Firing up the celebrations

Firing up the celebrations

Making fire dragons takes a lot of time and effort, but some students are dedicated to the art

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Pok Fu Lam Fire Dragon_L
Photo: Mak Yiu-tung
People used to believe fire dragons could protect them from the plague. Local villagers would make smoky, glowing dragons - lit up by incense sticks - to scare away the deadly disease during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Today, while the plague is no longer a threat, the dragon ritual remains.

The most notable beast is the 67-metre creature that prowls around Tai Hang every year, attracting locals and tourists alike.

But the sacred creature is not alone. Tomorrow night, five dragons will be in Aberdeen, and a further three will be prancing around Pok Fu Lam village, bringing fortune to local residents.

Pooi To Middle School students Chan Hau-ying, Wong Pui-yan and Kitty Wong Yeuk-lam spent half their summer helping to build them.

"Normally, people only know about the dragon in Tai Hang," says Chan, a history fan. "We saw a photo exhibition about fire dragons in Pok Fu Lam, and became really interested."

The students decided to take part in a project that gives the public the chance to connect with this traditional art. Along with some university students, the trio are in charge of making two of the seven 9m-long dragons that will be led by a massive beast measuring up to 24m in length.

What exactly does this involve?

"First, you cut up lots of bamboo, which is the core part of the dragon's head," Chan says. "Then, you stack bits of hay together and tie them up with metal wires to form the body."

The work is challenging. The dragon's head, for instance, which takes students about 30 hours to perfect, is formed by curved bamboo sticks. Bamboo has to be heated in fire before it is bent. If pressed too hard it will snap; if not pressed hard enough, it will burn.

All this work is taught by Ng Kwong-kin, a Pok Fu Lam village resident. He says he is touched by the students' willingness to take part.

Ng says the culture of dragon-making has changed in the past few decades. In the past, teenagers would form groups to make dragons, and would tour around with them asking adults for extra pocket money. Now, dragon-making is a community effort among residents who want to spread the culture and raise money for the elderly.

During the sessions, Ng encourages students to think outside the box.

"There is no standard way of making dragons," says Ng. "After all, no one has seen a real dragon."


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