LION DANCE ON NEW YEAR DAY
When Li Chooi Peng arrived home in Wei Yang, it was evening. Her mother, cleaning the counter desk of their sundry shop, looked old and worried.
Without further thought, Li Chooi Peng rushed to her mother and embraced her.
“Mama, I’m back,” Li Chooi Peng cried.
Her mother, Madame Lau, was startled. “Chooi Peng, Chooi Peng has returned home.” She stroke Li Chooi Peng’s face, and said, “I’ve been thinking of you everyday for these six or seven years.”
“I’ve been thinking of mama too. But the rules at the Shaolin Monastery are very strict. Unless I have completed my martial studies, I cannot return home.”
“Chooi Peng, you haven’t taken your dinner. Let me prepare dinner for you.”
There were a lot of dishes on the table. That night, mother and daughter talked about their past experiences until very late at night before going to bed. Just like before, mother and daughter continued their livelihood together one trusting the other.
Many days passed and New Year day arrived. The district government issued a notice for celebration. On New Year night, the gate of the fort surrounding the city would be open throughout the night. All households would hang lanterns and colorful banners. Those families with more than 300 acres of farms and big merchants would display fireworks and contribute to lion dances and dragon dances to celebrate.
As soon as night descended, lanterns and colorful banners were continuously hung in all households, “five brightness and ten colors”, some demonstrating wealth and prosperity, some new with innovations, inside and outside the city there were continuous fireworks shooting into the sky, fire trees and silver flowers, brightness glared the eyes, children ran about on the streets, shouting and cheering, making the city like one where nights never occurred.
Although Li Chooi Peng was a young girl of fifteen, she was still a child. How could she miss such celebrations? Even before dinner, she requested her mother to accompany her to watch lanterns. Madame Lau loved her daughter very much, and never refused any request.
Hurriedly they had their dinner. Mother and daughter, hand in hand, flowed with the crowd, watching here and there, talking about heads and conversing about feet, and were very happy.
From afar, they heard sounds of drums and gongs.
“Mama,” Li Chooi Peng entreated, “Where there are drums and gongs, there must be a lion dance. Let us go there to have a look.”
Her mother replied, “What’s so exciting about a lion dance. It is better to watch colorful lanterns.”
“Mama, lion dancers are usually well versed in kungfu. Since leaving the Shaolin Monastery, I don’t have chances to mingle with those trained in martial art. How could we miss the opportunity? I want to watch the lion dance.”
Madame Lau would just nod her head to agree.
Just in the square in front of the district government, millions of heads shifted about. In the middle were six lion dancing jubilantly, each lion with a warrior holding a ball in front to tease the lion.
(There were two types of lion dance, northern lion dance and southern lion dance. The one above was northern lion dance, with a warrior in front of each lion, and the dance was acrobatic. The southern lion was teased by a Laughing Buddha, and the lion head was bigger and more colourful.)
The mother and daughter, pushing gently forward went in front of the crowd to enjoy the lion dance. A “green” (i.e. money contained in a red packet and some vegetables) was lowered from a restaurant for the lions to gather, followed by a string of fire crackers.
However the “green” was hung very high, and the lions could not reach it. Some gossips started, saying that if the lions could not get the “green”, it would be an insult to the government. Li Chooi Peng was surprised, and asked those standing near her why it would be an insult to the government. A middle-age man nearby said that the lion dancers were actually policemen in plain cloth.
The lion dancers then consulted one another, and finally decided to ask their sifu, or kungfu teacher, what to do. Soon a middle-age man called Cheong Fong Jan came forward. He was the kungfu teacher of the policemen in plain cloth. He took out a rope-spear (i.e. a spear head tied to a long rope) and intended to use it to bring down the “green”.
Just then a large notice was hung out near the “green”. It read “The ‘green’ was meant for the lions to gather, not for someone with a rope-spear.”
Cheong Fong Jan and the lion dancers were dismayed. What should they do now. A loud laugh reverberated out. The laugh was from Li Chooi Peng. The lion dancers were annoyed. They wanted to rush forward to attack Li Chooi Peng, but were stopped by Cheong Fong Jan.
Grasping his hands in greeting, Cheong Fong Jan exclaimed, “Lady hero, these little people were ignorant. I hope lady hero can forgive them. But I just want to ask something. Why did lady hero laugh.”
Li Chooi Peng answered, “It’s actually easy to gather the green.”
“Easy?” Cheong Fong Jan responded in surprise. “Do you need many people to help you?”
“All I need is someone to dance the tail, and please lend me your spear-head.”
So Cheong Fong Jan removed the spear-head from the long rope and passed it to Li Chooi Peng.
Li Chooi Peng took a lion head, and someone danced the tail. Drums and gongs sounded majestically. Li Chooi Peng pranced about with the lion head atop her, opened the mouth of the lion, sent out the spear head flying upward and cut the ‘green’ with money in a red packet from the thread, which dropped right into the lion’s mouth.
Li Chooi Peng’s fame soon spread over the whole city.
Wong Kiew Kit
12th January 2018, Sungai Petani