I’ve made some significant progress since my last post. In saying that it has been a little on the slower side. I’ve been tweaking the numbers on my modelling as I’m making the frame to make sure it’s right. And so far so good. I’ve gone for a combination of bamboo and rattan cane for the next couple of sessions. My bamboo is roughly cut and the noses are just too think to smooth out. What that means is that when I try to make rings with the bamboo they look lopsided or they crack! The rattan cane is much easier to manipulate especially after they’ve been soaked in water. I’ve also adjusted how I bind the strips. I’m putting a premium on lighter weight so I’ve been experimenting with using micropore tape to secure the bamboo together and following up with a small bit of brown rigid sports tape to secure that together. So far it seems to be working.
Things have moved fairly quickly in the past few days. I’ve finished up with the main shell and the top lip.
In case you’re wondering how I can fit in making my lion in between life, it’s all about planning and creating an appropriate workspace. My set up isn’t perfect but it works for me. I typically work on the lion after dinner and before bed. It’s a great chance for me to relax my eyes from all the screen staring I do and allows me to focus on using my hands. In saying that, I do have my laptop nearby and I’m usually steaming some sort of movie that I’ve already watched and just listening to the dialogue is interesting enough (it you really want to know- I’ve watched The Master with Jet Li, Once Upon a Time in China 3, Last Hero in China, Fight Back to School 1 and 2 with Stephen Chow, God of Cookery, God of Gamblers series etc :D) . All my tools and equipment I need for making the lion sits next to my desk. I’ve got my manual with all the measurements on it on my laptop and from that I decide how many pieces I might attach. And then I get cracking! When you’ve got a movie going on and it’s dedicated lion making time, time just melts away and I get absorbed with seeing the lion shape come to life. It’s very exciting really.
The difference with the lion I am working on now compared to previous attempts is perfecting the shape and reducing the weight. I’ve got the hang of the technical aspect of binding the bamboo strips together so now I am focusing on make sure I choose the right bamboo strips for the various parts so the bamboo curves naturally without me having to use force the bamboo into shape. It has been noticeable particularly over the forehead. My forehead now looks rounded whereas previous ones have some strips bending and weird angles. Fortunately, the forehead imperfections can be hidden away by the mirror and pom poms. The weight aspect will come later when I’m papering but what I’ve found with the Liu Bei and Zhang Fei lion is that they are heavy!!!! They feel the same weight as the original but, it’ll be a form of torture for the performers to wield the lion around for a performance, especially as we’re moving to dancing a few lions together with minimal substitutions (compared to historically with one or two lions danced and 10 fresh subs ready to bust out their moves). I’m hoping to lighten the lion by using 1-2 layers of paper mache less than previous.
Talk about progress. It helps so much when there’s a roadmap and a plan. I made short work of the mouth, ears and base. I gathered my materials, cut my pieces to size and they all just fell together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle. It was also a chance to polish my diagrams with numbers. They weren’t all that clear so a little more editing on the manual.
With the Covid 19 pandemic sweeping through the world and lockdowns of most major cities including Sydney, it’s a great time and opportunity for me to resume some of my projects.
The first project I have lined up has been a work in progress since I started making detailed notes of my attempt at making Luen Fat Cheung lion. The idea is an instruction manual not too dissimilar to Chris Low’s fantastic book Restore the Roar where he regales the reader with a how to guide on building a Luo On Kee lion. This time it’s a LFC lion. The project gained further traction when I made the second Zhang Fei head. I had the chance to actually use my notes to make that head without the need for the original lion head sitting around. In that time, I also took the opportunity to neaten up my notes so they are clear and concise. And take plenty of photos. Hopefully I get the first draft completed and even better, complete the whole thing.
The second project I’ve got going is adding some brothers to the Liu Bei and Zhang Fei lion. I’m aiming to make another two at this stage- a gold and orange one with white bristle fur and a Guan Gung black and red lion (similar to the one used in the movie Last Hero in China). I’ve finally got off my butt and made the first pair of ears and the base so at least I’ve started. I’m going to aim to try to finish them both before Chinese New Year 2021. What I’m keen to do though is film the making process to give budding builders an idea of what to expect when they attempt to make their own. I also want to try to lighten it up by reducing the layers of paper. Hot tip, it’s not as hard as it looks. But it is annoying trying to find all the bits and pieces especially bamboo!!!
The third project. There’s no third project yet. I think I’ve got my hands quite full with the first two but I’d love to try to make a Luo On Kee lion one day. What projects are you guys getting up to? I’d love to hear.
That’s all from me now. Stay healthy, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and remember if you’re young and healthy, it’s not about you. It’s about your parents and your grandparents and the other vulnerable people that make up our community.
The lunar new year celebrations have continued this week around Sydney. Unfortunately, due to current Coronavirus outbreak/scare, a few local councils have postponed their community celebrations including Burwood, Eastwood, Rhodes and Ashfield. It still hasn’t stopped the lion dancers from hitting the streets to do shop performances, nor did it dampen the mood of the local Cabramatta/ Fairfield City Vietnamese community with hosting the annual Hoi Cho Tet at Fairfield Showground.
The atmosphere of the Cho Tet was fun. It was a very hot day at around 40 degrees but even when I arrived at 9.30pm, the celebratory atmosphere was ongoing. There was plenty of live performances throughout the night on the main stage ( I got to catch the Viet Vo Dao/ Vovinam team do an exciting performance. I can’t get enough of the spinning scissor kicks to flip their opponents. There was also a lot of singing and parading) and in the surrounding tents. There was a mock Cho Ben Thanh facade complete with live band and karaoke; bingo/ lotto with the ever alluring host singing the numbers in ballads. There were stalls promoting Vietnamese culture such as flower decorating and calligraphy, the local 1st Canley Heights Scout group (a local Vietnamese scouts group that I had joined as a child and is still active in the community to promote Vietnamese culture, life skills to the youth of the community) had a stall to promote Vietnamese culture and to rally to help out with a bushfire appeal, women’s welfare, art, support to the old South Vietnam veterans and of course plenty of food. The aromas of bbq’d bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaf skewers), bbq’d corn, bun dac biet, baby duck eggs, and various che- green slugs, basil seed drinks, sugarcane drink, iced lemon tea was overwhelming. It brings me back to my youth and to dreams of what it was like for my parents and relatives to grow up in Vietnam. I can only imagine an excitingly fun time!
Sydney Choy Lee Fut
The Choy Lee Fut school had been around for a fairly long time and they reliably bring around the firecrackers if the shops wanted them. There has been a thread around on one of the Facebook lion dancing groups regarding whether people prefer firecrackers or not. I am 100% firecrackers. I love it. The sounds, the smells, the red paper everywhere, the chaoticness of it. To me, it’s the climax to a performance. It just makes the show complete. I don’t feel there is a need for the players to rush into the firecrackers. They can stay back in safety from the explosions and smoke, relax and enjoy the show. There’s nothing like a sea of red carpet for the dancers to dance on.
Dragon Style Kung Fu
Some more action shots and a team photo.
Fairfield Community Hoi Cho Tet
Happy lunar new year everybody. It’s been wild weather here in Sydney, Australia with the recent and ongoing bushfires, warm weather, rain, humidity all rolled into one. The weather has put a dampener on some of the festivities with some fireworks shows being cancelled due to the unpredictable weather (and total fire band that come with it) but it has also meant a chance for the community to rally together to help those in need. Step in lion dancing teams to do their part. A few of the teams have put their hands up to donate the proceeds of their red pockets towards the various bushfire appeals. It’s a great initiative and a chance for everyone to get on board.
Aside from that, the performances have been in full swing here and I’ve had a chance to catch various groups perform in Sydney. It’s always exciting watching other groups perform. Every team has their own lion dancing style and drumming beat and it’s great to see the teams put that together into a show/routine. I think the great thing about Sydney and it’s lion dancing culture is that the groups all stem from different Chinese diaspora. That means that they bring with them stylistic differences. Eg, the Dragon Style Kung Fu team’s background is from Hong Kong hence a very strong Hong Kong flavour to their dancing and drumming. Yau Kung Mun has performed well on the world stage with the jong performances so they play with a strong Sar Ping Hok San flavour. Most of the other Cabramatta teams have their roots in Vietnam so their style is more in tune with the Chinese Vietnamese style of lion dancing and drumming with the classic metal on metal gong. And their newer Cabramatta teams are largely made up of Australian born (Asian) performers where the influence is the Chinese Vietnamese style but they are no longer bound to defined stylistic “traditions” and throw in everything- Vietnamese style beats, Hok San beats, Lor Leung beats, HK Fut San beats all paired with energetic dancing.
It all makes for an exciting and interesting spectacle especially as a lion dancing performer. Every team is same same but different.
Dragon Style Kung Fu
Dragon Style Kung Fu Association started their performances with an eye dotting ceremony of their two new lions. They’ve had performances around Sydney wowing the crowds at various shopping malls. The team is kindly donating all red pockets collected from the shops and audience members towards the bushfire appeal. The Sydney Dragon Style Kung Fu team’s lion dancing style is based off the Hung Gar style of lion dancing from Hong Kong. There’s an emphasis / or attempt on trying to invoke the emotions of happiness, anger, pleasure, scared through the ground movements and head raising. BUT in saying that, there needs to be a balance between what we are trying to do as lion dancers and what the crowd loves to see. They want jumping lions, head sits and shoulder stacks and plenty of great photo opportunities so we give them that too. The drumming itself is half about playing the beats but also about trying to play beautifully AKA “flower drumming 花鼓.” In flower drumming, it’s a chance for the drummer to try to grab some visual attention away from the lions and to themselves through the use of tossing the sticks, stylistically waving your arms around etc. I think the mark of a great drummer is one who keeps you guessing what flowery move they’ll do next.
Photo credit to https://facebook.com/dragonstylekungfu/
Australian Yau Kung Mun
I managed to see Yau Kung Mun during their Chinatown performance. Their drumming was great and their well wishes to the shops after each performance was a nice touch. I still remember seeing them performing around Chinatown many moons ago when they had their drum parked on the back of a ute and the ute slowly following the team. They’ve certainly grown as a team from then but it’s still great to see familiar faces from then until now.
Qing Fong Lion Dance
A relatively new team, they did a smashing job at the Ming Yue Lay Buddhist Temple in Bonnyrigg on Chinese New Year Eve. Not to be outdone by the rain, they moved themselves into the main temple hall and captivated the audience with their various routines and energetic dancing. They had 2 drunken lion routines, a Buddha playing with a lion and others. Keep it up guys.
Super long firecracker
Sydney Yun Yee Tong
Yun Yee Tong has been a fixture at the Canley Vale Kuan Yin Temple for the midnight performance for years and this year was no different. They had a few exciting routines including a drunken lion, drumming routine and dragon dancing. They were also all around Cabramatta throughout the Chinese New Year period.
Jing Yee Lion Dance Association
Another new team on the block but doing some amazing things. These guys seem super passionate about lion dancing and they all look like they’re having a blast whilst they’re performing. I got to catch them dotting one of their new lions at Vinh Phat restaurant In Cabramatta. They had plenty of energy in their performances including their little baby lion. It was too cute. I hope to catch more of their performances around.
Trung Han Qun (THQ Cabra)
I got to catch THQ a number of times as they roamed around Cabramatta doing their shop performances. They brought out plenty of colourful lions and also a really cute baby lion complete with a pair of young lion dancers. It was good to see that they are getting the younger generation involved. I remember when I first joined my kung fu school, I was 13 but even at that age, those old lion heads were just too heavy for me to lift and dance around in. So kudos to THQ for getting the kids some smaller lions.
Seeing these two lion heads together excites me. I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to the lions of yesteryear. Maybe because the first 2 lions that my Sifu brought out way back in the late 1980s when he started the Sydney chapter of the Dragon Style Kung Fu Association were also a Lau Bei and a Cheung Fei lion. But also because I feel that these two lions remind me of the sort of lions I remember when I was a kid watching videos of lions dancing (or fighting) such as in the Wong Fei Hung movies.
It’s all at a good time too because lately, I’ve seen a resurgence amongst the various kung fu and lion dancing groups wanting to bring back “old school lions.”. I’m seeing more lions with colours representative of the old generals- rainbows, black and red, black and white, black, green and silvers, black and gold, as well as longer tails, bristle fur and rams fur. It’s nice that amongst the lion dance community there are still some aficionados of yesteryear.
The next step is to add some more brothers to these bad boys. I’ve got a third frame ready to go! Stay tuned.
I’ve finally finished my homage to a LFC Cheung Fei lion head. And I like it! I think this lion head would blend right in with all the other LFC heads out there.
I’ve attached the pom poms on and I think they pair quite nicely with the colour scheme and the overall look of the lion. At certain angles, the lion looks fierce. But in others, the lion almost has a wise feel about it. I think it’s all in the eyes.
Next job is to pair it up with the tail and see how it looks as a complete package. Now that’s two LFC heads made, I think I’m getting the hang of making these things. In saying that, I wouldn’t want to do it professionally, it’s still taking me forever to get one made.
On reflection of the making of this lion, I was true to the shape of a LFC lion in regards to using the same measurements for the frame but I deviated somewhat with the painting scheme particularly around the horn. I find that it’s still a “LFC” looking heading but uniquely made by me.
Now onto my next project. I’m hoping to make a red/gold/ lion head. I’ve got one more frame that I’ve already made before I need to slog it out with whittling bamboo strips again!
I just realised I haven’t published this post. This was written in February 2019! But it showed the excitement I had with finishing off this lion project. What a difference one year makes. There I was happy that I finished making the Liu Bei head in 2 years, where I’ve just finished making my Cheung Fei head in 1! I hope my next project will take me 6 months, and 5 projects later maybe I’ll be semi- professional and have lion heads done in 4 weeks! I wonder how long the pros take.
I’m done, I’m done!!!! I’m finally done!!!
I think all up, the project has taken me over 2 years to complete from conception to finding the time to complete it. If I was to put an hour figure on it, I think it would have taken me maybe 10000000 hours because I’m a slow poke. I definitely wouldn’t make money as a professional lion head maker.
I’ve added the finishing touches like the gold sequined trim around the eyes, cheeks etc, attached the pillow, and hooked up the pulley system.
I cheated with the tail, my textile skills are non existent so I thought it better that I acquire one instead of making it. Fortunately, my 師兄 from Hong Kong donated a couple of old tails that he managed to salvage from heads that have been sent to the afterlife. And the great news is, one of the tails was a perfect match!
So what’s next? I’ve taken Chris Low’s (of Restore The Roar) lead and am in the middle of writing an instructional book on how to make a replica Luen Fat Cheung lion head. Don’t hold your breath because given the amount of time it took me to make this lion head, it might take a fair bit of time.
I’ve also got another two frames that in various stages of completion. Hopefully, I can make progress on them and create a team of lion heads.
I’ve made some progress with putting on the bristle fur and I’m pleased with how the lion is looking. I used metal galvanised wire to attach the fur on. In the past I have tried seeing the fur on and it’s just too time consuming and I didn’t think it held on as well as wire. It makes me think about how much easier it would be having sheep fur lion heads where you could just hot glue the fur on and be done with it quickly.
Without further ado, check out the lion.
Next step after this is putting on the pom poms and I’m pretty much done!