Category Archives: Multicultural events

Denise Chong Comes to Vancouver for literASIAN 2013 – Book Launch of ‘Lives of the Family’

Long time Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop (ACWW) member and supporter Denise Chong will be launching her latest book Lives of the Family at literASIAN 2013.  As the international bestselling author of The Concubine’s Children, Denise Chong returns to the subject of her most beloved book, the lives and times of Canada’s early Chinese families.

In 2011, Denise Chong set out to collect the history of the earliest Chinese settlers in and around Ottawa, who made their homes far from any major Chinatown. Many would open cafes, establishments that once dotted the landscape across the country and were a monument to small-town Canada. This generation of Chinese immigrants lived at the intersection of the Exclusion Act in Canada, which divided families between here and China, and 2 momentous upheavals in China: the Japanese invasion and war-time occupation; and the victory of the Communists, which ultimately led these settlers to sever ties with China. This book of overlapping stories explores the trajectory of a universal immigrant experience, one of looking in the rear view mirror while at the same time, travelling toward an uncertain future. Intimate, haunting and powerful, Lives of the Family reveals the immigrant’s tenacity in adapting to a new world.

Information about the book:

Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop hosts Ann Shin’s book launch of The Family China as part of literASIAN 2013

Have you heard yet?  The Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop will be hosting Ann Shin’s book launch of The Family China as part of literASIAN 2013, Nov 21-24.   The Family China is a book of poems about the sense of belonging, about the tenuous ties we make across borders both international and internal.

The Family China, Ann Shin’s second book of poems, examines the decentering experiences of migration, loss and death, and the impulse to build anew. In five suites threaded through with footnote-like fragments that haunt and ambush the text like memories, the book accrues associations, building and transforming images from poem to poem, creating a layered and cohesive collection that asks daring questions about how we define ourselves.

These poems grapple rawly and musically with the profound messiness of human relations; their candour consoles and instructs. The quandaries in The Family China are deeply recognizable. Strung up between fragility and resilience, between naïve hope and domestic disillusionment, between an untenable nostalgia for the pastoral and a deep unease with the global, the voice of these poems is nevertheless determined to find some scrap of a song we can sing in common.

“... This short, dazzling collection of poems contains a universe—nothing short of North American life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Somehow it is all here, joyously offered up, birth, death, and everything in between, including the suspect investment schemes of the heart (and the bank), the modern war in relationships and families, the dark-light, pastoral dream of childhood, the carried-over costs of immigration and exile...” – Karen Connelly

Ann Shin x-rays the ecstasy and the elegiac of the everyday… [her] poems are ravenous and nourishing.” —George Elliott Clarke

CBC Broadcast of Belonging – Ann Shin reads earlier version of the poems from The Family China (the collection was previously title Belonging)

Smashed: poetry and the family china – interview on The Sunday Edition of Ann Shin by Michael Enright, June 16, 2013 – scroll down to “Treehouses, Donna Neufeld becomes a doctor at 48 and Canada: Whose history is it?”


– See more at:

Canadian-born Chinese writers on tour to promote translated works in China

jadeThere are over 40 million overseas Chinese scattered abroad in every corner of the world and at least a million or more in Canada alone. With many regularly returning to China to visit their ancestral home and the recent relaxation of visa requirement with the Approved Destination Status agreement between China and Canada multiplying the number of Chinese citizens visiting Canada, this continuing trend has created a renewed curiosity of North American Chinese history and experiences.

This interest has taken a bold step forward with the Chinese language translation and publication of the most celebrated and important works by award-winning Canadian-born Chinese writers. These translated works include Denise Chong’s Concubine’s Children, Judy Fong Bates’ at the Dragon Café, Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony, SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café and Paul Yee’s Ghost Train and The Curses of Third Uncle. These popular works have been used as part of curriculum and teaching texts by a wide range of high school and university level educational institutions and considered canonized literature.

For the first time, the Chinese public in China can purchase and enjoy the unique and wonderful stories depicting the struggles and survival of generations of Canadian Chinese pioneers.

Denise Chong’s Concubine’s Children, published by Chongqing Publishing House has been in circulation since the beginning of January and has already garnered much praise and attention from popular book club for readers sites such as

The remaining four Chinese Canadian writers are published by Nankai University Press. Based in Tianjin, China, Nankai University is the alma mater of former Chinese Premier and key historical figure Zhou Enlai and is regarded as one of the top class universities in China.

From the Canadian Embassy in China is sponsoring a four city book tour to promote these newly translated works by Canadian-born Chinese writers. The tour will begin in Guangzhou and will travel to Shanghai, Tianjin and Beijing.

Three of the five translated writers, Denise Chong, SKY Lee and Judy Fong Bates will be featured authors and will be giving readings and answering question about their works to the public. They are accompanied by poet, Jim Wong-Chu, a founder of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop.

SKY Lee says, “I am so excited that Chinese readers in China shall be exposed to our unique Chinese Canadian history. It’s a very rich heritage that can only be told by storytellers who were the direct descendants of a very old and proud community of overseas Chinese. Our original stories give immense emotional depth to the lone sojourner struggling to survive in the wilderness of the Gold Mountains.”

Three among the five writers, Wayson Choy, SKY Lee and Paul Yee are currently embroiled in a legal dispute with book publisher, Penguin Canada Books Inc. with allegations of plagiarism over its publication of Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues.

Toronto-based legal firm, Fasken Martineau’s May M. Cheng, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, claims that the case is making its way through the court system and no resolution is anticipated until 2015. She states that contrary to rumours, the Chinese Canadian writers are resolute in seeking a fair and just settlement to their case.

Italian for a day… in Vancouver

Italian Day, Commercial Drive, June 9

Italian for a day… Italian is actually the third language I learned, while I learned to play accordion. It is the language of music.. Rossini, Puccini… and O Solo Mio. I grew up near Commercial Drive and had lots of Italian-Canadian friends, and later I even had Italian girlfriends. I played accordion for their families. I cook fettucini and linguine noodles with beef stir-fry and Chinese oyster or soy sauce. And maybe… I will organize a dragon boat team for the Italian Cultural Centre.
These two ladies were dancers in the flash mob that took place in front of the main stage, after the speeches finished.  About 20 dancers with carnivale masks did a synchronized routine – spectacular!  One of their mothers took this picture for me.






My friend Giulio Recchioni is the Cultural director for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre. OMG… I am still wearing my kilt. I had just come from the Dragon Zone Regatta, racing with the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. I think Giuilo would be a good paddler. Maybe we can create a dragon boat team for Il Centro: Italian Cultural Centre.


Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reads from the city proclamation to announce “Italian Day in Vancouver”

After the speeches I chatted with Vancouver councilor Tony Tang (who wants to wear a kilt), Burnaby MLA Richard Lee, and Michael Cuccione – president of the ICC.
Sardines on the big grill, at the PCOV – Portuguese Club of Vancouver – always a big line up here.

The Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy parade dragon has been very active in 2013 – will we be at the Dragon Boat Festival?

Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy dragon boat team is very multicultural, and very community-minded.  The team began in 1997 under the name Celebration Team, and was renamed Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy in 2002, named after the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner event, that had its first public dinner in 1998.

This year’s team has members with origins from around the world, as well as multiple generations in Canada.  But our parade dragon has been especially busy in 2013.  In June, we might make an appearance at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, as well as the On the Edge International Conference for Scottish and Irish Studies.

Here is a recap of our dragon parade activities so far….
In MAY Asian Heritage Month, we were commissioned to do our dragon walk at the Vancouver Opera pre-show lobby, during their May 4-11, production of Tea: Mirror of Soul.2013_May_Opera 014at Vancouver Opera pre-show with Alma Lee (founder of Vancouver International Writers Festival)


MARCH 17, for the past 8 years we have been in the Celtic Fest St. Patrick’s Day Parade
with either a dragon boat float, or our parade dragon.  This year, we ended up on the cover of 24 Hours Newspaper.

556952_10151400971289302_2138235483_nOur picture

February 17
The Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

January 27th
and our world famous Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner – as interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland, and filmed for local newscasts, and US Public Radio + many other media over the years.
DSC_0044_857158 - Piping in the VIPs

“One Big Hapa Family” featured on KCTS TV

Here’s a great documentary about interracial marriage and families… by my friend Jeff Chiba Stearns .
We featured a special edit at the 2011 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner – which in turn inspired the creation of the Hapa Palooza Festival in Vancouver, created by another friend Anna Ling Kaye.

New Opera Tan Dun’s Tea: Mirror of Soul

Wow… so many people have been saying that Vancouver Opera’s current production of Tea: Mirror of Soul, composed by Tan Dun, is a must see.

The visuals are stunning.  The music is compelling.  The topics of love, family, guilt, loss, death are standard in many operas.  But combined with a unique blend of Chinese music and story that includes references to the Monkey King, and the art of tea ceremony, this opera pushes and challenges boundaries on many levels.  The most striking is its use of water, paper and rock as musical and visual themes.  There are large water bowls on each side of the stage, and musicians hit, slap or drip the water to create a fascinating aural soundscape.  Paper is used as visual forest for scenery, or it is hit with drum sticks to create thunder, or rolled to create thunder.  As well the opera chorus holds sheets of paper and uses it like percussion, complimenting the orchestra.


Nancy Allen Lundy has played the character of Lan in every production of Tea: a Mirror of Soul.

This is the setting for the exquisite singing, that is a blend of traditional classical opera and Chinese opera.  American soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, performs Lan.  She is the only artist to have ever played this role in productions around the world.  She sings like a bel canto bird on some songs, while on others she bends her notes like in Chinese opera style.  It is different for ears accustomed to Western opera – but it is exciting that Vancouver Opera would mount this production.  Find out more about Nancy Allen Lundy from the Opera Blog

It’s also a perfect blend for the cultural diversity of Vancouver.  Much is made of Vancouver’s large Chinese population, as well as the local music scene which features lots of cultural fusion artists such as Silk Road Music, Orchid Ensemble, and even Mozaico Flamenco – which performed a full scale of Cafe de Chinitas this past weekend.

Tan Dun is more well known in North America as the composer of the soundtrack for the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  I loved both the movie and the music which featured cello superstar Yo Yo Ma.  Ten years ago, I witnessed Vancouver Opera concertmaster Mark Ferris perform Tan Dun’s “Crouching Tiger Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra” with the CBC Radio Orchestra-  with featured Chinese erhu virtuoso George Gao  It was amazing.

The opera opens with the main character Seikyu, a former prince now a monk in Kyoto Japan, performing a ritualistic tea ceremony.  He sings of bitterness, and the monks ask him why.  Then then begins to tell a story of ten years past when he was in China, and in love in the Princess Lan.  The action then shifts to China, as the sets seem to magically transform.

But this opera is more than just the music.  There are so many levels of story,

The opera runs again on Thursday May 9th and Saturday May 11th, start time is 7:30pm.  Don’t be late or you will miss opening preamble and musicians walking up the aisles.

This review – is still in process – check back for more!

Watch these videos about Tea: A Mirror of Soul – posted by Vancouver Opera on youtube.

Naomi’s Road at West Vancouver Library is great… looking forward to April 23 at Italian Cultural Centre

Erica Iris and Hiather Darnela-Kadanoga play Obasan and Naomi, in a scene when the family leaves Vancouver on a train.

I saw the production at West Vancouver Library on Friday April 19th, and we both really enjoyed it.  Sam Chung returns as Stephen. The new singers are all good. Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga plays Naomi, Erica Iris plays the 3 roles Mother, Obasan and Mitzie. Henry Chen plays Daddy, Bully, Rough Lock Bill, Trainmaster.

I saw the original production in 2005/06 five times and enjoyed it immensely.  West Vancouver Library isn’t the best place to the performance because lighting was not the best, and the performer’s faces were often in shadows.  Close to 50 people came to the library for the free performance.

The performances by all singers are strong, and the storyline is strong.  Watching the perfomers, we were amazed at both the choreography of the movement on stage, as well as how the small versatile set is used and moved to simulate so many scenes: Powell Street, Living Room, Train, Internment Camp.   There were tears in my eyes as I watched the pinnacle scene of the opera.  It makes a powerful statement against racism and bullying.

Tickets are still on sale for Tuesday’s April 23 performance.

buy tickets on-line here:

There will be a limited number of tickets available at the door.

Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga (soprano) plays Naomi

Erica Iris (mezzo-soprano) performs as Mother, Mitzi, Obasan

Sam Chung (tenor) plays Stephen
Photographs courtesy of Vancouver Opera, and available from the Naomi’s Road press kit

More memories of Harry Aoki…

Last week…. I read Joy’s email message about Harry…. at the First Friday Forum on Feb 1st…. Harry’s monthly music session.  I read it from my cell phone… and people enjoyed it.

Many commented that they never knew that Harry had helped inspire the character of Stephen Nakane, and others said they would read Obasan again.

It was a good evening… and I played on my accordion the song “Neil Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife” and Maxwell Ngai accompanied me on violin. This was the first session since Harry’s Passing.

The next session will be March 1st at St. John’s College at UBC, and it will be a musical tribute to Harry, and a celebration of his life.

This morning there was the funeral service at the Vancouver Crematorium 9:30 to 10am… but we started arriving at 9am, and left by 10:30am.

Upon arrival – there was music playing from Harry’s album with Jim Johnson – “The Many Moods of Man”.  Themba Tana introduced himself and explained that the service would be simple with Zen Buddhist chanting.

Ken Keneda read a note from Harry’s Niece in California… and he placed Harry’s harmonica and eye glasses in the coffin.

Next, Ken invited people to come up to pay their respects to Harry and place their personal notes inside the open casket, along with the  chrysanthemums everybody had received.   Themba Tana played his african finger drum.

After Harry’s coffin was wheeled out of the room… people were invited to say a few words….

Nobody stepped forward – initially.  but I brought up John Endo Greenaway – who had wanted to say that Harry would be featured in the next edition of the JCCA Bulletin.

I had arranged with Ken Keneda to read a Joy Kogawa poem…. as I had previously told him that the last time I was at the Vancouver Crematorium was for a music performance by my friend Heather Pawsey.  Heather sang poems of Joy Kogawa that had been turned into songs by composer Leslie Uyeda, and performed with pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa and flautist Kathryn Cernauskas – All who had all performed at Kogawa House before.

As Harry had broken down many walls through his music, friendship, and connections, and strength of will… I read the following poem “Where There’s a Wall”, then I closed with a verse of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Sang – that I had never seen before, sent to me this morning – by Harry’s niece Cathrine from California

Where there’s a Wall

Joy Kogawa

where there’s a wall
there’s a way
around, over, or through
there’s a gate
maybe a ladder
a door
a sentinel who
sometimes sleeps
there are secret passwords
you can overhear
there are methods of torture
for extracting clues
to maps of underground passageways
there are zepplins
helicopters, rockets, bombs
bettering rams
armies with trumpets
whose all at once blast
shatters the foundations

where there’s a wall
there are words
to whisper by a loose brick
wailing prayers to utter
special codes to tap
birds to carry messages
taped to their feet
there are letters to be written
novels even

on this side of the wall
I am standing staring at the top
lost in the clouds
I hear every sound you make
but cannot see you

I incline in the wrong direction
a voice cries faint as in a dream
from the belly
of the wall


Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.


On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.


My friend Patrick Tam took pictures at my party – so here is Uncle Harry playing Stardust with my friend Joe McDonald

Check more links here:

I especially love the picture of Harry & Joe McDonald — Uncle’s not playing…he’s watching Joe on his riff on the piano.  Uncle Harry loved to create music with fellow musicians — to see where the music might take everyone.  It was always that musical journey that I think was the core of his greatness as a composer and especially as an arranger.  The dialogue between not just instruments, but the cultures of the players and what each would bring.  And in live performance, it is the ephemeral nature of the art – that once played, it can never ever be played that way again.  There is a kind of magic in music – which is why Harry always said that music is one of the first places where racism breaks down.  When you’re jamming with another musician, and you’re really in it, colour, religion and barriers just fall away.  It’s just music.  And if you’re lucky enough to listen to real musicians making real music – you escape the barriers that divide us.  It was that phenomenological approach to music and to art that made Uncle Harry so interesting and special….and so you – his fellow musicians.  You are musicians and weavers of a trans-cultural fabric that may be the only way we have left to make real change in the world.
I didn’t realize that Uncle’s passing was the eve of Robbie Burns Day.  Another artist who championed the cause of people in diaspora.  (I’m guessing you’ve figured out by my name that I’m half Scottish and half Japanese) — so Robbie Burns is one of my favourite poets.
And that Uncle passed away on the eve of the day we celebrate Burns, I can almost hear Uncle Harry’s harmonica singing over the shores:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.


On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.


Gung Hay Fat Choy ~ GUNG HAGGIS FAT CHOY ~ Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy Lunar New Year to everybody!

Here is the Joy TV News video that is currently running on Joy TV – Check it out!  Thank you videographer Dean Atwal for checking out our celebratory event.

  1. JoytvNewsGung Haggis Fat Choy

    Vancouver is no stranger to fusion events. One of the most anticipated is the Scottish Chinese celebration of Gung Haggis Fat Gung Haggis Fat Choy. Dean Atwal joins in the fun…

    There are many similar traditions between Chinese New Year and Scottish Hogmanay:

    1) Both celebrate the beginning of a new calendar

    2) Both emphasize food with family and friends

    3) Both make lots of noise – Chinese set off firecrackers, and Scots set off cannons in the harbour

    4) Both suggest paying off all your debts before the New Year.