Michelle’s spent a slew of Chinese New Years here in Beijing, but she’s never seen these before — 大头娃娃 (Dàtóu wáwá or Dai Tao Fut) — incredible paper mache masks that we found in the back of a junk store, in Bangkok’s Chinatown. In English, they’re called Big Headed Buddhas, and for just a few dollars each, how could we resist picking them up!?!
The shopkeeper, an old lady, explained in a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin that they’re for Chinese New Year pranksters, who dance along with the lion, teasing it and causing a general Spring Festival ruckus. Spring Festival ruckus?? Beijing definitely needs more of that!
Little did we know, Zhang Ayi is a master at teasing the lion. As soon as she walked in the apartment, she saw them across the room and squealed in delight. She’d barely ripped off her shoes before grabbing a head and sticking it on, diving into the most incredible dance. Of course, we had to learn it immediately. She’ll still pop into a room unexpectedly, wearing the mask and doing her little dance, singing along gleefully.
The story behind them — or at least one of them, as there are many — is wonderful. When the lion first appeared on earth, you see, he was a real troublemaker. He got up to all sorts of nonsense. So a buddha was sent down to sort things out. Dressed in the robes of a monk, with a fan in one hand and a gourd of whiskey in the other, he called out to the lion, “Hey you, Lion, stop this nonsense!” The lion didn’t pay heed, of course, so they took to the streets and they battled. While the lion, on the one hand, desperately wanted the bottle of whiskey, he was also terrified of the Buddha’s fan. So they fought, and they fought, and after many rounds still neither could best the other. But the Buddha had a trick up his sleeve, and he whipped the long red sash from around his waist. He threw it around the desperate lion, reined in the vile beast and dragged it to the nearest temple. There, the two of them silently knelt and prayed together, and the lion found peace in his heart.
So while wearing the Buddha masks, and dancing with the lion, you’re retelling this lovely story.
There are also tales of the Buddha partnering up with the lion in a quest for a magic mushroom, and of the lady Buddha mask being worn by a character called Jade Willow. But those are other stories, for another day.
Now we just need to track down a red sash and a gourd of whiskey!