Sunday, February 19, 2006

in the land of Chinese New Year (moved from Faraway tree blog)

There was a slithering sound and the rasp of many scales against a hard surface, followed by a series of thuds as several sets of feet landed on the ground. "Are you sure this is the right day?" asked a peevish voice, "because I'm so stiff I don't think I could climb back up", it continued. "Yes, of course, I'm sure", replied another voice. "You know as well as I do that the temple has been a hive of activity for the last couple of days." "Can't you see all the red lanterns everywhere?" chimed in a third voice, just for good measure." "And didn't you smell all those wonderful roast chickens that were offered this morning?" asked the second voice. "Oh well, if you are quite sure ...." and the first voice tailed off.

While they had been talking there had been more sounds of scratching scales and thuds. Finally, against the glowing backdrop of the altar appeared a curious procession. The ornately carved temple dragons had uncoiled themselves from the columns around which they had spent the whole of the previous year in immobility and were assembling in the main courtyard of the temple. A curious chinking noise announced the arrival of the little ceramic dragons, which had left their places in the landscapes above the lintels, and these were soon joined by the wind dragons which breezed in from the roof tops.

One of the temple monks, who understood the language of dragons, had heard them muttering amongst themselves that it wasn't fair that only the golden dragons embroidered on the special parasols ever got to see the famous lion dances that took place on the pier every year. The monk had taken pity on them and suggested that they slough their skins and leave them attached to the columns so that no one would suspect that they had abandoned their posts. When all the festivities were over they could all climb back and would look as if they had been given a spring clean in honour of the new year.

Thus it was, that they now crept along in the shadows towards the pier where they hoped to pass unnoticed, by attaching themselves to the portable shrine, which had been set up.

Hundreds of people, adults and children alike, had gathered in expectation. Not just members of the local Chinese community but there were plenty of 'farangs' (foreigners) as well, eager to see how the Chinese New Year was celebrated. The festivities commenced with the explosion of hundreds of firecrackers and bits of red paper flew through the air, accompanied by sparks, smoke and loud bangs. The first spectacle of the evening was the ritualistic fight between the red and black and the white lions.

The white lion won, of course, and decided to show off by jumping to great heights and by leaping along a series of columns of different heights.

At times it pretended to lose its balance and fall off, which prompted gasps from the crowd.

It batted its massive eyelids at the crowd to invite people to feed it money and opened its mouth to receive these gifts.

When someone was foolish enough to "feed" it a chrysanthemum flower, it spat out a shower of petals in disgust. Its antics completed, it jumped to the ground and paraded around begging more money from the onlookers.

Acrobats then took to the floor forming human pyramids of five people, with a small child at the top. This was followed by the explosion into the night of a spectacular firework display.

Then came the highlight of the evening. The huge figure of a dragon covered in thousands of small lights was lifted off the ground by the acrobats and coiled around a pillar.

From here the acrobats manipulated the dragon's movements. A boy, mounted on a bamboo pole, taunted the dragon with a ball in a round wicker frame (a representation of the flaming pearl perhaps?). Sometimes the acrobats carrying this pole allowed it to fall backwards towards the ground in play, but stood it up again for the dragon to devour.

Content at having seen all this, the dragons enjoyed hitching a lift back to the temple on the portable shrine.

Once back they hid in the shadows of the grounds until all was silent. Thereupon they threw the sloughed skins away and regained their usual places resplendent in the "new" colours, where they could dream upon the things they had seen until the coming of the next new year.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Land of Reality

The bus jolted up the hill as the driver changed gears. She glanced at her watch. 2pm. Only twenty minutes more of what was seeming a longer than usual trip. Even if punctuated by a successfully completed Sudoku ( medium) and the distraction of one swaying passenger. Either tipsy or verging on the possibility of a psychosis. She had gone to town the previous day to watch the dragon boat races and join in the Lantern Festival. Somehow that had seemed only a faint echo of the Chinese New Year at the top of the Faraway Tree, but nevertheless an affirmation of what sometimes seemed a dream. The Faraway Tree was indeed, faraway, and the characters a fading memory.

On past the pub. No takers.The trip had been fun to start with, but the novelty had worn off.
At the next stop an elderly man, struggling to retain his dignity faced with several steps onto the bus, climbed laboriously aboard, gripping the railing. He attempted to address the driver jovially, but was ignored. And sat opposite.

I looked at him and wondered what was going on behind those pale blue eyes and washed out features. Once strong. Too strong perhaps? He straightened his shoulders as if in a determined effort to gather himself and the fragments of his life visibly shedding each day. The undeniable evidence that his mobility and discernment and more importantly his sense of self forged over decades were under threat.

He caught my eye, but didn't smile. Instead glanced at the driver who was fearlessly speeding around a series of sharp bends, and grasped the rail in front to stop from falling into the
aisle. He winced at the effort and resigned himself to a further round of jolts as the driver narrowly avoided a collision with a suddenly braking truck.

He looked sad now. Regret perhaps that the prime of his life was past. Not that he was about to admit that to anyone! The years when he paraded down George St with his mates to celebrate hard won freedom and the fifty years of working for and identifying with the company he loved.
A company where he was boss cocky and where through admiration or sheer survival his word was law. King at home too as was the way back then. Expecting, and receiving the same obeiance he expected of his employees. And the same polished shoes as well. No moustaches. He glanced at his own shoes now. Polished.

A couple of good natured but long haired surfies boarded and one sat next to him. He visibly shrank from the contact. Could not appreciate the ready smile or the steadying hand. Caught my eye in a silent plea for protection in this alien world. One he had remained insulated from by circumstance and his own inclination. Was he frightened by it now, or protected by his disdain for it? Perhaps too by a latent arrogance that had recently been directed at anyone who disrupted his expectations and certitudes. Bluntness. But hidden beneath it all, a vulnerability. Shown only occasionally and which he would always vigorously deny.

The bus came to a final tired stop at the terminus by a beach of rolling Pacific breakers. The surfies clambered off, whooping their delight. The old man followed , so conscious of his comparison with their youthful vibrancy. I picked up the sweater he had left on the seat, and followed. And took his arm.
"Come on, Dad", I said.
"Let's go home".

Friday, February 10, 2006

Lantern Festival - New Colours

The sights and sounds of Lantern Festival
colour, movement, light, to
welcome in the new.
The world was infused with
new enthusiasm, as the
old disappeared into the

copyright Monika Roleff 2006.

Lantern Festival

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Lantern Festival or Yuanxiao Jie is a traditional Chinese festival, which is fall on the 15th of the first month of the Chinese New Year. It is the last day of two week long Chinese New Year cerebration. People with their family will gather in the show place to enjoy the beautiful lanterns displayed by individuals or the local municipal. Kids will carry their own lanterns to participate in the showcase. Usually there is competition for the most beautiful lantern.This festival is also a Chinese Valentine's day that youngsters celebrate the festivals with their lovers in such beautiful and romantic evening. Lanterns are also displayed in other festivals such Mid-Autumn Festival. Lantern making has long history and there are a lot of romance stories told about lanterns and lovers related to this festival.

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Popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine's Day, this festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Based on an old Chinese tradition, flower markets, restaurants, homes and parks are filled with colourful lanterns in traditional designs. During the festival, singles gather to play matchmaking games with the lanterns, to determine who will be their lover.

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After the Lantern Festival the Land of Chinese New Year is moving on. When a land moves on there is a curious cold wind, the sun goes down and everything is cloaked in darkness. Make sure to reach the hole that leads back to the Faraway Tree before this happens.

When you return do tell us about your experiences at the Lantern Festival.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meeting Jade Emperor - An Offering

On meeting the Jade Emperor, with
all due respect, one who has everything,
an offering of a swamp cypress was made.
He loved the brand new cones,
and the colour, of course...
copyright Monika Roleff 2006.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Introducing Madam Butterfly

The poem on her wing reads
I do not know rather I was then a man Dreaming I was a butterfly or rather I am a butterfly dreaming that I am a man.
close up of mask she is mounted on a copper butterfly colored with alcohol inks . the mask is painted with gold paint and I used sharpies for the details and wings.

Meeting the Jade Emperor

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The Yuhuang (Jade Emperor) is one of the main Gods in Taoism. Taoism and the ordinary people regard him as the ruler in the Heaven and the imperatorial God. Therefore, a fete on him is necessary.

It is said the lunar January 9 is the birthday of the Jade Emperor. According to the custom, a ceremony for celebration is to be held. The ordinary people will gather together to burn joss sticks. This is called the Yuhuang (Jade Emperor) Meeting. The Meeting is very grand. Because the Jade Emperor plays a very important role in the Heaven, a lot of other Gods accompany him.

JADE-EMPEROR: Supreme God of Chinese Folk Religion, the JADE-EMPEROR is Ruler of Heaven, Creator of the Universe, member of the SAN-QING, and Lord of the Imperial Court.

Starting at the bottom by creating the Universe, he helped YUAN-SHI-TIAN-ZONG bring order to the cosmos. Working his way to the top, he spent a billion aeons contemplating his Holy Navel before finally achieving a state of the most amazingly perfect Godliness.

Having achieved Illumination and Omnipotence, he became supreme Heavenly Ruler, and Emperor of the Universe. Even the human ruler of China was simply a manifestation of the JADE-EMPEROR. Earthly Emperors were given leave to rule by the MANDATE-OF-HEAVEN, provided they checked in every so often via a Jade PI-DISC.

His word is law and he rules all Heaven and Earth with a vast company of civil servants and bureaucrats at his beck and call. The CHENG-HUANG and TU-DI look after Earthly paperwork, and every year the ZAO-JUN file a report on your conduct for him to assess.

If that's not impressive enough, the JADE-EMPEROR found further fame when DAOism and Buddhism came into play and engulfed him in the utmost holiness. Not to mention the most amazingly complicated symbolism.

His list of official titles expanded in all directions. 'Most Venerable Jade Emperor Of The Heavenly Golden Palace'... 'Supremely High Emperor Of The Heavens, Holder Of Talismans, Container Of Perfection and Embodiment Of Dao'... and finally, 'Most Venerable And Highest Jade Emperor Of All-Embracing Sublime Spontaneous Existence Of The Heavenly Golden Palace'. We think that just about covers everything.

The only other deity to compare is the magnificent MONKEY, who arrogantly challenged his rule, caused havoc in Heaven and was finally persuaded to behave by being given a meaningless but magnificent-sounding official title. That's politics for you.

In fact, the JADE-EMPEROR is a master of winning without really doing anything. He knows all aspects of The Way (DAO) and its Principle of Least Action (Wu Wei), making Heaven's regime the ultimate example of a do-nothing policy. He can become almost flustered if anything actually happens.

Celebrate the birth of the Jade Emporer.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I have skipped Days three and four and Move to 5

I read that Day 5 in the Year of the Dog says.
" Families stay at home and Welcome the God of Wealth
into the home
Visiting another persons home on this day is considered very unlucky
for the visitor and the host"

Yesterday 6th Feb 2006 it was ,a Monday it be
I decided to mow the lawn
the grass was long ,too long
Mower repaired and ready to start
Front lawn first....then back yard next

Jessie Dog sitting on next doors' lawn
mower running well ,phone rang I went to pick it up from the porch
Too late ...onto answering machine it went
I finished the lawn,
I angled the mower down the small slope
to do the outside nature strip in the street

She had gone ,she had disappeared
I went inside,out the back,behind the sheds,down the street,looked over to the park
Not a sign of her....Jessie was missing...
Now deaf ,she could not hear me or the mower
I did panic ,I admit, that I was shaking

Once before only she had done this....
Crossed a very busy mad speeding road near her home
God forbid I thought ...turning off the mower I moved quickly
Up to the corner....just in time to see my friend Angie crossing
over the road with Jessie in tow.
Not only visiting anothers home was bad luck
Crossing this speed track was more than bad luck
it could be a death sentence
She couldn't tell me why she did it
I was so angry and relieved at the same time.

I needed more than a cup of tea
I didn,t smack her,my fault for not watching her more carefully
My neighbour Chris on his day off drove his 4x4 in, smiling broadly
"Been to collect my winnings" he said
What winnings ?said Angie
My Tattslotto ( Australian lottery) mostly in Victoria
said he...
"$2400"....."Big win" he said....all in cash ,he showed us.

I could not even congratulate him,a smile wouldn't come
I was
only in relief mode
Perspiring ,shaking and feeling worn out.
Good on you I said
" You don't seem surprised" said Chris

Angela laughed,looked at me
as he told us of his GREAT news
My news was of another kind
as I told him mine and Jessie's
Chris has never had a dog,
emotions like this sound foreign to him
His win....was not my win

I thought of the day's events
and relate them to a day on the
Chinese New Year celebrations
a coincidence, a story of a dog
a dog that should not have visited friends
it could have been very unlucky....
Welcoming the God of Wealth ,not to my home
but next door at my neighbours
Now to the Host that Jessie Dog visited
I have not asked them as of this morning
If they have experienced any bad luck
I shall await them visiting me when a cuppa
this afternoon is the nice part of the day.

I finish off my story as the time
nears 12.30 ,time for a cuppa
Jessie lies under my feet
scratching ,licking her paws
The noise is deafening
I don't mind at all .....

Lois (Muse of the Sea) 7.2.06

Fire dog,hidden dragon

A pair of dogs dance at Brisbane's Chinatown

I was born in the Year of the Dog – the Sleeping Wood Dog, to be astrologically precise, which is why you should never wake me.

Well, this is my year and the fire means I am going to be awake for all of it, so what better time to visit a land where Chinese New Year is always celebrated? I love Chinese New Year. My youngest daughter was clearly an Asian princess in her previous life. She was born with a predilection for all things Chinese, Japanese and Asian in general – she loves the food, the art and the music. She insisted on being taken to Sydney every year for the Chinese New Year celebrations, (we go to Brisbane now) and she insists on coming with me now. This is her land, Kathy says, and I’d better keep a close eye on her in case she doesn’t come back.

It’s even more exciting than all those times we set out for Sydney or Brisbane Chinatown together. Kathy wears her lovely pink Chinese jacket embroidered with cherry blossom that I got her for Christmas. I wear my green embroidered jacket with the side slits. She shows me how to style my hair with chopsticks, which I always say will come in handy at lunchtime. Kathy says `eeewwww’, as she always does.

Going up the Faraway Tree is slow because she wants to stop and marvel at everything. She adores fairies and can’t wait to get to Silky’s house. When we do there is a lovely surprise – the tree is growing cherry blossom and cherries at the same time. Amazing! Kathy is enchanted and picks a sprig of cherry blossom for her hair. The fruit is delicious, but the Land of Chinese New Year calls – already we can hear the sound of drums and cymbals drifting down through the branches.

The land of Chinese New Year is like the biggest Chinatown we have ever seen. An avenue stretches out before us, with cherry blossom trees growing on either side. The street is lined with gorgeous shops, market stalls and noodle stalls, and Kathy practically does handstands in her excitement. She is a grown up girl of nearly 19 now, yet she still gets excited as a child on Chinese New Year.

There is a procession coming down the street and we stop to watch with the crowd as it draws near. There’s a dancing red dog in the lead, trailing filmy gauzy ribbons of flame.

``Are you born in the year of the Dog?” People ask each other. ``Touch the Red Fire Dog – it’s lucky.”

Kathy manhandles me down to the front of the crowd with the other Dog people and our hands reach out to pat the Red Fire Dog as it dances close to us. As I look into its face, expecting to see human eyes, I see strange red and gold eyes peeping out at me. The dog licks my hand with a gauzy ribbon, and it feels like a real flame. I draw my hand back in surprise – is there a hidden dragon inside the Red Fire Dog? But of course there is – how would it get its fire otherwise?

The Red Fire Dog dances away and the crowd scatters. There is so much to see and do – the market stalls have drawn Kathy’s attention, and I follow her in search of treasure. We are in Heaven, surrounded by beautiful things. I find a whole stall with hand made and painted Chinese papers and spend ages making a selection. Already in my mind’s eye I can see the way I will use them in collage, and to make origami boxes.

Laden with bags, we visit the Chinese Gardens for a cup of Oolong tea and moon cakes. This was always our favourite treat in Sydney, but these Chinese Gardens are even bigger and better. The gardens cover a vast area, and reach to snow capped mountains in the distance. We find a tree house near a lake surrounded by willows, and tea is brought to us in a stone tea pot with little clay cups and a plate of moon cakes. Just as we did in the Chinese Gardens back home, we pour out our tea and sip it blissfully, letting the leaves settle at the bottom. Kathy shows me her cup – a star of happiness. I look in mine and see the figure of a dog – yes, this is going to be a good dog year for me.

An old lady has been watching us from her seat on a low stone wall near the lake. Now she gets up and comes over to our table, politely asking if she can sit down.

Of course, we want her company – she is wonderful, with a kind, seamed face, and tiny wrinkled hands. She nods approvingly at Kathy’s cup. Her eyes sparkle like little chips of polished ebony.

``You will always know happiness,” she says. ``For you give more happiness than you expect to receive and take joy in simple things.”

Then she takes my cup and turns it this way and that.

``A bit of fire will do your lazy dog a lot of good,” she laughs. ``There is a dragon hiding in you, and it is filled with creative spirit. I see friends helping you to unleash it. To create beauty and bring happiness is the finest ambition of all, and you can be proud that your daughter has chosen this path – follow it yourself and you will find inner peace, as she has.”

Night is falling and all over the Land of Chinese New Year, lanterns are lighting up the trees – it sparkles like a jewel. The old lady leans over and kisses my cheek and Kathy’s, and then she is gone.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Chinese Fan

copyright Monika Roleff 2006.