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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 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 is 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

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