新年快乐！年年有余！恭喜发财！And All of the Other Cliche New Year Sayings…
The past few weeks back in China have been so exciting. Fresh off of my New Year’s resolution to not waste any time sitting idle in Beijing, and with an inordinately long winter break to take advantage of, I have done more in the past two weeks than I did in months last semester. School has been out for me since December 22nd of last year, and I do not start back up until registration takes place on February 27th. I am planning a trip for the remainder of the vacation, much to the chagrin of my bank account, since it is the last time I am going to have a break until I come back from China. I will keep a travelogue, pictures and all, and this time it won’t be too backdated, I promise.
This entry is exceedingly difficult to write, as Beijing is currently being shelled. By its own people. Shrapnel hits my windows in regular intervals, and the room is lit up from the strontium, chromium, and potassium reactions taking place thirty feet away from my head. It is, after all, Chinese New Year.
This little girl posed as a friendly customer who gave other customers (read: white people) suggestions on which fireworks were the best. After they purchased her recommendations, she came over to where we were perusing and started giving us friendly suggestions as well.
The Chinese definitely know how to put on a show, and the deafening, chest cavity shaking din of rockets and bombs going off everywhere you look (and most places you step) juxtaposed with the omnipresent stoicism of the Chinese makes for an even more striking display. This is the only time when they show any energy–when running to a safe distance away from the firework they just lit.
I watched a man who must have spent almost 1,000RMB on fireworks calmly light them off one by one with this cigarette. There was no expression on his face or change in his demeanor that betrayed his excitement or elation, not even a hint of satisfaction that he got his money’s worth. Just the rhythmic, methodical puff of tobacco, spark of the fuse, the metronome of twelve explosions alternating low-pitched and high-pitched, sparkles, then another puff of tobacco, spark of the fuse, and so on. For almost two hours. It was as if he was working in a factory that specialized in scaring away bad spirits and waking the dragon from its slumber to bring in the New Year.
Bob, Scott and I, initially annoyed by the constant racket, quickly changed our minds as soon as we lit that first mortar off. There is something so exciting and fulfilling about catalyzing a reaction whose explosion rattles hundreds of windows around you. It is quite an empowering feeling.
Every few hours, armed with lighters, fireworks, and (Parental Warning–skip this next part) copious amounts of beer, we set off in to the sub-zero weather to make damn sure that dragon got his lazy tail up.
As soon as night fell, the methodical ‘dragon alarm clock’ exploded into one long boom. It was as if there was one explosion that resonated forever, never fading. I have never experienced anything like the first night of the New Year, and I would be hard-pressed to find anything like it anywhere else in the entire world. Fireworks that in America would only be available to trained professional pyrotechnicians were bought wholesale by children who could barely count their ages on one of their little hands. The colors, sounds, and acrid smoke were purely awesome, on a scale so enormous that there truly is no way to capture the intensity, though I did my best to snap some photos and video. I can attest to the fact that a significant portion of China’s air pollution stems from the fireworks lit off during the New Year. Our normally pristine eighth floor view of the courtyard below, usually populated by old ladies dancing and doing taichi, did not even extend twenty feet by the end of the night.
I dare say we did quite a good job of rousing that lazy overgrown snake. I am still coughing up black powder and scooping ash out of my hair and ears. I am almost worried that I am going to be stopped by bomb dogs at the airport because all of my clothing has that acrid smell of VICTORY–er, gunpowder and smoke on it.