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Whistler Reads: END OF EAST

abstract:The Whistler Writers and Readers Festival takes place September 14-16th. This year event organizer Stella Harvey and her Vicious Circle team invited Whistler Reads to take part. Sign up for a class. Don't miss our readers and writers mixer, Saturday Sept 15th 8-10 pm at Millennium Place. This evening is arranged and moderated by Whistler Reads founder, Paula Shackleton. It's Book Club Night when you get to chat with author Jen Sookfong Lee about her wonderful novel that is set in Vancouver's Chinatown, The End of East (Knopf, Canada). Thanks to our sponsors who are providing door prizes. WR now boasts ~200 members. Everyone is welcome. "Whether you live, work or play in Whistler -- read what Whistler is reading." Join the WR Shanghai Tang After-Party, 10-12 pm at Ric's Mix Lounge located nearby. Tickets and how to join WR below.


September 09, 2007
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Whistler Reads September Author Event: Joins the WWRF 2007

Don't miss out on our next big event. Become a WR member by clicking on "Register" on the home page, selecting the option "invited to join an existing book group," and typing in Whistler Reads and the rest of your information. It's free! Purchase the book for yourself or your book group via the link provided and the delivery will arrive at your house in plenty of time to read before the discussion.

Jen Sookfong Lee is a thirty-year-old Chinese-Canadian whose first novel, The End of East, was published by Knopf Canada as part of their prestigious "New Voices of Canada" series. Lee's novel charts three generations of a Chinese-Canadian family, the Chans. First, Seid Quan Chan leaves his small rural village in China at eighteen for a new life in Vancouver, suffering separation from his family for decades. Then his son Pon Man, who meets his father for the first time when he steps off a boat in Vancouver at age fifteen, and never quite finds his place in this new world. Finally, there is Samantha, the youngest of five granddaughters, who narrates the present-day stream of the book.

Jen Sookfong Lee writes from similarities in her background. Her grandfather came to Vancouver and became a barber, opening a shop in Chinatown. Her father came to join her grandfather as a teenager after many years of separation. Both worked to unite the family. Jen's mother is from Hong Kong via an arranged marriage, and Jen did go to Toronto for her education, embracing life in Canada's largest city, but always keeping a special place for her family and the city and mountains she loves. Jen makes her home in Strathcona, which is nestled right next to Chinatown. She lives with her husband and their dog. Jen is looking forward to meeting everyone on Sept 15th, and has prepared her reading selections from The End of East and a talk to accompany our group discussion.

Note from Paula: In researching this book I learned a lot about Vancouver and BC's history of Chinese immigration. Here are a few facts to keep in mind. Reading Jen's novel today places us at the center of renewed attention to this important facet of Vancouver life. There is a century of history (most recently featured on the front page of Vancouver's Sun newspaper just last week.) A video tour of Chinatown with the author awaits you at our discussion at Millennium Place, along with a collection of heritage photos from the Chinese Cultural Community. Parents, teachers, and high school students would enjoy this event. It is followed by our Shanghai Tang after-party (tickets for in-town or out-of-towners below)

Chinese-Canadian Milestones

How many of these facts did you know?.  
  • Mid 1800s Chinese immigrants come to BC as laborers in the gold mines and coal mines, in the sawmills and the canneries, and to build the national railway.
  • 1881-1885 immigration is stepped up to 10,000 people for completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. English-speaking Chinese managers contract the workers in mainland China from Victoria and California.
  • 1885 Canadian Pacific Railway is completed and Canada and the US go into a recession. The USA bans Chinese immigration and the Canadian government institutes a $50 head tax on existing Chinese residents.
  • 1887 Just two years later the head tax is increased to $500 (representing two full years' wages to the average Chinese immigrant).
  • 1923 The Exclusion Act is instituted in Canada meaning that Chinese immigration is severely restricted; almost no one can bring family to Canada from China. It is not repealed until after WWII when the Chinese immigrants who fought for Canada in the war, and China itself, are recognized as an ally with Allied forces against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy.
  • 1947 The Exclusion Act is repealed. Chinese-Canadians are given the right to vote. (Another factor was the UN Rights Charter, which declared voting a right of citizenship.)
  • 1949 Founding of The People's Republic of China -- Communism takes over China and gives support to North Korea.
  • 1971 Vancouver's Chinatown is declared a Heritage District, and revitalization of the area gets under way.
  • 1979 Chinatown street improvement program means sidewalks are paved and distinct red street lamp are installed.
  • 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is passed.
  • 1997 Hong Kong is returned to China and a new wave of Chinese immigrants come to Vancouver.
  • 2000 Chinese-Canadian National Council issues class action against the Canadian federal government seeking redress, compensation, and a formal apology.
  • Canadian Supreme Court rules this is a political issue not a legal issue.
  • 2005 Paul Martin signs a bill to approve $2.5 million in compensation to head tax citizens.
  • April 4, 2006 Four hundred people qualify for $20,000 in compensation (including widows) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper carries out redress and formal apology.

Come View WR Video Tour of Chinatown with Jen Sookfong Lee

Millennium Gate: distinctive gate over Pender Street at Taylor Steet that welcomes visitors to the twelve-block radius of the Chinese-Canadian community. Built to inaugurate the new millennium and commemorate this "journey in time," it was completed in July of 2002.
Sam Kee Building: the narrowest building in Vancouver. It is only six feet wide. In 1912 the city appropriated thirty feet to widen Pender Street. It is owned by merchant Chang Toy.
Chinatown Markets: These food vendors sell distinct food products and imported goods, sometimes available no place else, such as herbs and medicinal ingredients from China. Have your health read and potion ingredients recommended to balance the mind-body via Eastern traditional remedies.
Century's Winds of Change Mural: 23 x 16 feet, this mural spans 100 years of history depicting figures such as Sun Yat-Sen, Wing Wong, Cam Yow Won (the first Chinese-Canadian to vote.)
The Sun Yat-Sen Garden: A classical Chinese garden that is an oasis in the city. Visited by Sun Yat-Sen when he came to North America seeking financial support from immigrants for the cause back home.
International Village, the Central Library
The Chinese Cultural Center: built in the Ming Dynasty architectural style
The War Monument at Keefer and Columbia:is dedicated to the men and women who fought in WWII.
The West Han Dynasty Bell: a gift from the City of Guangzhou to the City of Vancouver in honor of the 15th anniversary of the twinning of the two cities. It weighs just under one tonne.

Questions to Consider When Reading The End of East

1. Think about the social conditions in China when the first immigrants came to Canada seeking work and an opportunity to send financial support home to their family and villages. What economic and political factors contributed to China's desperate social conditions?
2. European nations controlled all the main ports in China through Imperialism: Germany in the North, France, and Britain. The Manchu dynasty was weakened and the Yi-Ho Tuan or Boxer movement began.
3. In The End of East our main character is Seid Quan Chan, who comes to Canada via boat in 1913 at the age of eighteen. He has been sponsored by his village and it takes him seven full years to pay back the debt. As a young man all alone, how do you think he would have felt getting off the ship and entering customs, then staying in a rooming house in a strange city?
4. At age twenty-one Seid Quan travels back to China in order to marry Shew Lin through an arranged marriage. He just has enough time home to meet and wed her, and with luck, start his family. Remember his feelings when he gathers with the village elders? What do you think would have happened if Seid Quan were to tell them he was not going to return to Canada and leave his new wife and their home?
5. With so many bachelors living in BC the men divide into "clans" organized by four of the commonly named families. What was the formal and informal role of these clans?
6. Along with cultural alienation, the language barrier, and separation of families, the young men had the added potential pitfalls of the opium trade and gambling dens. It was legal to manufacture opium for trade, but not legal to consume it.
7. At the age of sixteen Pon Man, Seid Quan's son, comes to Canada to live and work alongside him. He is told to give up his sketching and take serious work so the two of them can earn the money to bring his mother and sisters from China, and to purchase a home. What effect does this have on the father-son relationship? What does Pon Man think of the barbershop? What does he eventually become professionally? Is he ever happy?
8. When Pon Man marries Siu Sang, she comes from a wealthier family in Hong Kong. She has never cooked or cleaned or learned how to be self-sufficient. What did you think of the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law? How did their living circumstances and different backgrounds contribute to the two women's happiness and dynamics in the household?
9. Samantha is the last and fifth daughter who returns home from university to live with her mother. As a third-generation Canadian, what are her thoughts on her Chinese heritage? What customs does she help with? How does she behave at her sister's wedding? What feelings does she have for her grandfather and mother?
10. Has reading The End of East made you feel any differently toward Vancouver's cultural heritage and politics? When were you last in Vancouver's Chinatown? Would you compare Jen Sookfong Lee to Joy Kogawa whose novel Obasan deals with persecution and the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII?
11. How is Jen's writing similar to or different from other Chinese-immigrant authors, e.g., Amy Tan, Lisa See, or anyone else you have read? Can you tell us some of the stylistic distinctions of Jen's writing? For example, how does she move the plot from character to character? How does she "show" not tell the reader how the characters are feeling? Whose point of view do you relate to, and does this have anything to do with how the story is narrated or your own personal perspective?
12. Is this a book you would recommend to high school students? Do you think that literature and the study of history can or should be taught together by theme?
13. What do you think of the historic photos (that will be on display at Millennium Place on Sept 15th only, courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Community as acquired by Whistler Reads for this discussion)?

I hope you can join us for this discussion at Millennium Place, and for the after-party later. Tickets are being sold here as a package (in-town members, out-of-town members) If you have already purchased the book please contact Paula (604-907-2804 or for alternative ticket prices for the two events. Whistler Reads is open to anyone who wishes to join. Take a look at our past events. Members get emails for the books and author events and links to research and discussion questions.

WHISTLER READS' Shanghai Tang' Party Pack

Members of Whistler Reads were able to purchase the full package, which included a copy of The End of East, a ticket to our Millennium Place event, Sept 15th, 8 pm, and entry to the Shanghai Tang after-party with complimentary beverage tickets -- all for just $65. If you'd already purchased a copy of the book, events tickets were also available at $40.

This year, for the first time Vancouver and West Van residents could come up and go back the same night with our out-of-town package, which included all of the above plus transportation on a luxury charter bus. Book group members took advantage of this fun road trip. The driver stopped at three pick-up locations:
  • (1) Vancouver West side, 16th and Burrard at 4 pm
  • (2) Downtown Vancouver Hotel, (west entrance on Burrard St.) 4:30 pm
  • (3)West Van, 15th and Marine Drive at 4:50 pm. Just $110.
  • Carpool to the pick-up point closest to you, park, and catch the bus. The driver brings you to Whistler Village center where you'll have time to wander around before the author event at Millennium Place at 8 pm. After the show we all stroll over to Mix's Lounge where they're spinning cool Asian-fusion beats, and serving theme beverages. Located at 4154 Village Green, it's just one block away from Millennium Place. 10 pm to midnight. At Cinderella hour (12 am) out-of-towners catch their bus back to the city. Don't miss this. Whistler is beautiful this time of year, and the trip, event, and party will be fantastic. Email us if you'd like your book group to be notified of our next event.

    More Information, call: Paula 604-907-2804 or email
    Not responsible for highway delays or closures. Tickets are non-refundable.< /P>


    Our thanks to the people and businesses who donated prizes or helped sponsor the WR event. We appeciate your support and thank you for encouraging literacy in Whistler.



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