Saturday, February 13, 2010

Racket and Red Glare--Happy New Year

fireworks exploding against my apt building

Happy New Year everyone! It is 2:45 in the morning and the festivities have finally quieted for the night--though wait....nope, there are some firecrackers going off now.

It's a sound not unlike a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, or demolition crews,...or intensive ground assault warfare, depending on how you look at it. And it began at 7 a.m. this morning--New Year's Eve.

In case you don't know the story, Spring Festival, a.k.a. Chinese New Year, holds the myth of the Nien, a monster that would visit villages on the first day of the new year and eat children. The villagers learned that the Nien was blinded by the color red and was scared away by loud noises (he sounds more like an untrained puppy to me). So now each year, the new year is ushered in by fireworks, firecrackers, red coats for children, red door frame banners, and red lanterns.

I slept through the morning racket by turning up my space heaters and allowing their hum to overpower the outdoor barrage. Then later in the day, after coffee and bundling, I walked out to see the city. It was barren--empty streets and shuttered shops, only perpetuating the war zone atmosphere. Snow fell softly all afternoon but the air smelled of gunpowder.

In the evening I sat in my window with the windows of the opposite building showing families sitting together at huge meals or gathered in front of the tv. Beijing televises a big countdown to the New Year...sans Dick Clark I'm assuming. The firecrackers ringing from all sides of the city sounded like rain popping on a tin roof. Every 30 minutes or so a large cannon shot sounded and for some reason I kept wanting to yell "The British are coming!" after each blast shook the glasses in my sink.

In the hallway outside the door, children periodically took a break from their family time to throw those little poppers that I loved and hated during all the old fourths of July. Tiny packets of explosives the size of fingernails--it made me remember all that fear and exhilaration of crushing them between my palms on a dare from the neighborhood boys.

To give an example of the ongoing onslaught, I took a log for about 30 minutes of the intervals of explosives, there were maybe 2 minutes of quiet, but mostly noise overlap:

5:33 p.m. --quick round of firecrackers
5:34-5:42 --long round of firecrackers directly below my building
5:42-5:46 --distant firecrackers
5:43 --fireworks join in, one round to the east and another from the south
5:45-5:47 --firecrackers directly opposite my building
5:46 --firecrackers now under my window
5:48-5:56 --distant firecrackers in waves
5:56 --cannon boom
5:53-5:58 --fireworks a block away
5:58-6:10 --firecrackers on and on and on

Finally, at 11:45 the real show began. I rode the elevator to the top floor but the roof had been locked. When I got to the ground, I could see why. Fireworks came shooting from the square in front of my building and exploded somewhere between the 15th and 30th floors. I could see the sparks shooting into my own window. Thank goodness I wasn't sitting by it to see the sights!

For one whole hour, the fireworks shot up from every block, bursting like Wuhan was sprouting Spring flowers in the sky. The blitz had no pause or ebb. There was no regard to proximity of people, buildings or foliage--360 degrees of explosives. It was like the whole country was full of overzealous teenagers showcasing their bravado by betting who could shoot the fireworks closest to the building without setting it on fire (a betting contest I witnessed during my misspent youth). The sky was that weird orange that occurs when city lights are reflected off of a haze of smoke.

I watched the grandparents show their gkids how to light sparklers and watched the children jump up and down at every new string of firecrackers lit. So many windows glowed with families watching from behind glass. The apartment security guards made sure that some of the fireworks were set off from our main square, but eventually gave up when it seemed that every corner had a box shooting in rapid succession a stream of fireworks. I stood mostly in the street and then joined some crowds with a coworker before finally returning to my warm apartment once it seemed that the skyward celebrations had moved somewhat away from my building.

Tomorrow is New Year's Day and will probably feature much of the same--big family meals and general auditory bombardments. I think it's all pretty lovely--though I realized today that prolonged firework displays of any kind make me crave a good grilled hot dog and a coke. American girl to the core.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pics of US and Canada: Holidays 2009-2010

Because I can no longer post pictures here on my blog, feel free to follow the below link (you'll have to copy and paste it into your address bar) to see some pics from my trip home to the States and Canada. It's open to anyone, so you don't have to have facebook to be able to see it.

Included are pics of home and our award-worthy Christmas tree, snowy snowy Tennessee, an AWESOME trip to Canada to spend time with my brother and check out his new northern life, a New Year's Eve concert at Niagara Falls headlined by the oh-so-rockin band STYX, and various other fun times. I didn't take my camera along for many of the other fun moments of my trip--coffees with so many old friends, revisiting my favorite mountain spot in SW Virginia, basking in the aisles of WalMart and Target etc...but these are enough to remember what a blessing it is to come home from time to time.

Chinese New Year (called Spring Festival here) is coming up this weekend and all of Wuhan is getting ready: the supermarkets are full, red lanterns and red door banners are hung everywhere, and every night for the past few days has been filled with fireworks here and there. Spring Festival features annually the largest human migration in the world as the migrant workers of the southern factories make their way back to their hometowns to be with family on this important holiday. I passed the long-distance bus station on the way to work yesterday and it was a teaming sea of people.

This is my first year to stay in China for the holiday. As a university teacher, I previously took advantage of our month-long winter break to head south--backpacking through Southeast Asia. This year, the private English-training company I work for gets most of its students during the month of the festival as college students sign up during their break to improve grades or prepare for tests. So we've all been pretty busy with classes.

A student today asked me if I was hoping for a lot of luck in the coming year. It made me think back at all the "luck" ...a.k.a. "blessings"...I've already had. I've walked down quiet paths with the light of the Eiffel Tower ahead of me, I've scrambled up ancient temples and jumped into jungle waterfalls. I've seen the sun set and rise from the Great Wall. I've sat for hours with friends at dinners and over coffees laughing until my sides hurt. I've seen the World's Largest Buffalo statue in North Dakota, the World's Largest Public Square in Beijing and the World's Largest Buildings ( the time) in Kuala Lumpur. I've felt snow formed from the mist of Niagara Falls fall on me while listening to STYX ring in the New Year. I've sunbathed on beaches, whitewater rafted through gorges, and roadtripped through mountains with my awesome family. I've had adventures. I've had young love. I've danced. I've seen Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Anyway--I use this blog too often to ramble about all the cool things I've been able to do. It's just bizarre. It's bizarre that I get to have a life that is so much more than what I've ever imagined. I'm just feeling really grateful this week! :)

I'll update some more about Chinese New Year as the week progresses and once I get a few days off work. Hope you are all staying warm wherever you are!