On Friday 28 September 2012, UCLA's Music of China Ensemble performed for the Moon Festival Celebration and Library Open House of the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library. This was the first official outing for their newly acquired pair of Chinese dragons, whose arrival at UCLA is quite a story in itself.


The Music of China Ensemble's Chinese dragons make their début at Young Research Library.
(Photo: Helen Rees, 2012)



Published: October 11, 2012

By Dianne Roberts

The conversation started out harmlessly enough, until my friend blurted out, “You want a dragon?” My brain thought, “A what?” My mouth, being the quicker of the two, responded “Sure. Who wouldn’t want a dragon?”

One of my not-so-secret-desires has always been that these two – my mouth and my brain – would collaborate with each other a little bit better, but today was not going to be that day.

My friend continued, “You’re ‘its’ last hope,” and if you don’t take ‘it,’ the dragon is going to be placed in a trash dumpster” – a comment cleverly crafted to elicit the same response from me as if I had been offered an abandoned puppy or kitten. She showed me a blurry cell phone picture and my brain wondered, “How big is that thing?” My mouth, however, went for the kill. “Not a problem,” I said, “I can give ‘it’ a good home.”

“It” turned out to be a nine-foot dragon that was handmade in Hong Kong and could be used for parades and celebrations. I searched my brain to see if this was one of the many things on my list of things-to-do-before-I-died, but drew a blank.

The next day found me driving past the Venice Pier on Labor Day. “Surely no one goes to the beach on Labor Day,” I thought, forever the optimist. On the contrary, traffic was what one would expect near the beach during a heat wave in Los Angeles, but I persevered. The directions I had been given were very specific. “When you get to the intersection, make a hard right turn and go up the hill about 100 feet.  Be careful that the people behind you don’t rear end you. Oh, and be careful the people coming down the hill don’t broadside you.” Yes, my day was shaping up nicely.

I found myself driving down a dirt path that snaked between multi-million-dollar homes and was far too small to even be classified as an alley. When I arrived at the house, the dragon was already lying outside on the ground. My brain panicked when it saw how large “it” was, and my mouth was working overtime, repeating the word “Yikes!” Now would be a good time for those two to finally start collaborating, and for me to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” but today was still not going to be that day.

Although it was a tight fit, we eventually succeeded in getting “it” into the car. I was starting to leave when I heard a quiet sigh and those fateful words, “Too bad we will have to throw the other one away.” I had just fallen for the oldest trick in the book – the “two dragons” bait-and-switch. I felt like an amateur.

First dragon’s sibling was its mirror image, only where the one had a red pearl in its mouth, this one had a golden pearl. I was fairly certain that you couldn’t use one without the other, and throwing a “lucky” dragon into a trash dumpster probably would not be all that lucky. After several minutes of physical labor far in excess of what should have been expended, we somehow managed to get both creatures into the car.

Although it has been several years since I last looked at a Department of Motor Vehicles handbook, I suspect that “driving with two large dragons stuffed into a car” would not have been described as ideal motoring conditions.

In the rear-view mirror, I saw a large eye and a bright pink pom-pom, and in the side mirror a large nostril and a large green pom-pom, which also seemed to be permanently stuck in my ear. As for the other side mirror, all I could see was part of the dragon’s tail sticking out of the window.

The chances of getting a moving violation or a DRUID (Driving Restricted Under Interference of Dragon) were now very high. The conversation with my insurance agent was guaranteed to be precious.

I proceeded slowly down the hill. At the red light, a gentleman who was standing on the corner holding a sign ambled over, put his hands on the window, and peered into the car. He smiled and waved. I responded in like fashion and roared away at a heart-stopping 25 miles per hour. If I was going to get a ticket, it certainly wasn’t going to be compounded by speeding.

The next ten miles were as uneventful as one could have driving 45 miles per hour on a major freeway with a large green pom-pom in your ear. The commotion started simply enough with a loud blaring car horn followed by several cars that passed me, then immediately slowed down. Comments overheard from my fellow drivers included wild speculation as to what the creatures were – dogs, cats, or weasels – with people invariably smiling and waving.

Ever sneak into a building with two nine-foot dragons? Me neither, but I somehow managed to accomplish this task without arousing the suspicions of the campus police. I am happy to report that the dragons have now found a good home in Schoenberg Music Building, as a part of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Department of Ethnomusicology, and the Music of China Ensemble, where they are now used for their intended purpose – making people, invariably, smile and wave, and bringing good luck to all.

When asked, “I hope it wasn’t too much trouble?” my brain and my mouth now respond in unison: “No problem at all.”

A few students from the Music of China Ensemble with
director, Li Chi, in front of Young Research Library.
(Photo: Helen Rees, 2012)