Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy Hogmanay – May Auld Aquaintance be naught forgot….

Scottish Hogmanay New Year
+ Chinese-Canadian History

=  Gung Haggis Fat Choy

It can be cold wearing kilts in winter, but here are Joe McDonald, Bruce Clark, Todd Wong and Xavier MacDonald at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens for the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival.  Joe, Xavier and myself with The Black Bear Rebels music ensemble helped to create a Winter Solstice Music Ceilidh on December 21st for the event.

DSC_5772_143286 - end of day jam session by FlungingPictures

Members of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pipes & Drums – included Dan Huang of the Kelowna Pipes & Drums

years are new beginnings, and every culture celebrates them differently
and similarly.  That’s the great thing about being in a multicultural
nation such as Canada.  All of the world’s cultures live inside our
borders and we can freely share and partake of each other’s cultures.
Yes, there are still racist bigots and idiots out there, and that is why
it is so important for us to embrace cultural harmony and help to build
a country we want to be proud of.

The origin of Gung Haggis Fat Choy
started when I was asked to participate in the 1993 Robbie Burns Day
celebration at Simon Fraser University.  In 1998, I decided to
host a dinner for 16 guests that blended Robbie Burns Day(January 25th)
with Chinese lunar New Year (late January to early February).  Now the
dinner event that has grown to an size of almost 500 guests, a CBC
television special, an annual poetry night
at the Vancouver Public Library, a recreation event at Simon Fraser
University…. and media stories around the world!

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve, and it is celebrated on New Year’s Eve with a Grand Dinner. It can be very similar to Chinese New Year’s in many ways:

1) Make lots of noise.
Chinese like to burn firecrackers, bang drums and pots to scare the
ghosts and bad spirits away.  Scots will fire off cannons, sound
sirens, bang pots and make lots of noise, I think just for the excuse
of making noise.

2) Pay off your debts.
Chinese like to ensure that you start off the New Year with no debts
hanging onto your personal feng shui.  I think the Scots do the
same but especially to ensure that they aren’t paying anymore interest.

3) Have lots of good food.  Eat lots and be merry.  Both Scots and Chinese enjoy eating, hosting their friends and visiting their friends.

4) Party on dude!  In
Asia, Chinese New Year celebrations will go on for days, lasting up to
a week!  Sort of like Boxing week sales in Canada.  In
Scotland, the Scots are proud partyers and are well known for making
parties last for days on end.

Come to think about it… the above traditions can be found in many
cultures… I guess the Scots and Chinese are more alike than different
with lots of other cultures too!

Kalmalka Christmas time, December 2012

I am back at Kalamalka Lake.  The water is clear and cold…  no swimming today… maybe some canoe paddling tomorrow… or maybe we will head up the hill to Silver Star for some ice skating…

Only 36 hours ago, I put my accordion in the car, along with skates, wine, camera, etc… and I hit the road to  meet up with Deb and her parents in Vernon for a White Christmas.  This is now the 10th year I have come to Vernon.

It was an easy drive up the Coquihalla Hwy.  It started snowing lightly in Hope, but there was some sunshine past the former toll area up to the Connector summit, where there was more snow and minus 7. Then it got foggy and more snowy, so we all drove more slowly.  It is rreat to be back at Kalamalka Lake now – but we usually swim only in the summer in July and August.  There can be snow on the Coquihalla at Easter or Thanksgiving or Remembrance Day weekends.  I usually come to visit at least 3 or 4 times in the year.  Sometimes twice in the summer.

I love the Okanagan now, especially in the summer.  It’s hard to believe that when I was 11 to 13 years old, our family used to come to Vernon to spend a week’s vacation at Silver Star for skiing in February.  Our parents would take us out of school for a week.  I learned to ski really well.  The last time we came to Vernon was when I was 16 years old.  I never ever saw Vernon or the Okangan Valley in the summer time. (sigh).  I have more than made up for it now.  The lake is so peaceful in the winter.  All the loud motorboats and sea-dos are gone.  I love Kalamalka Lake in the winter too.

Fiddler on the Roof is a wonderful inter-generational musical for any ethnic group

Fiddler on the Roof

Gateway Theatre

Dec 12-31, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof is known as a 1964 hit Jewish Broadway musical that won 9 Tony Awards, while the 1971 film adaptation wan 2 Oscars and 3 Golden Globe Awards.   I grew up playing the songs on my accordion, because my mother used to listen to the movie soundtrack while I grew up in the 1970’s.  “Sunrise Sunset” and “If I Was a Rich Man” are great songs to play on the accordion, as well as “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss” from the musical The Sound of Music.  But instead of thinking that this musical was about Jewish people, I found myself thinking of the similarities to the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “The Flower Drum Song” which was about Chinese-Americans dealing with a clash between generations in San Francisco, which had recently been performed in Vancouver and Richmond by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre.  Fiddler on the Roof deals with universal themes of family, love, generational divide, while addressing racial discrimination and anti-semitism.

David Adams is brilliant as Tevye, the family patriarch.  He has a full rich voice and presents a warm humane character that struggles between his own ambitions singing “If I Were A Rich Man”, as well as the balance of “Tradition” with his wife Golde (Patti Allan) and letting their daughters be happy, and be empowered to make their own decisions about love and life, or not.  It is a time of social and political changes in Russia, and there are hints at the changing times and what this will mean to the small Jewish village.   A teacher named Perchik (Gaelan Beatty) comes to town, telling the villagers about what is happening in other cities.  Tevye takes a liking to the young man and barters with him to help educate his children.  This sets the wheels in motion for the challenges to the family in this musical.  Perchik bring knowledge of the outside world to the village, and falls in love with the oldest of Tevye’s daughters Yenta (Barbara Pollard).

The stage is simple, but works well.  The raised platform with doors, acting as either a village yard or the inside of a restaurant or house.  The musicians in the live pit orchestra are wonderful, led by music director Allen Stiles.  I especially the clarinetist, as it squeaked and bent the musical notes so I could really imagine a Jewish klezmer band coming alive with each song.  During the intermission, I was surprised to learn that my violinist friend Mark Ferris was playing in the pit orchestra, so I sent him a text about the clarinetist, who replied “Thanks” to my compliment.  The Gateway Theatre always employs great local musicians for their productions and the feedback is always genuine when I hear how much they are enjoying themselves.

The direction and cast are good.  There is strong acting from all the characters, but especially from Tevye’s three daughters and his wife.  Unfortunately, not all the actors have strong singing voices, so the use of microphones changes the ambiance levels and can be a distraction.  The action and the dialogue flows smoothly, and I found myself smiling a lot.  It was a real pleasure to see the dancing in the musical.  I don’t know how accurately traditional it was but it felt authentic.  And the dancing at the wedding of Perchik and Yenta is one of the philosophical turning points in the play.  The choreography is by Dawn Ewen, who is originally from Scotland.

While I thought that this was a great show for Vancouver because there is a strong Jewish community, it is even more important for other ethnic groups like Richmond’s large Chinese population, to see the show and learn more about the commonalities we all face.  And so I found myself thinking how the musical could be performed with Asian actors, and still be very relevant in almost any culture.  Ahh… but there are Asians in the cast, and Sharon Ong Crandall is one of them, playing multiple roles – but most brilliant in her role as Fruma-Sarah’s ghost.  It is a pivotal scene in the play. Gateway has always been supportive of colour blind casting for their supporting roles and chorus, and I absolutely remember being thrilled to see their production of “Brigadoon” a few years ago.  (Of course, I could imagine myself in the lead role – or at least wish I could be…)

I enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof, and was personally surprised to learn how much Jewish culture I have been recently learning, especially since I attended a friend’s Jewish wedding 2 years ago, and my partner got to hold one of the poles of the happa – a suspended cloth canopy held up over the bridal couple during the ceremony.  Having this personal experience, as well as knowing that I have so many friends of Jewish ancestry, whose own daughters are marrying into different cultures, just made this musical all the more real and poignant for me.




Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy tickets now available

Hi everybody – You can be the first to order a table…
for the 2013 Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year.

~ change of ticket sales:
is now through Ricepaper Magazine – We thank Firehall Arts Centre for helping us with ticket sales for the past few years, but are now trying to do it in-house at Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop / Ricepaper Magazine.  Please check out Firehall Arts Centre for the great multicultural programming that they do.

~ new theme for 2013:
celebrating Sir James Douglas, the father of BC and first governor in 1858.
~new incentive to buy tickets early:
We are going to put a bottle of wine on the tables that are ordered by January 1st

Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy

Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner

Sunday January 27, 2013

Celebrating BC Scottish and Chinese pioneer culture, history – in music, poetry and culinary fusion

Photo by Deb Martin

Reception: 5:00 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm – 9:15 pm
Floata Seafood Restaurant (#400 – 180 Keefer St, Chinatown Vancouver)

Ticket:  $65/each.
Table of 10: $625
Each ticket includes $5 service charge.
You can purchase ticket online or over the phone with a credit card, please call Kristin Cheung at Ricepaper magazine at 604-872-3464.


History of Gung Haggis:
In 1998, “Toddish McWong” held a small private dinner for 16 friends with food, haggis, poetry and songs – from both Scottish and Chinese cultures and thus was born – Gung Haggis Fat Choy –  Now it is a dinner for 400 people!  More than  a traditional dinner with music and poetry.  Gung Haggis Fat Choy re-imagines a traditional Robert Burns Dinner format, within a BC or Canadian historical context that puts Scottish-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian pioneers on an inclusive and equal platform, while acknowledging historical racism and how we move beyond it.  This event has grown to also celebrate contemporary Scottish-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian artists and poets and their innovations to create something uniquely Canadian, and a heckuva lot of FUN!

16 Years of Highlights for Gung Haggis Fat Choy (GHFC) & Toddish McWong:
1998 – 1st Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner for 16 people in a living room.
1999 – 1st dinner in a restaurant for 40 people
2001 – 1st media interviews for Ubyssey newspaper and 100 attendees as we fill the Grandview Szechwan Restaurant
2002 – 200 attendees in a snow storm as we outgrow the Spicy Court Restaurant + Media interviews for Vancouver Sun and CBC Radio and City TV
2003 – 1st Creation of deep-fried haggis wonton, and we move to Flamingo Restaurant on Fraser.
2004 – CBC television performance special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”– nominated for 2 Leo Awards
2005 – SFU GHFC Festival with dragon cart racing + human curling
2005 – 500 attendees and we move to Floata Restaurant in Vancouver Chinatown.
2006 – GHFC photo included in Paul Yee book Saltwater City
2007 – “Address to the Haggis” rap version performed by Todd Wong & Joe McDonald
2007 – GHFC featured in CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy
2008 –  Toddish McWong photo in BC Canada Pavillion during  Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.
2008 – Photo of Toddish McWong in the Royal BC Museum exhibit “The Party”
2009 – GHFC written about in Charles Demers’ book Vancouver Special
2009 – Toddish McWong featured speaker at Centre for Scottish Studies SFU conference “Burns in Trans-Atlantic context”
2009 – Toddish McWong photo featured at Scottish Parliament in the exhibit “This is Who We Are: Scots in Canada.”
2010 – UBC Assistant Professor Larissa Lai, who teaches Burns poetry, is the featured poet and reads from her BC Book Prize-nominated collection Automaton Diaries
2010 – feature souvenir items from Burns Cottage such as a tam and bow-tie given to Bill Saunders, president of VDLC, who gives the Immortal Memory
2011 – “Gung HAPA Fat Choy” dinner features mixed-race artists and performers and inspires the creation of the  Hapa-Palooza Festival for Vancouver 125 Celebrations
Photo by Deb Martin
Previous artist and writers included:
Writers: Joy Kogawa, Fred Wah, Brad Cran, Larissa Lai, Rita Wong, George McWhirter, Jim Wong-Chu, Lensey Namioka, Fiona Tinwei Lam.
Musicians: Silk Road Music, Heather Pawsey soprano, Lan Tung, and Blackthorn
Film makers:  Jeff Chiba Stearns, Ann-Marie Fleming and Moyra Rodger.

Menu Highlights include:
Deep-fried haggis wonton + haggis pork dumpling (su-mei) and appetizer courses.
“Neeps” served Chinese style in the form of pan-fried turnip cake, dim sum style.
Traditional haggis is served with Chinese lettuce wrap.

And we always feature fun sing-alongs such as Loch Lomand, My Chow Mein (Bonny) Lies Over the Ocean, and When Asian Eyes Are Smiling.
Lots of surprises… such as new for 2012 – a revamped version of Robbie Burns lyrics set to Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley music.

For Media Inquires Contact:
Todd Wong

Pirates at the Opera!

Pirates of Penzance
Vancouver Opera
Dec 1-9, 2012
Pirates were roaming the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in the lobby, prior to Vancouver Opera’s wonderful production of Pirates of Penzance.  I went on Tuesday evening and the crowd was still buzzing from Saturday’s opening.  It was a lovely touch to have some of the chorus members interacting with the audience prior to the show.

Gilbert and Sullivan is not often performed by serious opera companies.  And to me, it often represents Victorian colonial values, which I have tried to rebel against in the quest for post-modern multicultural Canada.  But Pirates of Penzance was also written as social satire, critiquing the values of the day.  And with more multicultural inclusion of global pirates such as Chow Yun Fat in the Pirates of Penzance: End of the World movie,  I think I can allow myself a little more enjoyment.

This version of Pirates of Penzance is a lot of fun!  The cast and the orchestra are having fun.  We know this because the pirate king pointed his pistol at conductor Jonathan  Darlington, who also during the final applause sported a pirate hat.  And the audience was having fun… there was lots of laughter from the audience at appropriate moments, as they followed the actors and staging.

If you remotely like Gilbert and Sullivan – you will love this production.  If you have never before experienced G & S, then you will like this production.  If you were not raised in a country of the British commonwealth, then you will learn about the culture and history of the realm, and understand better about British humour, the evolution of British Music hall tradition and Broadway musicals, and maybe why the sun set on the British empire.  The program notes are by my former English teacher from Capilano College Graham Forst, who now teachers literature, philosphy and opera history at both UBC and SFU, and just happens to be married to opera star mezzo-soprano Judith Forst, who plays “Ruth” in this production.  He dares the audience to not leave the theatre humming some of the songs for this light opera.

Most G & S productions I have seen are usually by small or amateur opera/theatre companies.  So to have Vancouver Opera give Pirates a lavish treatment on the huge stage is a wonderful treat.  But then to ask Vancouver’s celebrity and theatrical Shakespearean star actor Christopher Gaze to pay Major General Stanley, and ask him to direct – is an opportunity for both the audience and Gaze, who said he “jumped at the chance.

– More to come….

Christopher Gaze was a wonderful and the very model of a modern major general, as Major-General Stanley.  We congratulated him on his performance following the show.

Karen Cho’s new film “Status Quo?” wins World Documentary Award at Whistler Film Festival


Montreal film maker Karen Cho wins the World Documentary Award at the 2012 Whistler Film Festival. photo courtesy of Craig Takeuchi

Karen Cho’s new movie about Feminism, “Status Quo?” won the top documentary prize at Whistler Film Festival on December 2nd.

I initially met Karen probably around 2004 when she brought Shadow of Gold Mountain (2004) to Vancouver.  It is an extremely moving documentary about the Chinese Head Tax Survivors and descendants,and questioned how one side of the her family (white) could be given free land to come to Canada, while the other side of the family (Chinese) would be charged a racist head tax and denied citizenship.  It also features interviews with my friends: activist Sid Tan, WW2 Veteran Gim Wong; and recently deceased Charlie Quon – the first person to receive an ex-gratia Head Tax Redress payment after the Canadian government apologized in 2006.

Read Craig Takeuchi’s story in the Georgia Straight.

“When Montreal-based director Karen Cho won the World Documentary Award at the 2012 Whistler Film Festival on December 2 for Status Quo? , a film about the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and issues in Canada, she said that she was “absolutely shocked”. She said she had seen the other films in the competition, which she regarded as ‘high-calibre docs’. But she said she was thrilled that it had garnered such attention at a festival like WFF. (She also received a standing ovation.)

“‘To have it recognized in a more mainstream way really will help propel the issues that the film talks about into the spotlight and hopefully get people talking and thinking about these things,’ she told the Straight shortly after her win. ‘So I think it’s great for what we’re trying to do with the film is create change.'”

125 Places That Matter in Vancouver, includes Hastings Park Livestock building that housed detained Japanese-Canadians during WW2

Vancouver Heritage Foundation had a ceremony on Dec 1 to recognize the Livestock Building at Hastings Park, an important part of Japanese Canadian Internment History, as one of Vancouver’s Places that Matter.
At 1pm, everybody met in the Hastings Room, and MC Lorene Oikawa, told people the order of events.  We would do a walk to the Livestock Building for an unveiling, followed by a walk to Momoji Gardens for a Parks Canada unveiling.  Finally we would return to the Hastings Room for formal speeches, personal stories, and presentations in appreciation.
Marta Farevaag, Chair of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, watches as Mary Kitagawa steps back from unveiling the plaque for the Livestock Building at Hastings Park.
Mary had recently pushed for the University of British Columbia to recognize the Japanese Canadian students that were not allowed to finish their degrees at UBC because they were interned during WW2.  It was an emotional ceremony when 76 students were honoured with degrees at a special tribute 70 years later.
Watch this video of Mary Kitagawa speaking about the detainment and internment of Japanese Canadians during WW2.  Roy Miki, Japanese-Canadian Redress co-leader and author stands at the top of the stairs in long dark coat and white hair.  Chinese-Canadian historian/author Larry Wong stands on the stairs in rust coloured jacket.  Lorene Oikawa, union leader and human rights activist stands on the right in red coat.
The Parks Canada plaque at Momoji Gardens was re-located for better public viewing, and unveiled.

One of the event attendees shares a personal moment, as she stands beside the plaque with photos of family members.

Naomi Yamamoto MLA, is the first Japanese-Canadian to be elected to the BC Legislature.  She shared a story how her father had spent 5 months living as a detainee at the Livestock Building.  Naomi explained that because her father was an older teen-aged boy, he was separated from his mother.  His father had already been separated from their family and sent to a labour work camp.  Unfortunately, her father could not attend the ceremonies on Saturday, due to not feeling up to it.
My friend Ann-Marie Metten was deeply touched by some of the personal stories.  She wrote:
“Mary Ohara’s story resounded. She told of her incarceration in March 1942 in the livestock barns at Hastings Park, still reeking with manure and infested with bugs. Birds flew overhead and fouled their blankets. Bedbugs bit at night, and the administrators brought in DDT and sprayed the bedding, including the blankets under which the children would sleep at night.

“At age twelve, Mary developed mumps and had to be isolated from others so as not to sprea the highly communicable disease. She and other children were moved to the coal-storage area under the livestock barns, where only a small hole high in one of the walls let in daylight. In the darkness, other young children cried for their families. She was held there for ten days.”
My friends: Ellen Crowe-Swords, Ann-Marie Metten (executive director of Historic Joy Kogawa House), and Joy Kogawa – author of Obasan, the first novel to address the issues of the internment of Japanese Canadians.  Roy Miki, Simon Fraser University Professor Emeritus and 2003 Governor General’s Award Winner for Poetry, had called Obasan, “A novel that I believe is the most important literary work of the past 30 years for understanding Canadian history.”
My friend Inger Iwaasa and my accordion.  Inger married a Japanese Canadian, and her daughter is pianist Rachel Iwaasa, who performed at Kogawa House for the presentation when Joy Kogawa was named recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.  Inger said she recognized each of the songs that I performed: Sakura, Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), O Solo Mio, Neil Gow’s Lament, Hungarian Dance No.5, Dark Eyes.  I wanted to perform a mixed repertoire that would represent many of the ethnic groups that had come to settle in Vancouver: Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Hungarian and Russian.
Todd Wong, Judy Hanazawa, Jessica Quan – special projects coordinator VHF, Mary Kitagawa, Lorene Oikawa, Tosh Kitagawa.