Great Balls o’ Fire

How long have you been swallowing fire?
We have been doing this for the past 10 to 11 years. We started off as traditional dancers at first until one day we caught a Maori fire dance on television. After that we decided to add that extra fiery element in our dance.
How often do you train for this?
Usually between four to five hours a day. There have been some changes in our dance moves and fire acts since we first arrived in the Night Safari, so we had to adjust and re-choreograph our moves.
Do your parents approve of this?
(Smiles) Definitely not at first. But they eventually gave in … about two to three years later.
Would you allow your children to follow the same footsteps?
Yong is the only one who has children, two daughters aged four and two and both of them can twirl a firestick. He doesn’t mind and I won’t mind either.
What qualities and equipment do you need to pick up this hobby?
You have to have the willingness to learn and you have to be brave, of course. We actually make our own equipment. This is because the equipment is customized according to our height and arm length. In addition, we want to be responsible for our own act and by using our own handmade equipment, we can ensure the quality and safety of our act.
Doesn’t the fire eating burn your tongue?
It did at first. But we have been doing this for eight to nine years now. We have mastered the technique and trust us–it is not black magic or any spiritual mumbo-jumbo.
Do you only use kerosene and has anybody experienced side effects from accidentally swallowing kerosene?
We have used other liquids like turpentine and alcohol, but kerosene thus far has been the best option. It is suitable for indoors and it burns slower, which gives us more control over the flame. We can gauge when the flame is getting too close when we blow fire so we know when to stop. The side effect from swallowing kerosene is usually diarrhea, yet interestingly, back home in East Malaysia, we actually use small amounts of kerosene to prevent constipation, especially in babies.
What are some of the painful incidents you guys have experienced when training?
It’s the usual minor burns around the mouth and lips but we have been careful so far. However, we have seen other friends who have been admitted into intensive care. Breathing is an important aspect in a fire act like this. If you breathe in too much, you run the risk of burning your organs, which has happened to our friends.
I realized most of the guys have long hair. Has anybody’s hair ever caught fire?
Definitely, burnt hair, eyebrows and other facial hair.