Monthly Archives: April 2012

A fantastic house on Saltspring – made and recycled of local materials found within 100 miles.

Yesterday I was at Saltspring Island for a board meeting of The Land Conservancy of BC.  We held the meeting in the home of Briony Penn, a founding director of TLC, and the current vice-chair.  She showed her this Globe & Mail article of her home.

All of the house’s lumber was cut down on the property, or salvaged.  The roof


Check this link to see the G&M photos of the housebuilding in process – some interior shots too!


Briony told us this great story about how she found the sink… just a few days before the building inspectors came to see the house.  It was found in the yard of a friend, thus reducing the cost of ordering a sink or purchasing it off-island.  And it was free!  This is a nice kitchen to work in with lots of counter space and natural light.
There are lots of personal touches that befit the house of a naturalist.  This is a whale spine bone about two feet in diameter… arranged with a Japanese glass float ball that washed across the Pacific Ocean, and other beach findings.
Remember that kitchen sink?  Well, the grey water from the sink goes through a holding tank and filter, then later finds its way into this pool, which is a habitat for local frogs.  The garden behind it is enclosed by an eight foot high fence to protect from deer, then later the garden’s produce finds its way into the kitchen for daily meals.

My first : Aida grand opera emphasizes human qualities and delights audience

Aida – produced by Vancouver Opera

Remaining dates April 28, May 1st, May 3rd

Reviewed on April 26th, by Todd Wong and Deb Martin

19th Century Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi was commissioned to write an opera, with French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette by Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt.  It is set during the ancient wars between Egypt and Ethiopia, and many years later Vancouver Opera stages with Russian singers, as well as Americans of Greek, African and Hawaiian ancestry in the lead roles.  Oftentimes, operas were set in exotic locales to entice the audience, resulting in many cultural stereotypes – but Aida was commissioned specifically for Egypt and had it’s world premiere in Cairo.  We went to see the opera after having dinner in a French-Tunisian restaurant on Commercial Drive.  Welcome to a very intercultural Vancouver.

There were no elephants or camels or falcons on stage at Vancouver Opera’s season closing production of Aida.  This is the opera which had been infamously presented at BC Place in 1989 with a large pyramid towed in on a barge, as well as at the base of the pyramids in Egypt and at the Masada.  No, the Vancouver Opera production alluded to grandeur with a set that featured the large head of a sphinx and entrance to a temple.  But oh – the singing was indeed grand, and it is what everybody was talking about.

Aida is played by Russian soprano Mladda Khudoley, whose voice soared above the combined chorus of epic singing, with almost 80 people on stage.


Aida’s love interest is Radames played by American tenor Arnold Rawls, which sets up a complicated love triangle because the Pharoah’s daughter Amneris, played by Greek-American mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas, is also smitten with him.  Hawaiian-American Quinn Kelsey is Amonasro the Ethiopian warrior king who is also father of Aida.  African-American Morris Robinson brings his earth shaking bass voice to the role of Ramfis the priest.

These are all wonderful voices with strong acting skills that add to this wonderful production.  Their nuanced glances and movements greatly enhanced their performances.

The first half of Aida which sets up the plot was typical Verdi, long & a bit musically boring, but the visuals and solo arias were interesting, especially the dancing choreographed by local Vancouverite Chan Hon Goh, former soloist with the National Ballet.  The 3rd Act opened after the intermission with a   a different style of music that really echoed Egyptian music, that brought back our attention.  Oftentimes in Grand Opera, someone launches into a long, long aria and death scenes are equally long, but this time, the brevity of the final dying scene took us by surprise.

The cool parts: the super pianissimo from the men’s chorus & the trumpets on stage. The huge chorus was exceptionally good – thanks going out to Leslie Dala for preparing them. The trumpets are on loan from the West Vancouver Youth Band and Burnaby South Secondary. They are trumpets, just straightened out instead of looped up.

Vancouver Opera’s most recent production of Barber of Seville, featured partial male nudity, with chorus and supernuneries getting changed as if they were in a movie set dressing room.   This time male Egyptian guards showed off some nice pecs and abdominal muscles, as well as the diversity of the human form.  But of course, the dancers had the best bodies and athletic skills – too bad it was hard for them to dance more expressively wearing hindering costumes.  We also thought the spray tans on the Egyptian guards were funny. The opera glasses let us get a good look.

We were excited about seeing Aida for the first time, having heard, of course, of the huge productions with live elephants & pyramids.  We almost expected the sphinx head on stage to open up at some point and release warriors, as the seams of the blocks it was built out of were so visible.  We thought surely it would come apart, having seen something similar in the VO’s production of Lillian Alling, when the forest trees parted to reveal a car “driving down the highway”.

Vancouver Opera productions have been consistently great in recent years. 2010’s version of Nixon in China has now been re-mounted by other companies and is becoming the go-to production.  For Aida, the orchestra is first rate, the chorus shines, and the soloists carefully selected to thrill.  While this show didn’t sparkle & zip like West Side Story, or amuse us with novelty & “buffa” like Barber of Seville or Italian Girl in Algiers, it was solid and classic, and beautifully performed.  We will remember it because it was our first… maybe just like the lovers of Aida and Radames!

Check out this youtube footage of Vancouver Opera’s AIDA rehearsal:

AIDA rehearsal footage with interviews – YouTube Apr 2012 – 2 min – Uploaded by vancouveropera
Vancouver Opera presents Aida at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. April 21 – May 3, 2012.

Earth Day paddling in False Creek….

Happy Earth Day…  we celebrated on our dragon boat practice for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team, by recognizing some of the aquatic and environmental highlights of False Creek.   We talked about some of the ways False Creek has been cleaned up since the 1970’s, and how the Expo 86 site made a big difference.  We pointed out where Sweeney’s Barrels used to be and is now Cooper’s Park.  The first dragon boats were donated by the Hong Kong Pavillion, and on display for the festival in what is now the Yaletown habour.   False Creek used to be all industry with mills, factories, etc – but now it has been cleaned up to the point that herring eggs … and oysters… are now alive in False Creek.

Here we are paddling into the bay at David Lam Park, where Earth Day celebrations were held with author Eckart Tolle.   I am holding a dragon boat paddle, as we do stretching exercises midway through our practice.  – photo Dave Samis.
It was actually quite warm and the sun was deceptively burning…  I now have sunburn on my forehead.  Usually I always have a cap to wear on my head… but I took that into the house the other day when I was wearing it in the rain.
We paddled up to Granville Island and under the Granville St. Bridge – photo Dave Samis
We paddled up to the Burrard St. Bridge, then turned around and came back. – photo Dave Samis
After paddling, some of us went to all-you-can-eat at Ji Sushi, on the NE corner of Broadway @ Cambie.  Then I went to check out Earth Day celebrations at Grandview Park on Commercial Drive.  Nice to see the displays and the dj’s were playing reggae music.

Gung Haggis dragon boat team is having fun on the water

Gung Haggis paddlers had lots of smiles on last Sunday’s practice.  Four of our five practices have had sunshine… pretty lucky!  Hillary and Anne took on lead stroke duties.  We had two brand new paddlers Florian and Tara, who did really well.  They did so well, we had them paddling the boat by themselves at the end of the practice. – photo Todd Wong

Our practices are Sundays 11am – 1pm, and Wednesdays 6pm to 7:30pm.  2012 is our teams’ 15th anniversary since starting as Celebration Team, and the 10th anniversary after being renamed Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  Over the years, we have won dragon boat race medals in Vancouver, Vernon, Victoria, Richmond, Seattle, Portland, and Bamff.  We have also won the Hon. David Lam Award for being the team that best represents the spirit of multiculturalism at Vancouver’s Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, and also the Community Spirit Award at the Lotus Sports Club regatta in Burnaby.

On April 1st, it was a lovely warm sunny day…  Karl and Anne take a break here, while the rest of the team paddles.  Lead strokes work hard, and set the pace for the team.  Last year we named Anne the top female rookie paddler.  I initially coached Karl on the Killarney High School Jr team where he was team captain in his final year.  After graduation, he came to join the Gung Haggis team and is now helping me on this website. – photo Dave Samis
Xavier’s first day of steering a dragon boat.  He looks great in his kilt.   Xavier has worn a kilt to every practice since he joined our team last year.  He brings a lot of character to our team, and is now our team’s new kiltmaker.  Xavier also brings musical skills to the team.  He plays guitar and sings.   I invited him to join the Black Bear Rebels, a celtic ceilidh group I play accordion with.  It is led by my bagpiper friend Allan McMordie who has performed at the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinners for the past few years.   A few months ago, the Black Bear Rebels performed at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens for both the Winter Solstice Secret Lantern Festival, and the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. – photo Dave Samis.

John Asfour, our first writer-in-residence, returns to Historic Joy Kogawa House

John Asfour with his friend Judy Rebick, author and activist. – photo T.Wong
The return of John Asfour to Historic Joy Kogawa House
– our inaugural writer-in-residence from 2009. Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 till 9:00pm, for readings from his new poetry collection, Blindfold.

John Asfour served as our inaugural writer-in-residence in 2009, and during his three-month residency he completed this moving collection of poems on the distance surrounding disability. The poems were published in 2011 by McGill-Queens University Press and were recently selected to tour North America for the Association of American University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show.

“Asfour provides readers with a deeply moving glimpse into the frustrations and disorientation of physical loss, as well as the heroic effort to find the language and metaphors that will translate his experience into poetry.” Harold Heft, The Montreal Gazette

John Asfour with friends: Shelagh Rogers, Jean Baird, George Bowering and George Stanley – photo T. Wong


John Mikhail Asfour is a translator and former professor of literature. The editor of the landmark anthology When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, he has written four previous books of poems.

Admission by donation, but space is limited. To reserve a seat, please RSVP to

Kogawa House farewell event to Deborah Willis, our 4th writer-in-residence

Deborah Willis hosted her final reading at Historic Joy Kogawa House where she has been writer-in-residence since January.  John Asfour, our first writer-in-residence, was a surprise guest, as he is in town from Montreal for book launches of his new work Blindfold.
Deborah now goes on to her next writer in residence in Spain, and at University of Calgary,
Deborah Willis read a new short story that she had written while at Kogawa House.  The final event at the house was attended by friends, students and members of Kogawa House Society.
Prior to the reading, we had a dinner with members of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society Board.  We were joined by Tamsin Baker, Vancouver area manager for The Land Conservancy of BC – owners of Kogawa House.  Author John Asfour was a surprise guest.  left to right in the photo is Tamsin, Deborah, Christine, Ann-Marie Metten and John Asfour. is back! and now on Word Press

From March 29 to April 14, the blog was down due to migration to a new software program.   All stories and pictures have now been migrated to Word Press format.

We apologize for any inconvenience to our readers.

But this now updates our presentation abilities with up-to-date blog software.  The previously used Blogware software was a pioneer in 2003, when Gung Haggis Fat Choy blog was first launched.  It held up pretty well, without significant changes, while the blogware added taglines, and the social media world turned to Facebook and Twitter.

In the next few weeks, we will try to maximize the presentation options available through the Word Press format.

Here are some of the highlights from the first month of blogging in December 2003:

Gung Haggis Fat Choy – a Poem by Todd Wong

My first post on December 3 was a poem I wrote about Gung Haggis Fat Choy

Todd’s first post – brief history of the dinner


The first post that I wrote was a history of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Dinner starting from the first 1998 dinner for sixteen guests.  It also described the upcoming 2004 dinner that had been expeanded to two nights to host five hundred people.

Todd’s smart cross-cultural outfit – The finest in kilts and dragons

Sometime in the 21st century, Todd sports a smart ensemble consisting of a dragon’s head and a kilt.

Our blog site is mentioned in the Vancouver Sun! We’re almost famous now!

By December 13th, the brand new two-week old blog was mentioned in the Vancouver Sun.  On page H1 is an article called “Life is but a blog.” On page H2 is a continuation with a call out titled B.C. Blogging Sites and Blogs – which included the Gung Haggis Fat Choy blog.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy Poetry Night – January 12, 2004, Monday – 7:30pm Vancouver Public Library

Dec 16 post listed poets that were being featured in our Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch including: Neil Gray: (Scotland) to recite Robbie Burns, Fiona Tin Wei Lam (born in Scotland), Joe McDonald: bagpipes, Norman Morrison: (Scotland) reciting Canadian poet Robert Service, Louie Hummer : (Scotland) vocals, Jacinda Oldale: Scottish Canadian, Trev Sue-A-Quan: (Guyana), Jim Wong-Chu: author and poet, Mr. Yizhong: Chinese (Mandarin)

TV Special coming in January

December 19th post gave a brief description of the upcoming CBC television performance special titled “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”. It was amazing to be part of the creation of this program, which also featured performances by The Paperboys, Silk Road Music, George Sapounidis, and my good bagpiper friend Joe McDonald and his band Brave Waves.

Here is a link to a video clip, produced by Moyra Rodger of Out To See Productions.  Check it out to see a re-creation of the first dinner for 16 people, but with my parents and my then 94 year old grandmother.

View Clip