Monthly Archives: March 2009

Montreal Poet John Asfour is the inaugural writer-in-residence for Historic Joy Kgoawa House


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Inaugural writer-in-residence John Asfour poses with life-size picture of Joy Kogwa, and the board members of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society.
– photo Deb Martin

Historic Joy Kogawa House chooses first writer-in-residence 

Historic Joy Kogawa House is pleased to announce our first writer-in-residence, Montreal poet John Asfour. 

arriving in Vancouver, Asfour said: “I am pleased to be chosen as the
first writer-in-residence at Kogawa house. I’m here to learn how a
community like the Japanese Canadian would turn a part of their
historical suffering into something positive by establishing a place
where writers can live and work. Japanese Canadians were very
supportive of the community of Arab Canadians and what it had to endure
after September 11.”

is the author of four books of poetry in English and two in Arabic. He
translated the poetry of Muhammad al-Maghut into English under the title Joy Is Not My Profession (Véhicule Press), and he selected, edited and introduced the landmark anthology When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, 1945–1987 (Cormorant Books).

The majority of the writer’s time in residence will be devoted to work on a book of poems entitled Blindfold,
which exposes the “rich and strange” possibilities of a life that has
undergone some frightening transformation and is displaced from its
element. The book is partly autobiographical—born in Lebanon, Asfour
was blinded in 1958 at age 13 during the Civil War there.

poems also explore feelings of loss, displacement and disorientation
experienced by the disabled and relates them to immigrant themes that
Asfour has previously addressed. Asfour suggests that the disabled
often feel like foreigners in their own land, hampered by prejudice
(sometimes well-meaning), communications barriers and the sense of
“limited personality” that characterizes the second-language learner.  

in Vancouver between now until the end of May, Asfour will present
poetry workshops to a variety of audiences, in collaboration with the
Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Simon Fraser University’s
Writers Studio and the Vancouver Public Library. Opportunities for
consultation on work in development are also available.

Further information can be found on the website of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society at and TLC, The Land Conservancy of BC, at or by calling (604) 263-6586.  

Contacts: Kogawa House Society: Ann-Marie Metten (604) 263-6586 

TLC, The Land Conservancy of BC: Tamsin Baker (604) 733-2313  

Information on Historic Joy Kogawa House Historic
Joy Kogawa House is the former home of the Canadian author Joy Kogawa
(born 1935). It stands as a cultural and historical reminder of the
expropriation of property that all Canadians of Japanese descent
experienced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Between 2003 and
2006, a grassroots committee fundraised in a well-publicized national
campaign, and with the help of The Land Conservancy of BC, a non-profit
land trust, managed to purchase the house in 2006. 

with Joy Kogawa, the various groups decided that the wisest and best
use of the property would be to establish it as a place where writers
could live and work. Following the models of the writer-in-residence
programs in place at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat in Dawson City,
Yukon, and Roderick Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, BC, the
Historic Joy Kogawa House writer-in-residence program brings
well-regarded professional writers in touch with a local community of
writers, readers, editors, publishers, booksellers and librarians.

in residence, the writer works to enrich the literary community around
him or her and to foster an appreciation for Canadian writing through
programs that involve students, other established and emerging writers
and members of the general public.

in March 2009, as a partner with TLC, the Historic Joy Kogawa Society
will begin hosting writers to live and work in the house on a paid
basis. Funding is provided through the Michael Audain Foundation for
the Arts, the Canada Council and through donations from the general

Rob O'Dea survives his 7 day Fast for Homelessness

Rob O'Dea is the latest survivor of the Hunger Strike Relay. 

The Hunger Strike relay was started on December 29th by community and housing activisit Am Johal.  The protest raises awareness for the need for a national housing strategy—missing in Canada since 1993.


Am passed it on to Michael Byers who I saw on his last day of the hunger strike, when he came to give a talk for CUPE 391 Vancouver Library Workers.

Along the way, the hunger strike relay spoon was passed to Sarah Evans, Brent Granby, Dr. Marria Townsend, Jason Gratl, Sister Elizabeth Kelleher, Mira Malestinic, David Eby, and Sarah Blyth, Constance Barnes,

Rob O'Dea took the wooden relay spoon from Jay Black and Garvin Snider


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I met Rob at the Jenn McGinn fundraiser at Figmint on Saturday night.  He told me that he lost about 19 pounds in 7 days, on his liquid diet that did not allow for any soup or processed foods.  Lots of juices and water.  Luckily, Rob was able to drink some beer at the fundraiser, but unable to eat any of the delicious appetizers being passed around on trays.

Rob described being on the fast, as “very cleansing”, and said it really helped to bring clarity to his thinking.  But it was also distracting due to hunger yearnings.  He recommended keeping active, if you choose to volunteer for this hunger strike relay. 

Rob's goal was to try to help raise the profile of the hunger strike relay, which he did by sending letters to National leaders in Canadian Parliament.  Rob started a Hunger Strike Blog on, and met with Jack Layton while he was in Vancouver last weekend.

Jack Layton likes bagpipers following St. Patrick's Day parade for Vancouver's Celticfest

It's not everyday, you meet an important Canadian parliamentary leader in a pub on St. Patrick's Day…

– but Jack Layton was in Vancouver for Celticfest and the St. Patrick's Day Parade

2009_March 120 by you.Todd Wong, Jack Layton, Allan McMordie, Trish McMordie – photo T.Wong/T.Lam

We had spent 3 hours in the cold preparing and walking in the parade
with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pipe & Drums, and Gung Haggis Fat
Choy dragon boat team, carrying a parade dragon, lion head masks and
dragon boat paddles.  We were cold, and in need of warm food and
carbohydrate replenishment.  Jack Layton, federal NDP leader had been in the parade too.  He often
comes in August for Vancouver's Pride Parade. Jack said he was also in Vancouver to attend an event for Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kensington. 

I've known Don for a few years, when he first introduced himself to me at one of Meena Wong's dim sum luncheons (coincidence: Meena had been an assistant for Jack Layton's wife Olivia Chow in Toronto). Jack's wife is Chinese-Canadian MP, Olivia Chow, and they are also friends of Canadian author Joy Kogawa. Wow… Jack and Olivia are a real inter-cultural couple on a national scale!  Very Gung Haggis!  I had dim sum with Olivia in 2007, at one of Meena Wong's dim sum socials with Chinese head tax activists, see: Dim Sum with Olivia Chow in Vancouver

I asked Jack, if he had Scottish ancestry, which he affirmed. It was on Robbie
Burns Day, January 25th 2003, he became
federal leader of the NDP (New Democratic
Party”). If Robbie Burns was the ploughman's poet, then Jack Layton must be the workers' parliamentarian.

Layton's views of social democracy, probably
best represent Robert Burns's similar views – more
than the other federal leaders. Burns was such a progressive thinker of the Scottish enlightenment, that many of his views were not published until after his death – they would have been considered “that radical”.  Remember that during Burns' time, happening around him was the American Revolution, and the French Revolution, as Modern Democracy emerged.  But 250 years later they fit very much into a social democratic world.   Layton's great-granduncle, William Steeves, was a
Father of Confederation. Layton's own grandfather
Gilbert Layton was a cabinet minister in the
Quebec provincial government, and his father
Robert Layton was a Member of Parliament and
cabinet minister. 

Just as Jack Layton was preparing to leave the pub, our bagpipers started playing some songs.  Jack took out his cell phone and started videoing them, then recorded a Happy St. Patrick's Day message.  Maybe this will appear on his web page.  I used my camera to record the action. 

Check it this video:

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Allan McMordie, Patricia
McMordie, David Murray –
Filmed by Jack Layton,

Gung Haggis Pipes & Drums & dragon boat paddlers… brave the snow in the Vancouver Celticfest St. Patrici's Day Parade

SNOW and bagpipers and parade dragons normally don't mix
– but the inaugural parade debut of the Gung Haggis Pipes and Dragon Boat Drummers smiles in adversity!

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Our brave troupe of paddlers, pipers and drummers… – photo T.Wong / J.McDonald

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Tzhe carries and the dragon in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with help from Stephen – photo T. Wong

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Snow and Wind did not deter our pipers and drummers: Front row Bob Wilkins, David Murray, Allan McMordie, 2nd row Barbara, Danny, Patricia, Drummers: Tony & Cassandra – photo T. Wong

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Mackenzie led our contingent as “paddle bearer” leading the pipers! – photo T.Wong

And when it was all over… Pipe Major Bob Wilkins congratulated Mackenzie on a job well-done.  In all his years of piping and parades, it never snowed on him before.  Bob said he “never had so much fun being miserable.”

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St. Patrick's Day 2009 Parade…

Here's a picture of the dragons on our car! – photo T.Wong

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Check out more pictures on
Toddish McWong's Flickr account

CELTIC FEST – Lots of events… where will I be?

Celticfest is one of Vancouver's most exciting ethno-cultural festivals:
Saturday I will check out “Battle of the Bards” King O' Men (about Robbie Burns, and the annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy entry in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Celticfest started on Wednesday and goes to Sunday March 15th.  St. Patrick's Day is on Tuesday March 17th.

Check out the website: for lots of great events featuring Ashley McIssac, Lunasa, Irish Pipes Regiment, Battle of the Bards etc. etc.

This year there is a play about Robbie Burns, titled King O'Men – featuring bagpiper Rob McDonald and actor John Hardie.  All the more to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns.

I was involved in the augural “Battle of the Bards” event last year, playing poet Robbie Burns.  It's a great fun event, where performers “channel” the spirit of the poets, and read the poems.   Check out my story from last year: :: Toddish McWong's “Robert Burns” wins Battle of the Bards

The annual St. Patrick's Day Parade is lots of fun too!  We usually hang out at the Celticfest Village following the parade.  This year's parade is on Georgia St.  Starting at Broughton, the parade route heads East ending at Howe St.  The Village is on the North lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Check out my story from last year: :: Gung Haggis Fat Choy puts a dragon (not a snake) in the parade.

Here are 3 events that I will be attending – hope to see you there!

Saturday March 14
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Festival Pick
Spoken Word

Battle of the Bards – A Literary Pub Crawl and Grand Finale

Three cheers! The Battle of the Bards is back for 2009, whisking you along on a flying tour of Granville Street’s best Irish pubs.

Dynamic spoken word artists Sean McGarragle, Duncan Shields and Warren Dean Fulton
channel W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Robbie Burns respectively as they
duke it out to be crowned “top bard” in an on-the-move poetry
slam-style contest, judged by members of the audience in each venue.

The crawl culminates at The Cellar, where the bards will do final “battle” with Vancouver’s first official poet laureate George McWhirter
presiding over the event. Expect plenty of artistic license as the
performers offer their own hilarious perspectives on the masters with
the help of improv fiddler Caitlan Read.

Who will be this year’s “top bard”? Why don’t you be the judge!

Pub Crawl
Round 1 – 2:00 PM @ Doolin's Irish Pub
Round 2 – 2:45 PM @ Ceili’s Irish Pub
Round 3 – 3:30 PM @ Johnnie Fox's Irish Snug
No admission charge @ Pub Crawl venues

Open Mic & Finale Event
The Cellar, 1006 Granville St. @ Nelson
4:25 PM to 6:00 PM

Saturday March 14

2 shows:
2:00 PM & 4:00 PM

Festival Pick
Spoken Word
Kids / Family

King o' Men – A Robbie Burns Stage Play & 250th Birthday Tribute

Featuring John Hardie & Rob MacDonald

literary and musical costumed event that will send you spinning back in
time to the glorious days of Scotland’s most legendary poet and
lyricist. 2009 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robbie
Burns, a cultural icon in Scotland and around the world. This tribute
features Rob MacDonald, a local piper, Chairman of “A
Swarm of Drones” and a Burns aficionado. He’ll be telling the
fascinating story of the life and times of Burns and playing some of
the tunes Robert set words to.

His performance will be followed by King o’ Men, an exciting new one-man play directed by writer and actor John Hardie
and making its Vancouver premiere at CelticFest. The production
imagines one of Burns’ closest and oldest friends reminiscing to a
curious journalist following the news of the great poet’s final
passing. This show will appeal to loyal fans of Scotland's favourite
literary son as well as those who are new to Burns’ story and works.

what Chris White, Artistic Director of the Ottawa Folk Festival, had to
say about a recent production of the play at the National Arts Centre:
“With minimal set and few props, Hardie delivered the piece with
enormous skill and subtlety, somehow managing to be humorous,
informative and intensely moving all at once. The performance, which
elicited an overwhelmingly positive audience response, is one that I
will be forever grateful to have witnessed.”

Tom Lee Music – Music Hall
3rd floor – 929 Granville St.

Sunday March 15
11:30 AM

Festival Pick
Kids / Family

Shamrock6th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade

Where can you find hundreds of thousands of people, all seized with Celtic fever? At the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, of course! This year the parade travels a new route along Georgia Street, beginning at Broughton St., ending up at the Celtic Village
outside the Vancouver Art Gallery at Georgia and Howe. Round up your
family and friends (and favourite green attire) and enjoy the spectacle
of over 2,000 colourfully costumed participants, from pipers and
drummers to acrobats and stilt-walkers. The price is still right –
absolutely free!

Presented by Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association

Dragon boat paddling on Sunday morning in sunshine – before the snows fell.

Snow was predicted for Sunday morning, March 8th… and we were scheduled for 2 sessions of dragon boat practices.

2009_March 011Ernest leads G-Force through some practice starts. – photo T. Wong

Dragon boat paddling is always fun when it's sunny.  Teams that want to do well at the big Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival start practicing early.  March is a good time to start.  The weather is warmer, the sun comes out. Except Vancouver got yet another big dump of snow Sunday and Monday.

We got out early on Sunday morning to paddle, as Ernest Wu and myself helped to coach and steer G-Force Winds dragon boat team, while their coach and founder Gayle Gordon is on holiday.  Gayle joined the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team last year as a veteran lead stroke… and WE LOVE HER!  So we will do anything to keep her happy – including coaching her team while she is away.

2009_March 013 Ernest and G-Force Winds smile in the sunshine on Sunday morning – photo T. Wong

We like G. Force Winds.  They are a very friendly group of paddlers who paddle for the fun and exercise.  We helped them at some races last year with extra paddlers.  It's an all women's team that emphasizes fun, friendship and fitness.  Just like Gung Haggis without the haggis… or men.

2009_March 015 G-Force paddles on False Creek for the their 4th practice of the season. – photo T. Wong

It's still early in the season and the roster isn't settled.  Some paddlers probably find it too cold to paddle yet.  But there were 5 rookie paddlers learning the art of paddling along with 7 experienced paddlers.  Athena is wearing the blue hat and it was her second time in a dragon boat.  Salome was a bit anxious for her first time in the boat, and worried if the other paddlers would like her, even if she wasn't any good.  No worries.  Everybody was happy, welcoming and supportive.

2009_March 017 Canada geese brave the cold waters of False Creek and avoid the ferries. – photo T. Wong

When G.Force finished their practice at 11:30 and Ernest and I joined our regular team Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team where I am the coach and founder, and Ernest is one of our team captains.  He was born in Beijing, China, so I lean on Ernest to fill in lots of things about Chinese culture that my 5 generation Canadian history doesn't know about.  Ernest paddled a year of dragon boat before joining the Gung Haggis team.

2009_March 016 Tzhe and Wendy, are two of our possible lead stroke paddlers – photo T.Wong

“Gung Haggis is like family,” declared Wendy last year… or was it the year before?  Wendy really embodies the social cameraderie of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  We are happy to have her at many of our social events – but this year, she gets to plan some of them!  This will be Wendy's 4th year as a dragon boater.  In her 2nd year, we became lead stroke.  Tzhe also became a lead stroke in his second year of paddling dragon boats. He now enters his 3rd year of paddling dragon boat, after pulling a Ken Dryden by racing voyageur canoe with us in Fort Langley after joining the team at the end of  2006.  Sitting behind Tzhe is Alissa, our rookie of the year, whom we had doing some lead stroke work in her first year of dragon boating!

2009_March 021 Lots of smiles in the sunshie, it's one happy team on the water! – photo T.Wong

We paddled out to David Lam Park, and worked on building good technique by addressing different foundations of dragon boat paddling.  We worked the core muscles.  We practiced entries.  We practiced timing.  We worked in small groups.  And the team really developed quickly and impressively.

Steven Wong and Stephen Mirowski took turns steering the boat during practice.  We rotate steers so that everybody gets a chance to paddle and learn steering responsibilities.  We also rotate captains from race to race.  This way we also share leadership responsibilities.

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I've been paddling since 1997, and it's really given me an opportunity to witness the growth and development of False Creek.  It's amazing to see these buildings going up at the corner of Beach and Pacific Blvd.

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It sure looks like they are building these new buildings crooked!  But believe it or not – it's supposed to be good for stabilization in case of an earthquake.

Blogger Night at the Opera… Rigoletto gets thrown to the net surfers!

BLOGGERS RULE at the Vancouver Opera… Live Blogging for Rigoletto!

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Local Bloggers sat in the lobby during intermission, live blogging opening night at Rigoletto. (l-r) Monique Trottier “So Misguided”, Rebecca Bollwit “Miss 604”, Tanya “Netchick”, Kimli “Delicious Juice” – photo Todd Wong

Opera is one of the most intercultural art forms.  It forces its audience to listen to foreign languages, as it tells stories from different cultures.  Okay, it also presents a lot of stereotypes and racial chariactures too!  But today's productions will balance historic stereotypes with 21st Century sensitivity for cultural diversity.

Vancouver Opera has been one of the most innovative arts organizations to find new ways to market themselves, whether creating Manga comics for promotion, marketing to the Asian population base in Vancouver with the Voices of the Pacific Rim recital, or beginning live blogging with Carmen and now Rigoletto operas.

Opening Saturday Night at Vancouver Opera, there are lots of people dressed up in the finery.  The lineups are deep and long for the cappucinos or wine.  Over at the East side of the lobby, 6 bloggers sit madly typing into their laptop computers during intermission.  It's Live Blogging Night at the Opera.  It started with a few bloggers being invited to blog Carmen in January.  And now a few more have been invited to blog Rigoletto. 

Some of the audience members are curious.  Some are demanding.  Some are complaining about the sound in the balcony.  One audience member insists that they are not having a true opera experience unless they are drinking wine.  One of the bloggers writes that she is having sooo much fun people watching, she finds it hard to touch type at the same time.

I bring out my camera and ask the bloggers for a picture.  Actually I yell out, “Bloggers… smile for the camera!”

They all look up and smile.  I will post the picture laters…

I recognize Miss 604 Blogger, Rebbecca Bollwitt.  She recognizes me and writes on her blog that “We were just visited by Karen Hamilton of who is here to enjoy the show as well as Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

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Rebbecca Bollwit “Miss 604”, Todd Wong “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”, Tanya “Netchick” – photo A. Youngberg/T. Wong

Back on January 18th, she was live blogging the Canucks hockey game.  I comment that she probably wishes she was at the Canucks vs San Jose game.  She says “yeah.” 

It turns out that blogger
is a rower, now interested in dragon boat paddling.  I tell her that my Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team has been featured on television documentaries for German and French public television, as well as the CBC.  It would be pretty cool, if she joined our dragon boat team… we have lots of opportunities for blogging.  Oops, I forgot to tell her we will have a parade entry in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

At the opera, it's always interesting to see who is there in the audience.  I spy an older couple, a male caucasian with an Asian woman.  They are always at major arts events.  I think he used to work at the CBC.

I chat with Doug Tuck, VOA Marketing and Selina Rajani, Communications/Media.  I introduce them to my date for the evening, Alexandra Youngberg, my CUPE 391 Vancouver Library workers president.  Alex loves this production of Rigoletto.  She loves music and sings in a choir.  Alex has even sung O Solo Mio, while I played my accordion.

The 2nd and 3rd Acts are wonderful ( I will write my formal review tomorrow).  Some members of the audience give a standing ovation to
Eglise Gutierrez who plays Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter.  We all stand up up for
Donnie Ray Albert who plays Rigoletto.  It's quite the multicultural cast.  Donnie Ray is African-American, born in Louisiana.  Eglise is born in Cuba.  Sam Chung, Chinese-Canadian born in Winnipeg, steps out of the Vancouver Opera chorus to play his first supporting role with Vancouver Opera in the role of Matteo Borsa. I congratulate Sam at the reception following.

During the reception, I also chat with Michael Mori, who is hapa Japanese-Canadian.  Kinza Tyrell, chorus master tells me how exciting this production is, and asks me how I know Sam and Michael.  “Well… through events at Joy Kogawa House, because we really supported, and raved about the Naomi's Road opera. 

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James Wright, VOA General Director congratulates the cast at the opening night reception – photo T. Wong

My old friend Walter Quan is here!  We first met back in 1986, while we were volunteers for the Salt Water City exhibit celebrating 100 years of Vancouver Chinatown history.  We recently had lunch in Victoria 2 weeks ago, when I had to return the life-size photos to the Royal BC Museum.

Opera Manager James Wright spots me, and waves at me.  So does orchestra concertmaster Mark Ferris, who along with his wife Gloria, have been friends for years. Mark performed at the 2004 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner. Meanwhile, the bloggers are noshing at the food tables, taking pictures of the event, and chatting amongst themselves.

I think it's great that Vancouver Opera is connecting with bloggers.  Back in December 2004, I blogged my own review of the VOA production of Madama Butterfly: Madama Butterfly Review: Vancouver Opera Nov 27 to Dec 11.

Since then, I have also reviewed:

Check out the opera night blogs:

Blogger Night: Rigoletto

FOOD: Hapa Izakaya in Kitsilano…

Hapa Izakaya is a place to take friends and make them say:

“Ahhh…. Yummmm….

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Duck with vegetables and green sprouts… very tasty! – photo T. Wong

We went to Hapa Izakaya Kitsilano on Thursday night.  My girlfriend Deb was entertaining her friend Peter and his girlfriend Emily from Seattle.  It was Peter's birthday.  We went to Deb's favorite new restaurant. 

Hapa Izakaya Kitsilano has only been open for about a year.  Owner Justin was there to greet us.  The original Hapa Izakaya is on Robson St. near Jervis.  And just like the original, almost every dish begs you to take a picture!  And it is ohhhhh…. so tasty.  Peter and Emily were very impressed.  They said, “Ahhhh….” and “Mmmmm” and “That is SO good!”  a lot.

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Spicy Sockeye Salmon Sashimi,

Owner Justin and his wife are “Hapa.”  Half Japanese-Cnaadian and Hafl Caucasian-Canadian.  They met while both were working in Tokyo.  Hapa Izakaya brings the “Izakaya”/ Japanese Pub food to Vancouver, but pushes it up a level with its fusion cuisine.  The Robson St. restaurant is very cool with its dark interior and club music.  The Kitsilano restaurant is more laid back.

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Unagi (eel) cone.

REVIEW: Cock-Pit – Why Men Should watch men dance

Dance Review: Cock-Pit
Why men should watch men dance

special contribution by Devon Cooke

Wen-Wei Dance
Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street, Vancouver)
Feb. 24-28, 2009

I spent a fine Friday evening last week watching Cock-Pit, a suitably
suggestive and ambiguous title for Wen Wei Wang's equally suggestive
dance piece. It featured a woman and four scantily clad men, one of
whom was pointed out to me as “Scottie-too-Hottie” (my female companion
agreed). The show was highly enjoyable, funny at times, and poignant at
others. It was also highly sexual – a fact attested by the palpable
female enjoyment in the audience. As a man, I certainly enjoyed
listening to that audience, but I also enjoyed the performance.

Now, when a man admits to enjoying watching dance, and especially when
that dance involves highly muscled men strutting around in little more
than tight-fitting boxer shorts, there's one very natural question that
arises: Is he gay? Perhaps it's not so much a question as an
assumption, but, as a straight male, I'm here to tell you that while
that assumption may often hold true, straight men don't know what
they're missing when it comes to dance.

I must admit to being a little apprehensive going into the show about
how I would handle the “eww” factor (as in “eww, naked men!”), but my
worries were unfounded. The show was engaging, enlightening, and I
didn't feel like my sexuality was compromised. Why? Because I felt
myself empathizing with the men on stage rather than objectifying them.
Cock-pit is (among other things) an exploration of gender and,
especially, being male. As gender exploration goes, it's pretty
straightforward: The men are manly, the woman is womanly, and there's
barely the slightest hint that there might be any other way of
arranging things. While this might be a less than complete sketch of
gender, it does speak to the fairly rigid gender roles that most people
fall into, and it made me look at men (and myself) in a new light.

Watching Cock-pit was like watching a hockey game or playing poker
while consuming cold pizza and beer. It reminded me what it means to be
a man, but, unlike hockey or poker, it also gave me a sense of how
ridiculous we look to the other 51% of the population. I'm sure the
women in the audience had a different perspective.

I've never thought of feathers as being particularly male, but when
they're six feet long and stuck down the front of your pants, they're a
fairly obvious symbol. Cock-pit used this symbol to good effect, and
much of the comedy in the show came from painting a portrait of man's
endless obsession with his penis. With the help of the feathers, the
men in the show sword fight and show off, bargain and compete, and,
most of all, fight with each other for the attention of the lone female
dancer in the cast.

This oasis of femininity provided a sharp point of contrast to the
testosterone-laced energy in the rest of the dancers. Her presence
helped remind the audience that maleness exists in opposition to the
female – and provided a welcome place to rest my male-weary eyes. With
my heightened awareness of my masculinity, I found my eyes drawn
strongly to her whenever she was on stage, and her dancing made me
equally aware of the difference between our two genders.

There is much more to Cock-pit than simple gender differences. Many
sections were suggestive of birds (cocks of course) or insects, and one
particularly memorable scene had the four men negotiating a sale of
some sort using creative body language and a distinctly
Mandarin-sounding gibberish.  But, even these neutral scenes were cast
in the context of masculinity thanks to their relationship with the
rest of the choreography.

times Wen Wei's Chinese heritage showed through, and it was interesting
watching his five non-Chinese dancers absorb this and transform it in a
very Vancouver way.  The most obvious example was the Mandarin
gibberish I've already mentioned, but the use of feathers throughout
the piece had a very Chinese theatricality to it.  The feathers served
as swords, wings, antennae, and helped emphasize and exaggerate the
movement of whatever body part they happened to be attached to.

Cock-pit was a wonderfully creative and entertaining show, and, while
I've picked it apart for analysis here, its strengths lie in the talent
and energy of its dancers and choreographer, not the significance of
its theme. The dance is an exploration, not a theory, and it's worth
seeing for the feelings it evokes. For me, it evoked the thoughts about
maleness that you have just read, but my version is hardly the
definitive one. For that, you'll have to go see it for yourself…

Cock-pit played at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from February 24th to
28th. It featured David Raymond, Josh Martin, Scott Augustine, and
Edmond Kilpatrick, as well as lone female Alison Denham, and was
Choreographed by Wen Wei Wang.

Karen Larson launches debut cd “Fire and Ice”