Meet Ng Kong Kin, artist and the master of fire dragons

Master Ng Kong Kin, artist and the master of fire dragons
Meet Master Ng (aka Boss Chu)

For 40 years, Master Ng Kong Kin has crafted the centrepiece of Pok Fu Lam Village’s Mid-Autumn Festival parade —the “fire dragon”. Robyn Or finds out more.

I was born and raised in Pok Fu Lam village, where villagers have farmed and lived for over 200 years.  My father arrived in Hong Kong in the 50s, fleeing civil war in China. He first settled in Jardine’s Lookout, which was one of the temporary resettlement areas in Hong Kong. He made a living by selling poultry in the village market.

Villagers call me “Boss Chu” because I used to help my dad sell pork at the stall. Chu is a Chinese surname and the pronunciation is the same as pork in Cantonese. In fact, I’m now a seafood stall owner. I sell seafood that I buy from Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market in the early morning.  

In the 60s, I went to The Little Flower’s Catholic Primary School near Pok Fu Lam Village, which was built by the Paris Foreign Missions Society in the 19th century. Nine-year free and compulsory education did not come into force until 1978. Many children did not receive an education unless they attended a religious school for free. Students at my school mostly came from the village, Aberdeen and Wah Fu Estate. The school gave out bread, oatmeal, flour or noodles every Saturday.

There was no after-school tuition; instead, nature was our second classroom. We used to go to the mountain behind the village after school, where we’d catch and play with different kinds of birds. We shot Turtle Doves and took them back home to make double boiled soup for dinner. We raised chickens and birds in front of our house. Birds were fed with unwanted bits of chicken. I used to raise Magpies, Milvus Migrans and Gracula Religiosa.

Master Ng Kong Kin, artist and the master of fire dragons
New dragon masters in the making

At seven, my brother and I started to learn to make fire dragons for Mid-Autumn Festival. We collected the materials from around Pok Fu Lam Reservoir. The frame of the dragon head was made of bamboo sticks while the beard and the tail were made of Banyan aerial roots and the fan shaped leaves of Palm. Grass, tied up with wires, made up the body of the fire dragon.

People may be more familiar with the annual Fire Dragon Dance in Tai Hang than the one in Pok Fu Lam Village. The origins of the dance can be traced back to over hundred years ago, when the peace in both villages was disrupted by plagues of different sorts.

Pok Fu Lam Village was attacked by snakes while Tai Hang Village suffered storms. One villager was told in a dream to drive out the plagues by holding a Fire Dragon Dance during Mid-Autumn Festival. It worked, so the tradition has been upheld ever since. Nowadays, the purpose of the dance is to bring blessings to people and to educate younger generations on culture. Both dances have Intangible Cultural Heritage status in Hong Kong.

Pok Fu Lam villagers take over the whole process of the Fire Dragon Dance. From fundraising to dragon making, to dancing—it really unites the community. Members of the public are very welcome to join the team as volunteers. In Tai Hang, I think only villagers may be part of the team.

On the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, the fire dragon will dance and tour the whole village to bring blessings to all. Everyone attaches incense sticks to the skeleton of the fire dragon as it is paraded through Aberdeen and Wah fu Estate along Pok Fu Lam Road. The dance ends at Waterfall Bay, where the head of the fire dragon is temporarily returned to the sea.  

Ng Kong Kin, artist and master of fire dragons
Tiger master

I began making this year’s 30-metre long fire dragon in the middle of September, in front of German Swiss International School. The most difficult part of making a fire dragon is getting the size right. Pok Fu Lam village is formed of small alleyways and corners, so the fire dragon has to be perfect in size to pass through with momentum.

I built a fire dragon work studio in front of Pok Fu Lam Village with bamboo sticks, grass and wires in 2009. It is open to the public, where they can see some of my crafts and tools. I also host workshops regularly at schools. In the workshops, I teach the basic skills for crafting with bamboo, then I let the students make whatever they want. Although my brother no longer lives in the village, he still helps to preserve the craft by teaching at a youth centre in Aberdeen.

Don’t call me master of fire dragons; instead I think of myself as an artist. I only make fire dragons once a year, while I craft whatever comes up in my mind in daily. Recently I’ve been making a tiger sculpture, capable of carrying two adults and which withstood the recent typhoons. You can see some of my work in Pok Fu Lam Village. Just look out for anything made of bamboo sticks, grass and wire.  

Visit Pokfulam Village’s official facebook page for more details.