Can Do Lion Builders
Ryan Au
Chris Low
Travis Lum
Bambang Edison Soekanto
Vincent Nguy
Jared Young


Liu Bei lion detail
Liu Bei lion right ear
Liu Bei lion left upper lip
Liu Bei lion right spiral
Liu Bei lion zhao pai
Liu Bei lion full detail

GROWING UP IN SAN FRANCISCO’S CHINATOWN I was always fascinated by the lion dance. I can still remember clear as day the first time I got to touch a real lion. I was in preschool on the day of a Chinese New Year celebration. My teacher brought in a kid-sized head and let each of us take a turn as the head and tail. Most kids did the “hold the head and bob up and down” thing, but I was determined to do better. Real lion dancers jumped and kicked and moved quickly so that’s what I did. Most kids held the tail limply and merely followed the head around like lovesick puppies, but I was determined to do better. Real lion dancers flapped the tail so that’s what I did. Apparently my “bob-and weave” partner wasn’t quite ready for real lion dancing, and I pulled the head right out of her hands. She fell down crying. I got in trouble, but didn't understand why.

Years later I’m still letting my love and enthusiasm for lion dancing get me in trouble without understanding why. Why can’t I take over the living room area with bamboo strips and rice paper? Why can’t I say things like, “Don’t buy bananas at 89 cents a pound, we’re not made of money!” to my wife then put in several personal orders for lion supplies from OCLS for lions I’m only thinking of building sometime in the future? When my wife says she’s pregnant why can’t I start building a lion for the embryo right away?

Starting completely from scratch for this lion I searched out materials and construction techniques that would yield the best strength, yet remain light enough for a toddler to handle. Aluminum bars make up the basic frame, including the main back arch and forehead area in addition to the normal areas (rim and main support arcs). The rest of the frame is made from polyvinyl strips which are extremely light and flexible enough to bend into the tight curves a baby lion requires. Polyvinyl isn’t the strongest at keeping its shape under pressure when bumped or smashed (inevitable when giving a lion to a toddler) because it’s so flexible. Therefore, key areas such as the mouth, upper lip, soy (gills) and back are also reinforced with bamboo.


On top of the framework are a netting layer and three layers of paper. I also put a layer of paper throughout most of the inside as well. Each layer took over 15 hours to add and since I was mostly working late at night after putting our kids to sleep. It was a long and drawn-out process. Not satisfied with other lion beards I’d seen (which tended to shed), I learned how to hand-tie my own. First I studied beards that I had, paying special attention to the way they were constructed. I discovered the reasons why they shed. Then I worked out a way to overcome those shortcomings. Using loose horsehair, wires, and string I set to work experimenting with techniques and knots. Maybe I’m just slow (it took me about 2030 minutes per inch of width), however, I am pretty pleased with the results.

My wife, Sandra, deserves credit here as well: since she has more painting talent than I do I recruited her to do the painting. And a family friend who is a professional seamstress was tasked with sewing the tail after I gave her a pattern and did my best to answer her many questions since she lives out-of-town and isn’t a lion dancer. They both did amazing jobs!

Hit a few snags along the way, like: letting my son use the lion as it was being built (and then having to do damage control), and a botched papering experiment. All in all a fun project and a great gift to my son that both his parents can say they put some of themselves into. It’s not a “professional” job, but the many new things I learn with each lion I work on help the next ones come out even better.

So four and a half years after it was started, the lion is finally finished. It’s a good thing I started so soon, now on to the next one!

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