So I left you, on the edge of your seat, wondering, waiting, wishing I would return to tell you how the Chinese like to celebrate their new year. Well friends, the wait is over. You want to know how they celebrate Chinese New Year in China? Fireworks. Fireworks! FIREWORKS!!!
Wow! Sounds fun! Who doesn’t love a little sparkle in the night time sky? Who doesn’t get a thrill from a loud boom and the unmistakable hiss of a fun explosive shot into the air, gently cascading down to the earth? Magical! Awe inspiring! Delighting children of all ages!
Oh, you who only get fireworks on one (maybe 2) celebratory night(s) in July, how I wish I still had your nostalgic love of the firework. Sadly, I have been stripped of my patriotic innocence. One week of Chinese New Year’s and I’m ready to declare, fireworks are not really that fun.
Buzz kill. I know. But hear me out.
Night 1: We heard the boom. It sounded close. We ran to the window. Just across the river, red, blue, green, white, glittering in the sky. “Ooooh!” Hunter gasped. “Wow! Cool!” He was excited. We were excited. It was 6 pm. By 7 pm, they were going off right below us in our courtyard. By 8 pm, they were across the street too. By 9 pm, they were to the right of us too. By 10 pm, they were to the left of us too. By 11 pm, they were in our living room. They continued long after I fell asleep and kept a remarkably steady pace. I know this because I kept having dreams I was in a bunker, in London, in 1943.
We woke up the next day, delighted Nolan slept through the “fun.” To be fair, the first half hour was fun. And then the later fireworks right outside our window were pretty cool. So we were feeling pretty satisfied with our CNY experience. Celebrating two “new” years is not bad. We had champagne. We toasted to the snake. We’re not total scrooges.
Then we went for a walk.
We decided to explore the parts of our neighborhood we don’t often see. We knew most stores would be closed but we were just looking to get out and young companions were feeling quite agreeable so we meandered.
Most stores were closed. It was unclear however, if they were closed because of the holiday or because they were damaged by explosive debris. The carnage was everywhere. Blackened pavement, the stale stench of fire still lingering in the air, scattered, charred paper. It kind of felt like walking through a frat house the morning after a party. (Or what I imagine that must feel like. <Winky face emoticon>) It was around 10 am.
We continued on a main road and, as we passed some alleyways, it happened. BOOM. Someone’s been shot! Quick, take note of everything around us for the police report. Panic. Breathe. Panic. Who’s hurt? It IS 1943. I AM in London! Breathe. Oh, wait, I’m not still dreaming. Just some more rogue fireworks.
It’s like the Wild West here when it comes to fireworks. There’s no fire department carefully monitoring their detonation. There’s no “common sense” rationale, like, go down to a beach or a park or a wide open space. Not even a courtesy – “Get out of the way!” In the middle of a moderately crowded alleyway and you got the urge to fire one off? Go ahead! People will move. Feel the need to go out to the street and torch a few? No problem. Traffic will continue to move around you. Again, literally. They were setting them off in one lane of the street as buses, taxis, cars just moved around into the opposite lane. They didn’t stop and wait for a break in the action, they just moved steadily through the smoke, light and booms. Unbelievable. I wish I could’ve gotten a good picture. I suppose pedestrians are used to walking with their head on a swivel and jumping out of the path of aggressive vehicles so also taking care not to get a limb blown off is par for the course.
Night 2: We heard the boom. This time, knowing what to expect, Hunter opened the curtains to watch the fireworks. After 5 minutes he lost interest. The rest of the night was much the same except for the part where they were literally going off 10 feet from our building and you could hear debris hitting our window.
Nights (and days) 3 through last night were much the same although it hasn’t been non-stop for hours. They go off in clusters but it can be at any hour. But that booming…that sound that makes it feel like the ground underneath you is shaking…it’s not fun. Not at 3 am. Or 3 pm. Not when your first instinct is to shove your kids under the table because they might get hit.
Besides fireworks, I had heard that you must go see the lanterns at Yu Gardens (a touristy spot on the other side of the River). Ideally, you should go at night but since our traveling companions turn into pumpkins when the sun goes down we went early and did our best to imagine everything lit up. And it was much like you’d expect – oversized, gaudy, and Sino-spectacular. What was most interesting to me though, is that all of the elaborate “lanterns” (they were more like blow up figures) had the Pepsi logo and Pepsi products seamlessly integrated into each display. Who knew snakes love 7-Up?
And speaking of soda preferences, we learned that some of the foods traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year are consumed because of what their name sounds like. For example: pineapple. The word pineapple in Chinese kind of sounds like the phrase, “good luck is coming your way.” Ergo, pineapple is good luck. And there is something about fish that is good luck too. Either the way the word sounds or the Chinese character for fish is like one that means good luck. Now go eat some pineapple fish head soup!
So here are some pictures of our holiday week. And, upon further consideration, maybe I’m not ready to write fireworks off entirely, but I’ve had my fill of fireworks at least for as long as the snake is king.