Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little One @ Cantonese Clan Associations Open House Part 1

We went to the open house of clans during Singapore Heritage Festival. It was an eye opener. Although I have learnt much from these visits, I knew I have not explore enough. 

Clans and associations played an important role in the past as they provided support and assistance for new immigrants. As Singapore develops, the role of clans and associations changes. They are now seen as places that promotes the preservation of Chinese heritage, By visiting, I hope Little One would be interested in our Chinese culture.

Hok San Association

History is always dry for Little One. Hence, I chose to visit Hok San because it is the oldest lion dance troupe in Singapore. The association is founded in 1939. It specialises in the southern school of lion dance.

According to the Singapore Heritage Festival website, there was supposed to be a guided tour but when we were there, we did not know where to register. We were walking around and asking questions about the props until a young man from the clan started to introduce and tell us about more about the history of the clan. He showed us around. We would like to say thank you to him. We would not have learnt so much if not for him.

King of Lion Dance
Since 1920, the troupe has been known for its emphasis on the traditional “cat-like” dance moves. The lion dancers has been observing, imitating and perfecting cat movements.

Built around the late-19th century, this three-storey shophouse in Second Transitional Shophouse Style. It forms part of the elegant terraces that step down the hill along Kreta Ayer Road. The building was restored in 1997. The entrance features the traditional pintu pagar and a rare set of horizontal timber security bars that can slide sideways.
This lion head is about 80 years old and weighs about 5 kg ! (one of the heaviest)
We were shown how the lion moves its eyelids and mouth using this unfinished lion. Even this incomplete lion head is not light, it is at least 2 kg. Many time, the lion dancer had to handle it single-handedly.
We were told  that the craft of making lion head from scratch is a dying art. 
Props for Lion Dance (including Big head doll,大头娃娃 Da Tou Wa Wa)

Gong and mallet
Cai Qing or plucking the green (采青)
Southern lion dance has an activity that is unique to it alone and that is – 'plucking the green' (采青 Cai Qing) which is common during the Chinese New Year. The green here refers to vegetable leaves which are tied to a piece of string which also has a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the door of the business, shop (or home), and the lion 'eats' both, the leaves and the red packet. Lying on the floor the leaves are 'chewed' by the lion while the musicians play a dramatic rolling crescendo. The lull is broken as the lion explodes back into activity, spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.

We were told in the early days, "plucking the green" were very challenging as the troupe were being challenged to do difficult stunts.  Sometimes, the host would also play tricks on the lion troupers such as throwing fire crackers at them or setting traps such as snake in a huge container. Hence, people with no real skills would not dare to participate in Cai Qing performance.

Notice on the lion head's forehead, it looked like the chinese word  '王 (King)' . Coincidentally, they were conferred the “Lion King” title at a carnival to celebrate the last day of the Chinese New Year at New World Amusement Park.

Plucking the green
Olden days, difficult stunts
Singapore was renamed Syonan-to after the Japanese occupation in 1942. The people were forced to celebrate the Japanese victory with lion dance performances. Thereafter, all the local lion dance troupes stayed dormant ceasing all activities. This photo is taken after the Japanese surrendered .

Medal and plaque

Queen Elizabeth's token of appreciation when Hok San participated in the Queen's coronation celebration in Singapore  

Local politicians such as late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, late Mr Wee Kim Wee and late Mr Ong Teng Cheong appeared on the wall  of the Main Hall of Hok San Association . It was said that when Singapore first become independent 50 years ago, Mr Lee approached clans and associations (they were considered to be the fittest men in Singapore at that time)  to encourage them to volunteer defending Singapore then as the nation had no ready army.

 Southeast Asian Drum King the late Master Leong Siew Foo

Preserving the culture :Tomb Sweeping at Bishan

From this trip, we learnt much about lion dance and its history in Singapore. They do not go around asking to perform during Chinese New Year. They are invited to perform. Unfortunately, there was no lion dance performance that day.

Are you interested in learning more about this clan?

Hok San Association
Address: 21 Kreta Ayer Road Singapore 088991

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  1. Fascinating photos!. I love that lion's head - it looks huge, and so colorful. Thanks for sharing at

  2. Love that lion head! Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information!


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