Monthly Archives: December 2009

Todd's first day in Scotland

Todd's first day in Scotland:
A little bit of Glasgow and Edinburgh

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Welcome to Scotland – Gee that train looks very Harry Potterish!

It's been a busy few days in Scotland.  I first arrived late on Saturday night, after a 9 hour layover in Amsterdam's Schipol airport.  I took the train to central station and went for a walk through the touristy bits – where I also discovered both Chinatown and the Red Light District. 

2009_Amsterdam 045Dragon City Restaurant in Amsterdam.  I also discovered restaurants named Asiandam and Cafe Slutery Oost-West, and Eat Mode- Asian Fusion Kitchen.

2009_Amsterdam 052 It must be Chinatown.  The sign says China Town Supermarkt!

The Bulldog pub was toooo full, so I went to The Blarney Stone where I met an Englishman named Robin.  I drank Kilkenney and he drank Guinness.  I told him about our 1st Thursday Kilts Night where we recieve a pint of Guinness.  He told me it was his birthday, I asked the waitress to give him a free birthday beer.  Instant friends + the guy from Boston beside us.

Here are pictures from Amsterdam

Amsterdam enroute to Scotland

Amsterdam enroute to Scotland

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I flew into Glasgow late on Saturday night.  After all the locals breezed easily through customs, I was left with two people from China to fill out landing forms. (What are these?)  I was the last person through, and the service was very kind.  I changed some money, and took the bus into town where I soon found a hotel.  My plan was to check out the local nightlife.  But my shoulder and back were really hurting.  I had injured it on the weekend, then reinjured it again on Thursday.  This was part of the reason why I now was on holiday.  If I can't work… I'm going to Scotland for Homecoming.  I quickly fell asleep after taking more Motrin.

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Sunday morning.  I go to Kelvingrove Art Gallery down the street.  But
first I check into Beanscene – a local equivalent of Starbucks or
Blenz.  Inside the cafe I am greeted by a picture of Johnny Cash. 
There is a poster of Norah Jones's new album.  I am in the right place.

2009_Scotland_1 006 Todd eating Stoats porridge – a good Scottish breakfast that is having a revival.

I order up porridge and coffee.  I meet a local man who tells me about some of the local sights to see, after we discuss Johnny Cash.  He also tells me that Glasgow's Chinatown is nearby. 

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Next I meet a Chinese woman who is teaching architecture (or is it art) at the local Art Institute.  Ju-Li is from China and has lived in Scotland since 2004.  She has just married a man, who has had to go back to America, because he doesn't have a UK passport, even though his grandparents were from Scotland.  This man who's ancestors left Scotland for a better life in the USA, is trying to get back into Scotland to be with his Chinese bride.  We both laugh at the absurdity of it.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is amazing.  It's also part museum.  The Main hall on my left has lots of taxidermied animals.  There is an elephant, a giraffe, a moose, an ostrich… even a platypus and a cheetah. Suspended from the ceiling is a WW2 Spitfire fighter plane.

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It is a thing out of a Christopher Robin or Narnia Chronicles book or movie.  Upstairs I discover exhibits on Wild Bill's Wild West Show – when it came to Glasgow, as well as Robert Burns and dinosaurs. 

2009_Scotland_1 024 Supposedly the legendary Haggis is the taxidermied concoction above, set beside a culinary haggis for eating.

There is even a taxidermied haggis!  (photos to show after I return to Canada).

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2009_Scotland_1 035 The Burns exhibit features a picture of Burns as Latin American revolutionary Che Gevera– no doubt reflecting on Burns universality for freedom and equal rights.

I had really wanted to visit the Hunterian Museum, which is showing Zig Zag: The Paths of Robert Burns as part of the Homecoming Scotland events.  But it is at Glasgow University and consequently closed – forcing me to return to Glasgow on Monday.  Anyways, I spend the afternoon at the Kelvingrove, where a Doctor Who exhibit is downstairs. 

2009_Scotland_1 046 People do wear kilts and play bagpipes in Scotland!

I get lost trying to find the train station to Edinburgh.  I get distracted by the sound of bagpipes, as I find myself on Nelson Mandela Walk.  Policemen lead a parade of pipers.  About 12 bobbies (policeman) in reflective yellow jackets escort 16 pipers.  I think these are the first kilts I see in Scotland.

2009_Scotland_1 049 Winter Shindig in square at Glasgow.

I discover the Winter Shindig that takes up an entire square.  There is
a stage for as one of the finale events for Homecoming Year.  But
nobody local seems to know who the band is.  There is a large outdoor
ice rink, and a ferris wheel.

2009_Scotland_1 054 These guys wore the biggest ugly-est sporrans I have ever seen.  They made it themselves, and they carry all their magic tricks to promote the Glasgow Science Centre.

I meet two young men wearing kilts.  They have HUMUNGOUS sporrans which are FILLED with THINGS.  They work for the Glasgow Science Centre.  They show me some of their tricks and offer to set my hand on fire.  It was cool… and it did not hurt.  Okay… I sort of knew the secret, and they confirmed it with me.  One of them took a video – very cool… look carefully because it appears that after the flash – a pigeon flys out of above my hand. (video coming after I return to Canada).

2009_Scotland_1 053 Click for video to see a pigeon fly out of a burst of flame from my hand! Courtesy of the wild and kilted guys from the Glasgow Science Centre.

Did I say I get lost trying to get to the Train Station?  People have been so helpful.  But unfortunately I end up at the Central Station where I ask for Edinburgh, and the ticket seller hears Hellensburg.  Fortunately I don't get on that train, and go back for a refund.  Eventually I find myself on a crowded train to Edinburgh where I spy a man wearing a rugby shirt that says “Famous Grouse.”  As Famous Grouse was a whisky sponsor at our 2009 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, I have to go ask about his like for Famous Grouse.  Surprise!  There is an empty seat beside him, which he offers me.  We have a good time talking about rugby, Famous Grouse, as I explain the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner to him, and the lady across from me.  His name is Roy Dewar, the lady is Hellen.  Roy buys me a Tennent's beer for our 50 minute train ride.

2009_Scotland_1 066 A friendly Scot buys me a Tennant's beer to celebrate my first full day in Scotland.

It's Sunday in Edinburgh.  I check into my lodging at Salisbury Centre – a holistic health centre, run by a woman whose auntie is a friend of mine in Vancouver.  For the evening, I decide to walk into town in search of Homecoming events.  I discover the free Caille (traditional dancing) event at The Hub.  The band is called Whiskey Kiss. 
2009_Scotland_1 084 Whiskey Kiss played the St. Andrew's Day Ceilidh to celebrate the Homecoming Finale – click on the picture for video.

They are led by an  accordion player.  I like the band instantly – even though he plays button accordion.  They have a comely lass playing fiddle and a braw fellow on the drums.  A fellow also plays on the penny whistle flute and bagpipes.  But the big surprise is the additional of a dj who adds in ambient sounds and scratches – very cool.  I love their versions of Van Morrison's Blue Eyed Girl and Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.  But they also lead traditional country dances that include The Canadian Bar Dance, and The Virginia Reel.

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How to start a ceilidh.  Everybody waits on the dance floor while the
ceilidh leaders gives dance instructions, then the band gets going, and
the dance leaders start the dancing off!  Too much fun!

2009_Scotland_1 083 People are dancing and really having lots of fun! – click here for video
2009_Scotland_1 085 This is a great little video of the dancing – look for the big guy in a kilt – he's not afraid of a little kilt swirl!  Also look for the Asian woman who seems to really be enjoying herself!

Another surprise, there are Asians dancing.  Most turn out to be students from university.  They are from Taiwan or China. 

2009_Scotland_1 088 Sarah is a student at University of Edinburgh!

I chat with some of the young Scots and ask then if they think that St. Andrew's Day should be a national holiday.  They agree, but say that St. Andrews' events are slow to catch on. 

2009_Scotland_1 094 Young Scots enjoy the Ceilidh, and actually wore kilts!

The patron saint of Scotland is certainly not as big as the patron
saint of Ireland – St. Patrick.  I meet a young Scots woman whose
kilted boyfriend is missing a sporan… and kilt socks.  He is actually
originally from Bulgaria… but he loves Scottish music and Scottish
women – okay… just one woman in particular.

Toddish McWong arrives in Scotland for inaugural visit and reception at Scottish Parliament for “This is Who We Are”

Toddish McWong goes to Scotland: attends reception at Scottish Parliament and does live radio interview back to CBC Radio Vancouver

2009_Scotland_ThisIsWhoWeAre 111 After hosting the annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy: Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner for 12 years to celebration Chinese-Canadian and Scottish-Canadian arts and culture, I finally made a visit to Scotland. 

This is my first ever trip to Scotland… and I almost didn't make it.

It's the year of Scotland Homecoming, celebrating the 250th Anniversary of poet Robert Burns, and the 2009 version of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner was one of the listed events of Burns Suppers around the world.  The Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner is the largest Burns Supper in Vancouver (550) and we were chosen as the only Burns Supper in Vancouver to auction off one of only 250 specially made bottles of 37 year old Famous Grouse whisky as part of the Scotland Homecoming celebrations.

Earlier this year, my photo was included in a web photo exhibit THIS IS WHO WE ARE, for Cultural Connect Scotland created by Harry McGrath – former director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University.

2009_Scotland_ThisIsWhoWeAre 108Harry McGrath, Harry's brother-in-law and sister Gavin and Isabelle, Scottish minister of Justice Kenny MacAskill + Todd Wong – photo Todd Wong collection

On St. Andrew's Day, November 30th. There was a reception for a specially created version of photo and video THIS IS WHO WE ARE: Scots in Canada.  It is part of the finale events for Scotland Homecoming.  The event was co-hosted by First Minister Alex Salmond and Presiding Officers Alex Fergusson.

2009_Scotland_ThisIsWhoWeAre 077 Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister quoting Scottish born John Buchan, Scottish writer and former Governor General:

“For Canada, in one sense is simply Scotland writ large. Since I came here a year ago, I have never suffered for one moment from homesickness.  I find pine forests and swift streams, and trout, and salmon, and mountains, which are Scotland on a grander scale; and I find in parts of the prairies, green rolling hills like my own Borders.” – John Buchan, the creator of the Governor Generals Literary Awards in 1937,
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In the exhibition, a lifesize picture of Todd Wong aka Toddish McWong is featured in the Culture section.

I think this photo is from the photo archives sessions we did for CBC television performance special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”.  I was wearing the Royal Stuart tartan and holding the Chinese lion dance mask.

The reception at Scottish Parliament went well.  It was good to see
Harry McGrath – coordinator of the project again, along with his
photographer friend Graeme Murdoch.  They kept pulling me along to meet
their family members and some of the VIP dignataries such as:

  • Assistant High Commisioner of Canada, Claude Boucher – yes we spoke some french
  • Alex Fergussion MSP, Presiding Officer (Speaker of the House) – who co-hosted the event
  • Donald MacLeod of Victoria BC – who was a sponsor of the project

I met many other people such as:
a Canadian student in Edinburgh who's uncle in Coquitlam is proprietor of Roane's Top Quality Haggis
Calum Colvin – one of Edinburgh's top artists.
Linda Aberdeen, from Calgary, the organizer of Calgary Highland Games

I was introduced to the audience to good applause and as an example of cultural fusion, as an evolution and renewal of Scottish culture as it is shared and embraced by many people of different ethnicities.  It truly becomes an example of one of Robert Burns' most famous poems A Man's a Man for All That:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Hopefully, the exhibition can come tour
Canada and become a book with all the unused photos and video
interviews not used in the exhibition.

Stephen Quinn commented
on my “non-existant” Scottish accent. And to think I didna like or ken
Scots in Canada, when I was a wee bairn.

The reception finished at 8:30pm.

Pictures of the event are here on flickr:

Scotland - This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada

Scotland – This is Who We Are:…

After the reception, we next walked to Jenny Ha's Pub around the corner and up the street to celebrate and relax. 

But I had to go back to the Parliament building to do a radio interview back to CBC Radio One Vancouver for the ON THE COAST afternoon program with Stephen Quinn.  The phone reception was very good with no time delay.

Stephen asked me about my first visit to Scotland.  I replied it all feels somewhat familiar because I am finding street and place names that are the same such as Dundas St. or Buchanan St.  We talked a bit about the exhibition and how I had just met some Canadians here such as the organizer of the Calgary Highland Games and Chad – a student at the University of Edinburgh.  Chad wants to start a “Canadian Club” at the university and hopefully have a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner event for his friends to help celebrated Canada's multicultural fusion and “Canadianess”

Stephen also asked me about my “sypathetic” Scottish accent.  Yes… I am trying my best to fit in.

I am wearing my kilt about town.  I am meeting other kilt wearers – two of whom are also on the “X Marks the Scot” web forum. 

I am meeting Asians in Scotland.  Mostly they are students at the universities.  But one woman is an teacher of architecture in Glasgow.  Other people run Chinese restaurants in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

More later….