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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lion Dance

Lion Dance cookies I made this week for the Chinese Lunar Year.

Growing up, few things were as exciting as a lion dance. The sound of distant drum beats would get my heart a-thumping - it meant a lion dance troupe was making its round in our neck of the woods. Shouts of excitement "Moe See, Moe See" (lion dance in Cantonese) could be heard as everyone in the neighbourhood would dash out of their houses to watch the majestic lions parading down the streets, prancing about lively as the martial artists beneath cavorted and  gyrated in a whirlwind of motion to the clamour of a ginormous drum, gong and cymbals. The sound of exploding firecrackers and scent of burned gunpowder in the the air always added to the fun and excitement.

Interestingly, the lion is not native to China and only existed in myth, Yet the lion dance is such an integral part of the Chinese New Year. There are many legends surrounding the mysterious origin of the dance . A more popular one tells of a monk who dreamed that China was about to be plagued by many evils. On waking, he prayed fervently to the gods for a way to avert the coming catastrophe and and his prayers were answered with a vision of a lion. the king of all beasts that would protect the people and overcome the evils. Because the monk had never seen or heard of a lion before, he created his own from many other mythical creatures including the dragon and unicorn. This certainly explains why the ‘lions’ used in the dance don’t look too much like real ones!

Lion dancing has evolved over the years. Today, lion dancing has become  one of the most breathtaking forms of performance arts in traditional Chinese culture as lion troupes from all over the world compete against one another at international level. It’s jaw-dropping not only because of the life-like movements and expressions of a lion that are mimicked by its dancers, but also because of the element of danger that is present. Performed on high poles (some as high as 16 feet and with a mere diameter of  8 inches), a pair of highly-trained experts blanketed under a heavy costume, leaps from pole to pole. The lion even balances itself precariously on the high poles on its hind legs meaning that the rear dancer has to raise the lead dancer high in the air! A slight error in judgement can easily cause both dancers to fall down from a great height, yet they somehow manage to coordinate their movements so effortlessly.

I am thinking - the rear dancer must be having a more challenging role as the lion's hind legs. I mean, the back guy is bent over the entire time! He is required to duplicate the lead dancer's stances while remaining in an awkward, stooped posture with restricted vision. I was told that all he could see are the pair of legs in front of him! He 'sees' by following  the lead dancer's steps and jumps as best he can, thus ensuring that the lion moves as a single unit. This dancer may also be called upon to lift the lead dancer high in the air like a lion on hind legs. It can't be easy having to bear the weight of the lead dancer and the very heavy lion head atop a pole that is 16 ft tall ! On the contrary, Hubby told me that the lead dancer plays a more important role. In addition to some fancy footwork, he has to bear the heavy lion head, simultaneously working the mechanisms inside the head.  He has to wiggle the head, flutter the eyelids, open  and close the mouth and flap the ears to express the lion’s mood.
image credit - http://modelmakingresearchiadt.wikispaces.com/
Watch this video. Our Malaysian team won the World Champion Trophy back in 2004. It has a slow start but be blown away at the 4:42 minute mark when the lion leaps onto the poles.  It's truly awesome!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brotherly Love

Running late for a dental appointment and with my cellphone low on battery, I borrowed my son's (Rodney) phone and left the house in a cab for the clinic. When my appointment was over, I was to call my elder son, Josh, to pick me up. I couldn't find Josh' s name in Rodney's phone. I keyed in 'brother' and it wasn't on the list of contacts either. I thought I had to go through the entire list. Starting from the top, I scrolled down the screen - Adam, Amira, Anne, Asshole, Aquila.......  I had a hunch Asshole was it. Yep, Josh answered the call when I hit the call button under Asshole!  LOL! I wonder what Rodney is listed as in Josh's phone!

Cupig

This week, I made cupig cookies for this year's Valentine's Day. What do you think? 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Year Of The Sheep

The year 2014 ended for Malaysians in a sombre mood. In March, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 aboard. Officials believe that the plane is somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Now, nine months later, MH370 still hasn't been found. In July, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard. And just before the year was over, we mourned for our third aviation tragedy when QZ8501 crashed in the Java Sea due to bad weather.
Besides the plane tragedies,we had a prolonged drought in March and were hit by the worst water-crisis ever. Then recently we were inundated by the worst ever flooding in the history of our country with more than 200,000 Malaysians displaced from their homes.
image credit - http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/
image credit - http://www.thestar.com.my
image credit - http://www.theborneopost.com
School children wading in flood waters.

Luckily for us, our city has not been affected by the heavy rains but my heart goes out to all the victims. I can't begin to imagine their anguish and pain. The floods have receded for now but the grim task of rebuilding their homes, villages and lives has only just begun.
2015 is the year of the sheep. The sheep is docile, meek and mild, symbolizing peace, harmony and tranquility. Hopefully, this means a better year for Malaysia.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Kokeshi


I am sure you must have seen these cute kokeshi dolls floating all over the internet.
My fascination for these dolls started when I first received those paper ones from my Japanese pen pal when I was in secondary school. I was smitten at the first sight of their kawaii-ness ( kawai means cute in Japanese).

According to Wikipedia:

“Kokeshi (こけし kokeshi), are Japanese dolls, originally from northern Japan. They are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs. The bottom is marked with the signature of the artist.”

Fun facts
  • The dolls may originally have had a spiritual significance with the kokeshi representing a wish for a healthy child.
  • It has also been suggested that kokeshi, with their round heads and limbless bodies probably made in an unpainted form originally, were used as massage tools by spa bathers.
  • Kokeshi are generally bought by Japanese as mementos. In addition to being ornamental, they are also seen as charms to prevent fires or even ward off evil. Mizuki, the wood often used to make the kokeshi doll's face, literally translates as "water tree". It is a very moist wood and some Japanese believe that having a kokeshi in their home helps prevent fire. A kokeshi doll, therefore, is considered a lucky charm and is often bought in the belief that she will protect a home against fire.
Kokeshi, celebrated today as one of Japan's folk arts, are of two types, traditional and creative.

Traditional kokeshi
image credit - http://www.japanya.co.uk/kokeshi.aspx
Traditional kokeshi, produced only in the six prefectures of Tohoku, are very simple in their design with round heads and cylindrical limbless bodies. The floral and linear patterns painted on their kimonos have been developed and passed down through generations of kokeshi makers and are distinctive to the area where they are made. The traditional kokeshi, shown in the picture here, come from Naruko.

Creative kokeshi

image credit - http://www.japanya.co.uk/kokeshi.aspx
Creative kokeshi, relatively new having only developed as an art form since the 2nd World War, retain the limbless kokeshi characteristic. However, they are more contemporary in their design with perhaps a more shapely body, added features such as hair, as well as colourful exquisitely patterned kimono. Creative kokeshi are 'created' by artists, and have features and styles unique to their own particular artist or creator. The majority of creative kokeshi are made in Gunma prefecture. The creative kokeshi, shown in the picture here, are a small selection of those sold by Japanya.

Kokeshi making regions of Japan

Source - http://www.japanya.co.uk/kokeshi.aspx

A video to share

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

May you all have a year that is filled with love, brightness and hope.

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a Merry Christmas filled with love and joy! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas...

"What's your best Christmas memory?", a bloggy buddy asked. With 51 Christmases behind me, I  say the best Christmas I ever had so far, would be my first and only white Christmas experience in Lake Tahoe. My son said that sounded so racist! LOL, he didn't know what a white Christmas meant! :smack:

Somehow, Christmas doesn't really feel like Christmas minus the snow over here in the tropics.
If a genie were to grant me just one wish now, I would love to visit the Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Lapland. This has been on my bucket list for a very long time but with life getting in the way all the time, I am guessing this wish will remain unchecked on my list along with many other wishes.  File:icon sad.gif

Santa, if you're listening right now, I wish for a white Christmas just once more, please..... before I get too old and too broke to travel.

So, what's your best Christmas memory?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Gingerbread Man

'Tis the season of gingerbread! What smells more like Christmas than gingerbread men baking in the oven?
Run, run, fast as you can,
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!  

While I was baking these, Rodney asked, "Why is gingerbread called gingerbread  when it is not a bread at all?" Interesting question. And I have always wondered too, about the history behind the gingerbread man other than the fairy tales I grew up on.
On googling, I learned that originally “gingerbread” simply meant preserved ginger, the English word being related to the Old French gingebras – the last syllable of which became corrupted to become “bread”.
I had a Hungarian boss who used to give us gingerbread hearts every Christmas. In Hungary, traditional gingerbread hearts have been given as gifts for centuries. Did you know that the oldest gingerbread moulds found in Hungary were made more than two thousand years ago? That time, gingerbread cookies were made as gifts for the gods.
There are so many fascinating facts and stories surrounding the history and origin of gingerbread and below are just a few I've recently learnt.


  1. The crusaders are believed to have brought gingerbread to Britain in the Middle Ages. The first English recorded recipe for gingerbread was produced in 1390. It involved soaking breadcrumbs in honey and ginger.
  2. The first gingerbread men are said to have been created for the amusement of Queen Elizabeth I. They were moulded into the image of her favourite suitors and courtiers, decorated with gold leaf then devoured at royal feasts.
  3. By the early 17th century gingerbread men were selling like hot cakes at fairs across England. By 1614 Ben Jonson's play St Bartholomew's Fair featured a gingerbread seller.
  4. Gingerbread men were, however, soon taken up by witches, who used them like voodoo dolls. They would bake effigies of their enemies and eat them.
  5. Fear that gingerbread men were agents of the occult spread to the continent and in 1607 the magistrates of Delft in the Netherlands made it illegal to either bake or eat the biscuits.
  6. In the North East of England it was traditional for maidens to eat what were known locally as gingerbread husbands on Hallowe'en, to ensure they would snare a real husband.
  7. In the 1990s, a US computer giant was forced to ban a poster of a gingerbread man popular with its female employees. The caption read: 'The ideal man. He's sweet, he's quiet - and if he talks back, you can bite his head off.'
source -  MailOnline

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Angel Vs Star

Growing up, we always had an angel as our christmas tree topper until it fell onto the floor and shattered. It was an old-fashioned blue porcelain angel that was handed down from my mom's aunt. I vaguely recall it looking somewhat like Pinocchio's Blue Fairy. Mom then replaced it with a tacky gold plastic star simply because it was easier to put up a star than an angel. Stars have somehow become our tradition. I've always thought an angel topper was more befitting as it symbolizes the true meaning of Christmas, a great reminder as to what Christmas is really about. In this respect the tree topper is more important than the gifts underneath.

Ever noticed that you can hardly see a tree with an angel atop these days? The star seems to have outshone the angel. Kinda sad really, to see the tradition of putting the Arch Angel Gabriel on top of the christmas tree dying out.

Interestingly, I've just learnt that the angel has been a topper for Christmas trees since the early 18th century, in Germany, when trees were first brought into the home and decorated. The star is a much more recent addition, not being used until in the early 19th century.
The Christmas tree didn’t reach Britain until later in the 19th century and both stars and angels were used. The fairy has only crept to the top of the tree in the last 30 years.

Some interesting facts to share

STAR VS ANGEL HISTORY

The angel symbolises the first ever Christmas- in particular Gabriel, the archangel of revelation, who informed Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ.

Also, an angel visited Joseph in a dream to tell him that he would serve as Jesus' father on Earth, and a number of angels appeared in the sky over Bethlehem to announce and celebrate Jesus' birth.

A tree was first decorated for Christmas in Latvia in 1510 which soon became a popular tradition.

Angels would be placed at the top of a Christmas tree to symbolise the significance of the angels who appeared high above Bethlehem to joyfully announce Jesus' birth on the first Christmas.

They are also used to scare away evil spirits from people's homes.

If not an angel, a star was used to represent the bright star that appeared in the sky to guide people to Jesus' birthplace.

Also, in King James's translation of the Bible it states: 'Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where Baby Jesus was lying.'

Since then, stars have become somewhat a fashion statement to place at the top of a tree.

source - Mail Online

Angels We Have Heard On High..........
Speaking of angels, I made these

What kind of topper do you put on your Christmas tree? Angel, star or something else?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here but I love the idea because it seems only right that we set aside a day for giving thanks, sharing with those in need, and getting together with loved ones and...hey... the food is a bonus! I think the concept should be exported to other countries as well. I am not big on Black Friday though.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! May this year's be your best ever!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reindeer or Moose?


I say these are moose, Josh says they are reindeer. But then again, they could be elks or caribou . Frankly, I can't tell the difference. You don't find these creatures on our side of the pond.
However, we do have the mouse deer. Ever seen or heard of one?
image credit - Wikipaedia
Mousedeer, also known as Chevrotain.

Ah, but the mouse deer is not a deer! Neither is it a rodent. It is of the Tragulidae family. An animal about the size of a cat, the mouse deer lives in the jungles of Africa, Asia, and many Pacific islands. It has the legs and the tail of a deer, and the face and the body of a mouse.
The mouse deer (kancil in Malay) is the protagonist of many popular Malay fables that  have been told and retold as folklore for generations in Malaysia. A wee yet cunning figure, Sang Kancil uses its intelligence to outwit other bigger and more powerful creatures than itself.

If you have young kids and want them to learn about children's folktales of Southeast Asia, here are a few Sang Kancil stories to share - THE ADVENTURES OF MOUSE DEER

Monday, November 10, 2014

Santa Bears

With Christmas just round the corner, I'm elbow-deep in icing! Armed with my new found icing 'skills', I just can't wait to surprise my relatives and friends with this year's handmade Christmas cookies instead of those store-bought ones I have been giving year after year.
Santa Bears
Ha! Save for a couple of neighbours, a cousin and Josh's classmates who have been guinea pigs for my cookie experiments, no one knows about my cookie obsession and I can't wait to surprise them!

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