A Kung Fu master in D.C’s Chinatown, Raymond Wong makes every effort to preserve the ancient Chinese performing art, lion dance. Amidst the dwindling Chinese population and fading traditional culture in the neighborhood, his students come from different paths of life. Wong says everyone can be a lion dancer, as long as they have endurance and good character.

Podcast Script:

Duration: 00:04)

<<fade under_0006_Wong_”Kung Fu class line up! Put the costume, horse stand, back straight, close the mouth down, up, down up.”_fade under>>

It is several hours before Chinese New Year’s eve when Raymond Wong begins his lion dance class in a 100 square meters studio in D.C.’s Chinatown.

(Duration: 00:02) 

<<fade under_Wong_”Pushes him out, keep moving, tap him, fix the tail, keep straight!”_fade under>> 

Around 20 students, ranged from children to adults, are vigorously following the master’s instruction. They are in turn bending their body under the lion costume and stretching their hands to wave the costume.

(Duration: 00:03) 

<<fade under_0011_Wong_”Tails on the floor don’t want that, wave_see the wave? Should be here, not be down, make a wave, not enough (01:06-01:15)_fade under>>

Wong explains that lion dancers have to be adept at practicing Kung Fu before they perform the ritual. It is because Kung Fu techniques are designed to redirect the flow of energy, expelling the negative energy, and bringing the positive energy or good luck.

(Duration: 00:15) 

<<Wong_Even in the modern day, people are still after good luck, because good luck is something you can’t really control… you can have a lot of money in the world but if you have bad luck, you could probably drop dead in the next 5 minutes and can’t enjoy your money. So the lion dance drives away the evil spirit which allows luck to come, that’s the way it works.”>>  

One thing that the students need to keep in mind is that it’s not easy to practice the ancient martial art since it could take months just to learn one move.

(Duration: 00:03)

<<0015_(04:28-04:48, (05:44)  fade under_“You’re good, doing horse stand, walk forward, flap, not bad. stay down…>>

I am a fan of action and Kung Fu movies, so when he told me to try the costume and do a few Kung Fu movements, I enthusiastically said yes.

(Duration: 00:03) 

<<keep the feet apart and walk… “So I can join your team? Almost with few more lesson, yeah…”)>>

It seems that the 60-year-old teacher mean it when he says it’s not easy to practice Kung Fu, as I almost lost my breath after doing the moves. I can understand why so many students quit not long after they come to the class, as Wong says.

(Duration: 00:07)

<<(06:38)_Wong_”Kung Fu lessons teach you stand, endurance, so you can do the lion dance 20 minutes or 30 minutes, and you just did it for about 1 minute? So imagine you can do that and kick and role.”>>

Wong, who immigrated from Hong Kong since he was a little boy, has been practicing Kung Fu for more than 40 years. He says that his teacher, Dean Chin, who opened a studio in the early 70’s in Chinatown, is his role model. Chin encouraged him to be a Kung Fu expert and continue the legacy, no matter the hardships are.

(Duration: 00:16)

<<Wong_For me it’s about responsibility, it was given to me and what I am gonna do with it? There are too many people that I started on and they want me to continue them to the next level… Not obliged but responsibility. Obliged means you have to do it, responsibility means you feel like it is the right thing.>>

Wong tries his best to keep the students coming to his class and learning about Kung Fu. He adapts his teaching method to the student’s needs without losing the true essence of the culture.

(Duration: 00:06)

<<fade under_2nd part of Ritual_MUSIC_cymbals, drum>>fade under

As the evening comes, it’s time for Wong and his students to perform the lion dance ritual. They are going to the neighborhood, Chinese restaurants and stores in Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year’s eve.

On of Wong’s students, 33-year-old Christine Cheng is holding the head of the lion. Her tall and physique body reflects her strength as she has been learning Kung Fu for almost eight years.

(Duration:00:08)

<<Why are you interested in preserving the culture? Well, because it’s part of my culture, Chinese American, growing up I saw lion dance in weddings, seeing it a lot and interested in and keeping it alive. 

(Duration:00:09) 

<<Are you going to pass it to your children? Yes, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I did a lot of lion dance, ever since she was born, maybe she will be interested doing the lion as well?>>

Another students, 29-year-old Michael Peters also commits to never stop learning Kung Fu. He admires the values of the ancient tradition because of its similarities with his value in family life and its basic principle to help other people.

(Duration: 00:07)

<<I want to continue the legacy. Because Shifu won’t do this forever. I guess all of us do. We learn it and teach it. Otherwise, it’s going to be forgotten.”>>

(Duration: 00:04)

<<MUSIC_Cymbal, drum when doing the lion dance>> fade under

Preserving Kung Fu and lion dance can not be solely burdened on the shoulder of Raymond Wong. That’s why he always inspires his students to not give up and lead them to step up to the next phase of the martial art.

(Duration: 00:13)

<<Wong_When everybody feels there’s improbable, impossible or hopeless, you have to tell them and convince them, no it’s not, you have to go to the next step. Most people quit, that’s when the leader comes in, because everybody would start something, but very few would finish it>>

(Duration: 00:04)

<<MUSIC_Cymbal, drum when doing the lion dance>> fade under

 

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