We had lunch in Southampton after watching the Lion Dance yesterday. Two lions came to tea.
After the meal, when we were about to leave the restaurant, a Malaysian Chinese waitress stopped me: “Stay here. The Lions are coming in!” “When?” I asked. “Now!”
My instant response was to search for evidence at the ceiling. I saw some lettuce and a ‘red’ envelope (in glorious gold) were hanging from the ceiling.
We were lucky. The lions danced into the restaurant to perform the climax of any Lion Dance act: “Cǎi Qīng” or “Picking the Green” (采青）.
The green refers to vegetable leaves. The lion’s task was to reach high to eat the green, and took the red envelope which contained money.
After the lions finished chewing the lettuce, they spat out the leaves and threw them to the crowd, and we were all hit by some flying leaves.
The flying lettuce was a symbolic act of the lion’s blessing to us: we will enjoy good fortune and abundance in the coming year.
The lions were accompanied by musicians, who played drums, cymbals and gongs. The small and packed restaurant was buzzing with excitement. It was a great surprise.
This performance was led by Yi Quin（藝群 – meaning Art Together), another prestigious Lion Dance group in the south. The founder Mr Wai Man told me that Yi Quin was formed in the early eighties by five friends, who shared the passion for Chinese lion dancing. The group has entertained the public for over 30 years.
My childhood memory
I remember that when I was young, in the south of Malaysia, my mother would sometimes arrange some local men to perform the “Picking the Green” ceremony in our house too. Actually the young men were not professional, but they dressed like lions and picked up a few quick tricks to earn some pocket money during the Chinese New Year. It benefit everyone – the young men in need of some extra cash, and our house was blessed with the act of green picking. We often made sure that the string attached to the green and red packet was not too tight. It happened before that some lions failed to undo the string and they became very embarrassed.
Here are some pictures showing the lions who came to tea on the 2nd of February 2014 in Southampton – “Picking the Green” at Supreme Restaurant: 134 High Street SO14 2BR (Formerly The King and I restaurant).