dotting the eyes

In July 2005 (I was in J2 then), Singapore Management University (SMU) moved (‘SMUve’, as they called it) from its original Bukit Timah location to its new campus in the city.

The move was going to be a pretty grand affair. Naturally, lion dance was to be part of the festivities. But SMU Lion Dance didn’t have enough people. So their coach, who also happened to be our coach, asked if any of us would like to help out, and a dozen of us did.

(Lion dance is actually full of rituals. Has anyone ever done a sociological analysis of these rituals? I’ve just identified a gap in knowledge, so sociologists, get on with it! :P )

Anyway on the morning of the move, all of us assembled at the Bukit Timah campus wearing SMUve tees and feeling pretty nervous. I asked the SMU LD people about their various schools, and they told me. I settled on being a student from Social Sciences if anyone inquired.

There was to be a short farewell ceremony, which included a performance involving four lions. These four lions were new, and their eyes had not been dotted with ink yet. To prevent them from ‘seeing dirty things’, their faces were covered with red paper.

So there was an eye-dotting ritual right before the performance proper. Four of us, including me, had been tasked to guide the SMU VIPs to dot the lions’ eyes correctly. (You have to be a VIP to to do the honours – not any Tom, Dick or Harry gets asked!) My VIP turned out to be SMU chairman Ho Kwon Ping, aka Mr Claire Chiang. I showed him where to dot, and the whole process went rather smoothly.

Then he turned to me, and mentioned something about ‘lion dances in Japan’. At that point in time, I hadn’t known that there were lion dances in Japan, so I momentarily wondered what to reply. But before I could say anything, the drum, gong and cymbals started vigorously, and the performance began.

After that, there was a bit of chaos as everyone dispersed. We loaded everything onto a lorry (usual mode of transport for lion dance troupes everywhere) decorated with SMU LD flags, and hopped on.

Subsequently, the SMU VIPs left the place in a yellow jeep, and our lorry followed. Bringing up the rear was an open-top bus filled with girls in colourful sequinned costumes.

Our procession went slowly down the road. SMU people holding colourful balloons walked alongside. We beat our drums and gong, clashed our symbols and waved our flags, generating quite a din. I think we must’ve attracted more attention than the sequinned girls. When we reached Orchard Road, passersby turned to look at us, and many of them whipped out their cameras.

And when we finally reached the city campus, we were welcomed by throngs of SMU staff and students, who were cheering their hearts out and clapping their hands off.

It was a completely exciting and exhilarating time. Everyone should take part in a parade at least once in their lifetime.

And of course, one day I shall be asked to dot a lion’s eyes. And then of course I will mention lion dances in Japan (mainly in Yokohama, as P has enlightened me, as there is a sizable Chinese community there) to my guide. :D

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