Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lions and Tigers and Elephants, Oh My!

15 March 2018

We're still in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying Malaysia but not really getting out and around the country much.  Richard is faithfully going to physical therapy and is doing much better.  And I go with him to be supportive and helpful and all that.

Between appointments, though, we've managed to see some of the city.  Not much, and not as much walking as we're used to.  But we don't just sit in the hotel.

And of course I spend a good portion of my free time at the batik shop in the Central Market.

So I thought I'd share a couple of the batiks I've made.  Now, I need to explain the process here.  The young man who owns the shop draws the images on the white fabric, using melted wax in a sort of tubular stylus that has a well for the wax.  He stretches the fabric on a frame, divides the fabric into the sizes that will be cut out, and draws each image in liquid wax.  The wax dries, the fabric is cut into rectangles of various sizes, and either he and his staff paint in the dyes and sell the batiks, or the fabric is stretched on smaller frames and set up for tourists and locals to paint their own batiks.

So it really is a very easy process.  The wax outlines prevent colors from bleeding into each other.  In some ways, the pictures we paint are somewhat like a coloring book, and we paint the dye inside the lines.

On the other hand, the dyes act like watercolor paint, which is notoriously difficult and uncooperative.  If someone knows how to use watercolor, it's easy to get gradients and fades and color blends.  (You can see that I used some watercolor techniques on the clouds behind the traditional Malaysian kites.)  For the person who is not experienced in transparent paints, it can be frustrating.  Plus these dyes aren't permanent, so the batiks are for wall display only - not for any kind of usage or washing.

One afternoon, I was merrily mixing colors and painting four batiks at once.  (Paint all the yellows on all four batiks; then paint all the orange areas; etc.  That way I don't have to wash the brush as often.)  Anyway, a group of college students came in and exuberantly painted a series of animals for their dorm rooms, chatting away and eventually talking to me.  Two were from Malaysia, but one was from the Seychelles and the fourth from Mauritius, so we talked a bit about their lovely islands.

After they left, it was quiet for a bit.  Then several young men came in with video cameras, and they talked with the owners and staff.  They came over to me explained that this was a class project about the arts and culture of Malaysia, and would it be okay to film me as I painted my Malaysian kite designs?  I laughed, and said okay - thinking how funny it is to have an American traveller painting batiks for Malaysian arts and culture!

I'm apparently on some family's photos, as well.  Our hotel includes breakfast, and I was down there eating the other morning.  There was a family with a baby who just stared at me.  So I smiled and waved at him a few times.  One of the parents noticed, and picked up the baby's hand to wave back at me.  Baby thought this was funny, and pretty soon he's laughing and smiling and sort of waving back at me, and I'm waving at him.  They finished their brekkie, I was still enjoying my tea, so the mother came over and sat next to me, holding the baby, while the father asked if they could take their photo with me.  Well what could I say?  Yes, and the baby was so excited by the whole thing that he continued to wave his little arms around, only he was pretty much just smacking me!!!  It was really funny, and I can't imagine how the photos turned out with me laughing, getting smacked by the baby who's smiling at me, and the mom is trying to smile for the camera!!!

My favorite batik, though, is my lion dancers.  I drew the actual lion dancers, then brought my drawing down to the batik shop.  The owner and artist either recognized me or the drawing (I'd say he remembered the drawing, it's an artist thing), and asked him to draw it again for me.  That my previous batik was stolen out of the mail.  So he drew my lion dancers, and added a border of the traditional Malaysian kites.  LOVE it, and this will be my special souvenir from our time in Malaysia.

Oh, the one with the buildings shows the KL Tower and the Petronas Towers - they aren't this close together, but really are emblematic of the KL skyline.

The two goldfish or koi swimming among the lily pads is a typical Chinese symbol for good luck, especially at the New Year time.  I was painting this batik, and an older Chinese man took my photo.  His son eventually came by, and he spoke some English - he explained that they were from Guanzhou (formerly Canton), and that his father spoke no English.  And that the koi were for good luck in the coming year.  He said it was good that I was painting them red and gold-ish orange, that those were lucky colors. 

And that really is the sum total of our excitement since the last post.  The Chinese New Year is over, things are getting back to normal, and we're keeping ourselves amused between PT sessions where Richard works hard at getting better.

And we hope we can move on by next month.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dancing With The Lions

26 February 2018

We've encountered lion dancing all around Kuala Lumpur this month!  And lion dancing is one of my favorite cultural events in Malaysia!!!

Very brief history - lion dancing began in China, and eventually developed into two distinct kinds of dancing and costumes, divided into the north and south styles.  The southern style of lion dancing was eventually brought to SE Asia via the various invasions, migrations, and immigrations from China.  

Apparently Malaysia is well known for lion dancing, especially since the ten-time international world champions in lion dancing came from this country.  Students from across SE Asia come to Malaysia to learn this skill.  Lion dancing truly caught hold in Malaysia, and became an important part of the culture, especially for celebrating the new year.  (I'll include more information at the end.)

This year, we discovered that there are two forms of lion dancing here: the lion dance walk around, when the lions and musicians dance on a level surface, such as at a mall; and the acrobatic lion dancing, or dancing on stilts. 

Richard and I saw the international lion dancing competition when we were up north on the island of Penang in 2014.  If you want to see lion dancing on stilts, here's the link:
 So, for this new year celebration, I've seen the lion dancing walk around at the Central Market twice.  The first time, I went deliberately to see this, and ended up standing on the stairs to get a decent view.  But the second time, I was happily painting batiks when I heard the music.  I asked the ladies working in the shop if there was lion dancing that day, and they said yes - and not to bother walking into the market to see them, the dancers would come down to our end of the market.  So I waited, and was able to have a nearly front row view when the lion dancers started at our end.  It was WONDERFUL!!!  The "lion" ate an offering of fruit and left the orange peels behind.  He also tried some lettuce but spit it out all over the floor.  (It was pretty funny!)

Yesterday, Sunday, we woke up to lion dancing music - it's pretty distinctive, the pounding drum with periodic cymbal clashes and a gong every so often.  We quickly dressed and went down to the patio outside the dining room, but couldn't much, just some people in red and yellow down at the corner of the street.  So I went down to the street level, and walked quickly to the corner on our side - and sure enough, there were two lions, one red and one black, dancing away as a crowd began to gather around them!  I watched for a bit, then went back up for brekkie.  When we got back to our room, we could see the lions dancing on the top floor of a building across the street, where someone seemed to be having a big party for the new year celebrations.

Then today!  We went out to the hospital for Richard's physical therapy session, and then went for lunch downstairs.  All of a sudden, there was that familiar drum and cymbal music, and I went running out to the lobby in time to see two lions getting into a service elevator with all of the musicians!  I'm not sure where they went, but I went back to my soup.  Maybe 15 minutes later, the music started up again, so I raced back out and the lions were dancing their way down the hall toward the lobby, with little kids waving at them or hiding their faces, depending on the bravery of the child.  Lion dancers at the hospital!  How amazing is that!!!

Rather than me telling you all about lion dancing, here's some information from the Langkawi Gazette.  (Langkawi is a gorgeous island off northwestern Malaysia.)

"The origins of the lion dance are linked closely to the origins of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It is said that in ancient times, a mythological creature known as Nian terrorised China and devoured its people on the eve of the new year. The only animal that managed to wound this beast was the lion. Thus, in an attempt to frighten the beast, the villagers decided to mimic the lion with lions made of cloth.

"In accordance with this legend, the dance is believed to usher good fortune, as well as ward off evil spirits. The lion dance calls for perfect co-ordination, elegance and nerves of steel.

"Two dancers are usually needed to give life to a "lion" - one to control the movements of the head, eyes and mouth; the other to act as the body. The first dancer that controls the head determines the movements, while the second must work in tandem with him.

"This isn't a simple task as the lion's head, which is brilliantly adorned with feathers, fur and glitter, weighs from 9kg to 15kg, a considerably heavy burden to hold aloft while moving vigorously. The head is usually constructed of papier mache and bamboo, complete with eyes that blink and a mouth that snaps. Therefore, the first dancer must have perfect co-ordination inspite of the burden.

"The dancers are usually enticed with gifts, usually ang pow (money in red packets) attached to a vegetable, which are tied to a pole. The pole is then placed at a door or a window. The dancers would then try to get these gifts, making it look as though the lion devours them. Often, the lion dancers are accompanied by two other masked dancers who act as jokers, provoking the lion; the dance is commonly performed to the beat of the tagu (Chinese drum) and the clanging of cymbals.

"In Malaysia, troupes of lion dancers travelling from one place to another in trucks are a common sight during the 15-day period of Chinese New Year. They are usually hired to perform at individual homes and business premises such as hotels and shopping complexes during this auspicious period.

"However, it is not unusual to see it outside of the new year season for it is also in demand among the Chinese community for ceremonies such as the launch of new business premises or for the welcoming of dignitaries. Lately, the dance has become a form of sport where dancers from all over the world compete to determine the best."

Last note, and then lots of photos - there's a wonderful movie about the two men who rose to become the world champion lion dancers, representing Malaysia.  It's called "The Great Lion" and if you get a chance, see it!  Really a wonderful movie, and from the viewpoint of the team members.  

Enjoy the excitement of the lions!