Exploring High-Pole Lion Dance in Muar


No, I did not attempt any lion dancing stunts but I had a most exhilarating time, learning more about the art of High-Pole Lion Dance from Tan Chong Hing, founder of the award-winning Kun Seng Keng Lion and Dragon Dance Association in Muar, Johor.


Signboard at entrance to the training centre for
Kun Seng Keng Lion & Dragon Dance Association

From all their accolades and achievements, Lion Dance enthusiasts will instantly recognise the familiar name of Kun Seng Keng as a highly successful lion dance troop which was also the inspiration for a 2014 movie, The Great Lion: Kun Seng Keng.


In a prior conversation with Tan Chai Puan, co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums, I broached the idea of featuring the High-Pole Lion Dancers in Book Three of My Johor Stories along with my pick of Proudly Johor brands.


C P Tan agreed without hesitation, that it was an excellent idea because this skillful lion dance troop had done Johor and the nation proud as World Champions in High-Pole Lion Dance, numerous times.


Granite statue of Guan Sheng Gong in the
forecourt with the admin building behind

In fact, the 24 Festive Drums had collaborated with the High-Pole Lion Dance troop for performances and these two Tans were familiar with each other.


[Information on Chinese culture and heritage are usually featured in Chinese publications but the Chinese who do not read Chinese, are missing out on all this valuable info because they do not read Chinese.


Over the years, I have been writing about Chinese culture-heritage in English so that the Chinese who do not read Chinese, can finally read it for themselves and appreciate the wealth of their own culture and heritage.]


So for my Book Three, I wanted to feature the story of the award-winning High Pole Lion Dance troop which has its origins in Johor, more specifically from Muar.


The two Tans met at the restaurant for lunch:
Tan Chai Puan [Left] and Tan Chong Hing

I got in touch with C H Tan through a telephone call to introduce My Johor Stories and explained that I wanted to include Kun Seng Keng (KSK) and the art of High-Pole Lion Dance in my next book.


I believed he understood what I was after but he decided to connect me to KSK Vice President, Ang Kuan Yau, to liaise with me and arrange for our meeting in Muar.


Ang proposed that I should meet them at their training centre on a weekend and when we had agreed on a date for Sunday, I informed C P Tan who graciously offered to go to Muar with me for this appointment.


C H Tan in his office with
C P Tan [Right] across the desk

I was more than pleased because the presence of C P Tan would not only enhance the goodwill between the two Tans but also a great help with language interpretation from English to Mandarin and vise-versa.


It was an added bonus when C P Tan even offered to drive us on this excursion to Muar.


Closer to the date of our appointment, I was delighted to receive a message from Ang who said that C H Tan wanted to host a lunch treat of Muar’s famous Assam Fish at a restaurant before we proceeded to their training centre for our meeting.


I did not hesitate to share this lunch invite with C P Tan, along with the map and address of the restaurant, and we agreed that good food was a fine start to our meet-up in Muar.


On the appointed Sunday morning, I was the navigator for C P Tan who drove us safely to our destination to meet with C H Tan and Ang at the restaurant for lunch.


C P Tan reading my manuscript to
translate into Mandarin for C H Tan

Ang was already there when we arrived and soon after, C H Tan and his wife joined us for a delightful meal of highly recommended Muar specialties.


While waiting for the dishes to be served, I had my pen poised to jot down notes as the gentlemen reminisced about the humble beginnings of the KSK troop and how his passion for lion dancing drove C H Tan to form his troop and took this performing art literally, to the next level – to perform on top of high-poles.


As I ate each mouthful of Muar’s famous Assam Pedas Fish and steamed Otak-Otak, I must confess that my mind was already chewing on the wealth of information garnered from the initial chit-chat between the two Tans that provided me with interesting details of this true story.


When lunch was over, C H Tan excused himself to send his wife home while C P Tan and I drove to the KSK training centre with Ang leading the way ahead of us.


C P Tan reading the Chinese-English dictionary
on his mobile-phone to explain cultural concepts
for my better understanding

The route took us from secondary roads to narrow paths that ran parallel to streams – a typical feature of the many parit, streams or water channels, in this district – to Taman Aman, located off Jalan Abdul Rahman, to the KSK training centre.


A bold signboard for the Kun Seng Keng Lion and Dragon Dance Association along with the distinct KSK logo, clearly marked the entrance to the training centre.


In the forecourt next to the flagpoles, stood a granite statue of Guan Sheng Gong, the most famous general in Chinese history, wielding his weapon – a huge blade on a long handle.


Some of the equipment used in the
physical training of High-Pole Lion Dancing

When I stepped into their administrative building, my eyes were riveted to an entire wall in the hall of the single-storey bungalow, a showcase that displayed their proud collection of trophies.


In the office, I set up my laptop to share with C H Tan the draft of my manuscript for him to verify the facts.


To do this, C P Tan helped to read my English copy and translated it into Mandarin for C H Tan to have a better understanding of what I had written.


It took a while before the two Tans settled into a comfortable momentum as C P Tan explained the content to C H Tan, dotted by multiple pauses for C H Tan to clarify, add or amend each point.


Image of Guan Sheng Gong
rendered in wood

While it was a tedious process, I am familiar with the challenges of getting the facts right in English with due respect to the people involved in this amazing journey to its success.


As C H Tan made reference to various events and highlights in their journey, he showed us souvenir magazines that were published to commemorate these events.


The magazines were in full-colour, complete with impressive photographs and brief descriptions not only in Chinese but also in English and Malay.


I was amused at one point when C H Tan used such profound words in Mandarin that C P Tan struggled to share with me in English but he conveniently opened the Chinese-English dictionary on his mobile-phone to let me get a grasp of the cultural concepts they were discussing.


As the review of my manuscript came to an exciting end, I was more than pleased that we had obtained valuable information to flesh out my story and do justice to the proud heritage of the KSK High Pole Lion Dance troop, a story that was truly worth telling.


C P Tan standing next the a 
2.5-meter high-pole

After talking about the troop’s journey, we were welcomed to visit the physical training centre, now developed on a large space behind the admin building.


In the early years, their training was held in the forecourt of the compound but training in the open-air space was always interrupted by rainy or wet weather.


To overcome this inconvenience, a large covered space with a high ceiling was constructed in the rear part of the compound that allowed the troops to train uninterrupted in any kind of weather.


Ang and C H Tan were pleased to show C P Tan and I the various equipment the troops used for their regular training that ranged from upturned ceramic jars and wooden benches to the high-poles and twin cables that were suspended between the high-poles.


The KSK logo designed on the side of their
coach along with their Intangible National
Cultural Heritage award received in 2007

C P Tan volunteered to pose next to a 2.5-meter high-pole to illustrate how high the poles were, which reminded me (again!) that the art of high-pole lion dancing was certainly not for the faint-hearted because they performed without any safety net.


An image of Guan Sheng Gong carved in wood, stood against one wall while another wall was filled with another collection of trophies and awards.


We also saw their vehicles parked there that included a passenger van, a goods truck and a comfortable coach – a far cry from the second-hand two-door Honda Civic car that C H Tan used to ferry the team of nine to 12 youngsters to their events in the early years.


I could just imagine how they used to cram into that small car with the windows wound down so that they could hold the lion head outside.


With C P Tan and C H Tan at the
KSK wall of trophies in their training centre

C H Tan and Ang then invited us to join them for a taste of Muar coffee but we had to decline as C P Tan had an appointment to participate in an online event that same evening and should get home soon.


On our drive back to Johor Baru, C P Tan and I had a good time rehashing the events that were discussed during our meet-up with C H Tan and Ang.


Our discussion clarified many important points and while everything was still fresh in my mind, I could not wait to add all these interesting details into my story on the award-winning High-Pole Lion Dancing troop.


Thank you, C H Tan and Ang, for sharing the KSK story with me. My deep gratitude also goes to C P Tan for being that vital link who helped me benefit so much from this meet-up in Muar. Thank you, gentlemen.

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