Category Archives: Commentaries

Thoroughly Modern Millie scores both hits and misses, but is splendidly cast

Diana Kaarina stars in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Asian-Canadian actors steal the stage in TUTS' Thoroughly Modern Millie

Theatre Under the Stars at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park

July 15 to Aug. 22

Tickets $32 to $39,

Falling in love is one of the most wonderful things in life.  There's lots of “falling in love” in the Thoroughly Modern Millie production by Theatre Under the Stars.  This makes it a wonderful choice to see with a date.

Diana Kaarina is wonderful as the title character Millie Dumount, who hops off a bus from Kansas and makes her way in New York City.  Set in 1922, Millie decides to find a rich husband, by seducing her boss.  Trouble is, first she has to get a job, and a place to live.. 

Millie settles in at the Hotel Priscilla, a place for young women.  It's on the wrong side of 42nd St., and run by the very strange Mrs. Meers – who may be Chinese or not.  Millie has a series of adventures that include getting a job as a stenographer, going to a speakeasy during prohibition, getting arrested, and going to a fabulous party in the penthouse suite of socialite Muzzy van Hossmere.

Everything about this musical is campy, and over the top.  The music is a pastiche of well-known melodies from other productions.  The plot contains misplaced identities, misunderstood intentions, star-crossed lovers, and a kidnapping.  But the wonderful dancing and singing numbers make you forget that everything seems cliched.  Indeed, Thoroughly Modern Millie is designed to pay homage to old musicals, with tongue-in-cheek fun.

Diana Kaarina brings a lot of experience to this production.  She created the role of Miss Dorothy Brown (Millie's BFF) for the First National tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003).  Kaarina brings lots of Broadway experience, having been the closing Eponine in Les Miserables (2003) and also playing roles in Rent and The Phantom of the Opera.

Kaarina brings a touching humaness to the character of Millie.  She isn't just the talk-talking gold digger who wants to marry her boss, but she also cares for her friends and is willing to make sacrifices.

All the lead roles are played well.  Meaghan Anderssen plays the ditzy Miss Dorothy Brown with great comic aplomb, which she did so very well in last year's TUTS production of Annie Get Your Gun.

Danny Balkwill plays Jimmy Smith, the poor but dashing young son of a gardener.  Audience members might recognize him as one of the competitors in Canadian Idol. 

Seth Drabinsky plays Trevor Graydon, the boss that Millie wants to marry.  Drabinsky excells in elocution, as he sings “The Speed Test” which is a Gilbert & Sullivan parody, complete with Busby Berkeley styled dancing.  Wow!

I didn't expect to see Asian-Canadian actors or Asian characters in
Thoroughly Modern Millie.  But it was there in subtle ways… and not
so subtle ways.  The program points out that lead actor Diana Kaarina is Half -Finnish and Half-Chinese. Either way, she is still a beauty, similar to Smallville actor Kristin Kreuk who ancestry is Half-Dutch/Half-Chinese.

The subplot involves the character of Mrs. Meers who runs the Hotel Priscilla, and also employs two Chinese henchmen for a side business of kidnapping.  Sarah Rodgers is over the top, as Mrs. Meers – so highly unbelievable character, that she can only exist in a musical.  Aaron Lau and Daeyoung Danny Kim play the characters of Ching Ho and Bun Foo.  They strive to make the characters realistic, speaking in only Chinese, and also performing some martial arts moves on stage.

While I found it refreshing to see Asian actors playing authentic Chinese characters speaking good Chinese, without being traditionally stereotyped. The stereotypes still persisted in other ways.

Racial stereotypes of Chinese in Thoroughly Modern Millie

I was shocked
that this musical contained lots of out-dated Chinese stereotypes including:
a Chinese laundry, kidnapping for white slavery, bad Chinese accents,
and a female actor in “white face” playing a white woman masquerading
as a Chinese woman. Much less culturally sensitive than Robert Downey
Jr playing a black man in Tropic Thunder

of the sub-plot is that white girls are sold into white slavery and
shipped off to China, by the character of Mrs. Meers, a white woman dressed up as a Chinese woman –
who doesn't even have a proper Chinese accent – She keeps
mis-prounouncing her “L's” as “R's”

She keeps saying things like “Ssssso saaaad, to be arrrr arrrrone in dis worrrrld”

I realize that this is supposed to be a fun frothy romp, and every character is stereotyped to extreme measures…

Asian ethnic actors play the Asian roles and do NOT speak in bad
Chinese accents – but actually in good Cantonese.  The play makes fun
of the stereotypes…

But I still felt uncomfortable watching
the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in this way.  There are many
people in today's audience who don't realize the origins of such
stereotypes, nor the harm that was caused over decades of racism.

Check out what the Asian American theatre review had to say about the
two Chinese henchmen, singing “Mammy” in Chinese – originally sung by
Al Jolson, wearing a “black face” when he played a black man on stage.

The original movie was made in 1967 starring Julie Andrews and Mary
Tyler Moore. Japanese-American actor comics Jack Soo and Pat Morita
played the Chinese henchmen. The Broadway musical debuted in 2002, with
the roles of the Chinese henchmen expanded. They only speak in proper
Chinese. It's the white actress playing a white woman who disguises Read Moreherself
as a pastiche of Asian stereotypes and accents. The purpose was to
“cleverly” make fun of racial stereotypes. Almost every character is
stereotyped to extremes in this post-modern Broadway musical.

arguable that the perpetuation of stereotypes in any form is still
de-humanizing and destructive OR have we come far enough that we should
be able to recognize such stereotypes for what they are, and be able to
laugh at the stupidity and ridiculousness of the people who perpetuate

The best use of “Clever” parodying of racial stereotypes was in Marty
Chan's “Mom, Dad, I'm Living With A White Girl.” The stereotypes take
place in the main character's dream about him mother and father
becoming a dragon lady and her loyal henchman. In this case, the
context is about racial and cultural stereotypes, and easily understood
by the Read Moreaudience.

in Millie, while the 2 Chinese characters are played very straight and
respectful, speaking in good cantonese, and humourously holding up
sheets of laundry for a clever display of “subtitles” – The fact
remains that they are still Chinese laundry workers, part of a “white
slavery” kidnapping operation.

The character of Mrs. Henessey
is still a white woman pretending to be Asian, by wearing a “painted
face”, speaking mixed up Asian accent, and perpetuating stereotypes.  Check out youtube portrayals of Mrs. Meers.

Otherwise – the cast is GREAT!
the lead who plays the title character Millie Dumont is Broadway
veteran, Vancouver born Diana Kaarina, half-Chinese and half-Finnish.

Other reviews

Vancouver Sun review: Millie shines in a show burdened by too much business

Georgia Straight: Thoroughly Modern Millie full of relentless enthusiasm

Gay Vancouver Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie is throughouly enjoyable | Theatre

Why Michael Jackson…. and Frank Sinatra Matters….

Michael was a revolutionary. He changed the way music was performed, and he challenged the way we looked at the world…
Sinatra had done the same…

Like Bing Crosby with the advent of the microphone, Sinatra and long play concept albums, Elvis and rock and roll, Dylan and folk music, Michael Jackson was there for music videos and pushed the boundaries.  

Like Sinatra and Elvis, he pushed the boundaries of “race music” while helping to create greater racial acceptance.  Sinatra helped open the doors for black artists, including Sammy Davis Jr. as a member of the “Rat pack” and speaking for racial equality.  Jackson did the same in his own way, not only performing with white artists such as Paul McCartney and Britney Spears, but also in his personal life – dating and befriending many people such as Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor and marrying Lisa Marie Presley, as examples of greater dissolution of borders between black and white.

This past week, I have been reading the book “Why Sinatra Matters” written by Pete Hamill soon after the death of Sinatra.  With all the media attention around MJ's death, I have listened to the music and watched the videos, and recalled my own memories and experiences of how Michael Jackson's music has been part of my life.


By reading “Why Sinatra Matters” it gives a greater context and template to examine how Michael Jackson's life, music and dance have impacted on both American and global popular culture.  Both were affected by their ethnic roots where their communities were treated as 2nd class: Sinatra grew up in the time between the World Wars, when Italians were immigrants to America and worked as labourers to survive.  Jackson grew up during the 60's at the time of the American civil rights movement and the rise of African-American studies and culture.  Both men forged their ways to greater acceptance of the American dream, breaking through barriers and claiming their places amongst the perceived White Anglo Saxon Protestants mainstream.

Both Sinatra and Jackson, had also been constant targets in the press and tabloids.  While Sinatra's supposed mob connections kept him out of purchasing a Las Vegas resort, Jackson was also the constant target for his court cases of child abuse and his plastic surgery.  But both men also were great philanthropists and addressed the greater good.  Jackson's songs “We Are The World,” “The Man in the Mirror” and “Earth Song” are part of his legacy, as surely as Sinatra's work with Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson at the recording session for Sinatra's last solo studio album  L.A. is My Lady (not including the duets albums), produced by Quincy Jones who also produced the Jackson albums “Off the Wall,” and “Thriller.”

From the intro:

“When Frank Sinatra died on the evening of May 14, 1988, the news made the front pages all around the world.  Many ran extra editions and followed with special supplements…

“It was mandatory to chronicle his wins and losses, hisfour marriages, his battles, verbal and physical, with reporters and photographers.  His romances required many inches of type.  There were accounts of his fierce temper, his brutalities, his drunken cruelties.  Some described him as a thug or a monster, whose behavior was redeemed only by his talent…

Sinatra , however, did matter in other ways.  He wasn't simply an entertainer from a specific time and place in American life who lived on as a kind of musty artifact.  Through a combination of artistic originality, great passion, and immense will, he transcended several eras and indirectly helped change the way all of us lived.  He was formed by an America that is long gone: the country of the European immigrants and the virulent America-for-Ameriancs nativism that was directed at them… They were extraordinary times, and in his own way, driven by his own confusions, neroses, angers, and ambitions, Frank Sinatra helped push the country forward.

“Now Sinatra is gone, taking with him all his anger, cruelty, generosity, and personal style.  The music remains.  In times to come, that music will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture.  The world of my grandchildren will not listen to Sinatra in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him.  But high art always survives.  Long after his death, Charlie Parker still palys his verion of the urban blues.  Billie Holiday still whispers her angish.  Mozart still erupts in joy.  Every day, in cities and towns all over the planet, someone discovers them for the first time and finds in their art that mysterious quality that makes the listener more human.  In their work all great artsists help trancscend the solitude of individuals; they relieve the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E/ M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter.  So will Sinatra.”
pp. 3-9 “Why Sinatra Matters” by Pete Hamill.

I have just finished watching the Michael Jackson Tribute, and am remembering all the times I saw Michael, and was touched by his music. 
Here's a youtube clip of the television cartoon show:


I remember:

  • Watching the Jackson 5 cartoon show as a kid, and listening to the Jackson 5, thinking… he's my age!
  • Walking home from school and singing “Enjoy Yourself” with friends.
  • Dancing
    to “Off the Wall” and “Rock With Me” during the days of disco, as well
    as the Jacksons songs “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, “This
    Place Hotel”
  • Seeing Michael do the moon walk on the Motown 25th Anniversary show.
  • Seeing the Jacksons concert in 1984 at Vancouver's BC Place Stadium.  We went to the 2nd concert. I still have the program and a t-shirt.
  • Listening to “Bad” with college friends when it first came out.
  • I remember dancing to “Black and White” on my Waikiki honeymoon with my then-wife…. in 1991.
  • Watching Olympic skater Katerina Witt do an encore performance to “She Drives Me Wild”

Gung Haggis Fat Choy, a scholarly take as alternative to the “Scottish Discursive Unconsious”

Gung Haggis Fat Choy making it's way into the lexicon of journals about Scottish culture:
Dr. Leith Davis writes about Toddish McWong for Scottish on-line journal – The Bottle Imp

Leith Davis of SFU Centre of Scottish Studies, writes that “Gung
Haggis Fat Choy” bucks the trend of “Scottish Discursive Unconscious.” 

She writes: “In his contribution to the recent volume on
Transatlantic Scots
, Colin McArthur comments on what he calls
the “Scottish Discursive Unconscious,” a restricted range of “images, tones, rhetorical tropes, and ideological
tendencies, often within utterances promulgated decades (sometimes even a century or more) apart”…

“Vancouver, British Columbia, serves as a good test case for McArthur's comments. Like so many Canadian cities,
it has been home over the years to a large population of Scottish immigrants….
“There are indeed traces of the Scottish Discursive Unconscious at work in Vancouver….

“Gung Haggis Fat Choy takes many of the features of traditional Burns nights and gives them a non-traditional twist…The “Address to the Haggis” morphs into the “Rap to the Haggis,” featuring Joe MacDonald and Todd Wong with a
synthesized beat maker in the background. The “Toast to the Lassies” in 2009 was a rap-poem delivered by a
lassie with an all-male chorus. In addition, Asian elements are added, such as a “bamboo clappertale” about Robert
Burns and his teacher by Jan Walls and music by the Silk Road Music Ensemble. Haggis wontons and other delicacies
suggest a culinary as well as cultural fusion. Gung Haggis Fat Choy does not stop at mixing together those of Chinese
and Scottish heritage. Rather, its aim is to provide a celebratory venue in which those from all cultures can be
comfortable. The 2009 dinner opened, for example, with a blessing from Musqueam elder Larry Grant, a reminder,
perhaps, that we are all immigrants here at some time in the past.

Where traditional Burns suppers of today include very little poetry, apart from snippets of the bard's most
famous works, Gung Haggis Fat Choy keeps the spirit of Burns's creativity alive by featuring readings from
Asian-Canadian poets and donating money to the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop, Ricepaper magazine and the
Joy Kogawa House. Kogawa was one of the first Asian-Canadian writers to reach a national popular audience
with her 1981 novel Obasan.

Read the entire article at:

Terry Glavin wins Lt. Governor's Award for Literary Excellence





Terry Glavin named recipient of
the sixth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award
for Literary Excellence


Okay…. it was author Terry Glavin who partly inspired me to create a “writer's speaking series” on the 2007 strike line of CUPE 391 Vancouver Library Workers.   Terry called me up for some reason or another, maybe to admit he was a big fan of my Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner, and somehow I asked him to give a reading on our strike line.  And that's how it started!  After Terry came many other authors such as Stan Persky, Hiromi Goto, Daniel Gawthrop, Rita Wong, Tom Sandborn, Chuck Davis….  but it started with Terry!

IMG_1743 by you.

Author, jounalist Terry Glavin speaks to the CUPE 391 Vancouver library workers – giving support – photo Todd Wong

We since became friends and look for reasons to go for a pint of Guinness at the Irish Times Pub in Victoria, or host a Gung Haggis house party at his place… but the only thing we manage to do is leave comments and links to each other blogs. 

Terry has written amazing books, and is very big on diversity – both cultural and environmental and bio-diversity.  Moreover, I think we recognize in each other a deep respect for First Nations culture and history, the ability to laugh and poke fun at mainstream institutions, and the necessity of shaking up the world a little now and then.

But on this Saturday, I will be able to have a drink and toast to my rabble rousing “outspoken voice” as he is feted by the BC literati.  In the mean time he says heVows To Resist The Urge To Cash The Cheque And Head Straight For The Track”


At last year's BC Book Prizes, I got to hang out a bit with Gary Geddes, the 2008 winner of the Lt. Gov's Award for Literary Excellence. 
Rita Wong and Gary Geddes big winners at BC Book Prizes Gala

Terry and Gary are friends, so Terry won't mind if I put Gary's picture in here…

Check out the official BC Book Prize website

and what they have to say about Terry:

Vancouver, BC
– The West Coast Book Prize Society is proud to recognize Terry Glavin as the
recipient of the sixth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary

’s Lieutenant Governor,
the Honourable Steven Point, will present
the award at the
Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prize Gala to be held at
the Marriott Pinnacle Hotel in
Vancouver on April 25, 2009.

The event will be hosted
by BC BookWorld publisher and
author Alan Twigg .

“Terry Glavin,
author and journalist, has been an outspoken voice in
British Columbia as a conservationist and
nature writer. He is known for his passionate commitment to
British Columbia ’s First Nations and
for his deep understanding of how First Nation culture and way of life are
bound up with the province’s
natural history and our future as a just and sustainable society.

In addition to his books,
Glavin’s many articles on social and political issues are evidence of his
strong journalistic ability to marshal facts and his unwillingness to go with
the accepted wisdom of either
the right or the
left. In his role as an iconoclast, he is a critical voice in
the dialogue that sustains a civil society.

As editor, Glavin has also
brought us the innovative and
courageous Transmontanus series, published by New Star Books. Established in
1992 with the aim of exploring
the relationships between landscape and imagination,
this innovative series of 16 titles has given voice to authors and
the mes that might o the rwise
have been lost to us.

Glavin offers an
extraordinarily holistic vision that does not focus on single issues, but
instead in everything he writes shows us a world where culture and nature,
human aspiration, natural beauty, language, history and social justice are
inextricably intertwined.

Terry Glavin has won many
awards for his work as a journalist, as a science and technology writer, for
his editorial innovation and for his powerful essays. We are privileged to
honour him with the Lieutenant
Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2009, for his contribution to
life and letters in British Columbia
and for his willingness to show us how to see our world more deeply, more fully
and more truthfully.”

– Jury member Ellen Godfrey

The jury for this year’s Lieutenant
Governor’s Award: Ellen Godfrey, author and former literary publisher;
David Hill, Manager of Munro’s Books, Victoria; and Sheryl Mac
Kay , host of CBC’s North by Northwest.

This prize was
established in 2003 by former Lieutenant Governor, the
Honourable Iona Campagnolo, to recognize British
Columbia writers who have contributed to
the development of literary excellence in
the province. The recipient receives a cash award of
$5,000 and a commemorative certificate.


All BC
Book Prizes info at


A Gung Haggis Gaelic Easter Greeting…

It's been too rainy and cloudy for me to go skiing at Silver Star this weekend.  So I kayaked on Kalamalka Lake and helped walk the doggies up in Kalamalka Lake Park, where the snow still lies.

Yesterday I went to Village Green Mall in Vernon, where people were buying Chocolates and in the food court, an Easter show for families consisted of trying to fit 12 members of the Vernon Girls Trumpet Band into a giant balloon.  (photos to follow).

After a week of Tartan Day/Scottish Week activities… and not having any Chinese food in recent memory… I am beginning to question my Easter heritage.  Even though my great-great-grandfather was a Chinese United Church Minister, I never went to United Church for Easter.  For many years, I was a member of Celebration of Life Centre, and Centre for Spiritual Living – both New Thought Churches.

The only Chinese cultural event that I can think of, is giving Red Eggs at a dinner, one month after a baby is born.  But this isn't necessarily related to Easter, except perhaps as a reminder of sucessful fertility in relation to Spring fertility rituals.

I remember one childhood Easter where we received Easter baskets in Honolulu.  There were always lots of Chocolate bunnies for Easter as a child, but the Honolulu baskets had the little fluffy toy chick decorations… That was cool.  No grass skirts on Easter bunnies back in the 60's though.

The Gung Haggis dragon boat team paddled this morning to Granville Island for Hot Chocolate and Coffee, and found some Easter Eggs.  This is becoming a team tradition.

My Irish-Canadian writer friend Terry Glavin sent me this email message, and a link to his website:

The big Irish event among my
crowd, the event of the year that utterly eclipses St. Patrick's Day, has always
been Easter anyway. Thus:

Gung Hay Beannachtaí na Cásca Fat Choy, comrade.


Picture of Toddish McWong appears in Vancouver Sun article about Jason Kenney's views on Canadian identity, diversity and not giving money to specific immigrant cultural groups

“Toddish McWong”- the creator of “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.” 
What are Canadian values?  and Canadian diversity?

Who makes them: Canadian citizens? Immigrant Canadians?

or Jason Kenney – minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism?

Jason Kenney is the federal minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism.  He presided over the Chinese Canadian Head Tax redress, that resulted in Prime Minister Stephen Harper giving a parliamentary apology for a racist tax but only gave an ex-gratia payments that recognized less than 1% of head tax certificates, because it was limited to only surviving head tax payers and spouses… most have long since died since Margaret Mitchell first brought up the the issue of Head Tax Redress in the Canadian Parliament back in 1984.

Recently, Jason Kenney waded into the discussion about Canadian identity, and immigration language classes, when he talked with editors at the Calgary Herald:

New Canadians, says Kenney, “have a duty to integrate.” Further, he
says, “We don't need the state to promote diversity. It is a natural
part of our civil society.”

To that end, the government has
sensibly ceased funding programs such as heritage language classes. Why
should the federal government pay for children to learn the language of
the country their parents and grandparents come from? It's the family's
responsibility to teach children about their heritage, including the

The original story appeared in the Calgary Herald on March 20th.

Kenney right person for immigration minefield

The same story appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on March 30th (with comments)

Kenney stands for Canada

Today, the same story appeared in the Vancouver Sun on April 1st, with a new title:

Immigration minister is right to stand up for Canadian values.

But this time, it appeared with a picture of Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong” with the caption:

Now, that's heritage: 'Toddish McWong' combines Robert Burns Night and Chinese New Year.

I have to be flattered that my picture has appeared in the news media. 

But while the original story never mentioned “Toddish McWong” or “Gung Haggis Fat Choy,” a picture of Wong is used mainly to capture the reader's attention and draw them to the article. 

But I am a bit confused as to what the picture is meant to represent?

Is it because:

1  “Being Canadian means being everything to everyone who comes to our shores?”

2 – “People want to define Canada by how many politically correct contations this country can do to accomodate others?”

3 – “New Canadians have a duty to integrate,” says Kenney. “We don't need the state to promote diversity.  It is a natural part of our ciivl society.”

The article, by Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald, goes on to share Kenney's views that: “the government has sensibly ceased funding programs such as heritage language classes [other than english or french].” 

“I think it's really neat that a fifth generation Ukrainian Canadian can speak Ukrainian… but pay for it yourself,” Kenney says.  Kenney's right… it is neat.  If you can speak your family's mother tongue, your life is just that much more enriched.  But such immersion in heritage shouldn't come at the expense of you identifying yourself as a Canadian first… and it certainly shouldn't come at Canadian taxpayer's expense.”

The article also goes on to give an example of how Kenney says that a grant for language training to the Canadian Arab Federation will not be renewed: “The government should support moderate mainstream voices, not people on the fringe.” 

The Gung Haggis Fat Choy events that I have created since 1998 have never received any federal grant money. 

I am a fifth generation Chinese Canadian that speaks better French than Chinese. 

I am a descendant of Chinese head tax payers.

I have travelled to Oak Bay in Nova Scotia, walked the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, stood on Point Pelee in Ontario, skiied in Banff Alberta, visited totem poles in Haida Gwaii, and even stood on the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg during windchilled Winter. 

I have been the guest speaker at a Terry Fox Run in Beijing, China.

By creating Gung Haggis Fat Choy events, my aim is to recognize both the pioneer histories of Chinese Canadians and Scottish Canadians, as well as the future of Canadians born with these shared ancestries.

I believe that culture evolves, and is not stagnant.

I believe that all Canadians should read “How to Be a Canadian” by Will Ferguson and his brother Ian Ferguson.

If it is a Canadian value to laugh, make fun of ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously, then maybe this book should also be mandatory reading when all new immigrants apply to become Canadian citizens, along with learning English or French.

And that's what Gung Haggis Fat Choy also encourages us to do… laugh and make fun of ourselves, by flipping stereotypes of Scottish and Chinese tradional customs into juxtapositions of cultural fusion.

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

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

2009_March 007

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.

2009_March 009

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. 

2009_March 010

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

Georgia Straight: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

2008_Dec 033 by you.

I didn't expect to be in the same Georgia Straight Headline as Obama… but maybe because it's because I am a person of colour?

re: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

I told the Georgia Straight's Pieta Woolley –
that it was author Terry Glavin who first told me about bi-racial Gov. James
vision for a British Columbia that could welcome people from
every corner of the world… that it was Douglas who invited Black
Americans from San Francisco when he heard that were being
discriminated against…

BC's history is not the two solitudes
of English and French – but it is the 3 pioneer cultures of First
Nations, Scottish, and Chinese.  But we have had to go through the
Potlatch Law, the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, the Komagata
Maru, the Internment of Japanese Canadians – before we could understand
ourselves and our future.

has taken 150 years for us to finally understand the multicultural/
intercultural vision that Douglas wanted for BC, instead of BC as a
“White Man's Province” in the years that followed Douglas.

The Obama presidency in the United States is historic.  He has a vision to bring people together, to move beyond racial divides, perceived stereotypes and the cultures of blame and “otherness.”

My own life views have been shaped by growing up as a multi-generational racial minority in Canada.  I have learned about the discrimination and hatred faced and overcome by my ancestors, since the time my maternal great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan arrived in 1896, as a Methodist lay preacher for the Chinese Methodist Church of Canada.  Similarly, my paternal grandfather also faced many challenges arriving in Canada in 1882 at the young age of 16.

But I have also learned about the importance of communities working together.  My life path has involved me with many community organizations such as Canadian University Press, Hope Cancer Health Centre, Terry Fox Run Organization, Canadian Mental Health Association, Chinese Cultural Centre, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, and many many more.

In the past few years, I have learned much about Robert Burns' views on social justice, equality, political change, speaking up for others, love of life.  These are as important today as there were 250 years ago in Burns' time, or 150 years ago in Douglas' time.  Maybe it's actually more important today, because we have the choice to embrace our responsibilities or to take them for granted.  We have the choice today, to choose to be selfish or community minded.  We have the choice today –  not tomorrow – not yesterday, but the choice is today –  to make a difference or not.

Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

Yesterday (January 20), the world’s most powerful man placed his hand on Lincoln’s Bible and became the 44th president of the U.S. Next week, on a dark day in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government will present a budget, and a coalition led by Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe might take the opportunity to bring it down.

While the U.S. has its super-leader, Canada has the old, clichéd
“crisis in leadership”. Looking south, it’s easy to feel, well, a
little jealous.

So, who is Canada’s Barack Obama? Who can lead us out of years of deadlocked minorities?

I argue that not only is an Obama figure not waiting in the wings; he or she simply can’t exist here.

Here’s why: Obama represents the high-minded ideals of the 1791 U.S.
Bill of Rights, while Canada treats our history like yesterday’s soup

Americans love their history. In his inaugural speech—really, in every
speech—Obama took every opportunity to join his personal story to the
greater story of the United States. It’s an easy connection to make.
For Canada to breed an Obama, we have to have a better picture of what
Canada means, and promote someone who’s comfortable tying his or her
own story to Canada’s not-always-glorious history.

As a kid, Obama grew up without a dad around, in relative obscurity. He
is the biracial son of an African immigrant and a white-bread Kansas
hippie, and was raised by his grandmother in Hawaii. Now he’s
president. That speaks to opportunity.

Think quick: what document was Canada built on? If you guessed the British North America Act of 1867, you’re right. It’s not exactly stirring stuff.

Frankly, it would be difficult to know if someone came along who
represented the early ideals of Canada. He or she must speak English
and French and respect the authority of the Queen’s representative, but
apart from that, it’s pretty fuzzy.

So who is Canada’s Obama? Justin Trudeau’s name
has been floated, but there’s a couple of problems. First, he’s
Canadian royalty—the son of a prime minister, he has been immersed in
privilege forever. Second, he’s a white guy. Third, he hasn’t
established a career for himself yet, beyond teaching high school
French. Sure, he’s a young dad, charismatic, attractive, and extremely
well-spoken, but he’s already entrenched in party politics. And that is
Obama’s magic. He seemingly came out of nowhere.

Here’s my nominee for an Obama in Canada: Todd Wong, the founder of Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

The wildly charismatic Vancouverite is a leader in bridging cultures
in an unpretentious, original way. His Gung Haggis Fat Choy event has
been replicated all over the world. A fifth-generation Chinese
Canadian, Wong also lobbied to save Joy Kogawa’s childhood home and for head-tax redress. He organizes dragon-boat teams.

But what’s sold me on Wong as Canada’s Obama is that he’s a Vancouver
library assistant. It’s a humble job, but it’s a little like Obama’s
background as a community organizer. At least the way Wong does it.

On the picket line in 2007, he played his accordion and organized a strike reading series with Hiromi Goto, Stan Persky,
and others. At Gung Haggis Fat Choy, politicians from every party come
out for deep fried haggis wontons. He describes the event, to be celebrated this year on January 25 at Floata Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, as something that “represents Canada in the 21st century”.

“Anyone in that room could be part of your family,” he told the Straight.

Here’s where it falls apart. Wong has no interest in politics.

“If I get into politics, I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of community service work I do now,” he told the Straight.

That may be true, Todd. But I, for one, think that as prime minister
you could be one wicked Obama-esque orator, reinvigorate our connection
to history, and offer a fresh face to represent the new Canada.

So, how about it?

Vancouver Sun editorial cartoon proclaims “wear your kilt to work day” followed by “haggis Tuesday”

This editorial cartoon ran in the Vancouver Sun, and has now been circulating the e-mails of certain Celtic/Gaelic-Canadian musicians….  with the added  quote:

Islanders and Highlanders came to this country of Canada—-
discovered, settled and governed it. Pipes are used for just about all
special occasions and this is the thanks we get!!!”

I ran the following article on my blog – which is syndicated into some other blog feeders….
Vote for Kilt wearers in the upcoming Vancouver civic election!
Mackinnon… Louie… Deal… Robertson… Chow…

It seems an amazing coincidence that the winning 10 elected city councilors and mayor, all attended the 2008 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner:  Councilors David Cadman, Raymond Louie, George Chow, Tim Stevenson, Heather Deal, Suzanne Anton, former Councilor Ellen Woodsworth, rookie councilors Andrea Reimer, Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang +  MLA Gregor Robertson, and then current mayor Sam Sullivan (who did not run in the election).

Defeated mayor and councilor candidates Peter Ladner and Elizabeth Ball, as well as BC Lee (who did not run) had attended past dinners, along with BC Lee – but they did not attend the 2008 dinner.

At the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinners… we recognize and respect all our hard-working politicians.  They all contribute to a vibrant Vancouver and it is important to recognize their contributions and support to help support our beneficiary organizations: Historic Joy Kogawa House, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop/Ricepaper magazine, and the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.


  • The first time we saw Gregor Robertson in a Kilt in 2008 – was at the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner….
  • City councilor Raymond Louie declared on Brother Jake's Rock 101
    radio show, on January 25th, that Louie would wear a kilt for Gung
    Haggis Fat Choy dinner….
  • And city councilor Heather Deal came to Doolin's for the March
    Kilts Night, and made the motion (seconded by Louie) that City of
    Vancouver proclaim Tartan Day for April 6th,
  • I put tartan sashes on city councilors Tim Stevenson, George Chow
    Mayor Sullivan and a mini-skirt on councilor Capri – for a Tartan Day
    photo opportunity on April 4th.
  • Parks Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon didn't even own a kilt, until after he joined the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team!


Vote for “Broken Family” in CBC Radio contest

Donna Lee entered a film in the CBC Radio contest called Migrations.  She is in the semi-final, and needs a push from all you good folks.

I first met Donna during the Head Tax redress campaign.  She did some filming when we protested against then Prime Minister Paul Martin.  Maybe our protesting led to his downfall?  It caught media attention.

Check out Donna's film – which gives the often untold story about how families were separated not only because it was TOO EXPENSIVE to bring a wife or family to Canada (Remember $500 in 1923 would buy a small house), but because the “Chinese Exclusion Act” made it impossible to enter Canada 1923 to 1947, if you were Chinese.  No other ethnic group was specifically targeted.  I guess they knew that Adrienne Clarkson was coming.

Here's the note from Donnna”

As you probably know, Broken Family,
my short documentary on the head tax redress movement and my family, is
in a CBC Radio Canada contest called Migrations.  It's made it to the
semi-final rounds of a people's choice online voting competition. 
Thanks for your support! 

Featuring Harvey Lee, Naiya Lee Tsang, and Sahali Lee Tsang and my
family's Rio Cafe in Souris MB, which I'm sad to say doesn't exist by
that name anymore.

If you are venturing forth on the world wide
web and feel like dropping by the website for another round of voting,
then here's the url:

it's available for viewing for this round from Thurs Nov 20th to the 26th.

There are many other fine shorts on the subject of migration – enjoy!

Many thanks for allowing me space for artist-self-promotion-type-of email.

Hope this finds you well,