Terry Glavin's trip to China in search of his “Chinese-Canadian roots” now published in Vancouver Review

Terry Glavin's trip to China in search of his “Chinese-Canadian roots” now published in Vancouver Review

Looking for Mr. Bing – by Terry Glavin
Vancouver Review

What was Irish-Canadian author Terry Glavin doing amongst the rice paddies of Southern China?  A place where many multi-generational Chinese-Canadian head tax descendants have never seen the birthplace of their ancestors.

Why is Glavin writing about the challenges and hardships that Chinese pioneers faced leaving China and coming to Canada from 1887 to 1923?  A time period book of extreme Anti-Asian racism that most recent Chinese immigrants are ignorant of – when Chinatown was attacked by White rioters, a head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants until the legislation of the notorious “Chinese Exclusion Act.”

Why is Glavin quoting Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong” saying things like “It will depend on how we build on our history of inter-cultural relationships.  Retreating into identities means you lose opportunities to learn, you lose the chance to be suprised, so what matters is how we teach new immigrants how we've lived together all these years.”

IMG_1742 Terry Glavin speaking at Library Square in August 2007 – photo Todd Wong

Glavin claims he was on a search to find “Mr. Bing”, the Chinese man who helped his newly immigrated Irish family settle into Canada in the early 1960's. But what he really discovers is so much more…

“We were newly arrived Irish immigrants, and Mr. Bing was our landlord.  My dad worked as a night-shift janitor at a baker in East Vancouver, and my mother looked after me and my older brother Michael, and she was pregnant again, and it became Mr. Bing's custom to find reasons why we didn't actually owe him the rent that month.  The stairs needed fixing.  There was some painting he'd been meaning to do.  There was always a reason.

Mr. Bing also took it upon himself to help us navigate the peculiar and intimidating new world we'd come to, and it was because of his guidance and his many kindnesses that Mr. Bing came to loom as a gallant and glamorous figure in family stories about how we managed to make it through those early times.”

Glavin is giving a unique voice to Chinese-Canada.  Chinese-Canadian history isn't just for Canadians of Chinese descent.  It's for all Canadians who ever met a Chinese-Canadian person, or travelled to Canada's Chinatown, or experienced Chinese-Canadian food and culture.

In the same way that Chinese-Canadians learn about English or Scottish-Canadian history and its roots in England and Scotland…. Scottish and English-Canadians can learn about Chinese-Canadian history and its roots in China.

I think it's neat that a Gwai-lo can go into China and know about the daiolou watch towers… especially the anniversary of the one in Kaiping.  Glavin compares Canadian fusion culture to the daiolous, “You borrow from a variety of occidental and oriental styles.  No two are the same, and accounts of their origins are often found only in the deep memory of folk tales.”

Terry Glavin is a wise and very interesting man.  He's been a fan of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, since he first heard about it – but we never met until he phoned me saying that he was coming to the Vancouver Public Library to do research on Mr. Bing.  But the library workers were on strike for pay equity.  So I invited him to give an author's reading on the South Plaza of Library Square to the CUPE 391 library workers.  And that kick-started my 4 week reading series from August 9th to September 7th.  Terry talked about his own history of being on a picket line three times while working as a writer for the Vancouver Sun, as well as his first strike ever back at “The Columbian” for pay equity.  And he talked about why he had come to the library, to research for his next article for the Vancouver Review. 

IMG_1744 Terry Glavin speaks to striking Vancouver library workers, kicking off a four week speaking series of author readings – photo Todd Wong

Terry writes on his own weblog Transmontanus:

It's about my search for a man in a greatcoat and a Homburg hat who
showed a great kindness to my family a long time ago. It's about a lot
more than that, too, and it took me all the way to Guangdong, in the
Pearl River Delta.

You can't get VR on-line. You actually have
to go out and buy it and bring it home and curl up on the couch and
read it. You can buy it in
these fine establisments. Or you can subscribe.

Gudrun Will worked her magic with my piece, as she always does, and
Mark Mushet did wonders (as always) with the layout and graphic

In this issue there's also a tremendous piece of short fiction from my pal Oliver Kellhammer,
a hilarious essay from Lyle Neff, another chum, about his adventure at
an “anti-war” rally, a Caroline Harvey review of the late Bruce
Stardust, and much more.

Recently I met Gudrun Will and Mark Mushet, the creators and publishers of Vancouver Review.  They are very nice, and we liked each other immediately.  We talked about the challenges of creating and publishing a small but vitally important quarterly magazine for the arts and cultural community.  We promised to keep in touch and get together soon.

check out their websites:



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