José L. MELERO
THE TYPES OF CHOI CHIANG CEREMONY
There are many types of Choi Chiang. One very popular type is called Tien Chiang (" green sky" or "heaven "). A head of lettuce, filled with money for luck, is hung from a doorway or secured to a building's exterior - sometimes as high up as the third floor.
If hanging from a tall doorway, the lead dancer might stand on his partner's (or partners' depending on the lion's size) shoulders to reach the prize with the lion head. For higher elevations, a long bamboo pole, on which lion dancer and lion head are carefully balanced, is necessary. Here is where exceptional skill and balance come into play. And for very high Tien Chiang, a pagoda of human bodies, stacked as much as one, three, five, ten, 15 or 20 high is formed - and the last level holds a table. The lead dancer balances on top of the table, with the lion head to capture the leafy prize.
Another common Choi Chiang is Dei Chiang or ("earth green.") Although there are several varieties of Dei Chiang, the two most popular are Soam Sing Bane Yute ("three stars surrounding the moon") and Chat Sing Bune Yute ("seven stars surrounding the moon").
In “three stars surrounding the moon" the head of money-stuffed lettuce lies on the ground surrounded by three oranges or tangerines set in a triangle. This routine is usually performed by less-experienced lion dancers who haven't developed the skill and balance required for other Choi Chiang routines.( this technique is taught to beginning lion dancers as a basic exercise). The lion moves around the lettuce and oranges in a large circle, gradually narrowing the circle until the lion head can reach the offering.
First, the lion takes each orange into his mouth. The lead dancer tears the fruit apart, throwing the pieces out of the lion's mouth and then kicking them into the air with his foot - as if the lion were spitting out the fruit's skin and pith.
After the oranges, the lion picks up the lettuce, extracts the money, and repeats the spitting out process. Finally the lion proudly parades in a circle, indicating he's full and pleased.
LION DANCING ROUTINES
The "seven stars surrounding the moon" requires more balance and steadier stance in execution. A large round pan containing a small amount of water, a few coins, seven oranges or tangerines, and a head of lettuce in the center is set out for the lion. First, the lion eats the seven oranges, again spitting the skin and pith out into the air. Next, the lead dancer jumps onto the rim of the pan, carefully balances himself, then reaches into the pan to remove the coins. These, too, he spits out - the coins represent rocks. Now the lettuce is removed from the pan; the dancer extracts the money and spits the lettuce out by hurling it out the mouth and then kicking it high into the air.
Finally, the lion drinks the water (using a heavy towel to absorb the water). The lead dancer passes the towel back to his partner in the lion tail who squeezes the water out of the towel as if the lion were relieving himself. The lion head, with the dancer using his hand through the lion's mouth to hold the now empty pan, shows the audience that, as a good lion should, he's drunk and eaten everything.
There are several more complicated Choi Chiang routines: Duk sieh Can Lo (" poison snake blocking the road"): The "snake" is a Chinese spear lying against a sawhorse with the spear tip pointing up.
The snake's "eyes" are tangerines, and money wrapped around the spear represents the snake's skin. The lion jumps up on to the bench, the lion head swallowing the "snake." The tail dancer then throws the spear out of the lion's mouth. (It is now a bone that the lion can't digest.) A kung-Fu stylist catches this "bone" or spear - and fights the lion with it. (This routine requires strength, balance, and agility when one considers the effort needed to jump up on a narrow bench and then maintain that position while fighting a spear-wielding opponent.)
Si ji kiu ("lion crossing the bridge"): The simplest form of this routine uses a Chinese sawhorse bench. Three cups are placed near three of the four legs. The dancer in the lion head jumps up on top of the bench and carefully removes all three cups. Now the dancer moves to the opposite end of the bench where he bends over and still on top of the bench eats the oranges and lettuce lying on the ground.
For those who are very experienced, there is the more difficult "lion crossing the bridge." With five benches forming a bridge (three overlapping one another on the bottom and two stacked, overlapped, on top).