Monthly Archives: August 2007

Hip Hapa and Happening: Intercultural activities for Aug 31 to Sep

Hip Hapa and Happening: Intercultural activities for Aug 31 to Sept

If my back wasn't bothering me today, I would be at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens on Friday night, as my friends Qiu Xia and Andre Thibault put on a very special music concert with their erhu playing friend Ji-Rong Huang. 

Andre and Qiu Xia have a very special place in the world of Gung Haggis Fat Choy.  Silk Road  Music Ensemble performed in the CBC Vancouver television performance special, and Silk Road Music Duo have performed at Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinners over the years.

Enchanted Evenings

featuring Silk Road Music Duo

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Classical Gardens

Road Duo is a new music performance that introduces audiences to
different cultures through the experience, discoveries, and travels of
Qiu Xia He with her Pipa, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Andre
Thibault. The pipa, a Chinese lute with a wide range of expression,
will be the focal point. This husband and wife team is well equipped
for this cultural mission. Both have lived passionately as professional
musicians. Their common bond and love of music have taken them on tours
all over the world.

Georgia Straight: Todd Wong 30 year library employee interviewed

Georgia Straight: Todd Wong 30 year library employee interviewed

I arrived at the Library Square picket line just before noon today, as
I had spent the morning in a picket captains orientation meeting.  Some
of my co-workers were wondering if there had been a misprint in the
Georgia Straight because I couldn't possibly have worked in the library
for 30 years.  Todd couldn't be that old!

I explained that I had actually started working for the library in
uetero, while my mother was working in the library catalogue
department, before I was born.  Officially, I joined the Vancouver
Public Library staff when I was 15 years old, back in 1975.

Today, the Georgia Straight published a news story, Boss and union tell different tales,
about the library strike containing an interview with me and a picture
from my website.  The picture shows myself with fellow picket captain
Alexis Greenwood, smiling with city librarian Paul Whitney, while on
the picket line on Monday.  We have the friendliest picket line – we
don't try to block anybody.  I have known Paul for many many years…

Even though he is library management and our Union bargaining committee
has to talk tough with him and the library bargaining representatives,
I would prefer to get along with everybody.  We still have to go back
to work with management when the strike is over – the city negotiating
team doesn't.  Paul told me personally, “It's not about you and me,
there are bigger things at play.”

Hmmm… maybe this explains why our formal employer “Vancouver Public
Library Board” had an in-camera meeting last night but have been conspicuously absent from advocating for the library.  Many of the CUPE 391 picketers are now
sporting picket signs that say “Where is the Library Board?”

see Boss and union tell different tales – Georgia Straight

Boss and union tell different tales

News Features By Charlie Smith
Todd Wong, an accordion-playing library employee, picket captain Alexis Greenwood, and city librarian Paul Whitney remain on friendly terms.

Wong, an accordion-playing library employee, picket captain Alexis
Greenwood, and city librarian Paul Whitney remain on friendly terms.

Read the entire article: Boss and union tell different tales – Georgia Straight

Here are the interview bits from me:

Wong, a 30-year employee, told the Straight in a phone interview that
the closure of the library will mean that fewer Vancouver residents
will learn about the 100th anniversary of the anti-Asian riots in
Vancouver in September. (See page 15 for more information.) He said
that people can't check e-mail at the library and they don't have
access to ESL programs in many of the branches.

“At the end of
July, I noticed that the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra had to
cancel one of their programs,” Wong said. “They do incredible work.”

a community and cultural activist, said public librarians are paid less
than their counterparts in the corporate and academic sectors, adding
that he can't understand why the City won't agree to mediation.
“Obviously, there seems to be a hidden agenda,” Wong claimed, noting
that the City has hired a public-relations company called the Wilcox
to handle communications during the strike.

“Library Square conceived of being a cultural heart of the city,” he added. “It
seems like City Management is trying to prolong the strike.”

said the union “booked out of mediation” in July when it served strike
notice. “The City is our primary funder, so it's logical we would be
consulting closely with them on the movements in our negotiations,” he
said. “And the issue around mediation, I'm assuming, would be discussed
in the context of all three city locals.”

Here are the interview bits CUPE President Alex Youngberg:

Alex Youngberg, president of CUPE Local 391, described Whitney's
comment as “insane” and “downright outrageous” in a phone interview
with the Straight. “He's not giving librarians a very good reputation
as far as math goes,” she added.

Youngberg claimed that the
union's last offer, including provisions for pay equity, would work out
to a 29.5-percent increase in wages and benefits over a nine-year
period if the city granted every aspect of the package. She said that
the union has “trimmed back” its request for benefits, and is only
seeking coverage for eye examinations, laser surgery, and composite
dental fillings because of problems associated with mercury fillings.

claimed that the city has already saved more than $1.4 million by not
paying unionized staff during the strike. That contrasts with only one
percent of payroll, or about $200,000 per year, that she said would be
allocated for pay equity. In addition, Youngberg emphasized that this
$200,000 per year would only be forthcoming if the union could prove
that female workers were not being paid the same as male city employees
for work of equal value.

“In Burnaby, their council was actually
in favour of them having pay equity and they urged the employer to
comply with giving…internal equity,” she said.

City Councillor Raymond Louie meets CUPE 391 library workers

City Councillor Raymond Louie meets CUPE 391 library workers

Picketers in Pink with Raymond
Nancy, Sherry, Jean,
Margaret + Randy

at the Aug 29,
Civic Strike rally at Vancouver City Hall – photo Todd Wong

It was a busy day at City Hall on Wednesday, Aug 29, as three civic unions marched from Science World to City Hall for a rally.

After the speeches were made, City Councillor Raymond Louie was seen talking to some of the city workers.  One of my library co-workers suggested giving Councillor Louie one of our “My Civil City has Pay Equity” buttons.  I walked over to Raymond, gave him a button, and offered to introduce him to CUPE 391 Vancouver Library workers, as I don't think he knew any of our library workers, nor was aware of the Vision-CUPE conspiracy that was earlier reported in the Georgia Straight: Vision using strike for political gain.

Raymond was pleased to be introduced, and shared that he was a union member with CEPUC, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, as he had worked for the Pacific Press Group for many years, and also endured many strikes.

Some of our members asked Councillor Louie what he was doing to end the civic strike, as last week Louie had called for a mediator to help bring the unions and city back to the bargaining tables. At that press conferience Louie had said:

“Enough is enough, it's time for the
city and the union leaders to sit down with a mediator and get this
strike resolved,” said Councillor Louie

“We're asking the parties to agree to a mediator, as negotiations
seem to be heading in a negative direction and the duration of this
strike is unacceptable… 

“The buck stops with the mayor! He should be the one to make
the first move in terms of calling on a mediator.”

 – but the City had still not responded days after the call, while the unions have said they would welcome a mediator.  Louie also said that Mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA caucus have been very locked into their thinking and difficult to budge.

Louie also asked me how important pay equity was to our union because it would be expensive.  I explained that entry level librarians in Toronto are making $7 more than entry level librarians in Vancouver, and that library salaries were far below academic wages at UBC,

“Our former Human Resources Director left for the business sector, and one of the HR assistants went with her!” I explained as I pointed out that the corporate sector pays more for similar positions.  Salaries for Vancouver Public Library employees have fallen behind for 30 years.  Our union would accept the Burnaby contract, because it has pay equity.  Can we please have the same contract as Burnaby?

Todd Wong with Raymond
at the Aug 29,
Civic Strike rally at Vancouver City Hall – photo Todd Wong

Aug 29 Rally to City Hall, Day 35 Library Strike

Aug 29 Rally to City Hall, Day 35…

see Labour relations strain under NPA reign – Vancouver Courier

see Vancouver's Library Strike: Women's Pay on the Line – The Tyee

see Boss and union tell different tales – Georgia Straight

Globe & Mail: Fiona Tinwei Lam has an essay about her music, her mother and dementia

Globe & Mail: Fiona Tinwei Lam has an essay about her music, her mother and dementia

Fiona Tinwei Lam
was a finalist for the Vancouver Book Prize in 2003 for her poetry collection “Intimate Distances.  Over the years we have become friends, and have shared our joy of Robbie Burns poetry, things Scottish, and discovered we were related through shared cousins.

Fiona was born in Scotland, moved to Canada as a young child, and has been a guest for both Gung Haggis Fat Choy: Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner and also the Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry readings.  She has a younger sister who is a librarian, and whom once paddled on the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.

I heard about when Fiona's mother was moved to a care home, as her sister Shona gave me some of their mother's old accordion music.  I regret that I was never able to play my accordion for their mother, as she used to play accordion in addition to piano.

The following is a very touching story that Fiona has written for the Globe & Mail.

Playing for time

Although dementia often made my mother's speech
nonsensical, she could sustain a wonderful musical dialogue through
rhythm, tempo and volume

I used to wake up some mornings as a teenager to the sounds of my mother playing the piano. But it was never Rustle of Spring or a gentle Minuet in G. Rather, it was the thunderous chords of Chopin's Funeral March. Either it was time to get up, or someone – probably me – was in deep trouble.

My petite mother would be perched over the keyboard, small hands
hammering down, creating sounds that made the room shake. If I tried to
close the door, she'd only open it again and return to the piano to
play even louder.

What my mother played always signalled her mood. A waltz meant
all-clear. A nocturne meant she needed to be left alone. But the
opening bars of the Funeral March spelled doom and had me racing for cover.

It was expected that I take piano lessons and piano exams, even
stumble through recitals, despite my mortification. Worse yet was the
year I was required to play the national anthem at high-school

One time, I misplaced the score. As I had played it so often, and
almost had it memorized, I thought I could manage. After everyone stood
up to sing, I began to play. When I reached “the True North strong and
free,” my panicked fingers faltered and stopped. People kept singing,
but the right notes eluded me. It happened again another time. I
decided I'd had enough of the piano.

After I left home, my mother had to retire early because of
deteriorating eyesight. Eventually, she couldn't read music. I hardly
noticed this, as she had committed so many pieces to memory.

She then developed Alzheimer's disease. Her repertoire began to
shrink along with the rest of her memory. But it didn't stop her. Once,
while we were visiting a care facility, my mother spotted an ancient
upright piano in the corner of the room. She marched over faster than
you could say Battle Hymn of the Republic, and launched into a medley of pub tunes intermingled with hymns, ending with a rousing rendition of Ten Little Indians.

I smiled wryly at the doctor as she arrived. “Sorry about this.”

“No one minds! It's wonderful that your mother still plays!” She went over to lavish her with praise.

Delighted with her audience, my mother played on.

As I watched song after song evaporate from her memory, I decided to
take up lessons again as an adult. But my performance anxiety was
almost insurmountable. At the introductory audition with the new
teacher, I tried to avoid playing a single note.

“Do I have to actually play?” I asked the teacher in desperation.

When I finally learned one of my mother's former pieces, the adagio from Beethoven's Pathétique
sonata, I played it for her. She listened for a while, nodding but
looking confused. After a few moments, she stood up: “Can I go home

Other attempts failed as well. Classical music just couldn't keep
her attention. I resorted to Christmas carols, whatever the season. I'd
urge her to clap or la-la along, trying to recover even a small portion
of the mother I had known growing up.

Later, I started playing the piano on my mother's secure floor at her care facility, sight-reading and stumbling my way through Red River Valley and Tea for Two.
Slowly, the other residents would find their way over from the TV
lounge. A few (usually mute) residents would suddenly start to sing;
others would even dance. My mother would pat my shoulder appreciatively
or pound out the time on the dining table. One time, she stood up at
the end of a song to applaud.

As my mother's dementia deepened, our family arranged private
one-on-one music therapy for her. Although my mother's speech was often
nonsensical, she could sustain a wonderful musical dialogue through
rhythm, tempo and volume that would deeply satisfy and calm her.

During my mother's last weeks, as she lay unconscious in palliative
care at the hospital after suffering a stroke, I talked to her, held
her hand, read to her, played her favourite tunes on the CD player. But
it didn't feel like enough.

So one day, I started to sing, self-consciously, quietly, so no one outside the room could hear: “Now
you are come, all my cares are remov'd./ Let me forget that so long you
have rov'd./ Let me believe that you love as you loved./ Long, long
ago./ Long ago.”

Suddenly, it felt as though my mother were singing to me, even while
I was singing to her. Every phrase became clear and alive. Years of
occasional tension, of living on opposite sides of the country, a
decade of dementia – it all fell away, leaving only the essential

Recently, I've been searching for a piano of my own. In stores, I
look around furtively to ensure no one's around, choose a piano and sit
down to play Chopin's Funeral March. The major piano stores must know me as the Morbid One.

Although I doubt I'll ever learn a third of my mother's extensive
classical repertoire, I'm going to make the effort, piece by piece.
It's my way of remembering her – not so much how she telegraphed her
dark moods when I was growing up, but how she could create such beauty
through her hands.

Fiona Tinwei Lam lives in Vancouver.

Daniel Gawthrop, author and CUPE National worker, speaks and reads to Vancouver Library workers

Daniel Gawthrop, author and CUPE National worker, speaks and reads to Vancouver Library workers

Daniel Gawthrop (Rice Queen Diaries, Highwire Act: Power, Pragmatism
and the Harcourt Legacy, Affirmation: The AIDS Odyssey of Dr. Peter)
and also a CUPE national worker, comes to read at the Library Square to
library workers.

Daniel talked to the Vancouver Library workers about how important their jobs are to the community, especially when it comes to promoting and supporting writers.  He complimented the reading events put on by VPL, and said that “No matter if you are a major figure like Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood, or little me… everybody gets the same poster!”

He also gave words of support to the striking library workers, telling them to hold tight, speak their truth, and get their message out.  He criticized the city of Vancouver's use of the Wilcox Group PR firm, to create a media spin on the labour dispute, instead of using their resources to manage a resolution.  He praised the creativity of the CUPE 391 library workers in getting their message out and getting recent media attention:

see: Globe & Mail: Library workers picket with pizzazz
see video: “Grandeur on Georgia”  Wilcox Group vs Pay Equity
see video: “Pay Equity – Recipe for Disaster”

Daniel Gawthrop then told the assembled library workers that he had brought a number of short articles to read from and offered them a choice:  a story about The Curse of Leni Riefenstahl, the killing of Theo Van Gogh, an article about post 9-11, an article about 9-11 in Thailand… but the winning vote was for an debut reading for a soon-to-be-published story titled “Marriage: Why I took the plunge.”  It was an entertaining and enlightening story about gay marriage, and the social impact of it both personally and culturally to somebody who had said that he would never get married.

Check out pictures of Daniel Gawthrop reading at Library Square:
Aug 27 CUPE 391, Daniel Gawthrop comes to read


Paul Whitney, city librarian stopped briefly by the picket line to say hello.  Okay, Paul is management and the union doesn't like some of the things he has said to the media.  I have known Paul for over 20 years, mostly by association, but he's always been a nice guy and supportive of some of the events I have organized.  He's probably caught between a rock and a hard place as the City negotiates with our Union… so in his own way, he's walking the line.

IMG_2414IMG_2415Paul Whitney, City Librarian, with picket captain Alexis Greenwood and library employee/accordionist Todd Wong

Tom Hansen, retired library finances officer, union rep and former VPL board member also came by.  But Tom was not diplomatic in his criticism of the city's handling of the civic strikes.  Tom congratulated on us going on strike to stand up for what we believe in, and to tell city hall what we think.  He told me that the city is saving a big whack of money every week we are on strike.  “$1 million dollars every two weeks,” he told me.  Hmmm… so much for the library's motto ”
Inspiration through information. Access for all.

IMG_2419IMG_2420 Tom Hansen, retired library worker, former union organizer and former VPL board member comes to give support.

Author Stan Persky speaks to library workers because his books are “locked up” during the strike

Author Stan Persky speaks to library workers because his books are “locked up” during the strike

Stan Persky, spoke to Vancouver city library workers on Friday August 24th.  He told his audience of picketers, lunch time loungers, and visitors to Vancouver that he came to speak at the library because his “books are locked up.”  Stan read from his latest book Autobiography of a Tatoo.

BC Book Prize winning author of  The Short Version: An ABC Book, was one of my political activist
role models and College instructors.  I was taking his classes in
Political Science at Capilano College when the Solidarity movement was
happening, and I was a member of the Capilano Courier student newspaper
collective.  He has written many books such as Then We Take Berlin, Son of Socred, Bennet II, and Buddy's.

Stan is no stranger to strike or bargaining action.  He was a member of CUPE while working up north, and he was the original editor of the “Solitarity Times” during the BC Solidarity movement of the 1980's.   He has also author a book about the Polish Solidarity
movement titled “At the Lenin Shipyard” and the “Solidarity Sourcebook

CUPE 391 president Alex Youngberg is surrounded by media as she speaks to Vancouver library workers.  Alex told us that with recent positive and understanding articles and columns about library worker issues, she feels that the tide is turning.  She cited the recent Globe & Mail article “library workers picket with pizzazz” and Don Cayo's column in the Vancouver Sun.

Daniel Gowthrop will speaks today on Monday, August 27th.
Gawthrop is the author of Affirmation : The AIDS Odyssey of Dr. Peter, Highwire Act : Power, Pragmatism and the Harcourt Legacy, The Rice Queen Diaries and also Vanishing Halo: Saving the
Boreal Forest
.  Daniel also works in the CUPE national office.  Hmmm… what a coincidence.

More pictures at: Todd Wong's Flickr site

For more information on the Vancouver Library workers strike:

Check out