Chinese New Year finds me celebrating on my own, enjoying the solitude and the opportunity to get some work done without distractions.

Chinese New Year wouldn’t be right without fireworks. It would be like celebrating Christmas without a Christmas pud or Brussel sprouts. The celebrations you might see in a Chinatown in the west doesn’t really do it justice. I’ve seen them, a few firecrackers and bit of prancing around with a dragon. Over here, you could forego the dragon, but never the fireworks. Come 4pm New Year’s Eve the city degenerates into an orgy of blinding flashes and deafening explosions that doesn’t let up for about 36 hours.

My first experience came 2 days after I moved to China and was walking to someone’s house for dinner. I turned the corner just as a firework the size of a party bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken detonated beside me. All I heard was an “ai!’ from the guy who had lit the device and retreated to a safe distance, then there was a flash, a shockwave and silence. The next thing I was aware of was the guy standing in front of me looking up and waving his hands at me. Two days later when my hearing had recovered I was standing on a footbridge when someone standing underneath let off a rocket.

And if that seems a little extreme to you, my wife complains that people today don’t know how to have fun and tells me how, when she was growing up in Vietnam, they used to throw fireworks at each other, you know, just for an extra thrill.

As you know from their accident record in the mining industry, China is far more safety conscious. Every year, a sign goes up outside every apartment building bearing the all important red stamp and reminding people to be responsible with their fireworks. They should be set off in the designated areas and only between certain hours. And of course everyone ignores thems.

This year on New Years Eve I was sitting at home and by about 10pm the noise was deafening as the noise of one firework merged into the next. Having been cooped up all day, I went out to watch the pyromaniacs in action. It was strange, but the moment I stepped out, it all went quiet – I could still hear explosions in the distance but it was as if everyone in the immediate vicinity saw the light go out in the foreigners apartment and, picking up their stash, scampered off down the nearest alley.

I finally found a large crowd a couple of blocks away, gathered on the sidewalk of a fairly major thoroughfare, putting match to touch paper with all the enthusiasm you’ve come to associate with the festival. While one Dad was lighting a firecracker for his three year old son, another kid was firing rockets directly over his head. Nearby a dog lay dozing in a shop entrance.

When I first got here, everything was shutdown for these two days, if you wanted anything you were shit out of luck. Nowadays it seems that there are always a few shopkeepers willing to keep their doors open for the sake of an extra few yuan. Another recent development is the firework sellers have begun to diversify; nowadays at one o’clock in the morning you can buy a box of fireworks and pick up 2L of 60% proof rice wine without having to walk down the road to the alcohol store that has also kept its doors open for anyone who might have run dry. Having seen what people were doing when they were sober does make you wonder about the wisdom of this particular sales pitch. I also noticed that some firework vendors were also selling bananas; I haven’t worked that one out yet. I asked one lady why she was only selling bananas “people like bananas” she said…

But I can only be entertained by fireworks for so long, even the most spectacular shows in the west get a bit samey after a while, after all, it’s just a bunch of flashes and bangs if you think about it. Until recently, at the street level, the bang was more important than the flash but I’ve noticed more western style fireworks recently. As I said, I was getting bored and about to head home when someone lit a Catherine Wheel type firework that once lit would launch itself rotating vertically into the air, sending a shower of coloured sparks into the night sky.

As kids, we learned to stand well back while Papa carefully placed the firework on a flat surface, then lit the touch paper and quickly legged it across the garden to join the waiting throng. The bit about making sure that any firework that is going to embark on a vertical trajectory is on a flat surface before lighting was something that seemed to have escaped the people who lit this particular firework. For some reason, instead of placing the firework on sidewalk, they put it on an empty cigarette carton. They lit it, retreated at least three feet, and the heat melted the box and the firework fell on its side just before the afterburner kicked in, launching it into the store that was filled with large boxes of fireworks stacked to the ceiling. I barely had time to think “this is going to be good” before the husband had launched himself off his chair and out of the shop, leaving his wife to try and chase the firework down the aisles. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.

Even the dog sleeping on the sidewalk raised its head to see what the commotion was all about


2 Responses to “Fireworks”

  1. j Says:

    She’s right, people do like bananas.

    Nice one.

    Reminded me of the year a spark from the first firework dad lit got into the box of fireworks.

    I’d never seen a jumping, exploding box before. The display was kind of short, tho. One minute, tops but we watched the gently smouldering remains for some time afterwards.

  2. Pseu Says:


    Glad I wasn’t there though

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