February 6, 2008

And the Rockets' Red* Glare ...

*by "red" I mean "red, blue, purple, yellow, green white, orange, etc ..."

So like I said, the fireworks began in earnest about 6:30 PM yesterday, as I was typing up that other blog post. As soon as I submitted it, I left for my friend's house in the Jing'an district. Walking to the metro was like being in a loud and colorful war zone. The staccato bangs of fireworks were all around me and going off constantly. The sounds were amplified by the fact that many fireworks were going off in the courtyard of the numerous apartment complexes around. The buildings form echo chambers in which the blasts of fireworks, already very loud, reverberate even more.

You could, as I did, question the safety of setting off fireworks so close to apartment buildings. If anyone has their window open, well, I suppose that's the Darwin Awards at work, right? Also, some of these fireworks fail to launch properly, and they explode like 10 feet off the ground. Yeesh. Luckily I was never anywhere near them. As I arrived at my friend's building, I encountered two kids putting down a firecracker literally right in front of the building. That was kind of exciting, so I took a video, but it didn't turn out well.

Throughout the dinner, conversation was impeded by loud bangs of fireworks. It was kind of funny and also kind of scary. I mean you're literally sitting in the middle of this mass fireworks display. I took some great video from the window that shows how close and loud it was:

Keep in mind that was happening all throughout dinner. And this is at like 8:30, 9 PM.

After dinner we all chatted for a bit and settled in to play some video games. Another guy was supposed to come over with his own fireworks that we were going to launch. But since this is my first (and most likely only) experience in China for Chinese New Year, I wanted something a little more insane. I mean, I've heard all these stories - I wanted to see for myself. So around 10:30 I hopped a cab to The Bund. I assumed there would be a good view of some fireworks from there.

I got there just before 11, and there was not much going on. I kind of wandered around among everyone else there. I could see a couple small pyrotechnical displays across the water on the Pudong side, but nothing insane. I was beginning to wonder if I'd made the right decision, and I considered taking another cab to Centry Park.

But at around 11:30 the fireworks across the river increased in frequency and tempo, so I was like "Okay, this is the right place to be after all." As the clock ticked closer to midnight, more spots across the river, and behind me in Puxi, lit up in celebration. And then to mark the switch over to the Year of the Rat, at midnight, this happened:

I think that building is the HSBC Building, but whatever it is, it was literally right across the street from me. So yeah, I had a front-row seat. But the cool thing is that from my viewpoint on the Promenade, I could see like 360 degrees of fireworks. Everywhere I looked, either across the river or on my side, there were 2 or 3 spots where someone was setting off an insane amount of fireworks. I could see flashing lights reflect off the Jin Mao tower and its neighboring buildings. And the noise -- in those videos, it kind of sounds like wind, but it's not. It's the sound of firecrackers echoing across the Huangpu river.

That was probably the most impressive part. That it was all around me. Your typical July 4th fireworks are, like, right in front of you. You all gather at a certain spot, look up, and are presented with fireworks. But here I was surrounded by them. I dunno. It seemed more ... pervasive? I think that's the word I'm looking for. Also, with fireworks I'm used to, they're more paced out. Typically the launchers don't fire until the previous firework has dissipated. At the end, you might get a rapid-fire blast to close it out. But here it's constant launching, bang-bang-bang-bang for like, well, three or four hours really :-)

It wasn't like spectacular insanity, like night turning into day or anything. But it was neat :-) I'm very glad my first experience with this was on The Bund. It was a good spot to be.

I tried to capture the panorama as best I could. You can see a little bit of it in the second video above. The rest of the videos are available at my YouTube page here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ryry9379. There's another video of the Bund and one of some kids lighting fireworks in the middle of Nanjing Dong Lu as cars whiz by.

I stayed put for about 20 minutes, then took a cab back to my friend's place. The ground outside all the apartment buildings was smothered with red fireworks paper. I couldn't believe how messy it was. I guess the city cleans it all up or the complex has to pay for it? Regardless, it was the same story for every single building, just piles and piles of spent fireworks paper in front of the doors. I am kind of glad I wasn't there because I'm quite sure I would have gone deaf :-)

Anyway, her friend with the fireworks hadn't shown up yet, so we settled in to watch this random French action movie. By the time that was over, it was like 3 AM and I was beat. On the cab ride home I managed a mini-conversation with the driver. I could understand him okay, and that he was asking me question about myself and/or America, but again, he was using words I don't know. So it was mainly ting bu dong and zenme shuo bu zhidao, but sprinkled in there were a couple of informational tidbits, like, I'm a science/technology "IT worker", I'm American, I work in Pudong, his New Year wasn't the best because he had to work himself, etc. I was a little confused when he began one question with nimen, which means "You all (collectively)." I'm like, uh, it's only me sitting here? But maybe he was talking "me all" in terms of Americans.

So far this morning I've heard more sporadic fireworks blasts (including right now), but nothing insane. I think it's funny because I'm like, uh, it's daytime - fireworks can serve only as noisemakers now. But maybe that's the point :-)

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