This is the first year I’ve had the unusual pleasure of celebrating two New Year’s. And both were enjoyable. The American one was much more muted than back home, but the Chinese one was a cacophony of booms and screams. As the inventor of fireworks and gunpowder, I guess they have every right to celebrate their rich heritage of fireworks and ear-deafening explosions. If you were a blind person visiting China during the Chinese New Year, you might very well believe that the Chinese were engaged in a fierce civil war and fear for your life. And if you were deaf, you could enjoy the pretty lights without the deafening sound.
As the sun set on New Year’s Eve, the Chinese began testing their formidable assortment of fireworks. Some were merely strands of several hundred little red firecrackers that exploded and flashed. Others would shoot several stories into the air and explode with no residual colors. The more expensive ones were like a fireworks show during Fourth of July. As midnight approached, the flurry of fireworks intensified and then the real show began around 11:30 pm. My friend Lisa and I were on the roof of a 30-story building with a panoramic view of Huangdao. Wherever we looked we saw magnificent fireworks all over the city. Many were launching the fireworks inside their apartment courtyards, and some did it in back alleys. If anyone decided to do his own show in Philly, he would be greeting some police officers soon. But in China, things are quite different.
The next day was oddly quiet in Huangdao. Most people have a sumptuous dinner with their family New Year’s Eve and then visit other relatives throughout the country. Technically, the New Year’s celebration lasts for 15 days, but most go back to work after one week. All the restaurants and small shops are closed, while a few supermarket chains stay open for the holidays. When I walked outside to do some errands, I was greeted by a sea of red. Many of the little firecrackers have red paper coverings that survive the explosion and then litter the ground. Some of the street cleaners had gathered them and burnt them, but most of them covered the sidewalks and alleys. I also think the air had a distinct burnt smell to it. Could have been my imagination or the effects of a grandiose fireworks show the night before.
I fulfilled the promise to myself to buy some beastly fireworks in China. I only tested some small ones on the roof. They weren’t colorful, but they were sufficiently loud. The big boys (cardboard box with 49 firecrackers 2′ high) made their debut appearance with my friend’s fireworks. We lit the fuse, ran behind some rocks, and enjoyed a brief yet satisfying performance. They all launched about 11 stories in the air before exploding into reds, greens, yellows, and whites. Next time I’ll have to get a bigger box or save my money. Maybe I’ll fast the week before New Year’s and then buy some enormous firecrackers.
The rest of the week has been fairly uneventful. I did watch Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows at the cinema mall. Smallish screen but delightful movie. I also ran 9 miles without passing out or throwing up, which I felt to be of some small accomplishment. And today I lost the Beatles look because I don’t like hair tickling my ears or obscuring my vision. For 8 bucks, you get your hair washed and shampooed, cut, and then washed once more. It’s a bit tricky communicating your desired haircut, but the complementary shampooing lessens the hassle. Nine days from now will be the Lantern Festival, which finishes the holiday and releases the fireworks for one more night of dazzling displays. I’ll be on the roof again, for sure.