April 5, 2011

Since my last post I’ve actually found out a little more of the lion’s history and it seems he’s been to Disneyland.

A few years ago a new lion dance group was formed, the Awakened Blessing Lion Dance Troupe, in Cerritos, CA. On a limited budget they asked around for used lions to practice with and Marty Chiu, former instructor for the Chinese Association of Orange County generously donated a pair. Because they were deemed too fragile to use they were about to be discarded. However I liked the painting patterns and decided to rescue them, trading a newer in-tact lion from my own collection for the two battered shells.

After starting this internship I thought it’d be nice to actually know something about the lion so I contacted Marty. His reply was:

I am so happy you are taking on this project! The lion head means a lot to me and I am filled with joy that it can be restored the way my Master would want it.

The late Master Ted Lai was the founder of the Chinese Physical Culture Association of Fullerton, a not-for-profit martial arts organization based in Southern California. He was also the creator of a kung fu system posthumously named Lai Chung Ch’uan Fa.

He gifted me this lion head at his death in the 1980’s. I don’t know when it was first purchased but it was the lion I used when I learned the art of lion dancing and kung fu at a Chinese Cultural School I attended. I was handpicked out of my kung fu class by Master Ted Lai to perform my first “professional” gig at the Disneyland hotel. I joined his Cal State Fullerton kung fu club and we used this lion to march throughout the hotel grounds during the theme “Seaports of the Pacific” all summer long. That time had made a huge impact on my life. He even allowed me to borrow this lion to do my junior high “show and tell” project about Chinese New Year.

You can read more about Master Lai and the association he founded here.

It is an honor to be working on a lion that has meant so much to Master Lai and his many students. I only hope I can do it justice.

So my internship began with a full day spent with Corey at his home in San Francisco. For hours Corey talked and showed me examples of different lions and techniques for working on them. The man is a veritable encyclopedia of Lion Dance knowledge and I did my best to soak it all in, loving every minute of it–there is so much to learn. We covered many topics from harvesting bamboo to prepping it for use, paste making, binding and papering the frame, painting and decorating the lion, and even some traditional routines. We also spent a good amount of time doing hands-on training preparing bamboo and using twisted paper ties to bind the strips together. One of the most important things we did was to talk about how to refer to the different parts of the lion and the many framing pieces remotely since we wouldn’t be in close proximity for most of the internship in order to physically point out what we’re talking about to each other.

When I got home to Los Angeles it was time to put all that practice and newly gained knowledge to work. I spent about a month preparing bamboo strips, mixing paste, twisting paper ties and going over the frame strip by strip identifying joints that needed to be tightened, repairs to be made and pieces that needed total replacement. Initially I came up with over 140 things that needed attention, (you can see the list here) but as I worked I also found more which I didn’t add to the list. The list also doesn’t include the ears and mouth which are separate pieces detached from the main head frame.

Click thumbnails for larger versions

Stripped Lion Frame Here is the frame after stripping off the paper skin. A well-built frame is a thing of beauty and it is quite a learning experience just to study the intricate details of each piece and try to deconstruct it in my head so I can understand the order and methods to fix each area.
Bamboo Strip Preparation “Raw” bamboo just split into strips is rough and has many splinters hanging off of them on the edges. The splinters are a potential danger when handling the bamboo as well as later to the performers under the lion head and need to be removed. Rough or sharp edges need to be shaved down or else they can cut through the paper bindings prematurely.
My Helper I made it look like so much fun that my son took a break from playing Star Wars Clone Troopers in the backyard and wanted to give it a try. He liked it so much he told me he would do the rest of the bundle by himself. We worked all the way until it was too dark to see with him starting each strip and me “checking” his work. With a helper like him this apprenticeship is easier than I thought it would be…
Wheat Paste Consistency This shot shows the consistency of the paste I cooked up. The process is very similar to making gravy. Unfortunately I was trying to take pictures and make paste at the same time so mine came out lumpy. Boo!
Twisted Paper Ties Here’s a small pile of paper ties. All in all I twisted over 300 ties for this project. I would have needed to twist even more but I was able to reuse quite a few of the original ties after unbinding the loose ones from the frame.

Next time: the actual work begins!