Monthly Archives: March 2008

Courier: Wong celebrates Celtic Fest's kilty pleasures

A Chinese Canadian Robert Burns?  Go figure!  But for some people it makes sense… at least in multicultural intercultural Vancouver. 

Last week the Vancouver Courier interviewed me for a Celtic Fest story about tonight's Battle of the Bards.  Photographer Dan Toulgoet met me at the Robert Burns statue in Stanley Park, which had been erected 80 years ago.

It's always interesting to find out how other people perceive Gung Haggis Fat Choy, and what they think about my persona as “Toddish McWong.”

Come check out the Battle of the Bards literary pub crawl:
5:30 Doolin's Irish Pub
6:05 Atlantic Trap & Gill
6:45 Johnny Fox's Irish Snug

8:00 Finale (cost $5)
Caile's Irish Pub Dublin Bar 2nd floor
poets “perform” with DJ + celtic fiddler
dancing afterwards

Read Fiona Hughes article:

Fiona Hughes,
Vancouver Courier

Todd Wong aka 'Toddish McWong' rocks the mic in the Battle of the Bards pub crawl March 13.View Larger Image View Larger Image

Todd Wong aka 'Toddish McWong' rocks the mic in the Battle of the Bards pub crawl March 13.

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

O'Braonain, McManus, MacIsaac, Wong. Which one is not like the other?

any other city, finding a Wong performing among all the fiddling and
whiskey-swilling Macs and Mcs at a celtic festival might be as
impossible as discovering a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But
in cross-culture pollinating Vancouver the inclusion of Todd Wong in
the Edgewater Casino CelticFest Vancouver is a no-brainer. (The
festival runs March 12 to 16 with the fifth annual St. Patrick's Day
parade scheduled for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Granville Street

Wong, as many Vancouverites know, is the man behind
the now legendary Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, an event that combines
Chinese New Year celebrations with Robbie Burns Day at the end of each
January. The 2008 dinner marked the event's 10th anniversary.

when festival organizers went looking for a local to play Robbie Burns
in a new event at CelticFest, they looked no further than Toddish
McWong. He's featured in the Battle of the Bards pub crawl Thursday
night (March 13). The event is inspired by the renowned Dublin Literary
Pub Crawl, in which three actors act out famous works by Irish scribes.
In Battle of the Bards, three men will take on the roles of Scotland's
Robbie Burns (Wong), Wales's Dylan Thomas (Damon Calderwood) and the
Emerald Isle's William Butler Yeats (Mark Downey). They'll recite
famous works from the triple threat of Celtic literati while touring
local Celtic-flavoured pubs (Doolin's, Atlantic Trap and Gill, Johnnie
Fox's Irish Snug). At the end of the pub crawl, the three “literary
giants” will face off against each other in a spoken word poetry slam
at Ceili's Irish Pub and Restaurant. But Wong, who earns his paycheque
as a part-time library assistant and dragon boat coach, isn't an actor
and he's up against trained thespians.

Wayson Choy gives “spirited” reading for Vancouver Cultural Olympiad

Not Yet

Wayson Choy came back to Vancouver to read from his upcoming book, “Not Yet a memoir of living and almost dying,”  Wayson is famous for his first novel “Jade Peony” and its' subsequent prequel “All That Matters“which was nominated for a Giller Prize.

Recently Wayson received the Order of Canada, and Jade Peony made the Literary Review of Canada's Most Most Important Books.

His books describe growing up in Chinatown, whether fictional or his memoir Paper Shadows.  He says that his books are also about secrets, and secrets reveals.  Paper Shadows addressed the unknown secret that Wayson had been adopted, which he didn't learn until he was 57 years old.  Not Yet, reveals secrets about near death, and not being ready to die, and coming to terms with death.

When Wayson came to Vancouver in 2002 to celebrate Jade Peony being selected as the inaugural choice for the One Book One Vancouver program at the Vancouver Public Library, few people knew then that Wayson had recently been in a coma due to a heart attack.

On Tuesday night, Wayson talked about his second heart attack, and his conversations with ghosts.

“Gracious” is always the word I use to describe Wayson, and he certainly embodied the word during his talk.  It's important to recognize what we have in our lives, because when we almost lose what we take for granted, we value it so much more.  This is what Wayson and I both know, as he has now survived two heart attacks and I survived a near fatal cancer tumor.  How we deal with our challenges is important to how we live our lives.

Wayson described how after each heart attack, he had moments of clarity and meaningfullness – what I asked he might describe as “satori” in zen buddhism or what Abraham Maslow called “self-actualization.”  Wayson answered by talking about having a “knowingness that what you do matters.”

Oh… about the ghosts.

He described meeting ghosts after one of the heart attacks.  When he talked to a friend who was familiar with ghosts and spiritual matters, they confirmed the tell-tale signs and signatures.  But I will let you read the book to find out what went on.

It was great to see so many familiar faces attending the reading at the UBC Robson Square event.  I sat down beside friends Elwin Yuen and Fanna Yee.  Elwin had been on the ACWW board with me, when we honoured Wayson at the 2002 ACWW Community Dinner.  Sitting in front of us were Steven Wong with his parents Zoe and Bill Wong – subject of the CBC documentary Tailor Made.

After the book signings, I joined my cousin Janice Wong, author of Chow: From China to Canada, to help celebrate Dr. Henry Yu's birthday eve with his wife, Brandy Lien-Worrall.  Brandy edited the anthology Eating Stories which was produced in the writing workshops she led for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society.  Joining us for drinks and nachos was Leanne Riding, my co-president for Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop. 

Great stories… Great people… and inspired by Wayson.

Celtic Fest opens in Vancouver: Robert Burns (Toddish McWong) is guest poet on Co-op Radio's Wax Poetic

Robert Burns aka Toddish McWong was interviewed today on Co-Op Radio's Wax Poetic – hosted by Steve Duncan and Diane Laloge.

Wax Poetic recognized the first day of Celtic Fest by highlighting the “Battle of the Bards” event featuring celtic poets Dylan Thomas, William Butler Yeats and Robert Burns, played by Todd Wong.

Diane and Steve asked Todd about the origins of Gung Haggis Fat Choy
and how he became interested in Robert Burns.

Todd described the first meeting of the Battle of the Bards for a CBC Radio interview with Paul Grant.

Todd also read poems “My Luv Is Like a Red Red Rose” and “A Man's a Man For A' That and A' That”. 

Burns poetry is full of love, social justice, equality, and love of life.  The issues he wrote about are still relevant today.

Todd then closed with a rap version of “Address to a Haggis.”

Steve describes The Battle of the Bards as a fun event inspired by the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl:

With CelticFest and St. Paddy's day fast upon us, we decided a tribute
to the Scotch and Irish would be appropriate, so we are raising the
dead for this show and bringing in
Robbie Burns to help celebrate.

Yeats and Burns (really two great performers, Mark Downey and Todd Wong) will be going head-to-head, along with Dylan Thomas (Damon Calderwood) in a unique literary event this year on Thursday, March 13: The Battle of the Bards Literary Pub Crawl, a
combination pub crawl/poetry slam where the legendary poets go from pub
to pub downtown performing their works and being judged by members of
the audience armed with scorecards. The event culminates in a Jack Karaoke-style match at Ceili's Pub, where they must do their pieces accompanied by a DJ (All Purpose's Michael Louw) and fiddler Elise Boeur. Once the contest is over much drinking and dancing is done into the wee hours. Click on the image below for
more details.

CBC Radio's arts reporter Paul Grant interviews a preview for Battle of the Bards and gets a donnybrook in the studio

The Celtic Fest's Battle of the Bards is gaining speed.  We had a preview sparring match today at the CBC Radio studio for an interview with Paul Grant, arts reporter for “On the Coast.”

Mark Donnelly is playing W. B. Yeats.  Damon Calderwood is playing Dylan Thomas.  And I, Todd Wong aka Toddish McWong, is playing Robert Burns. 

It went really well.  Upon arrival, I gave everybody a can of Guinness beer.  We got a wee bit tipsy, and started challenging each other.

Then Paul Grant realized his recorder wasn't working.  We had to redo everything.  And I was 10 minutes late for work.

No we did not drink the Guinness, but we did have a fun team teasing and challenging each other.  I still really can't pull off the Ayreshire accent, because “I canna roll me “r's”.  I said for the radio interview.

“I think the real reason they invited me to play Burns, besides the fact that I organize one of Vancouver's largest  Robert Burns Dinners in North America, is really so that the can call the event multicultural. 

“The battle is being voted on by the audience, so I'm going after the ethnic vote,” I told Grant.

It was a really good “rehearsal” for us actors, and it made for very good radio.  Look for the lively segment soon on CBC Radio 690AM for their afternoon show “On the Coast.” 

I recite “My Luv is Like a Red Red Rose” in response to Yeats saying he is going to win because “he is a lover”, which I challenged.  Thomas opted out of the “lover” role and read one of his comical poems.

Thomas and Burns both stated that if Yeats poems were as long-winded as Yeats was in the radio interview, the audience will be falling asleep in their beers.  Yeats rebutted in his blustery stammer…. completely unintelligble, as Paul Grant wondered if a donnybrook would occur in his studio.

But after the interview was over, actors Mark Donnelly, Damon Calderwood and I talked through some ideas for the Battle of the Bards.  And we can lead a group singalong of Auld Lang Syne together.  I think this builds up our cameraderie and that fact that this is a FUN event, and encourages AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION.

(Sung to the tune of Ring of Fire, by Johnny Cash)

I went down to the Battle of the Bards
There was a big fight but only one winner…
It's Robbie Burns….
It's Robbie Burns

The secret is out: Fortune Cookies aren't really Chinese…

I never thought Fortune Cookies were Chinese. 

They were always written in English, never in Chinese.  Our friends had their own Fortune Cookie factory near Chinatown. I even toured in it.

Jennifer 8 Lee has now written a book called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.  She writes how so-called North American “Chinese food” is really not Chinese at all – but Mainstream American.

Lee exposes all the myths about North American Chinese food, myths that Chinese-Canadians and Chinese-Americans have known for generations – but White Americans are just learning about.  Geez… first the Easter Bunny, then Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and now Fortune Cookies!

Check out this article “How the fortune cookie crumbles” by Nina Lalli.

Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC honours Brandy Lien-Worrall

The Chinese Canadian Historical Society has contributed a lot to helping recognize and develop stories about the Chinese pioneers in Canada.  I participated in the second set of writing workshops led by author/editor Brandy Lien Worrall.  These stories became the book Eating Stories:

The CCHS likes to hold events at Foo's Ho Ho restaurant because it cooks the old style Cantonese dishes that the pioneer Chinese brought with them to Canada in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  I remember many family dinners at the Ho Ho Restaurant during the 1960's and 1970's.

On Saturday Night, CCHS honoured Brandy Lien-Worrall for leading the CCHS writing workshops, which singlehandedly helped fund and make a reality the Edgar Wickberg scholarships for students studying Chinese-Canadian history.  Brandy really is an amazing and inspiring person.  Not only did she succeed in editing the Eating Stories anthology over the summer and seeing it through to publication in November, but she did it while fighting a serious bout with breast cancer.  On January 1st, I named Brandy to a list of Chinese Canadians that inspired me for 2007.

It was a wonderful community dinner.  CCHS president Hayne
Wai was emcee.  Malispina University professor Imogene Lim and film
maker Karin Lee took tickets at the door.  Dr. Jan Walls made a
wonderful clapper tale tribute to Brandy.  Author Wayson Choy was in

The dinner also featured performances from sketch comedy troupe Assaulted Fish, performing their hilarious Jackie Chan skits.

After the skits, some of the members of the writers workshops gave tributes or roasts in speeches about Brandy.  I chose the former, sharing that many of the people taking the workshops never before saw themselves as writers.  They just wanted to learn how to document stories about their families with a food theme.  But along the way, they all became writers.  And I saw their confidence and their self-esteem as writers blossom.

“If there was one gift I could give to Brandy,” I said,  “it would be as my new role as co-president of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop to continue creating workshops like these to continue to tell the stories of Chinese Canadians and share them with our communities.”

And I forgot to say that way back in the late 1980's, ACWW founding
member Jim Wong-Chu started collecting stories for an anthology
published as Many Mouthed Birds
(1991).  It included writings by Paul Yee, Denise Chong, Evelyn Lau.
SKY Lee, and a short story by Wayson Choy titled Jade Peony.  Douglas
McIntyre saw the short story, and asked for it to be expanded into a
novel.  The rest is history.  Paul Yee won the inaugural Vancouver Book
Prize for Saltwater City (1989), followed by SKY Lee's Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990) Denise Chong's The Concubine's Children (1994), Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony (1996).

you just never know where an anthology can go….

Congratulations to all you now-published writers…
and another round of thank yous and applause to our dear editor, teacher, mentor and visionary task master – Brandy!

Recommended Robert Burns poems for Celtic Fest “Battle of the Bards”


Modeled after the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, but with a “Vancouver Twist”… Battle of the Bards is a unique Steve Duncan creation for the Vancouver Celtic Fest.  Three actors will play poets W.B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Robert Burns (with me – Toddish McWong as Burns). 

We will go on a pub crawl reciting poetry to (un)suspecting patrons starting at Doolin's Irish Pub at 5:30pm.  Then we will go to Atlantic Trap and Gill for 6:05.  Johnny Fox's Irish Snug at 6:45.  Then the finale at Ceili's Irish Pub and Restaurant for 8pm, where we will be accompanied by a DJ and a celtic fiddler.

The judging will be done by Audience members holding up numbers, and I hope an applause meter.

Robert Burns
Last week on Wednesday, I went to visit the Robert Burns statue in Stanley Park.  It was my first visit since visiting as a child, when my father used to take me and my younger brother for regular outings to Stanley Park.  This stature is located near the park entrance, across from the Vancouver Rowing Club.

Not being a complete expert or scholar on Robert Burns, I asked my friends in the Burns Club of Vancouver, as well as Ron MacLeod, Chair of the Scottish Cultural Studies program at Simon Fraser University for advice.  They readily obliged:

The mind boggles at the thought of this event. Celtic poets could cause
a fight on the moon. Watch out for Celtic passions. Burns had many
poems of a nature pertinent to this event . If you wish to concentrate
on wine and women, then  give consideration to “Ae fond kiss”, “The
Belles of Mauchline”, “O’ a’ the airts the wind can blaw” “Mary
Morrison”, “Willie Wastle”( completely NPC), “Scotch drink”

Good Crawlin”


From Dr. Ian Mason

brewed a peck of maut” would be one of the more famous of his drinking songs but
it so replete with Lalland words (i.e. the old language of the Scottish borders)
that it might be nigh near impenetrable to your average

 “John Barleycorn. A Ballad” a fifteen
verse parable of the invention of Scotch would be much more accessible but
might be a bit long.

As a compromise I have attached the peroration from
his cantata “Love and Liberty” as being both brief, stirring and to your
point.  'Budgets, Bags and Wallets' are all alternate
names for purses or cases. “Brats' are offspring while 'Callets' and
'doxies' can both be read as wenches.  Those, I think, are the only
unusual words

From Ron MacLeod:

Todd, my hope and expectation is that you will be in good 
singing voice, well lubricated with the precious dew.
Here are three songs that you might consider:
The Deil's Awa' W' Th' Excise Man (first choice)
Rantin' Rovin' Robin
Guide Ale Keeps the Heart Aboon
or perhaps, 

There’s cauld kail in Aberdeen

An’ custocks in Stra’bogie

Where ilka lad main hae his lass,

But I main hae my coggie.

For I main hae my coggie, sirs,

I canna want my coggie;

I wadna gie my three-girred cog

For a’ the wives in Bogie.

Wayson Choy back in Vancouver, reading for Cultural Olympiad

Wayson Choy is back in his home town of Vancouver.  He is reading as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

UBC Robson Square
Tuesday March 11th, 2008
7:00pm, 800 Robson Street, plaza level

“Wayson was the highlight of the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts,” retired librarian Richard Hopkins told me.  “He did an amazing reading, then spent a long time signing books with each person, giving them folded origrami figures.”

“Gracious” is the word I always use to describe him.  He always presents a thoughtful presence.

I got to know Wayson personally when I was on the inaugural One Book One Vancouver program, for the Vancouver Public Library.  Wayson's novel Jade Peony was the only choice for Community Programming Director Janice Douglas and Corrine Durstan,  Popular  Reading  Senior Librarian. 

Wayson was born in Vancouver, and his magnificent first novel Jade Peony is set in Vancouver Chinatown, as is his memoir Paper Shadows, and his follow up novel All That Matters – nominated for the Governor General's Award.

The Jade Peony was originally published as a short story for the anthology “Many Mouthed Birds”, edited by Jim Wong-Chu.

In 2002,  Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop honoured Wayson with an ACWW Achievement Award at its first ACWW Community Builder Dinner, where we honoured Roy Mah, with the inaugural ACWW Community Builder Award.  Wayson shared stories about growing up in Chinatown and hanging out at Roy Mah's Chinatown News Office, to visit his childhood friend Larry Wong.  Larry was also on the inaugural One Book One Vancouver committee.

Blackthorn's Dianne goes to the great accordion gig in the sky

Blackthorn came to play at the 2008 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner, and it was their accordionist Dianne's last gig with the band.  Michelle had told me about six months ago that their band mate had been re-diagnosed with cancer, and it was amazing that she was in the studio with them completing their latest cd recording.

It has been a real pleasure getting to know the band members of Blackthorn, and seeing Michelle and Tim in their other musical incarnation on Thursday Kilts Night as the Halifax Wharf Rats.  I am pleased that they have all become friends, along with Michael, and that we were able to feature them at Gung Haggis Fat Choy this year.  The entire band really added a new dimension to the event, with Rosie on fiddle and Dianne on accordion.

Dianne even let me play her accordion during a pre-show rehearsal I had with Ji-Rong Huang on erhu, as my own accordion hadn't shown up at Floata Restaurant yet.  Accordionists have a special bond.  And it was there with Dianne, even though I feel like I hardly got to know her…  But I do know her through her friends and band mates.  And that is a special bond that they have shared with me.

Michael Viens of Blackthorn sent out this letter last week about Dianne:

To family and friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this note and I apologize for
doing so via email but I can only make so many phone calls. Our dear
friend and band mate Dianne, passed away Wednesday night, February 27,
after a struggle with cancer.

Some of you may have known about the diagnosis, others not. She was
diagnosed with a rare eye cancer about 3 1/2 years ago and was treated
for it. She was “cancer free” for 3 years in the spring of 2007. In the
summer of 2007, however, routine x-rays showed some spots on her liver.
In August, they did a biopsy and it came back positive – the eye cancer
had metastasized to her liver. The Dr.s at the BC Cancer Clinic gave
her 6-12 months.

This was quite a blow to all of us but Dianne really got on top of it.
She had just recently acquired a laptop and spent a lot of time doing
her own research. She affected some major lifestyle changes and sought
out the support of a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine who
specialized in oncology. She also attended support and informational

The band played at the Highland Games in Canmore at the beginning of
September and happily she was able to join us there. She was originally
from Calgary so flying in to Calgary airport, we took the opportunity
to visit her childhood home, neighbourhood and school.

She started to really feel the effects of the disease these past few
months and was scheduled to start chemo last week. She kept a positive
attitude through it all and we continued to talk about our future
musical projects and shows together but I believe she also had her own
idea of how she was going to live out the remainder of her time in this
realm and did so.

We had a weekend of gigs for Robbie Burns and she was determined to be
there for them. Her mom (from 100 Mile House) and Chris, one of her
brothers and his family (Maple Ridge) all came out on the Saturday
night and enjoyed a great show. She then headed up with her husband,
Kirk, and their dog, Molly, the following week to 100 Mile House so
that she could see her dad and spend some time with her folks.

While there, she ended up in the hospital in 100 Mile House. We had
been getting daily reports via her brother and sister-in-law. Dr.s were
doing their best to control the pain and were still discussing the
possibility of chemo to try and shrink the swelling which was causing
the pain. Last night we received the call from her brother Chris that
she had stopped responding and had passed away.

We are blessed with years of great memories and in that we were able to
complete our latest CD project which she was determined to participate
in and have another lasting treasure of our time with her. We were
waiting to hear when she would be well enough to plan a CD release
party. We are now in the early stages of planning a celebration of life
for her – it'll be the big party she wanted. We will put the word out
once we have plans finalized.

Thank you for your prayers and support.

Blackthorn (clockwise from upper left) Rosie, Michelle, Dianne, Michael, Tim
photo courtesy of Blackthorn

BC Book Prizes short list announced: features Rita Wong and George McWhirter for poetry

It's wonderful to see how many people you know who are nominated for the BC Book Prizes.  Rita Wong, Forage (Nightwood Editions) and George McWhirter The Incorrection (Oolichan Books) are both nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.  I am just going to list some of the people I know, or what I think are some Chinese-Canadian and Scottish-Canadian highlights.  See for the full list.

I've known Rita for years, since she won the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writer Award for her first poetry collection Monkey Puzzle.  I only met George last year, but quickly invited him to be the featured writer for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner, and the Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry reading at the Vancouver Public Library.

Shaena Lambert, is nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, for her novel Radiance (Random House of Canada).  Shaena read an excerpt at a special November reading at the Joy Kogawa House.  see blog article: Ruth Ozeki and Shaena Lambert read at Historic Joy Kogawa House.

Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-fiction Prize is Patricia Roy, for The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67 (UBC Press).  It's interesting that both the anniversaries of achieving citizenship in 1947, and the changes in immigration in 1967 were both celebrated by the Anniversaries of Change'07 committee, and wrapped up at the Sep 7 Reconciliation Dinner. Also nominated is Scots-Canadian J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith for The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (Random House Canada).

I am guessing that both J. B. Mackinnon and Ian McAllister of of Scottish ancestry.  The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize nominees for the book that contributes most to the enjoyment and understanding of BC and nominees include:  J.B. Mackinnon and Alisa Smith, The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (Random House Canada) and Ian McAllister, The Last Wild Wolves: Ghosts of the Rain Forest (Greystone Books).

Former actor Meg Tilly shares Chinese ancestry, and she is nominated for the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize for her book Porcupine (Tundra Books).

All the nominees are celebrated at the BC Book Prize Soiree, April 19th at the Metropolitan Hotel (7-9pm).  It's a free party with great silent auction prizes, and kicks off the beginning of BC Book and Magazine Week (April 19-26, 2008).  The highlight and end piece is the Lieutenant Governor's BC Book Prizes Gala on Saturday April 26, 2008 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, hosted by broadcaster Fanny Kiefer.  BC's newest and first First Nations Lt. Gov. the Honourable Steven L.Point, OBC, will be in attendance.

I really enjoy both events.  If you love BC authors and BC books, this is the place to be!