Chasing the Fire Dragon

Pokfulam Village

Pokfulam & the Living Heritage
The Mid-Autumn Festival in the Chinese world is almost equivalent to the Western world’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s an important tradition where family should gather and share the joy of full moon. There’s a rich history behind this and a tale to tell. The tale is about two lovers being apart from earth and moon. In Hong Kong, we have a ritual/tradition in villages using the fire dragons as a symbol; to prevent plagues and demons from entering their village. The tradition was first dated in the early 19th century. And now it has become an important tourist-to-do in every September.

The Master

Mid Autumn Lantern

Lighting the sticks

Planting the sticks

The percussion team

In the smoke

Accomplished

Warm up

There are two locations doing the Fire Dragon Dance. The one near the Victoria Park (Tai Hang) is larger in scale. However from my previous first visit few years ago, the wait was long, it’s crowded to see the dragon and most importantly there’s no visitor interaction. It was a little disappointment. I, later discovered there’s also an identical tradition held at the Pokfulam Village. The Village is nothing like those historic remains in the New Territories. It’s more like a favela sort of village which has been around since 18th century. Houses were built with temporary metal sheets, overhead power lines, old fashion TV antennas can be seen everywhere. Not until earlier this year, I passed by the village with bus trips and googled about it. It’s really even more dramatic if you realize Pukfulam is famous for the sea view-ready luxury apartments along the mountains.

The dance parade did not start until 7pm. I arrived early just to give a fine look at the village while there’s still daylight. I questioned immediately as I walked into the village. Where’s the route? Would it enter the village? What I saw was beyond believe; the crooked pavements and the narrow lanes.

There’s an opening ceremony and preparation where visitors can ‘participate’ and ‘interact’. At some point I was helping them to pass along the incense sticks when they were preparing for the dragon. The friendly atmosphere kept me staying for a bit longer. I even made a wish with the incense sticks at the altar they set up!

Cantonese billboard  Mini Dragon

Worship Altar

Party begins

Dragon dance

Dimly lit

Dimly lit street light

Neon Kid

Dark alley

Prepartion

On the Dragon head

Young spectators

Into the Village
There were two big fire dragons.  Police had to closed a traffic lane or two to allow the dance proceed. The dragons first toured on the outskirt of village and later to the nearby Chi Fu apartments. And they came back to the starting point for rest as well as re-planting the incense sticks onto the dragon. I was about to go, until the dragon took off again as they about to enter the village.

With such confined space around the village. I thought it was a joke until I saw half the body had entered. I was curious asked the staff about the route. Perhaps he did not want more spectators congest in the village, he did not really answer me. I was hoping a longtime schoolmate (also staff) I met earlier could guide me. And it’s my fate to bump into him, thankfully. He quickly found a shortcut to catch all the moments. I was with the dragon almost the entire way.

Funny how they broke up the dragon into at least two parts. The head and body were separated, then the percussion team and the leading anchor (guy who holds the globe with incense sticks). The dragon head visited door-to-door to give good wish. I thought it was down to earth a very cool act. It’s nothing like what I’ve seen in Tai Hang, now the formation of what a so-called Tai Hang village has disappeared. And their ritual has become more of a show performance. While in the Pokfulam Village , I was able to witness every single detail myself. In every way, it looks and feels like a village. The reason of the dance still exist has to do with the effort of their community making it happen.

All that smokiness, smell of the burning sticks, falling ashes, the glowing dragon, the festive drum beats and chanting have preserved the spirit and heritage of Hong Kong people. This is something I’m very proud of. Hong Kong gives me the identity.

To the Village

Behind the wheel

Glowing globe

Wait

Coming through

The body

Come down

The head

Through the alley

Fans waiting

Attention

Return glorious

15 thoughts on “Chasing the Fire Dragon

    1. KUM, I worked with what I got from my gear, my photographs, my experience, my words. I battled with the shutter speed and focus the most. I’m glad I did not miss shots that I want for my post. My photos are probably more personal than the normal reportage photos. Not sure what others would think about the roughness coming out from a non-dslr. Thanks very much again!

      1. Struggling with gear makes your photography stronger. You defeat the challenging situation. But the most important thing is: The pictures doesn’t show anything about your fight. They speak for themselves, showing us your vision and impression of moments you wanted to capture. It’s all about framing. And framing means also to train our eyes. Yours is very well trained. I’m sure you see the pictures in advance while in action. Right?

      2. reply to “I’m sure you see the pictures in advance while in action. Right?”

        Yes, I had to. I was operating my camera manually the entire time, which includes pre-adjusting my focus.

        I think It’s important to know I was not shooting a video. There’s a continuous shooting mode on my camera, it’d be an abuse to use it. And frankly you know I’m not entirely after the action scenes, I was clear to myself I wanted a touch of the village and its people.

    1. Thanks Rosey! I tried my best capturing what’s in front of me.
      I went to the fire dragon dance in Tai Hang/Victoria Park. I was there for two hours and only saw the dragon once or twice for just 30 seconds. I might not be standing at a good spot, but they really have to show a little more.
      If you’re not afraid of being squeezed, the one they host in Pokfulam Village is at another level. Get there an hour earlier to see the preparation, it’s amazing. And don’t forget to have a brief walk in the village just to see a different side of Hong Kong.

  1. Wow I’ll know next year to go to Pok Fu Lam instead if I can make it back. I couldn’t decide between Pok Fu Lum or Tai Hang and so in the end went to Tai Hang. Now I’ll know where I’ll be going next year! As you said Tai Hang was really crowded and hard to follow the dragon.
    Got some good captures with low light and all.

    1. Thanks! Depends on what you’ve prepared for the day. One in Tai Hang would be easier to go to after dinner. That day I did not eat until 11:30pm. I was there to see every bit of stuff just so you know🙂

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