2023 Happy New Lunar Year of the Rabbit and Cat

Happy new year to everyone around the world. It’s been a rough past 3 years with the covid-19 pandemic and there’s definitely a feeling here in Sydney, Australia that people want to move on with their lives. In saying that, I don’t think I have seen a lion dancing schedule as packed as what I’ve seen this year. There have been performances in and around Sydney for the better part of a month starting before lunar new year started and stretching through to the 15th day!

A new trend that I’ve seen more of is large shopping centres getting in on celebrations and hiring lion dance troupes to perform at set schedules. I think it’s testament to the impact and influence of the large multicultural diaspora living in and around Sydney. I like the idea of spreading this aspect of Chinese/ Asian culture but I do sometimes wonder where the line gets drawn between a cultural celebration versus a chance for corporates or businesses to use lion dancing as a means of entertainment/ marketing like moving from Christmas decorations to Easter decorations to Valentine’s Day to halloween etc. One example that comes to mind is lion dancing at night clubs. I don’t think I’d enjoy lion dancing at a night club. The other trend this year was seeing a stacked performances schedule on New Year’s Eve which just happened to fall on a Saturday. I suppose a big part of it is that despite lunar new year being part of the lunar calendar, we follow the Gregorian calendar including its 5 day work week and 2 day restful weekend. Which means, for a lot of shopping centres who are trying to make the most of lion dancing as part blessing, part entertainment, part attracting as many visitors to their centre as possible, it makes sense to try to get performances scheduled on the weekends in and around the new year date itself. It just feels a bit weird in a way because my memory of lunar new year when I was a kid was that lion dancing performances would happen on New Year’s Eve at the temples and then a bit of a break before they hit off about a week or two after lunar new year because a lot of the shops in Cabramatta where closed over the festive period as store owners would take possibly the only holiday break in the whole year. Now, we’re able to watch daily performances if we wanted to! I wonder how it is around the rest of the world. I do feel that Melbourne and it’s Asian suburbs seems to run a lot of its celebrations earlier than lunar new year itself (eg Footscray, St Albans running their cho tet 1-2 weeks before the actual lunar new year date). Whereas it seems like New York and the east coast of USA is about to hit its Super Saturday this weekend which would be the second weekend after lunar new year. Let me know what you guys think of these trends.

This year I did get a chance to participate in lion dancing performances with the Dragon Style team which is always fun. Our team was running a little low on available performers so rather than sit comfortably at the drums, I had a wonderful time flitting between playing the instruments, subbing into the tail as well as head for a few of the performances. We had a few performances mainly in different shopping centres. I don’t mind it as much given it’s a continuous stretch of approximately 1 hour performances. It gets the adrenaline pumping and when you see a shop after shop getting in on the atmosphere and putting up chengs and red pockets it definitely adds to the excitement.

I also had the pleasure of catching a few other teams performances. I really love the fact that quite a few of the teams have a social media presence and were kind enough to post their schedules out. That way it was much easier to plan out where to go and guarantee I’d get to see them.

I got to catch the Qing Fong team on New Year’s Eve at the Ming Yue Lay temple in Bonnyrigg. It’s been my rite of passage since being a kid growing up watching the Teo Chew Association perform here before dashing off to Kuan Yin temple in Canley Vale to watch Yun Yee Tong perform and then the best firecracker and fireworks show ever at midnight. The Qing Fong team ran through a gamut of routines and even brought out a dragon. I think it’s cool that all the members gets a chance to show off their hard work for everyone to see. They also appeared at Ashfield Mall where I just happened to be. And I saw a few of their performances in and around Cabramatta. Shoutout to them and their mini little firecracker! It was a nice touch in the absence if the real deal.

Over at Kuan Yun temple in Canley Vale, Yun Tee Tong were tearing up the place with their lion routines and kung fu demonstrations. Sifu Peter showed everyone how his qigong skills by bending a long metal rod and having concrete blocks smashed off his back whilst having his neck impaled with super sharp spears. It’s always cool to see the old timers come back and get in on the drumming action. I did so catch them around Cabramatta on a super hot and sweaty Sunday day and watched them participate in a wui si (lion greeting) with the Lion Dance Academy.

I didn’t see much of the Lion Dance Academy apart from their lion greeting with Yun Yee Tong and a throw back moment when they were on the rooftop of J’s Kitchen Steakhouse and I could picture the Teo Chew Association guys up there.

I saw THQ Cabra out and about. Fortunately, lots of firecrackers to accompany their shows as well as their many colourful lions. I hope firecrackers don’t ever lose favour with the council. I think it adds so much more to the atmosphere of the performance. It definitely beats having no firecrackers or the confetti canons. One new thing I’ve noticed is an addition of a new drum beat to their drum beat!

I managed to briefly catch the Jin Wu Koon team live at Burwood Plaza but was pleased to watch a video of their crazy jong routine at Market City.

Up in Chinatown, I got to see the tail end of the Choy Lee Fut team’s Chinatown performance. They’ve changed up their lions this year from their usual red lions. This time they had a triplet of 3 gold lions that were prancing around. It’s a shame they didn’t have firecrackers because that was always a sure thing in the past. I wonder what happened with it. Maybe council didn’t approve. In any case it was still enjoyable and nice to hear a different drum beat to most of the other teams around. Out in the city, I also got to see the Chinese Youth League do a short run down the length of Dixon Street. I like them. Actually, I really like their musicians. They have a nice musical quality to how they play with a variation of tempo and volume and flower drumming thrown in.

And finally, I saw the Yau Kung Mun team and their lion dance kids and lion dance teens teams hit it off at Eastwoods Lunar New Year celebrations, they had a monster eye dotting ceremony as well as a super cool Jong performance. It’s weird because I get bored quickly watching videos of jong performance and frequently find myself skipping through the routine but it’s something else watching it live. It’s almost like holding your breath to make sure the performers pull off their stunts and don’t get injured. So shout out to the dancers putting it all on the line for a wonderful performance. And of course, it all finished with a bang courtesy of a pair of firecrackers.

Me having a go at the drums

8.1.2021 A new year and my project is complete

Almost. I forgot to hook up the pulley system on the inside to get the eyelids to work!I have finally put the finishing touches on the lion. Apart from that, it’s pretty much done! The last couple of bits was to attach the trim and pom poms. I ordered in some sequin – red and gold to add to the lion. I think the sequins add a nice glint which might just catch the audiences’ eye as the light bounces off the lion. The red and gold sequins and the red pom poms against the gold base of the lion really makes the lion pop.

I feel it also has very much the same feel as the other two LFC homages that I have made which is no surprise given I used the same measurements. But good to know nonetheless, especially as I did a little improvisation when following the scale drawings.

Now to find a tail to go with the lion and then stick it together with its two brothers to take a family shot!

26.12.20 Progress. Bristle fur on

I got stuck into it this Christmas break to try to finish the lion head. There’s no deadline for it but it’s been sitting as an unfinished project for some time now and now that I have time, I better make a move on it. Especially as I see the end in sight. I got busy with using metal wire to secure the fur in place and I’m loving what I’m seeing. Out of the whole lion, there was probably one part which stood out to me that I didn’t like and that was my metal wiring for the eyelids. I miscalculated the length of the wire so the eyelids are a little on the smaller size compared to the eye. With the eyes closed, you can still see eye coming through. I was hoping with the eye bristle fur on, it’ll make it less noticeable and if all else fails at least the eye is usually open at rest (once I secure the elastics on).

You can see the eyelid doesn’t cover the whole eye.

22.10.20 Progress

The next step is to secure the bristle fur onto the lion but I couldn’t help myself and start arranging the pom poms. They’re double thickness so they really do look and feel “full” and vibrant. I was really worried that the lion being a gold and red lion was lacking redness to it but after playing around with the pom poms I think it’ll look great.

21.10.20 Progress

Slowly slowly getting there. I’ve made myself some free time to keep working on the lion. I hot glued the metal discs on and the fur. With the last two lions, I only put a small dab of hot glue on one edge of the discs and even though those lions haven’t even been performed in get, just carrying them around and accidentally knocking them around has meant that the discs have gone flying off. So this time, I’ve made sure to use more glue and applied the hot glue around the circumference of the discs so they’ll stay on permanently. For the fur, I decided to use faux fur. It doesn’t look as pretty as rabbit fur but it’s probably a little more animal friendly and what I’ve found with rabbit fur is over time, the fur tends to fall off the skin. I prepared the faux fur in the same way as I would have with the rabbit fur. I cut it into strips with the fur running perpendicular to length of the strip.

I also tried my hand at Chinese calligraphy. I must say, cudos to the professional writers and artists because it isn’t easy! Trying to make it nice and fat to fit out the zhao pai whilst keeping it neat was difficult. It looks a little childish but at least it’s my hand!

26.10.20 Progress

I had a pretty productive weekend with painting the lion head. The only parts I have left to do is the top and bottom eyelids after I have attached the fabric section for the eyelids. The only parts I am considering jazzing up are the areas with the red base and gold knife strokes. It almost looks too plain for me but I wonder with the addition of the metallic discs on them if it’s just enough.

Overall, I’m ok/happy with it for my level of painting skill and artistic abilities (read:lowly). Every time I see some of the professional heads made by the likes of Lo An Kee, Yu Ho, Bo Wah or Bak Wan etc it makes me feel like my head is inadequate but I need to put it all in perspective. They’re professionals and have made countless heads. This is my 5th attempt. I’m not aiming for the best, I’m also not aiming for a generic lion head. I’m aiming for something that makes me happy that I haven’t rushed it and have put it my all AND for everyone else, something that might just make you turn your head enough to say, that’s a cool looking head, it doesn’t look like the others, I wonder who made it. What do you guys think?

12.10.2020 Painting begins

I’ve slowly been plugging away at this lion head. It’s been slow progress because rather than copy the colours of any other lion head, I have been trawling through images of cool lion heads I’ve seen and using them as inspiration for the colours. The design overall is as reflective as I can of the LFC lions that I have come across. The patterns are more in keeping with the more modern LFC heads with the fluffy sheep’s fur. The overall colour scheme I’ve got going is a red and gold colour. Hopefully it turns out great and so far, I’m liking what I see.

10.9.20 Papering done

A bit of a lag between my last efforts and now. I’ve finished off papering the lion and putting on the designs. I’ve decided to go with a red/ gold/ yellow design for this one. Trying to get the colour scheme and design is tough though. I’ve been pouring through images of Luo An Kee lions and I’m loving the two tone base as well as the designs. So intricate but alas, I’m going to pass on anything too intricate. My brushwork isn’t quite there yet but maybe the next lion after this will be a Luo An Kee lion- complete with the frame made to the specs that Chris Low has in his book. I can’t wait to get cracking on completing this head.

2.5.2020 Frame Complete and links to Taobao Shops

And that’s that. I’ve finished off attaching the wiring and I’m done with the frame. It’ll be onto papering soon. I must say, the whole process of making the frame including the wiring did not feel as tedious as it did in the past. I finished it fairly quickly and easily too. Some new things I’ve experimented with the process- rather than just cutting the bamboo pieces to length, I sized up each bamboo strip to where I was going to attach it on the frame to make sure the natural curve of the bamboo fit well. I utilised a lot more rattan cane than in the past. I also soaked the strips of cane I was going to turn into rings. This made bending the cane incredibly easy and none of them snapped in the process. I used a combination of micropore tape (for lightness) bind the strips together and used a small strip of rigid brown sports tape right at the end to secure the micropore tape. I think the adhesive on the sports tape is superior and hopefully will last for the ages. Overall, the lion feels light and sturdy and the shape is less lopsided that previous.

In preparation for the next part of the build, I’ve already put an order in on taobao for the bristle fur. I’ve already bought the pom poms from a previous buy so hopefully it all arrives on time. If you’re interested, on using Taobao, use this Taobao guide to help you get set up. They are shipping overseas to a few overseas countries including Australia. Once you’re in, I bought a set of white bristle fur from here and my black set from here. The pom poms I bought from this shopEyes, and mirrors here. Once you’re in, use google translate to help you navigate the shop and if you need customisation, the shops will communicate with a program called Aliwangwang. If you can’t read or write Hanzi, get someone who can or again use google translate.