Firecrackers

I was fortunate enough to make it across to Macau for a few days over the past few weeks and filled myself up on Portuguese tarts, pork chop buns and other delicious food they had on offer. A big surprise for me was found in the Museum of Macau which is located in the fort right next to the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral. Inside, they have a wonderful collection of exhibits that showcase the history of Macau from the early Chinese and European (Portuguese) settlers through to the modern day Macau with its resulting blend of these two distinct cultures.

One of the exhibits was about the firecracker industry in Macau which I found quite interesting. From the exhibit “The firecracker industry played a significant role in Macau’s economy. The first firecracker factory in Macau was built in 1880. Growth in the sector meant that by 1910 there were already 7 factories, a number that grew steadily providing work for thousand of employees… In the early 1960s, the industry began to decline primarily due to problems in the market and the fact that young people were not interested in learning the trade… Macau stopped producing firecrackers in the early 1990s and now they are imported from various parts of China.”

It’s sad to see an industry come and go but I think the exhibit does it justice by giving us a glimpse of Macau’s firecracker hey-dey with its collection of different firecracker advertisements and packaging.

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Imagine the firecracker that was made in this exploding!!
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And if you are interested in watching a short historic video of the handmade process of making firecrackers in Macau. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA5QahZLss0 

 

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The Pom Poms

I’ve been deliberating as to which pom poms I should use- an older set I already have at home (the silk fibres are a little squashed) or the newer set that I recently acquired in China. Although the older set has a few less balls and weren’t as full, the colours matched the colours of my head better so for now, I have chosen to use them. I will be back in China in the next few months so I’ll probably get another set that is newer and will work better with the lion.

My next consideration is how the balls should be arranged. I’ve been checking out plenty of other lion heads and getting inspiration from them. It’s interesting to see the variations where the medium sized balls are are placed in the inner ring around the mirror and the smaller balls placed in the outer ring of the mirror. In the end, given I had limited amount of balls, the best combination was not so much what I thought was the best but what worked best with the resources I had. In fact, the original LFC lion head only had one ring of balls around the mirror as well as a ring of balls around the horn. I decided to skip the ring of balls around the horn and instead added the second ring around the mirror.

Actually, now that I am looking at these images, the head is practically done!!! There are a few more finishing touches that need to be added that I haven’t done in the earlier stages like the pillow and the sequined trim around the eyes and on certain parts of the head.

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Bristle fur goes on

It has been a slow and steady progress making this lion but it’s all coming together with putting the finishing touches.
I started off with trying to use thread to sew the bristle fur on but my sewing skills were not quite up to scratch so after a while, my impatience got the better of me and I changed tact to using metal wire to secure on the fur

 

 

Lion dancing supply shops

For those of you heading to GuangZhou or transiting there and keen on checking out Ho Sing or 先聲 here are the details on how to get there and some photos of their shops.

浩聲 醒獅用品 Ho Sing

Address is: 138 Daxin Road Guangzhou; 廣州 越秀區 138 大新路
WeChat contact details: 18665096025. (They prefer to be contacted by WeChat)
Email: 2581781339@qq.com
Phone: 020 81861776
How to get there: Catch the Guangzhou MTR to Haizhu Square 海珠廣場 (line 6) and exit at B3. From there its a 10-15minute casual walk to their shop front on 138 Daxin Road大新路.
What they sell: Everything lion dance, dragon dance, unicorn dance related items. Lion heads, dragon heads, unicorn heads, pei yau, drums, gongs, cymbals, stands and carts, flags, dai tou fut, weapons, parts for lions (fur, beard, pom poms, eyes, mirrors etc).

 

 

 

先聲工藝扎作店 (China)

Address: 151-153Daxin Road Guangzhou; 廣州 越秀區 151-153 大新路
WeChat: 13794336011 (Prefers to be contacted by WeChat)
Email: han200102@21cn.com
Phone: 020 81872275
How to get there: Across the road from Ho Sing. Catch the Guangzhou MTR to Haizhu Square 海珠廣場 (line 6) and exit at B3. From there its a 10-15minute casual walk to their shop front on 151-153 Daxin Road大新路.
What they sell: Everything lion dance, dragon dance, unicorn dance related items. Lion heads- southern and northern lions, drums, gongs, cymbals, stands and carts, flags, dai tou fut, weapons, parts for lions (fur, beard, pom poms, eyes, mirrors etc).

 

Lion head accessories

I hit a roadblock with progressing with making of the lion head and that was obtaining all the lion head accessories that come with finishing off the lion.

These included the pom-poms, eyes, beard and fur, the mirror etc. I have previously sourced my embellishments through various people I’ve met along the way and from being creative with making my own things like the Pom poms. But for those of you who have tried sourcing their own embellishments, there aren’t so many English speaking websites/ shops/ eBay that sell “lion” parts. Type in anything and you’d invariable hit up huge cheerleader pom-poms or lion mascot dress up suits and forget about getting the eyes or bristle fur. Even a search on taobao (Chinese eBay) proved difficult. As for making your own Pom poms, it’s hard! And they just don’t look as good as the Chinese ones that are made specifically for lion heads or Chinese opera! The bristle fur is a little “easier” to achieve but time consuming to make and if you’re just a social lion head maker, it may not be worth the time and effort.

Fortunately, I was recently in China and managed to get a few hours layover in Guangzhou. So after a message exchange with a Kung fu brother from Hong Kong, I got the details to one lion dancing shop And set out to find some of the shops.

I managed to find 2 shops on the same street across the road from each other- 浩聲醒獅用品 and 先聲工藝扎作店. same Most people have probably heard of 浩聲 (Ho Sing) or seen their products being used. They’re the makers who produce “replica” 白雲 bak wan lion heads. I say “replica” lightly because although they weren’t the original workshop that produced the first bak wan heads, from what I can gather, they were subcontracted out by the Pak Wan Athletic Company to help produce lion heads to full fill orders back in the day. So they too have been involved with producing bak wan lions from then through until now. Apart from the bak wan lion heads, Ho Sing also make and sell other styles of lion heads- other shapes of “traditional” heads, modern lion heads with sheep’s fur, dragons, unicorns, pei yau, musical instruments, flags, weapons, and all the parts one might need to make their own lion head.

The 先聲 shop I have not heard of before but nevertheless had more or less the same thing. Same same but different. They too produce lions of varying styles, dragons, unicorns as well as musical instruments and other miscellaneous martial arts paraphernalia like Dai Tou Fut masks and weapons.

For me, I was happy because they also supplied all the loose embellishments that one might need to make a lion head! And I had a field day. It was like walking into a boutique store and rather than just browsing through the racks silently, be informed about all the aspects of what I am looking at. It was really nice chatting to both the owners of the shops and discussing what stock they have and learning about the differences in quality between different materials. In the end, I bought a selection of stuff that would allow me to finish off my lion head. I got a pair of wooden eyes, a beard, and a set of bristle fur, a “full” set of pom poms, a bag of small metallic discs, a mirror. Other items on offer that I chose not to buy included sa paper ties, bamboo skin to wrap the base of the frame, wooden handles, a lion tail.

If you’re interested, here is a snapshot of some of the interesting conversations we had.

– pom poms/ silk balls- a “full” adult set is variable depending on how many balls you want and need and the quality you are after. Apart from the two large nose pom poms, do you want any balls around the mirror- would they be tied to one or two concentric circles. Do you have any fins above the eyebrows and how many balls you want to attach to them? Does the lion have a 香墖 heung taap (spiral above the eyebrows usually behind the fins)? Is there a single or double soy or is it just a circle? (More balls needed if double soy with fins). Will there be pom poms on the ears?
The balls come in different sizes. The sizes are 9 or 10cm for the big nose balls; then 5.5cm for the heung taap balls, followed by 4.5cm and 3.8cm for the smaller balls.
For both these shops, the balls come in two qualities- 1. The good stuff “thick and full” or 2. Normal “more sparse” and the prices reflect these by double. It’s hard to tell the qualities if you just see the balls on their own and if you don’t really mind the look, the normal balls are good enough especially as the colours mask how thick or full the balls. But when comparing the two balls side by side and feeling them, there is a big difference between the fullness of the balls. From what they were telling me for most of the off the rack lions that can be bought with usually only the two nose balls, the balls are usually of “normal” quality. For the more “traditional” lion heads with a head full of balls and bristle fur, the pom poms are usually the better ones mainly because the clientele who buy “traditional” heads are a little more picky with how they want their heads to look.
The colours can be made up to 6 concentric circles and unless they have the more typical colours in stock, most will need to be custom ordered and will take up to 2 weeks to produce so don’t expect to see rows and rows of pom poms hanging off the ceilings that you can just pick and buy.

– the fur- I can only got into the bristle fur as I didn’t talk much about the sheeps or rams fur. The short story is, you can easily get sheep and rams fur in any country with the quality usually of higher quality then what you get in China although, China is catching up really soon.

Ho Sing had 2 qualities- normal and premium. Their “normal” is pretty much what you would find on almost all the bristle furred lions that you would see unless it was a custom build by very specific manufacturers. Their premium was made of an almost transparent material and was less thick/ more sparse. The bristle criss crossed each other and you could clearly see the paintwork underneath. The owner was telling me that with this style, he felt that the lions looked more fierce. I wasn’t a big fan of this style compared to the premium bristle fur that the other shop offered. In any case, it did still look a lot better than the normal fur they both offered.

I’ve taken this image off the archives of the Chinese Lion Dancers Facebook page. They’re examples of Ho Sing’s bak wan lions and show their “premium” bristle fur. Note how they’re more sparse and allow you to see more of the paintwork.

The normal bristle fur that 先聲 offered was the same as Ho Sing. Their premium was out of this world though. It looked great and felt great. I think you’ll just have to look at the photos to tell the difference.

They also offered bristle fur made from horse mane/ tail. These also looked fantastic and as the owner says- fire retardant if you choose to throw yourself into the firecrackers. This had to be custom ordered though depending on the colour you wanted. FYI, the white was not so white but more a cream colour.

This isn’t one of their lions but is a sample of both shops “normal” bristle fur. It also has plastic eyes.

– The eyes- Both shops offered plastic and wooden eyes. Both owners definitely preferred wooden eyes over plastic as they felt it made the lions appear 生 “saang” (alive). Plastic eyes just don’t have the same effect and they’re smaller. In any case, they offered plastic ones as they were cheaper and for their “standard” lions. You can get them prepainted or blank.

I’ll post up how to get to these shops in my next post as well as their contact details if you want to get in touch with them.
I think I’ll also use it as an opportunity to try to create a list of suppliers that you can contact to see if they may have stuff that you need.

The rest of the painting

I’ve basically finished painting the lion head!!! It feels good and I’m really liking the colours. It’s not as vibrant or as good a quality as the original paint work but I feel that I’ve captured the essence of the LFC lion.

Now it’s time to work on his brother. I think another rainbow head but with enough changes to make it look uniquely different.