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.

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