candles and Christmas lights – otherwise – you never see the garden at night because of its early closings.

One of the real coolest things they do is to create lanterns for the bare trees.  In each lantern are leaves that fell from the trees during autumn… so they are in effect, hanging the leaves back on the trees – with lights!  Very Cool!

There was music at the Gardens… Erhu (Chinese violin) player Ji Rong Huang was playing traditional Chinese and Western tunes in the Water Pavillion of the Gardens.  I bought two cd's by Ji Rong… I have to love this guy!  First of all, his name is Huang (the Mandarin version of Wong), secondly – He played with Harry Connick Jr. one time, when Harry met him by chance at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry terminal and invited Ji Rong to join him onstage at the Orpheum with his band.  Third, he plays Western music, and we agreed to get together sometime to do a duet of Hungarian Dance No. 5.

Anyways back to the Garden… and solstice.  Check out the link to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens.   This is what you will find:

Tuesday, December 21 from 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
An event partnership with the Secret Lantern Society

In China, the winter solstice festival, dong zhi, is a time when friends and family gather together, exchange gifts, and eat, drink, and laugh long into the deep, dark night to mark the rebirth of yang qualities of light and warmth as winter waxes and spring approaches. Enjoy a magical celebration of Dong zhi at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sun Classical Chinese Garden & Public Park as we host the Secret Lantern Society's 11th Annual Winter Solstice Festival for Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside from 6:30 – 10:00pm.

Join a procession from Science World or Strathcona Community Centre at 6:00pm. Then, follow the sea of hand-made lanterns and the compelling rhythms of drummers to our magical Garden come to life at night. Be enchanted by the displays of special hand-made lanterns in the trees and pond; paintings of winter colors by the Oriental Arts Club; music; samples of traditional dong zhi foods such as sweet dumplings and eight treasure soup and demonstrations of traditional folk arts presented by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver. Free event, but donations appreciated.

Visit the other Winter Solstice venues at Granville Island, the Roundhouse Community Centre, the West End Community Centre, and the Coal Harbour Community Centre.

Winter Solstice celebrations with Vancouver Folk Players

Yesterday, I met Betty Armstrong of the Vancouver Folk Players, at the St. James Community Square.  They just completed a wonderful Christmas celebration complete with pantomine plays.  Betty was very enthusiastice and told me about how pantomines incorporate archetypal figures.

Betty told me that there are a whole series of English pagan traditions that are perpetuated in Vancouver by the Folk Players.

She told me about the special Dec 21st Winter Solstice celebration on Granville Island that will involved the Vancouver Folk Players and the Vancouver Morris Men.

“I know the Morris Men, ” I said… “I saw them at Coal Harbour on Canada Day.  They do folk dances and folk songs… and one of the fellows plays accordion.”

Winter Solstice Eve Dinner at the Cheshire Cheese Inn

Do people celebrate Winter Solstice Eve?

They celebrate Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, All Hallow's Eve aka Halloween.  Personally I like to celebrate Birthday Eve, and with the right person… Valentine's Eve.

Yesterday evening, I went Christmas shopping with my girlfriend.  Alas, she has been late shopping because she was very busy planning the two date concert tour for the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra that she manages.  The self-admitted “stress bunny” was dreading going into the Christmas crowds, so I volunteered to go shopping with her and help her de-stress from both the road trip and shopping.  In return, my fabulous girlfriend decided to take me for dinner at the Cheshire Cheese Inn in the Vancouver neighborhood of  Kerrisdale – a generally very conservative and well-to-do area of Vancouver. While there are a few Chinese restaurants – I haven't seen any Chinese bakeries, butcher shops or supermarkets, yet.

Kerrisdale still retains it's British roots, especially with shops and restaurants like the Cheshire Cheese Inn.  As soon as you approach this establishment, you can tell there is a “pub” like ambience.  There is patio for the folks who still like to smoke.  Walk through the recessed front doors, and window bays greet you on either side – for an old english pub type feel. (How I now miss my 1980's nights spent down at the Windsor Arms Hotel's “Rose & Crowne Pub” that had actually recreated an English street scene complete with street signs, and windows, and brick paving… but I digress).

I looked about the restaurant, and noticed all the patrons appeared to be of British stock, except the table immediately near the entrance with 3 Chinese people (maybe they had been born in England, or Hong Kong, and missed the English ambience).  I half expected the waitress to speak with an accent reminescent of “Upstairs Downstairs,” “Fawty Towers,” or any of the British comedies.  But alas, she spoke in a very Canadian accent, and wore very Canadian clothing with low riders and a top that couldn't get tucked into her pants – oh but that's not the style anymore is it?

The first thing my girlfriend asked the waitress was if they had Strongbow on tap.  She is a fan of the English apple cider.  Funny, that she doesn't ask for BC Okanagan cider, since she was raised in the OK valley.  Opening the menu was a veritable culture relevation for me.  Here were traditional English dinners such as “bangers and mash” – no definitions provided – but I have learned it is sausages with mashed potatoes.  Also on the menu were minced pies, Shepherd's Pie (containing absolutely no shepherd in it to my grave disappoinment), and fish and chips (Ah… fish and chips… with vinegar… with Ling Cod… a Vancouver tradition on the disappearing species list).

I chose the dinner special of roast chicken with vegetables and mash, also served with a vegetable barley soup (gee… almost as good as the beef barley soup my mother used to make – why would my 4th generation Chinese Canadian mother make us beef barley soup?  I think she learned all these recipes from her father – who worked in an English restaurant in Vancouver).  My girlfriend ordered a burger with fries, that we dipped in my gravy for my mashed potatoes.

By incredible chance, a young man with tousled blonde hair came over to wish my girlfriend Merry Christmas.  He was one of the percussion players of the VYSO, and he was being treated out to dinner by his grandparents for his birthday.  He raved about the VYSO tour which had played in Victoria and Courtney/Comox.  Courtney had been particularly enthusiastic for the VYSO concert.  Over 400 people filled their small hall compared to the 165 audience members in the BC's Capitol city of Victoria.  The VYSO in Courtney, was THE BIG SHOW in town for everybody.  I did suggest to the VYSO manager, sitting across from me that perhaps the VYSO should build up an annual tradition to hold concerts in Courtney and Nanaimo for the future.

Anyways… this young and talented 17 year old musician commented about how he was able to meet people in the orchestra that he hadn't previously met before.  He spoke about how excited he was to get to blow the ferry's horn during the ferry passage, as well as how much fun it was to spend so many social hours with his orchestrat mates, parents and friends.  He gave Deb a big hug and thanked her for all her hard work for the VYSO.  And so, with my girlfriend happy that all her hard work really helped to make a very fun experience for the kids of the VYSO, she finished her Strongbow, and decompressed some more…

for other adventures in Vancouver's dining environment check out: hosted by my friends Roland and Barb




Gung Haggis Fat Choy announced in First Night Vancouver Program

Gung Haggis Fat Choy announced in 2005 First Night Vancouver Program

Gung Haggis Fat Choy appeared in ads this weekend the ads for First Night Vancouver 2005.   First Night returns to Vancouver for 2005 after a two year absence.  It takes place at Library Square, CBC Plaza and Q.E. Plaza.

6pm, 8pm & 10pm at the “Fun Too” venue.  Look for a large heated tent on the Q.E. Plaza.  We are sharing the tent with Construction Ink Theatre Company – creating a comedic look at local history with one of Vancouver's most intriguing tales. 

The program describes Gung Haggis Fat Choy as celebrating “Scottish Hogmanay and Chinese New – all rolled into one!”  Expect a Chinese bagpiper.  Expect a Scottish singer to sing in Chinese.  Expect the familiar to be reinvented cross-culturally.  Expect the unexpected.

This is a family oriented version of the increasingly popular dinner show event.  The program will feature story-telling, sing-a-longs + musical performances.  All will be relevant to the cultural fusion of the event's namesake.

Host is Toddish McWong, with famed performers Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibault from Silk Road Music, who were featured in the CBC television special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.”

Also appearing will be Dragon River Shadow Puppet Theatre's Karen Wong and Zhongxi Yu, contemporary Mo-Hop singer LaLa, and David McIntosh from award-winning Battery Opera.

Bob's Lounge: Dec 17 2004 – hosted by Battery Opera's David McIntosh

Review:  Bob's Lounge.

December 17th, 2004

Secret Location

I performed and survived at Bob's Lounge.

The audience LOVED me!
What the hell is Bob’s Lounge?

Well…  according to the invitation…

“Bob’s Lounge provides a couch on which to lounge, and two men in silken bathrobes who perform a  liturgy of love and longing, while drinking green martinis.  Bob's Lounge has performed at the Vancouver International Dance Festival, the Dance Centre, and at Dances for a Small Stage.

“a louche supergroup…Vegas-era Elvis with manly stoicism…insane collision of Roy Orbison and the Third Reich…glorious.”
– Discorder

appearing in Bob’s lounge this night are David McIntosh (vocals & tape loops) & Max Murphy (baritone saxophone, keyboards).

With special guests: Lee Su-Feh, Liz Hamel,
Ron Stewart, John Korsrud, Paul Ternes, Ziyian Kwan, & Toddish McWong

David and Max performed a variety of songs which vaguely sounded like celtic songs you would sing at a wake, as well as popular songs put in an entirely absurd context of lounge music by vocals and baritone sax.  Some of the songs they sang are old traditional Scottish or English songs sung lounge style.  They even performed a killer version of Procol Harum's “Conquistador”.  Max Murphy did an outstanding job riffing on his bari saxophone.  Guest trumpeter John Ternes played a solo that caught everybody by surprise, garnering a spontaneous applause… then David McIntosh brought the house down with the final verse and chorus.
When David invited me up,  I introduced my poem and singalong song as about the pioneer sojourners from China and Scotland – “My Chow Mein / Haggis Lies Over the Ocean.”  People loved it – they listened to the poetry parts, and they sang along to the chorus, based on “My Bonnie Chow Mein Lies Over the Ocean” – an old Scottish song with Chow Mein or Haggis substituted for “Bonnie”.  Next I performed the “Haggis Rap” a resetting of Rober Burns classic “Address to the Haggis” into a rap context – and again they loved it.  “As Langs My Arm” became a running commentary for the rest of the evening.  Immediately – I was invited to perform some more later.  One person who was so amazed at my performance, said they were going to tell their family about my performance, and how they were not going to believe it.
My second turn up on stage turned into a singalong to “Loch Lomand” – David McIntosh sang the verses, then we led the singalong choruses of “You Take the High Road, and I'll Take the Low Road.   This was followed by my dramatic accordion solo of Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dance No. 5.” a great climatic ending.  Again – which people loved.  How many people have ever witnessed a passionate performance of the old classical favorite “Hungarian Dance No. 5” in the close quarters of a jazz lounge?  And they may never witness so again!
Jaime is going to send me pictures to post – so check back soon.
As well, I have invited David McIntosh to perform with Gung Haggis Fat Choy for First Night Vancouver.  Come to our show in the Fun Too! lounge, which will be geared for families with singalongs and cultural twists.

Intercultural Christmas music: Hawaii

Christmas music can mean so many things.  One of my favorite
Christmas music memories is listening to Hawaiian Christmas songs in
Hawaii at Christmas time.  Some are traditional Christmas carols
sung with Hawaiian lyrics, others are original songs in English with
Hawaiian and English words such as “Mele Kalikimaka.”

Many years ago, when my Auntie Rose still lived in the Nuanu Valley,
just outside Honolulu, our family would visit her at Christmas
time.  It was at one of these Christmas visits that our family was
invited to the Lau family Christmas luau on Kaneohe Bay.  In the
afternoon the family had put the Kailu pig, smothered in
leaves, in the pit to roast with hot rocks, Grandma Lau was
cooking squid in a huge pot.  By dinner time, the sky had gone
dark, and the Christmas party was outdoors underneath Christmas
lights strung up across the back yard.

Uncle Tony was dressed up as Santa Claus, and he laughed with a
thick Hawaiian accent.  His daughters and nieces sang Hawaiian
Christmas carols and played guitar.  And all through the Christmas
season, you could hear the Beamer Brothers or the Brothers Cazimero
sing songs on the radio.  After becoming associated with the
Hawaiian culture, I used to cringe whenever Bing Crosby would come on
the radio singing his popular music sanitized version of “Mele

Hawaii is a very multicultural society now.  It's history
is very similar to the Vancouver area.  Similarly visited
by Captain Cook, and subjugated by British traders and
missionaries, the native populations were nearly wiped out by measles
and other viruses, quickly becoming the minority, in a white dominated
settlements.  I learned all about the Hawaiian independence
movment, very similar to the Native Land Claim settlements in BC –
sometimes they were peaceful, and sometimes they were occupational

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Honolulu felt more like home to
me because there was a healthy mix of Asians, Caucasians and local
Hawaiians, everywhere – all living in relative peace.  On the
television news shows there were newscasters of colour… Chinese,
Japanese… Filipino… Hawaiian…  Wherever I went, I was
accepted as a kamaiaina “local or old-timer.”  Nobody ever asked
me where I was from, like they did in my native Vancouver, where my
family had lived for five generations.  Hawaii was
different.  Hawaii was special.  And that was why I fell in
love with Hawaiian culture, and continued to occasionally dress
Hawaiian even when I came back to Vancouver.  That, and I met a
girl there…  with whom we would send each other letters when we
were 17 and 18 years old.

In Hawaii, there are so many people who belong to blended
families.  Many of my friends were Chinese-Hawaiian,
Chinese-Caucasian, Japanese-Caucasian, Chinese-Japanese… and that's
just the way it is.  Inter-racial marriage was an evolution of
cultures merging, and while it depleted the pure blood lines of the
Hawaiian race, it also spread it further, so that more people could
claim they were Hawaiian descendents thus, often helping to further
expand Hawaiian culture, and further validate it's respect and
inclusion in mainstream culture.

I still listen to the old Hawaiian records occasionally, having
replaced some onto cd when I last visited in 1991.  On that last
visit, I spent Christmas on the big island of Hawaii, on a belated
honeymoon that year.  My then newly married wife and I,
listened to Hawaiian Christmas carols on the radio, we learned about
Hawaiian culture, we hiked the volcanoes, we visited with local friends
in Honolulu.  And she fell in love with Hawaiian culture
too.  So much that after we split, she moved to Hawaii for a
year.  After living in California's Monterey Bay and Vancouver,
she again moved to the Big Island, where she and her young children are
learning all the nuances of singing Hawaiian Christmas songs, with such
words as “Melekalikimaka is the thing to say in the land where palm
trees sway…”

Jazz as Intercultural Christmas Music

Jazz + traditional Christmas songs = Intercultural music

That's why I have always loved Christmas music outside the normal traditional versions of pop standards, and Christmas Standards.

I love Holly Cole's versions of Christmas Blues, Please Come Home for Christmas, and Baby It's Cold Outside.

Vanessa Williams has an exquisite version of “What Child is This” as well as “Go Tell It On the Mountain/Mary Had a Baby.”  African-American Gospel music blended with traditional Christmas standards means a swinging Christmas.

Diana Krall can swing Christmas with Jingle Bells, Christmas Time Is Here, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas on her Christmas EP.  She also released a version of “The Man With the Bag” on her US “Target” edition of her “Look of Love” album.

I love the old Motown Christmas songs, especially Stevie Wonder's “One Little Christmas Tree,” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”  And the Jacksons singing “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” for me, beats Brenda Lee's version any time.

Jose Feliciano's “Felix Navidad” was always a favorite in our household, as we grew up.  It just doesn't sound right when I hear Celine Dion singing it.  But Celine sounds great singing Christmas songs in French.

And then there are the Cheiftains – grand holders of celtic tradition, and more recently of cultural fusion.  I love their recent albums blending celtic music with Spanish, Brittany, Nashville Country (Another Country and Old Plank Road) and Canadian Maritimers (Fire in the Kitchen).  The Bells of Dublin is a fine Christmas cd with Canadian musical guests Colin James and the McGarrigle Sisters. 

Christmas music: It's themes are universal, no matter what musical language it is performed or sung in.

Review: Holly Cole with Vancouver Symphony, Dec 15/16, 2004

Holly Cole in concert with Vancouver Symphony, Dec 15/16, 2004

Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC.

Holly Cole puts on a wonderful Christmas concert.  Wednesday's show was the 5th time I had seen the Christmas concert with the Vancouver Symphony.  This Canadian jazz-diva, loves to put the “spin” in her jazz interpretations as well as the “twist” into her Christmas songs. She delights in finding the irony to innocent songs such as Dedicated to the One I Love, The Street Where You Live, Trust In Me, and for this Christmas Concert, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, turning them into songs of obsession.  As well she is not afraid of explore the deeper and darker aspects of Christmas, and includes such songs as “If We Can Make It Through December”, and “2000 Miles” in her set list.

Holly was born for Christmas.  In fact, she was named Holly, because she was born exactly one month before Christmas on November 25th, and she has always delighted in exploring all the aspects of Christmas… dark… light… joyful… depressive… hopeful… sad…   This latest Christmas concert was no exception.  Great concert. Holly was having so much fun, she was actually jumping up and down when she walked on stage, and as she talked to the audience between songs.

She opened with a high energy Santa song which I didn't recognize… then transitioned into the Vince Guerardi (Chalrlie Brown Christmas) song “Christmas Time” is here. Old Black Magic followed, then she introduced a topic about Christmas time being the spirit of giving… but pointed out that if there is giving then there must be “getting.” “Here's a song about the getting”… Santa Baby.

The songs of the evening included old chestnuts, and surprises. Lots of Christmas songs not recorded on her Christmas collections, the most recently released “Baby, It's Cold Outside.

She started to introduce a song that she wanted to dedicate to her dog… and went into a story about Rhoda, her Belgian shepherd, and how although she had passed away, singing this song always made her think of her… and then she went into another story about the last time she was in Vancouver at the Orpheum and brought Rhoda out on stage – a dog in the audience barked! Somebody had a seeing eye dog… and anyways this dog barked. Then somebody in the audience barked. “Me and My Shadow.”

Other than giving you the set list – which might ruin some surprise tunes for you.  Holly finished the main part of her show with the song that she normally describes as “spiritual” – her stunning version of the Johnny Nash classic that she has made her own, “I Can See Clearly Now.”  This particular in-concert version builds from the opening bass lines and piano runs.  Halfway through, it suddenly swells with the lush accompaniment of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  It builds to a peak with a saxophone solo joining the orchestra to its transcendent finale. 

Holly and her band took their bows, and walked off stage, returning after the usual applause.  My girlfriend called for an encore, shouting out “Baby It's Cold Outside,” until she remembered… “Oh yeah… it's a duet.”  But Holly did perform “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” on her last Christmas tour in 2001. Her drummer Mark Kelso sang the Ed Robertson lines.  But this time… Hollye had a new drummer with her and while he did some background vocals, he did NOT do the duet “Baby It's Cold Outside” with Holly… darn…

Surprise unexpected encore… “Calling You” from the Canadian produced film “Bagdhad Cafe,”  followed by an old chestnut – “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday.”

Good concert… Wonderful Holiday tradition

Interesting notes…  Mark Fewer, the newly appointed VSO concertmaster performed on the “Baby, It's Cold Outside” album as part of the album orchestra – performing Baby, It's Cold Outside, Santa Baby, 'Zat You Santa Claus, Wildwood Carol, and What is this Lovely Fragrance?