Monthly Archives: December 2007

Toddish McWong finds another White Christmas in Vernon '08

It's not every Christmas that you can be snow bound and car-less in the Okanagan, yet spend the day walking dogs in a park, after seeing a bobcat in the morning.  Boxing Day's gift was 15 cm of fresh Okanagan champagne powder snow at Silver Star ski resort.  And this morning I was canoeing on beautiful crystal clear Kalamalka Lake, while it was snowing!  And then there was the company… as I spent Christmas week in Vernon BC with my girlfriend's family.

Christmas Eve Day started with transferring car ownership papers between father and son at the Vancouver General Insurance Agency in North Vancouver's Edgemont Village.  The Village street lights were decorated like humongous candy canes.  I don't think I've ever seen Edgemont Village so crowded before.  My usual haunts in the village are Delaney's Coffee, 32 Books, Vancouver Kidsbooks, and Village Wines.  My parents got a new car, so I was the lucky recipient of their now former '96 Acura Integra. Wonderful generous Christmas gift!  But now I was about 2 hours late picking up my friends for our trip to Vernon BC, to spend Christmas with my girlfriend and her family.

In Vancouver's West End, my dragon boat team mate Stephen loaded up his gear in the Integra's trunk.  My accordion took up most of the room, but we rearranged our backpacks to fit.  Once on our way, Stephen told me that he heard my name mentioned on CBC radio.  He said that there aren't many Chinese-Canadians writing a blog about inter-cultural adventures in Vancouver…. so it had to be me.  Margaret Gallagher, the co-host of the radio show Flavour of the Week had read my contribution to their  Flavour of the week Facebook group, answering the topic of Favorite Christmas Dishes.  Read my contribution here: hint – (it's stuffing!)  Stephen was surprised to learn that Maggie Gallagher was half-Chinese… but not too surprised to learn that she was a friend or that she had ridden on our Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat float for Vancouver's St. Patrick's Day parade.

Next we picked up my girlfriend's friend Zsuzsanna.  The trunk was full, so her suitcase sat on the passenger backseat beside her.   And off we were, 1:30pm, only 2 1/2 hours later than my hoped for departure time.  But the sun was shining, and the traffic was light.  We took turns choosing music for the drive.  B.B. King Christmas was followed by Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Yo Yo Ma's Tango album.

The weather was good into the Fraser Valley, but beyond Hope the weather turned wet and nasty.  Sleet accompanied up up the Coquihalla, quickly turning to snow as we climbed higher.  Past the toll both, we drove to an almost clear moonlit sky all the way to Vernon.  We arrived for Christmas Eve dinner by 7:20pm.  We made good time.  And we were quickly ushered in to meet the dinner guests of my girlfriend's parents. 

While eating a sumptious dinner of Cornish Game Hen, we discovered that one couple had recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.  He had been born in England, she in South Africa, and they met in Cairo during WW2.  It  sounded romantic, out of something like Casablanca or The English Patient. The other couple were neighbors up the street accompanied by their adult son, named Fraser.  Of course we made our usual jokes about Toddish McWong's origins at Simon Fraser University, and that Fraser should come join the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  Well… maybe it will happen.  We did talk about birth and cultural origins, as Stephen was originally from Thunder Bay, and Zsuzsanna was from Romania.  And we also talked about universal themes of Christmas such as love, joy and peace on earth – when we weren't being cleverly cynical.  I was definitely the only “Asian” sitting at the table. 

After my girlfriend's delicious dessert of a flaming brandy-doused plum pudding served with alcoholic “hard sauce” – we retired to the living room, where Zsuzsanna and I led a musical duet of piano and accordion for a group singalong of Christmas songs and carols.  Quite the busy Christmas Eve… snow was falling softly and I we all were asleep by 11pm, giving Santa plenty of time to fill the stockings.

Christmas morning was definitely a White Christmas.  We got up late, enjoyed breakfast with cinnamon rolls, sausage rolls, bacon and scrambled eggs.  But before we could open our stockings… Mother Nature gave us a surprise present.  Outside the window, we watched a bobcat stalk a pheasant.  My girlfriend's father said that they had never before seen a bobcat outside the house, in 35 years of living beside Kalamalka Lake.  Wow!  The bobcat slinked across the snow, while partridges pecked unawares closer to the house, beside camper.  The bobcat sat still, behind a rock. And we waited with cameras in hand. And waited…. Finally it slunk off under the trailer without it's quarry.

After the bobcat sighting, Christmas gifts seemed anti-climatic – but we had lots of fun.  Presents opened, we took the doggies out for a walk to Kalamalka Park. We walked along the cliffs and the beaches in the snow.  The youngest dog kept bringing us pine cones to throw for her to chase.  A car-less Christmas Day, spent walking in the snow in one of BC's most beautiful parks.  Stephen was amazed, and kept taking pictures as we stood on the crest of Rattlesnake Point.  A bald eagle circled the small peak about Dog Beach.  Snap snap – more pictures.

When we arrived back to the house, we were introduced to another family friend.  Susan had just arrived back from Somalia after a stint with MSF, more popularly known as Doctors Without Borders.  We had a wonderful time talking about cultural differences and challenges, as well as the adventures of working with such as group.  They are usually the first NGO aid agency into a challenged country.  Wow!  My university studies in international political studies and medical anthropology gave me plenty of understanding to talk with Susan, and yet she was equally interested in learning about Gung Haggis Fat Choy, as we showed her the recent write up about me in the grade 5 textbook Literacy in Action.  We did agree that understanding cultural differences, and stopping racism and cultural discrimination would certainly help to bring more needed peace into all corners of the world, whether the war lord controlled countries like Somalia or our many race issues in Canada.

Boxing Day gave us a present of 15 cm of fresh Okanagan powder snow at the Silver Star ski resort.  Stephen had never every before skiied on snow so light, or so deep.  I probably bored him with tales of me skiing Silver Star as a child of 10, 11, 12 and 15 when my parents would take my brother and me for a week of ski lessons.  But Thunder Bay doesn't have the close proximity of incredible ski resorts that Vancouver or the Okanagan has.  It was a fantastic day for skiing and we made the most of it, starting with my insistence that we rent high performance shaped skis for Stephen.  We skiied all over the mountain, beginning with the Comet 6-pack Express that took us to the peak.  We checked out Christmas Bowl and found some fresh powder on At-Ridge.  In the afternoon visited the Powder Gulch Express lift in the Putnam Creek area, as we skiied along Eldorado, the longest run on the mountain at 8km.

“Are you Toddish McWong?… I mean… are you Todd Wong?” a lady asked me in the lunch-time cafeteria line-up.  Every now and then, I meet somebody who had attended on of  my Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner events.  Debbie had attended the 2004 and 2005 dinners.  Hosting and meeting 300 to 590 people can be kind of hard to remember names.  Debbie said she had had a great time at the dinners and introduced me to her 10 year old daughter Lizzie.  “We have Scottish and Chinese ancestry both in our family, ” said Debbie.

After skiing, we met up with my girlfriend Deb and her friend Zsuzsanna at the skating pond.  Each Christmas, Deb and I have a wonderful time skating a Silver Star, and we always invite friends to join us.  But this year, the ice was terrible.  There were cracks in the ice that people kept tripping on.  As we were holding hands skating, Deb caught the crack and fell hard, banging her knee.  She limped to the seating area to rest.  I went in to the skate rental office to demand that the ice be fixed and the dangerous cracks marked with orange pylons. 

“Don't be so grumpy,” Deb called to me after another woman had shared that the skate rental attendants didn't seem to care about the bad ice, when she had complained.  When the manager said that it was “pond ice” and not much could be done, I explained that if they weren't going to refund people's money, pylon markers were needed to prevent people injuring thermselves.  I stopped short of saying that easily preventable skating injuries were the last thing one of Western Canada's premier ski resorts needed for their reputation.  Pylons were soon out on the ice, and the cracks were soon marked.  I thanked the manager for being responsive to my concerns.  There's a line between ignoring preventable injuries and negligence, and after being on successful campaigns for head tax redress apology, saving Joy Kogawa's childhood home, and the recent Vancouver Library strike – I am not going to let a stupid thing like not marking potential ice hazards go unaddressed.

Who goes canoeing and skiing on the same day?  We would have if we could have.  Silver Star had another 14 cm of fresh snow this morning… but we passed in favour of canoeing before heading back to Vancouver.  There was maybe 4 cm of fresh snow outside the house this morning.  Stephen and I cooked breakfast for everybody.  Bacon, raisin bread toast, and my baked omelette stuffed with mushrooms, onions and green peppers and served with melted cream cheese on top.  Yummy!

After breakfast we bundled up and went to find canoe paddles, and personal floatation devices.  But everything was already stored away for the winter – not like when we last paddled in July after winning a gold medal in the Greater Vernon Dragon Boat Races. After convincing my girlfriend's father that we were serious about paddling, the equipment was released to us, and we carried the beautiful hand-made cedar strip canoe down to the dock.  The water was so clean and clear we could see 10 feet down to the bottom.  It was amazing paddling across Jade and Juniper Bays in Kalamalka Park.  The water colours changed with the depths of the water from shallow light tourquoise green to deeper emerald greens, and really dark green.  We paddled around Marmot Point, where we had hiked past on Christmas Day.  We paddled around Rattlesnake Point, below the observation point where we had taken so many pictures on Christmas Day.  We would have kept going, enjoying the calm water and beautiful scenery, but we knew we had to get back to the dock, so we could begin our return journey to Vancouver. 

Deb and Zsuzsanna took pictures of us as we returned to the dock.  Okay, we requested that pictures document our paddling in the snow adventure.  It only took a little gentle coercion to convince them to take a turn in the canoe.  Soon they wanted to keep going, and not come back.  Paddling was a wonderful way to end our Christmas vacation in Vernon.

Todd Wong's Favourite Christmas Dish read on CBC Radio's “Flavour of the Week” by Maragaret Gallagher

CBC radio host Margaret Gallagher hosts “Flavour of the Week” on CBC Radio.  For Christmas Eve Day, Margaret and her co-host Fred Lee talked about favourite Christmas dishes.

They also read some of the stories about favourite dishes posted on the “Flavour of the Week” facebook group.  Margaret Gallagher read a contribution by Todd Wong.   Todd didn't hear it, but Gung Haggis dragon boat team member Stephen Mirowski did.  And he told Todd after Todd picked him up for a ride up to Vernon, to spend Christmas with Todd's girlfriend Deb's family.

Here is what Todd wrote on the Flavour of the Week Facebook group:

Stuffing…. Stuffing is important. It's better than the turkey.

up in a Chinese-Canadian family… we only had stuffing at Thanksgiving
and Christmas time. Christmas was the time we always ate “Canadian

My mother always makes “No-Mei-Fawn” for our family
Christmas dinners. – Special Sticky Rice. I pass on the brussell
sprouts and pig out on the sticky rice.

The past few years, I
have been going to Vernon for a “White Christmas” with my
non-Asian-Canadian girlfriend. And sometimes it even snows. We had a
more traditional Canadian style Christmas dinner at a friend's home
with Yorkshire pudding. That was neat! But I still looked forward to
the stuffing.

Christmas party with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team

It was only last week that our 3 year paddler Dan Seto decided to host a Christmas party, and invite the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team members – under the pretense of helping decide what colour to paint his kitchen cabinets.

number of paddlers had responded to the email invite – but Dan wasn't
sure how many people would be attending.  When I asked if I could
invite George Jung, a friend from the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC
Writing Workshop that Dan and I had also done – then Dan soon decided
to invite the workshop writers too!  Smart idea!  Dan, myself and
former team paddler Grace each took the writing workshop and made
contributions to the recently published anthology Eating Stories: A Chinese Canadian and Aboriginal Potluck.

I arrived just before 7:00pm, food was filling the table as each guest
brought something.  The television set was turned on to the Vancouver
Canucks game in Phoenix against the Coyotes.  Dan is a big hockey fan,
as he also plays recreational hockey.

It was really good at Dan's place.  Crowded with lots of people.  Lots
of food, lots of introductions.  If there was one thing that the dragon boat team and the CCHSBC writers both had in common, it was food.  We describe the Gung Haggis dragon boat team as an eating and social team that just happens to paddle. And I guess tonight, we introduced them to some published authors who really are just a bunch of foodies who happen to write about food into every aspect of their lives.  Cool… a match made in food heaven!

I helped to make intros where I could,
and tried to say hi to everybody, as I am probably the only other
person besides Dan who knew almost everybody.  I was a member of the writing workshop, an author in the resulting book Eating Stories: A Chinese Canadian and Aboriginal Potluck… and the founder and coach of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.

Suddenly… loud strange music blared from the tv… sounds kind of middle eastern.

10 minutes later, the music was turned down and an announcement was made that a performance of belly dancing was about to begin.

Somebody asked dragon boater Julie Wong if she had brought her
Polynesian dancing outfit – because it was at the Gung Haggis wrap up
dinner party in Sept 06 that Julie had taught people to do Polynesian

But it was our newest paddler Lena, who only started paddling with us in
Oct and Nov… who came out dressed in black tights and top, with a green
wrap, and belly dancing coin thingy around her hips. 

It was a fun performance.  People were supportive and whooping it up in good positive and appreciative ways.

After the performance, everybody clapped their hands.

I took it upon myself to introduce Lena to everybody in the room, as
many of our paddlers didn't know her… as they hadn't come out
paddling past September… and the CCHSBC writers didn't know most of
the dragon boat paddlers.

I introduced the dragon boat team, and the CCHS writers – basically by
raising their hands.  I commented that it was amazing that belly
dancing could happen at a team party that had started the year off with
a Scotch tasting following a dragon boat race being filmed by German
Public television
, back in April.

I said that the show on ZDF Television would be shown on Dec 25th or
Dec 26th all across Europe, and hopefully we would hear soon about the
airing.  But upon checking the internet… I think the show will air on January 1st – check out Toronto – Vancouver, einfache Fahrt bitte!   Then I introduced each of the team members who were
interviewed for the show. 

  • Stuart Mackinnon, who wore his first kilt – discovering his Scottish-Canadian heritage as a dragon boat rookie on our team.
  • Steven Wong – part of a Vancouver Chinatown pioneer family, whose
    uncle Milton Wong had helped to co-found the present Alcan Dragon Boat
  • Keng and Gerard Graal – our Chinese – Dutch couple whose hapa-daughter occasionally paddles with our team.

I made a few announcements about upcoming dates:

  • January 3rd – Kilts Night at Doolin's Irish Pub – wear a kilt – recieve a FREE pint of Guinness beer.
  • January 4th – Scottish Country Dancing at the Scottish Cultural
    Centre in Vanocuver's Marpole neighborhood.  Just like square dancing –
    okay for beginners… wear your kilts!
  • January 25th – the BIG EVENT
    – GUNG HAGGIS FAT CHOY: Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner –
    fundraiser for the dragon boat team + Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop,
    and Historic Joy Kogawa House.

Then I got my accordion, and played some Christmas songs and carols, as we encouraged everybody to join us…

Winter Solstice 2007: Longest Night on a journey through cancer for Brandy Lien-Worrall

The Days have been getting shorter… and I have been amazed how dark it is at 4pm.

But now Solstice has arrived, and the days will get longer and the nights shorter again.

Each solstice I usually go down to
the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens with my girlfriend – but girlfriend has
gone up to Vernon early this year.  I am on my own. The weather has been sleeting up in the North Vancouver heights.  Lots of snow up in the local North Shore mountains for skiing. 

This is the time that many cultural traditions in the Northern hemisphere recognize the transition from darkness to light; from the longest night to a six month journey to the longest day.

Today I visited the home of a friend who currently is fighting breast cancer.  I was reminded of  a very dark time in my own life and my first post-cancer Christmas after finishing my last chemotherapy in November.  It was a 5 month long battle that had begun when I was diagnosed with cancer on Summer Solstice Day in 1989.

Brandy Lien-Worrall is a mother of two, and an incredible writer/editor, besides being a feisty individual.  I have gotten to know her as the leader for writing workshop organized by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, which subsequently produced the anthology Eating Stories: A Chinese Canadian and Aboriginal Potluck.

For the book, Brandy and I discussed selecting pictures for me to write descriptions about.  One of the pictures I showed her was when I was bald with cancer (it was subsequently included in the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy.  I also had a catheter sticking out of my naked chest as I mugged for the camera.  The catheter was taped to the center of my chest and entered my just below my collar bone, then proceeded right into my heart.  We talked about this picture because her brother-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer.  Little did we know that four months later, Brandy herself would be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Brandy has talked about her battle with cancer on CBC Radio.  Because she has been blogging about her experience with cancer, they wanted to give the website address – but it contains the “F” word so Brandy created an overview  website that gives the links to all her blogs:

Brandy has actively blogged about her journey through cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, cancer post-treatment, the highs and lows of being a cancer patient.  If blogs had been around in 1989, I probably would have blogged about my cancer treatment.  I have always regretted that I didn't have polaroid camera in my hospital room to take pictures of all the friends and family who visited me, and all the nurses who tended to me.  Instead I have blogged about my remembrances of my cancer treatments, as well as my volunteer work attending Terry Fox Runs. 

Writing about her struggle with cancer, Brandy has created a fascinating documentary about her life.  And when you also check in on her Poem of the Day for which she writes a new poem each and every day – you can see that this is not a person afraid of life, or afraid of cancer.  Brandy is one of those rare people who seems to fill every day with vitality…. even on a bad day.

The experience of having cancer teaches you many things.  It taught me to be more conscious of living.  It taught me to value the important things in my life.  It taught me to live as if each day could be my last.  Yes – they are all cliches… but sometimes beneath all the superficiality and artifice of commercial urbanity – this is truly all we really have.

Winter Solstice is like that.  Even in these times of long nights and short days, we know there are brighter days ahead.  But when you have cancer, sometimes you are just hoping for a day without pain, or that there is another day beyond today, and beyond tomorrow.  We take these days one at a time.  Do today what we cannot put off for tomorrow, and we put off what is not essential today.  We remember the good times of the summer, and we look forward to the light of more days to come..

The following are past photos and articles I wrote about Winter Solstice and my visits to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden.

on Mon 22 Dec 2003 11:58 PM PST
Winter Solstice – known in mandarin as Dong Zhi.
One of my favorite winter solstice adventures

on Tue 21 Dec 2004 01:01 PM PST
Winter Solstice .   It was very magical.  The Garden was lit with candles and Christmas

on Thu 22 Dec 2005 02:19 PM PST
Winter Solstice 2006 Dong Zhi at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens
We went down

Lewis Perinbam was an outstanding Canadian – he passed away last week

There are some people who grace your life fleetingly, and you wished you had known them better.  I first met Lewis Perinbam 3 years ago when I joined the Canadian Club Vancouver board of directors.  Lewis Perinbam was an incredible Canadian and an Officer of the Order of Canada. Last week, he passed away on December 12th.

Few people can have the impact he had, as through his lifetime he helped develop many of Canada's international development programs such as CIDA, CUSO, World University Service of Canada, UNESCO as well as the Commonwealth of Learning.  I am simply amazed at all the tributes I am finding in the media and on the internet.

When Lewis learned about my Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, he shared with me that he had been raised in Malaysia and studied university in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I think he got a hoot learning about my Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner that served deep-fried haggis won ton.

Lewis had first introduced himself to me as the Chair of the Commonwealth of Learning, a role he was very happy and proud of.   The COL has written a very nice tribute to Lewis Perinbam and state that  “members of
the development community throughout the world will miss Lewis' wise
and humane contribution to their work.”My friend Linda Johnston, who is now the vice-president for Canadian Club Vancouver shared this with us:

“Lewis Perinbam recruited me to the Canadian Club and was President when
joined. I had met him through my work with the Commonwealth of
Learning. He was an amazing man as you can see from his biography. He
was also charming and witty, with a passion for
Canada and for social justice.  We have lost a very special Canadian.”

The following is from the Commonwealth of Learning tribute on their web site at

Dr. Lewis Perinbam, O.C.


Lewis Perinbam, 1925 – 2007
Chair, COL Board of Governors, 2003 – 2007

Commonwealth of Learning and the international development community
are deeply saddened by the loss of Lewis Perinbam, O.C., LL.D., who
died on Wednesday, 12 December 2007, after a brief illness. He was
elected to chair COL's Board of Governors from April 2003, having
served from 1991 as a Special Advisor to COL's first two presidents,
Dr. James Maraj and Dato' Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan.

Perinbam was born in 1925 in Johore, Bahru Malaysia, into a family with
roots in Madras (Chennai), India. He became a world citizen at the
young age of 12 when he was sent unaccompanied by ship to Scotland.
There he was a received by an uncle who had assured his father that he
would see to it that Lewis received a “proper British education.”

never saw his father again. World War II broke out and Lewis was unable
to return to Malaysia until it ended, by which time Japanese soldiers
had raided his home and killed his father; a tragedy that was not
disclosed to the young teenager until he finally returned to Malaysia.

completing his formal education in Scotland, Lewis immigrated to
Canada, where he steadily acquired a national reputation for fostering
Canada's role in international development through his involvement and
achievements with many organisations. His appointment as an Officer of
the Order of Canada and his many awards and honorary degrees express
the esteem in which he was held. As a writer and author he was best
known for his book, North and South: Towards a New Interdependence of Nations, which carried a foreword by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

distinguished career in the Canadian Federal Public Service led him to
work also in various international organisations, notably the World
Bank and UNESCO, and in the non-governmental (NGO) and private sectors.
He was the first Secretary-General of the Canadian National Commission
for UNESCO, the founding Executive Director of Canadian University
Service Overseas and Executive Director of World University Service of
Canada. He represented the World Bank at the United Nations and at the
UN's Specialised Agencies in Europe.

Vice-President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)
for seventeen years he inspired the creation of CIDA's Non Governmental
Organization and Industrial Co-operation Programmes – the first of
their kind in the world – and launched numerous initiatives to involve
the private, non-governmental and institutional sectors in
international development. He led Canadian Government delegations to
many international meetings and served as an advisor to the United
Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat (London, England) and the
National Academy of Sciences (Washington, D.C.). He was especially
proud of his role in chairing the 2000 Canadian Government Task Force
on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public

also provided a lifetime of service in governance capacities to civil
society and community organisations. After retiring from CIDA he
settled in Vancouver and dedicated himself to helping the Commonwealth
of Learning through his extensive contacts and global networks. In
praising this contribution COL President Sir John Daniel said, “At an
age when most people would be enjoying a well earned retirement Lewis
came to his office at COL most days. He was an inspiring friend to
members of the staff and during his time as Chair of the Board COL's
governance practices became a model for intergovernmental
organisations. It was a privilege to serve under him.”

of the development community throughout the world will miss Lewis' wise
and humane contribution to their work. He leaves his wife, Nancy
Garrett, a sister and three brothers.

service of remembrance will be held in Vancouver on 28 December 2007 at
2:00 p.m. at St. Helen's Anglican Church (Trimble & 8th) and in
Ottawa in the New Year.

lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Lewis Perinbam Award
in International Development c/o WUSC, 1404 Scott Street, Ottawa K1Y
4M8, Telephone 613 798 7477, fax 613 798 0990 or on line at

Newspaper obituary

Todd Wong and Gung Haggis Fat Choy featured in a grade 5 school text book

Todd Wong is featured in a new Grade 5 Canadian text book called:


– published by Pearson Education Canada

The following is found on pages 10-11


His Words:

“This is what Canadian society is all about, introducing each other to
our cultures and welcoming other cultures into our families.”

A New Idea

Gung Haggis Fat Choy.  What do you think that is?  It sounds like Gung
Hei Fat Choy, which is what many people say to each other to celebrate
the Chinese New Year.  But haggis is the national dish of Scotland!  To
understand Gung Haggis Fat Choy, you need to meet Todd Wong.  It was
all his idea.

Todd Wong is a Chinese Canadian whose family has lived in BC since the
1800's.  In 1993, Todd was a student at Simon Fraser University in
Burnaby BC.  On January 25, Robbie Burns Day was to be celebrated.  On
that date each year, people of Scottish origin celebrate the life of
their national poet, Robert Burns.  Todd was asked to help with the
celebration, but siad no.  He just couldn't picture himself dressed in
a Scottish kilt.  It was too weird! But no one else would volunteer, so
Todd finally agreed.  This was the start of something big!

What a Party!

Now, let's go back to Gung Haggis Fat Choy.  In 1998, Chinese New Year
and Robbie Burns Day were only two days apart.  Todd planned to cook a
Chinese New Year's dinner for some friends.  Why not combine the
celebration with Robbie Burns Day? he thought.  And so the Gung Haggis
Fat Choy dinner began.  For that day, Todd would be known as Toddish
McWong.  To entertain his guests, he would play Scottish songs on his
accordion.  He would read poetry by Asian Canadians and Robbie Burns.

That party was a great success.  The next year's party was an even
greater success.  In following years, more and more people attended. 
There are now hundreds of guests and everyone enjoys delicious food and
great entertainment.  The money raised goes to project such as the
Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.  Todd has been heard on radio across
Canada and in Scotland.  One simple idea has touched so many people.

+ two pictures

Some thoughts about The Current's show suggesting necessity for Canada's 3rd official language

Should Canada have a 3rd official language?

That was the discussion on CBC Radio's The Current this morning, Friday Dec 14th, with guest host Wei Chen.

Ever since Wolfe and Montcalm
died just hours apart on the Plains of Abraham, Canada has been defined
by its linguistic duality. It was made official in 1969, with the
adoption of the
Official Languages Act, a law that gave English and French equal, official status in Parliament and all federal institutions.

The latest Statistics Canada data show that Canadians report more
than 200 different languages as their mother tongue an
d that a fifth of
the population reports a mother tongue other than English or French.
We'll ask if Canada should move from bilingualism to multilingualism
and maybe even add a third official language.

Listen to The Current:Part 2

I was a guest panelist on the show, and now I am trying to write down everything on the blog that I didn't get a chance to say on air.  It was a very tight 10-15  minutes with guest panelists from Toronto, Newfoundland and Vancouver.

Dorothy Chin, is President of the Chinese Lingual Cultural Centre of Canada AND Retired education officer Ontario Ministry of Education. 

Cyrilda Poirier, Director of the Federation of Francaphones of  Newfoundland and Labrador

I wasn't a native French speaker, I wasn't a native Chinese speaker... I guess I was probably brought in to provide a third
option as
an English-speaking multi-generational Chinese descendant who spoke
better French than Chinese.
I should also acknowledge that I did attend a 6 week Chinese language and culture program in Taiwan when I was 20 years old, and the following year participated in the Summer language bursary program to study in French.

I tried to acknowledge history and the importance of Canada's First Nations heritage, by first acknowledging the Coast Salish traditional territory of the Musqueam and
Tseil-Waututh nations.

I was introduced as a community activist, and the creator of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, a website covering intercultural events and issues.

But I forgot to explain that Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebrates BC's pioneering
immigrant cultures of Scottish and Chinese, as well as Canada's future
with inter-cultural babies born of all cultures and ethnicities, as more and more people from around the world who come to Canada, meet each other and fall in love.

It was a lively discussion that host Wei Chen said “could have gone on and on” as I got the final words in about emphasizing culture without language, while “Dorothy is shaking her head….”

Hmmm…. at least both of the other guests acknowledged agreeing with me on some points… as I would disagree or agree with them on other points.

I believe it is really important to acknowledge that Canada's First Nations languages were here before English and French settlers.  This adds to our Canadian identity.  I did state that Peter Gzowsky once had three different First Nations people on his show and asked them for the word which they use to call themselves other than First Nations, aboriginal, or Indian.  The result was three different words in three different mother tongues.  But it emphasized how diverse our First Nations people are, and how difficult it is to try to package or generalize any ethnic group or language into one simple box.

I instead suggested that we need to acknowledge the individual communities where languages are spoken, rather than create a top-down overall official 3rd language.  By pointing out that only New Brunswick has two official provincial languages and that the three territories are bilingual, I wanted to emphasize that we should address language needs locally first – even if unofficially.  Since appearing on The Current, I have learned that Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun, is the 3rd largest official language in Nunavut.  But more importantly, the Northwest Terrirtories official languages act recognizes 11 official languages of Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ.

Wei Chen introduced the current issue of how official language rules block immigrants from donating blood, stem cells.  She introduced a sound clip by Tung Chan,  Chief Executive Officer of SUCCESS, a Chinese language immigrant services organization.

I agreed that it was a good example of how organizations must be more responsive to the communities they served.  I brought in my personal experience of leukemia patient James Erlandsen's quest for a bone marrow donor.  James is hapa – half Asian and half Caucasian.  Chances of finding a matching donor are increased if Asian blood donors are included.  But Canadian Blood Services is arguing that providing translators do not overcome all the safety aspects that can be technical in nature.  Tung Chan argues that tranlators and translations should be provided.

I also told a story of how the Vancouver Public Library where I work, provides many books and services in Chinese language.  This is a great example of how public services cater to meet the needs of Canada's increasingly larger allophone immigrants.  But sometimes, I have patrons coming to me, asking if I am Chinese or if I speak Chinese.  On the rare occasion, I have had people tell me that I should speak Chinese, when I am several generations removed from my ancestors arrival from China.  I think that this illustrates the wide gap between government services for new immigrants, and the need for new immigrants to learn Canada's official languages of English or French.

peux parler en francais plus mieux que parle en chinois,” I said, and
Wei Chen aptly translated as “he speaks better French than Chinese.”

Dorothy Chin agreed with me that the language issue for Canadian Blood Services should be looked into.  She also shared that her Chinese-Canadian daughter is a French teacher in the education system.

Wei Chen's last topic introduced a clip of a speaker who recognized that China is a growing economic force, and that it would be wise for Canada to take advantage of the business opportunities by emphasizing learning the Chinese language.

I admit I played devil's advocate by quickly dismissing that businesses are in it for the profits and that politicians are in it for the votes from the Chinese language block.  Astute businesses will always be aware of opportunities in other language markets, whether it be Spanish, Chinese or others.  And politicians have grown savvy in courting ethnic voting blocks by attending ethnic festivals and learning to address each group in their own ethnic language.

I recounted how the present Stephen Harper Conservative government apologized to for
the Chinese Head Tax and mistakenly said he apologized in the Cantonese Chinese language, when I meant to say Mandarin
which he actually did.  Cantonese was
the language of the Chinese railway builders and the head tax payers – so I found it strange that Prime Minister Harper would speak Mandarin to native Cantonese head tax payers, spouses and descendants.  Either he was mistaken in assuming that both languages are Chinese or was he actually speaking to potential Mandarin voters? 
Mandarin has only most recently become a dominant Chinese language in
Canada, as immigration from Taiwan and the People's Republic of China
increased, especially since 1980.  It is actually Cantonese that has
the most historical and cultural context for Chinese-Canadian culture,
which more readily explains why Canada was known as Gum San (Gold
Mountain) and Vancouver known as Hahm Siu Foh (Salt Water City), in
Cantonese language.

In stating that emphasis is on culture and not language, I wanted to
state that Canada is known to be multi-cultural – not multi-lingual.  We can all eat Chinese food, First Nations food, Scottish food…  We can all enjoy (with subtitles) a French movie, Japanese movie, Italian movie,
go tango dancing, highland dancing, or watch First Nations dancing… And dance or  instrumental music translate very well without words.

All of the above can be done in either English or French, by people
who speak Punjabi, Chinese, Tagalog, Italian, Gaelic, Swedish, or
It is our shared appreciation of music, dance, food, beer or hockey
that can bind us together in a shared unity, overcoming barriers of

I really appreciate the arguments made by both of the other guest panelists.
Cyrilda Poirier emphasized that despite it's official language status, the present organizational structures fails to fully support the French language in Newfound Land and other places. 

Dorothy Chin really emphasized that despite no assistance from the government, it has been important for Chinese communities across Canada to learn the Chinese language to help maintain the culture. Without language, she says that the culture becomes hollow.  I guess that is why so many Chinese language speakers call non-Chinese-speaking Chinese-Canadians like myself “hollow bamboo” – believing that we are “empty” of Chinese culture. 

It was because of the massive racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th Centuries that Chinese and other immigrants emphasized trying to assimilate and to leave behind their mother-tongue language and cultures.  Canadian laws such as the “Potlatch law” legislated against First Nations people having traditional gatherings, and structural racism prevented Chinese and other non-whites from having voting privileges.  Newspaper articles and editorials stated that Chinese were inferior races and would never fit in.  Supporters of the Chinese Exclusion Act stated that allowing Chinese immigration to Canada would undermine the fabric of Canadian society.

Yes, there is cultural attrition with each successive generation in a new land – but it also exists in mother-tongue countries too!  Language scholars travel to Quebec to study archaic forms of the French language, as it became “preserved in time” as the migrants came to Canada.  Just the same way that Chinese-Canadian pioneers preserved the Chinese culture of the last imperial dynasty, when they arrived in Canada in the late 1800's, or the pre-turnover culture of Hong Kong when they arrived in the 1980's.  But the French Canadians also differentiated themselves from French culture, with the creation of a distinct French-Canadian culture.  We see it alive today with the artistic works of playwright Michel Tremblay, songwriter Gilles Vignault, singer Celine Dion,and  film maker Denys Arcand.

Similarly, I believe that Canadian born Chinese, are also the leading edge of
a new Chinese-Canadian culture that speaks and thinks in English
language.  We read the books of Wayson Choy, Paul Yee, SKY Lee and now
Jen Sookfong Lee.  We watch the movies of Julia Kwan (Eve and the Fire
Horse), Mina Shum (Double Happiness) and Justin Lin (Fast and the
Furious: Tokyo Drift). And we listen to U2, Bryan Adams, Sarah
McLachlan and Arcade Fire instead of Chinese traditional music. 
Because we are “cut-off” from the mother-tongue language, we have had
to find new ways to express ourselves, and to also connect to our
ancestral heritage. 

How much Chinese can I speak?  Enough to order dim sum, and play mah jong…

Do I wish I was fluent in Cantonese or Mandarin? It would be nice to be fluent in many languages.  I believe that language skills help to broaden the mind and increase cultural understanding and experience.

Should Canada adopt a new official 3rd language?  I think the energy would be better used to increase understanding our present history and cultural mis-understandings, to allow us to better move forward without the same mistakes or continued resentments. 

I wish
that I had been able to summarize on air, that my focus on historical
issues such as the First Nations residential schools and the Chinese
head tax issues, is to emphasize that Canada should recognize it's
historical unfinished business before trying to consider languages that
are only recently being made significant by recent rises in
immigration.  Additionally, language issues should be dealt with more
immediately on local levels, perhaps giving recognition to more un-official languages
supported in each community, while simultaneously encouraging new
immigrants to learn English or French. 
all so easy to contemplate after the show is over… but important to
explore the possibilities and viewpoints for future issues.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy 2008 Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner

You are invited to the

10th Anniversary
Gung Haggis Fat Choy: Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner

January 27th, 2008 – SUNDAY
Floata Seafood Restaurant
#400 – 180 Keefer St.
Vancouver Chinatown.

click on poster
Details for 2008 event to be released soon.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy –
The infamous Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.
The “little dinner that could” and did:

To celebrate our 10th Annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.

Look for the return of:

Joe McDonald and Brave Waves

New for 2007:
George McWhirter – Vancouver Poet Laureate
Blackthorn – Celtic Band
+ many more musical and literary surprises!

This is a fundraiser event for
Historic Joy Kogawa House
Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop / Ricepaper Magazine
Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dragon Boat team

For Tickets:
stay tuned….
tickets will be sold through Tickets Tonight – Vancouver's Community Box Office

Todd Wong – guest panelist on CBC Radio's “The Current” for Friday Dec 14

I will be on a panel discussion on CBC Radio's  The Current

Friday Dec 14
somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30am.

The topic is “Canada's 3rd Official language”

you may know…. Stats Canada released last week that Chinese languages
are now Canada's 3rd most widely spoken language following English and

I get to give pros and cons for Chinese, Scottish, First Nations, Punjabi, etc.

am a multi-generational Chinese-Canadian that speaks better French than
Chinese.  I claim English as my first language, and Italian as my 2nd
language… because I learned to read music fluently at a young age. 

But maybe my 2nd language should be Cantonese Chinese, because that's what my paternal grandparents always spoke to me.  Can you claim a language if you are not fluent in it?  If I can play mah jong and order dim sum at a Chinese restaurant, does that count a a fluency?

Yesterday I wrote down some of my thoughts on this topic:

Canada's new immigrants have now made Chinese languages #3 in Canada:
CBC Radio's “The Current” asks me about the possibility of a 3rd
official language for Canada

Interesting twist:
The CBC producer who phoned me is Farha Akhtar.  She shared with me that her father was from India and her mother from the Phillipines.  Their common language was English… now she is Canadian.  Very cool… very Gung Haggis!  I told Farha that I am hoping to create a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner for Toronto, and it would be great if she could attend!

Whatever happened to the Hapa baby born in Madame Butterfly: Hiro Kanagawa and David McIntyre debut stage reading of their musical drama “Tom Pinkerton”

Vancouver is full of hapa people, born of two different cultures, races etc…  But what about the baby born in the opera Madame Butterfly to Cio-Cio, after her former American naval officer “husband”, B.F. Pinkerton, had abandoned her then returned to claim the three-year old child, and take him to go live in America to be raised by his American wife Kate?

Vancouver's Hiro Kanagawa and David McIntyre have written a musical drama based on this big “what if”?

They are offering a FREE public reading

Tom Pinkerton
Friday, December 14th
3:00 pm
Canadian Memorial Church
corner of Burrard & West 16th Ave.

December 14, 2007

3pm – 6pm

Canadian Memorial Church

1825 West 16th Ave

Vancouver, BC


Produced by Rumble Productions, their website says:

At the end of Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, the 3-year-old child of
Cio-Cio and B.F. Pinkerton is whisked away to America to be raised by
Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate. Set 20 years after these events,
Tom Pinkerton finds the child struggling to become a man and searching
for the mother he never knew. We travel with the youth, now called Tom,
as he revisits the Nagasaki of his birth to find love and
self-realization. But is he fated to repeat the sins of his father? And
what has become of Mr. Sharpless, Suzuki, and the others?

Both a return and a
departure, Tom Pinkerton is an exciting new collaboration between
playwright Hiro Kanagawa and composer David MacIntyre that combines the
heightened emotions and theatricality of its operatic forebear with the
tragic realities of Japan’s wondrous and sinister march through the
early years of the 20th century.

Hiro has been a very creative playwright, writer and actor in Vancouver.  Last year he helped perform a staged reading of the Dorothy Livesay radio documentary poem
“Call My People Home” for the Joy Kogawa House fundraiser event at Christ Church Cathedral. Written in 1949, it is
one of the first written pieces to criticize the internment of Japanese
Canadians. See my review of the event: 

Joy of Canadian Words: April 25th fundraiser for Kogawa House – Actors read Canadian Literary works to Astound!

My opera soprano friend Heather Pawsey is a member of the Tom Pinkerton cast and she alerted me to this stage reading.  Heather has performed at numerous Gung Haggis Fat Choy events, so she knew how interested I would be to hear about it.  She writes:

“The music and story are imaginative and compelling, and the cast fantastic.
If you're looking for something different than the usual
seasonal fare, please come and enjoy this marvellous new work.”

Check out Tom Pinkerton at