I write to you on this New Year’s Day from a very “foggy” Chengdu. While this city is legitimately a misty one what’s different this morning is the distinct smell of gunpowder still hanging in the air. There’s a pile of firework carcasses on our balcony, coupled with charred pellets of paper and plastic with a couple impact marks scattered along the floor. Our house is a mess – but that’s because Chengdu blew up last night.
It’s a Chinese New Year tradition to take several precautions on New Year’s Eve to guarantee that your new year will be as prosperous as possible. The color red is a lucky color and is used in clothing and decorations. Having a clean house and paying off any debts allows the new year to bring a fresh start. Blowing off mortars in residential areas right in the middle of a busy intersection with cars driving by…will scare the living daylights out of you.
The traditional reason for setting off fireworks is that the bright lights and loud noises scare away evil spirits, auras, monsters, pretty much anything negative from tainting your new year. Fireworks are a perfect solution to this and are rather plentiful throughout the chun jie celebration (although much, much, much more concentrated at midnight – as I write now someone just set off a string of the really loud, pretty painful when hit with them, paper fireworks).
Last night is definitely on the top five of the most amazing things we’ve seen in our lives. We do not exaggerate when we say that the city literally blew up. We had two of my colleagues over for a dinner of home made vegetable and goat cheese ravioli (think Western jiaozi) and while fireworks were going off since sunset, it was all pretty peaceful (think far away) until about 8pm when we had the first of many fireworks shows.
Now for fourth of July in America, or even Chinese New Year in Hong Kong I’ve seen many beautiful and fantastic displays of fireworks from a safe distance with the fire department present if anything were to go array. Here in China, the fireworks were literally exploding right on the 21st floor, eye level to our apartment. The crazy thing was they were being shot off less than a 500 m away from our balcony. I can now say I have experienced what a firework feels like. Literally.
We took lots of pictures and video from our balcony, perhaps foolishly standing outside while the fireworks went off. We then shot of our own variety of ridiculously loud cherry bombs and sparklers that would make your fourth of July sticks cower in shame.
Then, we decided, that the real fun was on ground level, and indeed it was. If there was a street corner there were fireworks going off on it. There were a couple moments where, not feeling incredibly safe, I wanted to hide on another corner, but I couldn’t because everywhere I turned fireworks were going off.
The sounds and sights were thrilling, watching huge fireworks be thrown on to major expressways, off of balconies and way too close to fireworks tents and watching boxes blow up horizontally rather than vertically was thrilling in a not so great way. But for any foreigners living in China, I highly recommend staying once in a city that still allows fireworks.
Luckily we didn’t witness anything like this video when a fireworks tent caught on fire last February. But the lawlessness of the video and the reaction of the Chinese (aka not running away) is very similar to what the actual celebration is like.
Although our ears are still ringing and it will take us a while to clean up ravioli and fireworks carnage (so much for not cleaning on new year’s day), we wish you a very, very happy and prosperous year of the rabbit!
Xin Nian Kuai Le!