Category Archives: Recent Reviews

Silk Road Music hosts Cultural Olympiad show for Chinese New Year!

What is typical Vancouver music for the Cultural Olympiad?  I think it is the cultural fusion music of Andre Thibault and Qiu Xia He''s Silk Road Music!

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For Chinese New Year, Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibault organized a truly multicultural show, featuring many ethnic performers and musical styles in Vancouver.  But more importantly was the intercultural representation.  Caucasian Willy Miles is singing in Mandarin Chinese.  Non-African ethnic dancers are performing traditional African dance with Jackie Essombe.  The stilt walkers are every ethnicity including mixes.  And of course the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team features Scottish and Chinese ancestry + everything in-between and everything beyond – photo Deb Martin

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Still Moon Arts Stilt walkers meet the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon dancers.  The stilt walkers are children and young teens led by Carman Rosen, who has also performed celtic music at the 2005 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner. – photo Deb Martin.

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Kathy Gibler, executive director of Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, Ellen Woodsworth – Vancouver City Councilor, prepare to help make opening speeches with Dr. Jan Walls – MC for the show and performer of Chinese clapper tales – photo Deb Martin

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Bonnie Soon leads Uzume Taiko through some very exciting rhythmic drumming perfomances.  Uzume Taiko often performs with bagpipers.  Bonnie and I talked, and I hope we can feature them at a future Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner one year – photo Todd Wong

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Chinese Lion stilt dancers!  In one of the crazy moments of beautiful serendipity, I offered my Lion Dance costume to the Sill Moon Arts stilt walkers, for a photo prop… and the next thing we knew, another stilt walker offered to be the tail, and presto!  The very first Chinese Lion stilt walkers!!!  The kids had so much fun, it is always a joy to see them. – photo Todd Wong

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Jessica Jone is a classically trained dancers – she has studied Chinese classical and Chinese folk dancing as well as Western classical and contemporary dancing.  She always smiles and has incredible presentation. – photo Todd Wong

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Dancers from the Jessica Jone dance school come on stage for a wonderful fan dance.  I love the colour and movement. – photo Todd Wong

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Jacky Essombe and The Makalas perform traditional African Dance.  The weather was so cold you could see Jacky's hot breath steam into the cold air.  But they brought so much high energy, you just felt warmer while seeing them work so hard – photo Todd Wong

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Here's a group shot with almost everybody on stage.  The dancers posed for pictures, and so we brought the dragon to stand behind them.  Soon everybody was in the picture!

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Here we pose with Qiu Xia He, organizer of this great event. Left to right: Todd Wong, Devon Cooke, Qiu Xia, Dave Samis, hidden are Brooke and Deb – photo Marion 

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Here's our dedicated group of Dragon Boat paddler dragon dancers! Todd Wong, Deb Martin, Brooke Samis, Dave Samis and Devon Cooke. – photo Marion.

World Poetry Gung Haggis Fat Choy performs at Vancouver Library on Chinese New Year Day

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Monday night was the 6th Annual World Poetry Gung Haggis Fat Choy Gala.  This event was first created when I noticed there were no readings of Robbie Burns at the library… I contacted Ariadne Sawyer of the World Poetry Reading series to collaborate for this now popular program.

Just before our 7:30 start time, I chatted with the audience, explaining the origins of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, and sharing some of the events that happened the night before at the big Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, and at our small ceremony at the Robert Burns statue in Stanley Park – to celebrate the 250th Birthday of Robbie Burns.

We bring together the elements of Gung Haggis Fat Choy within a world context.  We feature poetry of Robbie Burns, China, as well as contemporary Scottish-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian poets.  And sometimes we add in music and dance and of course… singalongs.

This year's program was a lot of fun.  It was hosted by Ariadne Sawyer, Diego Bastianutti and myself.

We featured poet James Mullin and myself reading poetry by Robbie Burns.  I also brought my accordion to play some tunes too.

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Rita Wong, the 2008 BC Book Prize Poetry winner, read from her books
Monkey Puzzle and Forage.  With the World Poetry theme, Rita even read
a poem by Pablo Neruda, which Diego read in Spanish afterwards.

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Tommy Tao, explained how he ended up doing poetry translations of 9th
and 15th Century poetry, and how he has come to love it.  He read a few
poems about food and celebrations.I talked about some of the similarities about Chinese New Year and Scottish Hogmanay. 

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I read the Burns poem “A Man's A Man For A' That”, then later performed “Address to A Haggis.”

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James Mullin led a group of four volunteers to dance my parade dragon around the room while I played “Scotland the Brave” on my accordion.

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There were a number of Korean ESL students in the audience, and they really had a lot of fun.

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My earlier attempt at playing and singing “My Luv is Like a Red Red Rose” was easily redeemed by my playing of Scotland the Brave, and leading the audience in a group singalong of “Auld Lang Syne”

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Evrerybody really got into the spirit of the evening.  This photo features poets James Mullin, Tommy Tao along with a Korean language student and Peter Clark originally from the U.K.

Check out more photos:

World Poetry Gung Haggis Fat Choy @ VPL

World Poetry Gung Haggis Fat Choy Gala

Last weekend to catch flight with Damon Calderwood in Billy Bishop Goes to War

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Actor Damon Calderwood plays Captain Billy Bishop.  He shows Todd Wong his model airplane that he “flies” during his energetic performance – photo T. Wong collection

Damon Calderwood is FANTASTIC in his peformance of “Billy Bishop Goes to War”: at the Deep Cove Shaw Theatre.

Moments of applause burst throughout the performance at all the right places. 
There have been standing ovations every night, except once “when we turned the houselights up too early,” producer Jack Smith told me.

This is a show you wished you had seen earlier, so you could tell all your friends about.

Billy Bishop is a remarkable piece of written theatre. And Damon
really makes each of the 18 different characters he plays distinct and
real.  Playwright John McLachlan Gray attended the opening night performance and said “it's a very clear production,” pleased that Damon really undoubtedly “becomes” each character… instead of merely playing them.

It is a showcase for:
Canadian WW1 history
Canadian theatre
playwright John McLachlan Gray
Damon’s talent

I only met Damon earlier this year, we we played against each other in the Celtic Fest’s “Battle of the Bards”

see my blog article and pictures:
Toddish McWong’s “Robert Burns” wins Battle of the Bards at Celtic Fest

Here are some of Damon's own words he sent to me in an email:

I just wanted to send out a final reminder about Billy Bishop Goes to War (my long-awaited and finally-realized dream role!).

Roberts and I have had a wonderful time doing it, and some sellouts
already, but it must come to an end on Sat Nov 22. I've attached a few
pictures from our invited dress rehearsal.

We have four shows
left, and it will likely sell out towards the end, so do phone for
tickets right away if you can (call Eileen at 604-929-9456). As of this
e-mail, we have tickets left for all four shows, so hopefully everyone
that wants to can get a ticket! $18/$15.

The shows are Wed Nov
19, Thur Nov 20, Fri Nov 21, and Sat Nov 22 at 8pm each night. Deep
Cove's Shaw Theatre in North Van. 4360 Gallant Avenue just a few
minutes from the second narrows bridge.

I am so grateful for all
those people who have already come to see the show…in this case, I
truly believe the audience is as much a part of the show as are the
actors, and the great audiences we've had have made each show an
amazing ride for Gordon and I.

Joyfully yours,


(in the skies as “Billy” for one more week)

Heart of the City Festival: Stories of Chinese food from “Eating Stories” read at Chinese Benevolent Association historical building

The Heart of the City Festival celebrates Chinese food and Chinese buildings – with stories of pioneers and their descendants


Sunday November 2, 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, 108 E. Pender 3rd floor

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Readings from the book “Eating Stories: A Chinese Canadian & Aboriginal Potluck” were featured at the at the Chinese
Benevolent Association on Sunday.  The book was published by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society last year and quickly sold out its first printing.  I was part of the writing workshops that helped to create this anthology of stories about food, culture and history.

Scheduled to read were moderator George Jung, Dan Seto, Larry Wong and Bob Sung. Also scheduled was Shirley Chan, but she asked me to fill in for her late Saturday…. so I was a surprise reader.

The reading started off with a welcome and an historical explanation of the Chinatown heritage buildings such as the Chinese Benevolent Association, and how the many clan associations served to help the pioneer Chinese in Vancouver and Canada.

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Dan Seto was the first reader.  He read his short story “Fong Luen Tong New Year Banquet” about the society set up for people with the names “Seto” or “Sit.”

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Bob Sung read second.  He read the story “A Lesson in Communication” about trying to impress a White Girl on a date in a Chinese restaurant, and how he kept mispronouncing the Chinese words so much that the waiter was laughing at him.

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Larry Wong read third.  He read the story “Evening With Pop (1949)” about how his father would always bring food home late at night to share with him and his sister.

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I read fourth.  I explained that my contributions were a blend of pictures and their descriptions.  The first picture I showed was me with my grandmother and girlfriend at Mother's Day 2007.

The second picture was me when I was 16 years old, holding two freshly caught salmon.  I explained how my mother's favorite way to cook fish was steamed with hot oil.

The third picture was the first picture ever taken of me wearing a kilt, back in 1993.  I was a tour guide at Simon Fraser University, and volunteers were needed to help with the university's traditional Robbie Burns ceremony.  This was when I first coined the phrase “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.”

The final picture was taken at the 2005 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner with me holding a large haggis on a plate, while then Mayor Larry Campbell stabbed it with a knife.  I explained the origins of the dinner, and how it grew into a famous mix of cultural fusion of Chinese and Scottish food and culture.

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George Jung was the final reader.  George read his story “Applesauce” which described how 102 year old Mrs. Der had climbed two steep flights of stairs to demand “Where is the money, the frefund for the head tax that my husband paid?”  He describes how Mrs. Der met Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and how the redress ex-gratia payment arrived too late after she dies.

 I counted 18
current and past Gung Haggis paddlers + Hillary's mom – in the audience
– enough for a dragon boat team in competition! and 1/3 of the audience
..  Former paddler Elwin Xie had earlier in the day conducted his
Chinese Laundry Boy tour of Chinatown for the Heart of the City

I acknowledged Savanah Walling in the audience – she is the
co-founder of the Heart of the City Festival.  I met her in April when
we both received the BC Community Achievement Award.

Sunday Night, CCHS writer Shirley Chan gave a reading of some of her
writings from the Eating Stories book, following the presentation of
the documentary Mary Lee Chan Takes on City Hall.  The film is about
how Shirley's mother helped to stop the demolition of Strathcona
neighborhood for freeway development.  Shirley's daughter Emma paddled
on the Gung Haggis dragon boat team last summer.

See more pictures at:

Heart of the City Festival: Eating Stories at CBA historical building

Silk Road Music brings dancing to Enchanted Evenings concert at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Gardens

Chinese and African dancing accompanied Silk Road Music's always entertaining world music concert at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden's final Enchanted Evenings concert series.

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Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibault of Silk Road Music Ensemble with their
friends African dancer Jacky Essombe and percussionist Pepe Danza – photo Michael Brophy

It was a great concert to close out the Enchanted Evening series, Friday Sep 4th, at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, by Silk Road Music, made more exciting by the presence of Cameroon dancer Jacky Essombe and the Chinese creative dance team of Jessica Jone and Cheng xin Wei, also known as Moving Dragon Dance Company.

Picture from Program.

The program opened with a traditional reel – not out of place in french-canadian or celtic circles.  Qiu Xia demonstrated esquisite picking skills on her pipa (Chinese lute), as Andre Thibault strummed furiously, and Pepe Danza played his drums.  Andre shared that they have played all over the world with Pepe, and they also perform together in the group Jou Tou where Andre is band leader (Qiu Xia leads Silk Road Music).

Qiu Xia invited dancers Cheng Xin and Jessica Jone out to join them, explaining that they would perform traditional Xingjian music from China, not often performed in Vancouver or Canada.  Next she invited African dancer Jacky Essombe, sharing that Jacky had been part of the Cultural Olympiad show that Qiu Xia had organized for Chinese New Year's earlier this year.

Clouds was a celtic inspired instrumental compsed and performed by Qiu Xia on her pipa, while Jessica performed a Chinese fan dance.  It was an unlikely but beautifully harmonious fusion of cultures, dance and song. Hmmm…. definitely something to consider for the next Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.

Andre and Pepe followed with a rollicking flamenco song, which Qiu Xia joined in on.  Andre loves playing flamenco, and it is amazing how Qiu Xia picks the melody on her pipa with her vituostic skill.

Jessica spoke to the audience about Moving Dragon's upcoming show at the Scotiabank Dance Centre for Sep 12/13, titled LuminUS.

Full of surprises, the rest of the program blended more chinese and african dancing with the Silk Road Music repetoire.  For the final song, Jacky invited audience members to the centre stage area to join her in African dancing.  She encouraged people to yell and make noise, as the room filled up with vibrant energy.  Canadian Africanized dancers young and old joined in the dancing.

Check out this links.

“Toddish McWong” installed at the “Free Spirit” exhibition at Royal BC Museum

150 years of BC history, search through the historical, cultural,
athletic and social events to find 150 of the most interesting people…

Who would you invite to the Royal BC Museum for a party?

Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong” is now an “artifact” in the Royal BC Museum display for “The Party.”

How did this happen?

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– photo Todd Wong

Every year, the Royal BC Museum has an interactive display that
visiting tourists can have their picture taken with.  Last year it was
for their Titanic display.  This is a great place for tourists.  It
sits kitty corner to Victoria's Inner Harbour, and is on south side of
The Empress Hotel, and the East side of the BC Legislature buildings.

This year, you can stand next to some of BC's most interesting people.  All of these figures are featured in the exhibit “The Party.” 
In this picture above are some of my cultural heroes including Rick
Hansen, Chief Dan George, Emily Carr and my friend Joy Kogawa.  My
girlfrend Deb Martin is standing right behind Joy (in red).  We first
learned about “The Party” exhibit last summer, when Joy needed a full
length picture of her to give to the Royal BC Museum.  We took this
picture for Joy, and were glad she was happy.

It's part of the “Free Spirit
exhibition to celebrate the 150th birthday of British Columbia, founded
as a colony in 1858, and joined Canada in 1871 for the promise of a
coast to coast railway. 

P4230222 Joy Kogawa in “The Party” – photo by Todd Wong

Deb and I first visited the exhibit on April 23rd, earlier this year.
It was with great excitement that we went to the Royal BC Museum, and
up the escalator, searching for the picture of our friend Joy Kogawa. 
We visited with writer friend Gary Geddes and David Kogawa, Joy's good
friend and ex-husband.  Read our account of our visit here:
Todd's adventure in Victoria: Traveling to “The Party” at BC Royal

But this time we had a different reason to visit.  This time, there was
a life-size picture of me, Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong.”

At the exhibit, they had also asked visitors for nominations to fill
the remaining spots.  I was voted in to “The Party” along with Trevor Linden, Dal Richards, Red Robinson, Ida Chong and Jennie

Deb and I arrived in Victoria after a late start on the 2pm ferry sailing from Tsawwassen
We checked into The Empress Hotel, because we were also attending an
evening event there to celebrate “150 Years in Golden Mountain”, an
awards and dinner gala to celebrate 150 years of Chinese Canadian
history and achievement in Canada, BC and Victoria.  See my account of
the evening here:
Victoria celebrates 150 years of Chinese Canadian History with a grand dinner and awards.

We walked over to the Royal BC Museum, enjoying the lovely sea breeze and the sunshine.  The Empress Hotel, now known as the “Fairmont Empress” was designed 100 years ago by BC architect Frances Rattenbury, who also designed the BC Legislature buildings.

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Todd stands in front of a modest Kim Campbell – the first female
Canadian Prime Minister and slightly behind Chee-ah-thluc, Chief of the
Songhess people from the 1840's to 1864, aka “King Freezy” (because of
his frizzled hair). – photo Deb Martin

There are video stations containing silouettes of each figure in the
display.  You click on one of the figures, and a short biography pops
up on screen.  This is the display for Todd Wong:

Photo Library - 2909 by you. – photo Deb Martin

This is the video display of the “Todd Wong bio.” The original photograph was taken by my friend Richard Montagna.  Richard specializes in fine art, commercial,  portrait, action, and landscape photography.

It reads: 

Voted in by the visiting public, this person is seen as an important figure in BC history!

Todd Wong (1980- )
about intercultural adventures, “Toddish McWong” founded Gung Haggis
Fat Choy, a Robert Burns / Chinese New Year event that has been
celebrating with an annual dinner since 1997.

No – Todd wasn't born in
1980.  That would have made him only 13 years old when he first invited
the phrase “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” while wearing his first kilt for a
Robbie Burns celebration at Simon Fraser University.  Sometimes museums
make typo mistakes too.

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My girlfriend's favorite character in the display (besides me) is the Vancouver Island Marmot – photo Deb Martin

Harry Aoki Tribute concert is a wonderful multicultural music event and establishes the Aoki Legacy Fund for St. John's College, UBC

Harry Aoki is a musical legend.  He has a strong vision about music, and how it crosses boundaries and builds bridges to help enrich both culture and society, as well as personal lives.

Aoki stands beside his musical friend Themba Tana and holds his special
gift from the evening, a yellow cedar paddle carved by Chief Cedric
Billy, mast carver of the Squamish Nation.  Harry has a long time
respect for First Nations heritage.  – photo Todd Wong

Last Sunday's Harry Aoki Tribute concert July 20th, at the Firehall Arts Centre
not only highlighted Harry's musical legacy through a wonderful
multicultural music event, but it also established the Aoki Legacy Fund
for St. John's College, UBC.  Here's the program write-up for The Aoki Legacy Fund:

Harry Aoki, musician/composer/ethnomusicologist, ahs devoted most of his life to the presentation of world music and intercultural dialogue to promote harmonious diversity in society.  Ted Aoki, universtity teacher/scholar/philosopher, has devoted his career to progressive education for intercultural understanding.  The Aoki Legacy Fund is to be used in support of the Aoki vision, through sponsoring or co-sponsoring events that use muisic, dialogue and other cultural productions, for the explicit purpose of celebrating and promoting intercultural understanding.

The musical program featured many musicians and friends, with some such as mezzo-soprano Liya Ahmad flying in from Edmonton, and pipa player Xiao Yu flying in from Florida to perform.  Long time Aoki supporter Cath Bray flew in from Nova Scotia.  There was also a very special surprise appearance from Harry's brother Ted Aoki, who arrived from Edmonton.

Harry Aoki was featured at this year's Vancouver International Jazz Festival, participating in the JazzStreet presentations at the Vancouver Public Library on June 10th.  Another highlight for Harry this year was performing “Star Dust” on his harmonica with the Dal Richards big band at the Britannia  High School Reunion in May 2008.

Harry Aoki performed at the first public open house event at Historic Joy Kogawa House in September 2006.  Harry had been a big supporter of the “Save Kogawa House campaign,” . – photo Deb Martin

I have known Harry since 2002, and he gladly performed at some of our awareness-raising or fund-raising events for Joy Kogawa House, as well as attended our literary events.  It was a real honour to participate in the Harry Aoki Tribute concert with so many wonderful musicians such as CBC radio journalist Margaret Gallagher, oboeist Janine Oye, drummers Thema Tana and Albert St. Albert, pianist Alison Nishihara, cellis Kira Van Deusen, and shakuhachi player Al Ramos.

Harry has been producing an event held at the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre, called First Friday Forum.  He brings together musicians and stories and songs from ethnically diverse cultures, and demonstrates the links between them. 

The first half of the tribute concert started off with emulating the format of these forums,  by inviting all the performers on stage to perform a musical soundscape.  Themba Tana and Albert St. Albert played percussion to start a musical journey around the world, that represented music and stories from the world's 5 major continents.  Margaret Gallagher followed by singing the celtic song  “Danny Boy”, followed by an Indonesian song titled “Putri Gunung” accompanied by Sutrisno Hartano who played an Indonesian gamelan instrument.

“Moo Li Hua” is a traditional chinese song known as “Jasmine Flower”, was played by clarinetist Janine Oye and accordionist Todd Wong.  I had a lot of fun practicing this traditional song with Janine, as we played it first by alternating 8 bars of music, then by playing a musical game of tag, as Janine followed my playing, two bars behind me to create “a round.”

Highlights of the event included:
A reading of “My Enemy” by Duncan Shields in English, and Chigusa Sherry Barnes in Japanese, while Janine Oye and FFF Friends accompanied them performing a Harry Aoki composition “Yoko's Theme.”

“Bachianas Brasilieras” sung by mezzo-soprano Aliya Ahmad with Kira Van Deusen on cello and Alison Nishihara on piano.

Last Import - 24 Todd Wong plays “Dark Eyes” – photo Deb Martin

“Harry loves Romanian and gypsy music,” I told the audience.  I once asked him if he could attend a concert with me, and he told me “No… I have to go on a cruise, with Gypsy musicians.”  For Harry I played the traditional song “Dark Eyes.”

Co-MC Jan Walls recited the words to the Hoagy Carmichael song “Star Dust,” as Harry went to pick up his harmonica and returned to centre stage.  Ken Keneda accompanied Harry on piano, as Harry performed a very touching harmonica solo of  “Star Dust” – one of Harry's favorite songs.  You can hear a You Tube performance of Harry playing “Star Dust” at the 2007 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, accompanied by Jaye Krebs on piano.

It is hard not to have met Harry, and been touched both musically and personally by him.  I think of Harry as a courageous man, who at age 21 left Vancouver in 1942 on his own, to avoid being forcibly sent to the  Japanese-Canadian internment camps during WW2.  He couldn't take his violin with him, but he took his harmonica.  Harry knows that he can reach people through music, and his life has become a tribute to end racism through musicians playing together, and people learning about intercultural cross-boundary similarities of the world's musical cultures.

Janine Oye, Harry Aoki Sherry Tanaka, Bev Nann, Todd Wong – photo Todd Wong

Janine Oye, Harry Aoki, Chigusa Sherry Barnes, Bev Nann and Todd Wong, share a moment with Harry after the concert as all the performers and the event organizers went for dinner at the Congee Noodle House. 

Odd Couple – Friendship with an Asian style twist on the Neil Simon play

Oscar Madison and Felix Unger come alive on stage at the Richmond Cultural Centre – but in Asian bodies?

The Odd Couple
Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre

Directed by Raugi Yu
Produced by Joyce Lam

July 17-27, 2008
Richmond cultural Centre, Richmond

August 13-21, 2008
Roundhouse Performance Centre, Vancouver

I swear I could hear the voices and body actions of the famous and acclaimed actors Tony Randall or Jack Lemmon as Felix, or Jack Klugman or Walter Matthau as Oscar in the well-loved play or tv show.  But holy cow, they are in Asian bodies on stage!

“The script and the writing is very strong,” says director Raugi Yu, when I asked him if he or the actors had studied the movie or videos of the play or TV show.  “The actors are wonderful in it…. at one point I asked them if they wanted to go with accents, and they really got into it.  It just flowed.”

Five Asian men and one Caucasian man speak in New York accents, playing a Neil Simon play for a Vancouver audience.  Felix is played as a new immigrant to North America and represents more traditional Asian traditions vs Oscar the multi-generational North American born Asian who is more North American and consequently the slob.

It's a bold vision put forward by producer Joyce Lam, who actually
called Neil Simon's lawyers to ask if they could translate the classic
play into Chinese language for sur-titles and change some of the words
to fit the transposed Asian immigrant theme. 

“They didn't care that we were translating it, but they wouldn't let us
change the words.” said Lam who is very proud of this production.

They boys meet regularly for their poker game, and it is in this setting that the drama unfolds.  Heck, it could be almost be mah jong… but then they would have too many for a foursome.  As each character walks on stage, a different type of Asian music announces their arrival.  Traditional Chinese for Felix, Japanese pop for Oscar.  Bad Asian karaoke for another character.  Rock 'n' Roll for the White guy.  It's a different twist, but it helps to add character layers and remind the audience that a very different “Odd Couple” is being presented.

The acting is solid by Ron Yamauchi as Oscar, and Jimmy Yi as Felix.  These actors have the skills to perform the characters, but Asian actors never get to play such roles because traditionally they are not cast for traditionally “white” characters.  But if you live in North America, most of the roles become supporting characters or stereotyped cliches of Asians.  Bravo to Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre for purposely taking a classica Broadway play and re-visioning it for a potentially large pan-Asian audience in Metro-Vancouver.

Carmine Bernhardt and Lissa Neptuno play the sexy English neighbors upstairs, named Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon.  These two characters help create tension between Oscar and Felix and highlight the different attitudes not only between traditional and multi-generational values towards dating, but also between marriage and divorce.  Bernhardt and Neptuno bring a vital energy to their performances with their flirtations and silly giggles.  They act coy and suggestively in a way that no man could resist.  You almost wish you could be on stage with them, with the attention they pay to Oscar and Felix.

Bravo to Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre for pushing the racial boundaries of Vancouver theatre once again.  With limited resources, VACT is saying “Why can't we do this?” and turning colour blind casting and perceptions on it's head.

I look forward to VACT's future presentation of Rogers & Hammerstein's musical set in San Francisco's Chinatown, “Flower Drum Song”, which broke down racial stereotypes about Asians while reinforcing others.

Check out the latest trailer for The Odd Couple on YouTube, filmed during rehearsals for the upcoming Richmond production.

Todd Wong & David Philip perform at COPE summer BBQ at Vancouver Rowing Club

Todd Wong brought his accordion repertoire from the CUPE 391 Library Square strike line to the COPE summer bbq at the Vancouver Rowing Club

It was a sold out Thursday night for the COPE annual summer BBQ at the Vancouver Rowing Club in Stanley Park, on July 17.

Who showed up?  Why there was COPE city councilor David Cadman, MLA
Adrian Dix, MLA David Chudnovsky, Vision city councilors Heather Deal, George Chow, Tim
Stevenson, COPE parks commissioner Loretta Woodcock, COPE school board trustee Allan Wong, and Vision
mayoralty candidate Gregor Robertson. There were also lots of candidates such as recently declared Council candidates Andrea Reimer, Kerry Jang, Meena Wong and Parks Board candidates Stuart Mackinnon, and Aaron Jasper + parliamentary candidate Don Davies.

Here is a group of wannabe politicians for the Vancouver civic election: 1. Gregor Roberson –
Vision Mayoral candidate
2. Sarah
Blythe – Park Board candidate
Aaron Jasper – Park Board Candidate, 4. Meena Wong – COPE City Council candidate, 5. David Eby City Council candidate  – photo Patrick Tam

Labour Unions were also represented.  Attending were David Walker the new BCGEU president,  Bill Saunders president of the Vancouver District Labour Council, and CUPE 391 Vancouver Library workers.


The CUPE 391 table featured vice-presidents Laura Safarian, Inder Pannu and Library shipper/film maker David Philip.  Fellow CUPE 391 library workers not in the photo are Mark Whittam, Margaret, and yours truly Todd Wong – photo Patrick Tam

CUPE 391's presence was very special because not only did the Vancouver Library Workers sponsor a table, they also represented a good portion of the featured entertainment with Todd Wong (of Gung Haggis Fat Choy fame)  also newly elected to the CUPE 391 executive as member-at-large.

DSC_777742628 - Adrian's kenote speech – photo Patrick Tam

MLA Adrian Dix speaks to the sold out event, as keynote speaker.  He addresses the inequalities in the city. He also shared a secret with the NDP friendly crowd – but I can't reproduce it here, because he didn't want to share it with the media… not just yet.

DSC_765642516 - MC Carlo BODROGI – photo Patrick Tam

Carlo Bodrogi did a fine job MCing the
event. I discovered that he is half-Phillipino and the other half is Jewish and Hungarian…
very Gung Haggis, as I explained to him the term “Hapa” which is a
Hawaiian term that means “half Asian”

DSC_781142662 - Todd WONG's act– photo Patrick Tam

Todd Wong reprised selections from his “Library Square strike-line repertoire” as David Philip shared his films made during last year's CUPE 391 Vancouver Library Workers strike.  Todd shared stories about what it was like on the strike line, as CUPE 391 made media headlines and waves in the labour movement because of their creative and innovative strike line activities, which included “flying bicycle pickets,” knitting groups, musicians, video films, and a writer's reading series – organized by Wong. 

“The accordion and music made it easier to interact with the public,” said Wong telling tales of the songs he would play as pedestrians made their way to the ballet, the hockey game, or attended “Word on the Street” literary and book fair. 

Philip's videos demonstrated not only the creativity of CUPE 391 picketers, but also the resolve to deal with the stress and challenges of a 3 month strike.  They are filled with anger, compassion, humor and the strength of human spirit. 

Rachel Marcuse was event organizer, and she said “People told me it was the best entertainment we've had yet at our events,” as Wong was able to blend together the art forms of music and video with the politics and pathos of the strike line.

Watch some of David Philip's videos on you tube:

DAY 43

See more of Patrick Tam's pictures at:

Wayson Choy gives “spirited” reading for Vancouver Cultural Olympiad

Not Yet

Wayson Choy came back to Vancouver to read from his upcoming book, “Not Yet a memoir of living and almost dying,”  Wayson is famous for his first novel “Jade Peony” and its' subsequent prequel “All That Matters“which was nominated for a Giller Prize.

Recently Wayson received the Order of Canada, and Jade Peony made the Literary Review of Canada's Most Most Important Books.

His books describe growing up in Chinatown, whether fictional or his memoir Paper Shadows.  He says that his books are also about secrets, and secrets reveals.  Paper Shadows addressed the unknown secret that Wayson had been adopted, which he didn't learn until he was 57 years old.  Not Yet, reveals secrets about near death, and not being ready to die, and coming to terms with death.

When Wayson came to Vancouver in 2002 to celebrate Jade Peony being selected as the inaugural choice for the One Book One Vancouver program at the Vancouver Public Library, few people knew then that Wayson had recently been in a coma due to a heart attack.

On Tuesday night, Wayson talked about his second heart attack, and his conversations with ghosts.

“Gracious” is always the word I use to describe Wayson, and he certainly embodied the word during his talk.  It's important to recognize what we have in our lives, because when we almost lose what we take for granted, we value it so much more.  This is what Wayson and I both know, as he has now survived two heart attacks and I survived a near fatal cancer tumor.  How we deal with our challenges is important to how we live our lives.

Wayson described how after each heart attack, he had moments of clarity and meaningfullness – what I asked he might describe as “satori” in zen buddhism or what Abraham Maslow called “self-actualization.”  Wayson answered by talking about having a “knowingness that what you do matters.”

Oh… about the ghosts.

He described meeting ghosts after one of the heart attacks.  When he talked to a friend who was familiar with ghosts and spiritual matters, they confirmed the tell-tale signs and signatures.  But I will let you read the book to find out what went on.

It was great to see so many familiar faces attending the reading at the UBC Robson Square event.  I sat down beside friends Elwin Yuen and Fanna Yee.  Elwin had been on the ACWW board with me, when we honoured Wayson at the 2002 ACWW Community Dinner.  Sitting in front of us were Steven Wong with his parents Zoe and Bill Wong – subject of the CBC documentary Tailor Made.

After the book signings, I joined my cousin Janice Wong, author of Chow: From China to Canada, to help celebrate Dr. Henry Yu's birthday eve with his wife, Brandy Lien-Worrall.  Brandy edited the anthology Eating Stories which was produced in the writing workshops she led for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society.  Joining us for drinks and nachos was Leanne Riding, my co-president for Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop. 

Great stories… Great people… and inspired by Wayson.