This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us to Chinatown in Singapore (yes, Singapore has a Chinatown but that is a different blog). The Lion Dance that utilizes this costume is typically preformed during the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is at the lunar start of spring following the lantern festival usually around late January/early February, but can be used at other occasions including temple openings, weddings or at a new business. Legend has it that when sorrow and evil plagued the land, a monk prayed and asked the gods for help. They informed him that a lion could prevent the evil. The monk had never seen a lion so he conjured up a a combination of all of the lucky and magical creatures he could think of and created this lion. There are three styles of lions but all have a horn wrapped in a red sash. The lion was reportedly disrespectful to the Jade Emperor and he killed the lion by cutting off the unicorn horn it’s source of life. The Goddess of Mercy Guan Yin felt sorry for the lion and tied the horn back on with a red sash bringing him back to life.
This is a southern Chinese lion and is more symbolic than its northern and Taiwanese relatives. It’s main purpose is to scare evil spirits and summon good luck. Southern lions also have a mirror on their forehead as legend has it, demons are afraid of their own reflection. They are a variety of colors with large eagle-like eyes, an articulated mouth and need two to three performers to operate.
During the Chinese New Year businesses leave green and red envelopes to “feed” the lions. Red envelopes typically contain gifts of money and are similar to gifts given at other occasions like weddings and birthdays. The green envelope is symbolic of “plucking the greens” or fortune and auspiciousness. The lion eats both envelopes but spits out the green leaving the good fortune for the business. Ironically the custom is called cai ching although it sounds like a cash register it is translated as plucking the greens.
We experienced a traditional Chinese lion dance while shopping for cell phones in Sim Lim Tower on our second day in Singapore. The dance is accompanied by extremely loud drums, cymbals, and gongs which was certainly an eye opener to the still jet lagged and slightly disoriented. The lion and the loud noise are designed to scare away evil spirits. Although we can’t attest to the removal of evil spirits it did a fine job of driving us out of the small, echoey electronics store.
Additional blogs about Singapore
You Tube video of Lion dance champion