Progress report and note to self, use smaller gauge wire when doing the wiring. I used thick gauge wire thinking that it’ll mean the lion head will last the distance with time. The trade off is that it is darn hard to work with. My fingers are so sore trying to manipulate them into the right shapes but alas, it’s done and dusted. Time to paper soon.
It is a really good feeling when you complete something you start. Today is one of those days. I’ve finally completed the main body of this lion frame. It’s almost poetic that the “crowning moment” is crowning the lion head with its horn.
To be fair, I haven’t finished the lion 100%. I still have all the wiring that I need to do including the ears and eyelids. But that’s child’s play in effort when it comes to the the whole frame making process so I’m quite pleased with getting to this stage.
I think out of all the lion heads I’ve made, this is one of the best ones. The biggest difference with this head is that I was particularly picky with choosing the right bamboo strip for the right location. This has resulted in a lot of natural curves. Each bamboo strip has multiple nodes (the nobbly bits between the smooth bits) and these areas of the strip don’t bend as smoothly. If you have a node over where the frame requires a smooth arc, such as over the forehead of the lion, you’ll get a weird shape. This is what happened to me during my last lion head project and I ended up needing fire to make the bends happen resulting in a lot of unnatural bends. I got away with it during my second and third project by incorporating a lot more rattan strips. These don’t have the problem of nodes.
Here’s a couple of images.
I’m getting there!! I’ve had a couple of really productive days. I think the clincher is setting myself a time goal of trying to get this lion frame done by the middle of August. This means that I know I need to work on the head consistently rather than sporadically if I really want to get it done. It also helps that I’ve got a bit of spare time after work to work on it. I’ve focused on adding 1-2 strips at time and this has helped tremendously with progress.
It’s been a while since my last post but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle at home. I’ve been working on making another lion head frame. If I complete this frame, that’ll be three Luen Fat Cheung replica heads that I would’ve worked on. Hopefully I can see it through and hopefully, I can they’ll look as good as the originals.
Can I say, I hate turning bamboo strips into rings!! They’re so fiddly and keep breaking on me!!
This post is long overdue. I just hope that one year hasn’t affected my memory as much. Last year, in October, I had the absolute pleasure to meet one of the pioneers in the sharing and dissemination of lion dancing information Corey Chan.
A bit of background on Corey’s work, he was a regular contributor to the liondancing.org forum back when that was still active. If you’ve never been to that forum, it was a wonderful source of information and a treasure trove of knowledge. And the best thing for us in the west is that it was all in English. There were different subforums and threads on all things lion dancing like general knowledge of chengs, how to repair lion heads, where you could buy lion heads and basically whatever question you might have wanted to throw at the group. It was great! Remember, this is before facebook existed and for a small community like the lion dancing one that is spread across the globe, it was the first connection that a lot of us had to what was happening in the rest of the world. Corey, himself and lion enthusiast, had a wealth of knowledge in repairing and restoring lion heads and developed a lot of excellent connections to source lion making and repair supplies which culminated in setting up an online store called ofcourselionsource. This is where I first “met” Corey online back in 2004 him during my first forays with my collaborative approaching in the restoration of my Sifu’s Cheung Fei lion head. My Sije Linda managed to source our silk balls, and bristle fur and other bits through him.
So, over 10 years later in San Francisco and after a series of fortunate events, I was very lucky and very fortunate to meet Corey. He was extremely generous with his time coming out to see me at such short notice. We spent a lot of time talking about all things lion dancing.
He is so knowledgeable about so many different aspects of lion dancing that the rest of us can only dream about. And it’s not just that he knows about multiple different aspects of lion dancing, it’s the depth of knowledge that he has- the art of lion dancing, the art of dragon dancing, the art of dancing the laughing Buddha that accompanies the lion dance, the musical aspects of the lion dance, the art of making the lion head and all the intricacies that come with it (making the frame, papering, painting and all the symbolism that comes with it), knowledge about the other folk dances in Chinese culture like the Pei Yau etc. I know right!! Talk about knowledge. And that isn’t his day job.
His students are incredibly lucky to have such knowledgeable teacher who is willing to share his passion with others and I am incredibly lucky to meet him.
The other out of this world experience is to see in person some of the incredible projects that Corey has worked on. There were a tonne of one of a kind amazing futsan lion heads, each one painted with such detail, symbolism and colour that they would all play starring roles if each of them were in a pride of lions. Danced together, no doubt they’d form a dream team. I got to see a baak wan made unicorn (kei lun) which was incredible. It was quite unique in how it was made that just like their lions, this one was distinctive enough for me to say that if I ever saw another one similar to it being displayed or danced, I’d be able to call it as a baak wan product. Finally, I was blessed to see an example of a luen faat cheung branded dragon. That’s right a dragon! Now if you know me, or have been following this blog, I’ve been trying to make a couple of luen faat cheung lion heads so I have spent a bit of time collecting images and studying some of the works that was produced in the LFC workshop. I haven’t in all my looking around come across a dragon but, like the other famous makers of old (Baak Wan, Luo On Kee, Bo Wah etc) there’s no mistaking that the artwork is quite distinctively from Luen Faat Cheung’s workshop. I need to dig up a little more history of the dragon itself but no matter the history, there was a “Patina” about the dragon that made it look majestical and the fact that is a LFC dragon just adds to the awesomeness.
Post edit: I showed some of the images to Yu Ying Ho (of Yu Ho Kee fame) in Hong Kong during my last visit there in early 2017 and he gave me a little bit of insight into the LFC workshop and the potential maker of the dragon. His opinion is that the dragon was quite possibly made by his Sifu, and rebranded under Luen Faat Cheung’s name and resold onwards (best way I can explain this concept is like how Tag Huer uses ETA movements to power its watches but brands it under the Tag Huer name rather than Swatch).
Whatever the history, the dragon head looks awesome! Definitely some patina there. Here are some images.
It’s always exciting to watch New Years performances from around Australia and the world.
The best thing I can say is the quality of lion dancing is definitely at a higher standard than what it has ever been and the lions are getting more and more prettier. I think one of the most impressive collection of lions was at the Richmond Victoria St Lunar New Year festival down in Melbourne Australia. There was a huge amount of colourful and pretty lions from both the Jow Gar Kuen school and the Dai Bi Quan An lion dance team. If you do a YouTube search, you’ll find plenty of videos of the two teams performing a meeting and then a set involving lots of beer and lots of alcohol! Looks like they had lots of fun.
Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu
Back in Sydney, I was able to participate in some of the lion dancing myself with the Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu team. It was a jam packed day with lots of performances in a number of different shopping centres. It’s sometimes a little disheartening when you start a performance and not many shops put up a Cheng. All that hard work in training and not a time to demonstrate your skills. That felt like it might have been the case when we started at a few of the shopping centres but fortunately as we slowly paraded around the shops, it became was quite atmospheric as lots of the stores that we were approaching scrambled to hang up a Cheng. Everyone (shopkeepers of all nationalities) was getting involved and in the end it felt like we were rock stars!
Other teams that I managed to capture out and around Cabramatta- Sydney Indochinese Youth Sports Association
Happy new year everyone. 新春快樂。Chuc Mung Nam Moi!
It’s been a blast down in Sydney with performances happening everywhere and plenty more to come. The new year came early with lion dancing performances beginning in early January in Sydney’s Chinatown. I didn’t manage to catch my first glimpse off lions nor the thunder of drums and firecrackers until Chinese New Year eve though.
Im going to share with everyone my yearly ritual. I’m sure a few of you might be able to relate to this yourselves whether it be in Sydney or anywhere else around the world. It involves having a family dinner to round out the new year before doing the rounds of the temples. You make your way out to the temple, not too early but always just on the right time. It is always funny approaching the temples. I switch off the car music, windows are down, and my ears are perked up trying to capture the faint but always audible “ding” that is the signature gong sound of a few of the teams in the Cabramatta area. When I hear it, I know I’m late and without wasting any more time, I hastily find a parking spot and run down to watch.
My first stop was the Ming Yue Lay Temple in Bonnirig. One of the larger Chinese temples in western Sydney and one that always draws crowds. There were plenty of people there giving the place an eclectic atmosphere and to cut through all the buzz was the Australian Teo Chew Association performing with their colourful lions. As always, they did a great set with their big group of lions dancing and then breaking off to do individual shows for everyone.
Next stop on the map is a drive to Canley Vale’s Kwan Yin temple with drive bys of the Australian Kin Fu Ma Zhu temple, Chua Minh Hoang, and Tin Hau Temple. I don’t know what I want to achieve with driving by those temples. I don’t have time to get out of my car and watch. Maybe it’s the feeling of knowing which team is doing what and where and knowing what other teams are getting up to. Same ritual, approach temple miles out, music off, windows down, ears perked up, car slows to a roll, stare at temple, no lion dancing? Speedy get away!
Over at the Kwan Yin Temple, I could hear the drums and the gong being bashed from blocks away! Performances are in full swing with Yun Yee Tong doing a number of lion routines. I also missed some of their Kung fu demonstrations but fortunately with social media, a lot of the that was captured on footage. I believe the Central Coast Jow Gar team, and some of Head Academy Jow Gar were there with Yun Yee Tong (also Jow Gar) to do demonstrations. As a martial artist myself, it’s always exciting to watch other people belt out their forms. I know a lot of hard work, sweat and perseverance has gone to make these martial artists great and getting to do forms in front of a crowd is one of the few times we get to show to everybody else what we ‘secretly’ do on our weeknights. I hope they had fun!
And as usual, about 10 minutes before the stroke of midnight, the lions reassemble themselves in front of the main temple hall. They dance in line whilst one of them choy cheng (timed to coincide just before midnight). The temple staff come out and light the million strings of firecrackers which is always exciting for my ears. (Maybe not for everyone who’s standing too close. It happens every year. Because it is a temple and private property, there’s not a lot of official looking council workers or pyrotechnic people shooing everyone to 100m away. You stand wherever you like and if you’re too close to the firecrackers you run or more like push your away to get away. All whilst pointing your camera at the firecrackers trying to live stream it, having your free hand blocking one ear and trying your best to raise your shoulder high enough to give some level hearing protection for your remaining ear). The firecrackers are used as a surrogate countdown to the new year because right afterwards, the fireworks go off. And I mean they go off. These guys don’t hold back. I’m usually a firecracker person and don’t find fireworks that exciting (you’d think that the world famous Sydney New Year fireworks over the harbour bridge every year would whet my appetite but nope). However, this is different. I think the combination of a great set of fireworks, the fact that it explodes so close over our heads and the Chinese temple facade in the foreground gives it such a great atmosphere.