Susan Crean’s memoir Finding Mr. Wong chronicles her effort to piece together the life of the man she knew as Wong, cook and housekeeper to her Irish Canadian family for two generations. Reminiscing, Crean writes, “I grew up in Mr. Wong’s kitchen …” A Chinese Head Tax payer hired by Crean’s grandfather in 1928, Wong Dong Wong remained on the job following Gordon Crean’s death in 1947. Mr. Wong eventually retired in 1965 and moved to Chinatown. Crean’s homage weaves the various strands of her memories of and discoveries about Mr. Wong during the last 25 years of his life; she travels the streets and histories of Chinatowns in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, and twice she visits Guangdong, China, where she located his home village, found descendants of his father’s brother, and learned the beginning of his story: orphaned as a newborn, then brought to Canada by his uncle, Wong YeeWoen.




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Oscar’s Interactive Salon

Writer, literary activist and good friend Betsy Warland is currently hosting an inter-active, three-way Salon on her website. It centres on her work-in-progress, Oscar of Between, and each month she posts two excerpts — one from Oscar and one contributed by a guest writer. Then she invites people to riff off the two excerpts. Last month I was the guest writer, and put up a section from the opening of Digging to China. Betsy is a well known Vancouver writer and teacher, former director of The Writers’ Studio at SFU. She’s a poet and non-fiction writer, but in reality...

Catching a Blue Moon

Many’s the year that plans for the summer holidays get diverted or rearranged. But last year it was more like my entire summer got prorogued. Instead of writing away at my cabin-in-the-woods on Gabriola Island, I spent two months tethered to an IV machine dripping 303 ml of pure penicillin into my system each day via a tiny, blue tube, 42 centimetres long, fished through a vein to a position just above my heart. An infection in the knee no one can explain. Repeatedly they ask if I’d had an insect bite, a cut or injury of some sort...

Inside the Cocoon

The present takes over. It became a near full-time job just going for tests, having vitals checked, visits from the physio, the hospital GPs and the lab wanting more blood. I was surprised at what was happening to me, alright; especially when I realized, for example, that I’d not walked in two weeks and didn’t know when I would again. I was also bemused by my placid reaction. Aware at some level, that I was making the best of things; like you do when waiting for the storm to blow itself out so you can continue the hike. When...

The View from Isolation

Four weeks in Nanaimo General and I wasn’t bored to death. I was sick but not usually too sick to talk, so I interviewed practically everyone who came into the room. Cleaners, student nurses, porters, the meal-tray deliverers (hi Denise!), nurses, doctors, physios, and nurses aids. Add in the technicians who did all the ultra-sounds, CAT scans, bone scans and x-rays and I probably talked with 100 people or more. With their individual and often personal stories came a picture of the world they work in. I have had to stay in hospital only once, but I’ve had a...

Third Thoughts

If my first thought when hit Nanaimo General was Thank God for Tommy Douglas, and my second was Thank God I got the first chapter written, my third thought was a Holy Shit. It came after I had been there a couple of weeks and I tumbled to the idea that OHIP and my extended medical insurance not not cover everything. That was the day the head nurse popped in to see how many outlets my room had for oxygen. More than enough, apparently so I was going to have to move. Did that mean being downgraded from a...

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