Tiger Heart

Lion Dance at Assembly Rooms, Bath, Sun 21 Feb 2010 by KMCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

14-21 February

St Valentine’s Day happen to be the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year – the Year of the Tiger, auspicious, but not for the faint hearted!

On Valentine’s Eve, Chapel Arts Centre held a great ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ party – everyone was dressed up as ‘mobsters and molls’ and it was a brilliant atmosphere with music from the Good Fridays. Another successful night from a venue that is rapidly becoming the best night out in Bath.

The following day I performed a mini set of poems at the Bath Storytelling Circle in the Raven to celebrate Lupercalia, the pre-Christian origins of Valentine’s Day: a Roman festival of fertility sacred to the she-wolf who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. I did my ‘Wolf in the City’ poem in honour of the wolves of love!

The following Sunday, I attended the event below…(traditionally the Lunar New Year falls between 21 Jan and 21 Feb).

Lunar New Year Celebration

21 Feb, 2010

Today I went to the Lunar New Year celebrations held by the Museum of East Asian Art in the Bath Assembly Rooms opposite – the Regency splendour providing a surreal but splendid context for this Oriental Hogmanay. Tables were arranged around the main hall, more used to Jane Austen era glamour, offering a colourful assortment of activities: make your own money bag (used to gift money to family and friends); have a go at a tiger mask, origami, or paper cuts – a traditional Chinese New Year decoration. Before the afternoon programme got under way I popped over the road to the Museum for free Chinese tea and saw many impressive examples of these paper cuts by contemporary Chinese artists. Apparently at this time of year, the old ones would be taken down, to be replaced by the new ones, displayed fresh in windows. A far more creative and environmental way of getting festive than our Xmas excess.

Last Sunday was the actual New Year – it fell auspiciously on St Valentine’s Day – but according to the Chinese astrology website I viewed, Wayangtimes.com (found after a brief google) Years of the Tiger are often times of war, not love:

Drama, intensity, change and travel will be the keywords for 2010. Unfortunately, world conflicts and disasters tend to feature during Tiger years also, so it won’t be a dull 12 months for anyone.

It sounds like we’re in for ‘interesting times’. ‘Far reaching changes for everyone’ it predicts, rather broadly – basically, the only certainty is uncertainty, the only constant – change.

Back in the Assembly Rooms, I pulled up a chair and watched some poetry reading by a Chinese poet, who read her work in English and Mandarin – it was fascinating listening to the soundscape of her poetry – a very different set of phonemes to English ones. It’s great to see poetry being an important part of cultural life – over the Lunar New Year celebrations, homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Can you imagine people decorating their homes with poetry in Britain? The common theme to the poems she recited involved reflections on time and good fortune. She mentioned a great Chinese saying: ‘An inch of time, an inch of gold: an inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.’ A good message – time is infinitely more precious than gold, which is merely a naturally occurring ore. (Our time is priceless yet we sell it cheaply in the market place – a buyer’s market). Yet the Chinese, being shrewd in business, place great importance on it – the accumulation of wealth – praying for wealth and wearing red for luck. I recall in South East Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia – the symbolic bank notes they would burn in the temples.

Next there was a sample of Chinese opera – two members of the London Chinese Opera Society, looking splendid in their costumes, performed a shy, gentle mating ritual on the stage – like two birds in the Springtime: the male making his advances, the female coyly dismissing them… The man sang in a falsetto to symbolise the fact he was on the cusp of adolescence! It was charming, but after a tiring ride back and a fitful night’s sleep I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Chinese Opera performerI went for a walk outside in the lovely spring sunlight to try and wake up – wandering to the Royal Crescent and back. Then I girded myself for the final events with a pot of lapsang souchong and a couple of stem ginger biscuits in the Assembly Rooms cafe. This helped to keep me going for the grand finale – the magnificent lion dance, followed by the letting off of fire crackers. There were two ‘lions’ on stage, operated by two guys each. Both were decorated by ‘fur’ and lots of gold, one was red, the other white, and they lively cavorting reminded me of the rival ‘osses’ of Padstow. They wove their way through the crowds, to the delight of the children, who followed them, Pied Piper-like outside, where gunpowder awaited! The event certainly ended with a bang – in fact several, leaving a strong Guy Fawkes-like odour in the air. Of course, the Chinese invented gunpowder, as they did paper – centuries before the West cottoned on. They are a remarkable civilisation – it’s such a shame that their current regime has so poor a human rights record. I cannot forgive them for invading Tibet – something that seemed to be conveniently overlooked at the last Olympics –  but this was all forgotten today. It was a joyous occasion and quite rightly so. Beyond their oppressive government, they are a polite and cultured people, and on a beautiful sunny day they brought a cosmopolitan richness to our sleepy city.

The following day I used the Chinese Zodiac in my Creative Writing class at Saltford Library – getting my Older Learners to write a poem in the voice of their respective ‘animal’ – a cultural transfusion that enriches the heart and broadens the mind.

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