Battling the King of Wealth

For an hour and a half, I’ve been fighting. From just before 7, the outbreaks of man-made thunder began. I fought the adolescent curses that leapt to my mind. I stayed still in my bed, calming my mind with whatever detachment and fatigue could do. Some of the explosions were just rumbliings from a distance, but there have been at least 30 outbreaks of the kind that jolt you. (Vipassana bride has been trying to meditate her way through. I am writing, but I want to hurt people.) Ten or so of these long skeins of firecrackers have been set off right outside our apartment building. My first half hour of relative equanimity, acceptance, and “it is what it is” was bludgeoned into irritation, resentment and rage. Adrenaline. I want to fight, or to run far away.

God of wealth, my sworn enemy.

It is the fifth morning after the big barrage of Chinese New Year’s eve. Something like this has happened every morning,  but not so insistently as this. (Inscrutability: this is no doubt some special kind of day. Oh, it’s special, all right!*) Each new kraa-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka lasts about 15 seconds, though I’ve seen guys set off ribbons of red that bang on for a minute or more, leaving a spreading heap of red paper casings on the ground. Their stains are everywhere. The bangs go ever on. The closest ones give me an involuntary jolt. (And the woman upstairs just keeps chopping her vegetables, as she does each morning.) My reptile brain lunges, the word “F—“ comes to mind, and I try to turn it to slightly more articulate formulations. So selfish. So bloody redundant. So flaming inconsiderate. There is no apparent concern for the hundreds, even thousands of people who will endure each particular lighting of the serial fuse. This is not bright colours arcing across the night sky; this is assault and battery of the eardrums, of the nerves. For 45 minutes, I sat tight. I went to mental happy places. But I started to feel trapped, a prisoner in my bedroom, taking scores of body blows, without any way to respond. (Detachment is hard.) Then I began to feel anxiety to GET OUT. Go for a walk, breathe a little, shake out the bitterness. I resisted. I knew I would likely start shouting incoherently at puzzled old men and scared boys. But I want to interview these guys. What do you think you’re doing? How do you understand this activity? What is the purpose or pleasure? (I want to drive the heels of my hands into their shoulders and chins. I want to rub their faces in snow and piles of red paper. I thank God, my parents, and good luck for the civilizing restraints I have managed to acquire.)

I hear my friend Yuanyuan, far off in Maryland, homesick for these sounds. She reminds me how exciting it is for children to actually be able to do such loud and irresponsible things, when for most of the year there is constant pressure to study. The same, no doubt, applies to repressed businessmen who never think to ask why they do this or can’t possibly do that, or certainly never dare to actually ask. Spring Festival is a period where the immense complexities of Chinese relationships – what can’t be said, and to whom, and when, or the layers of polite deception that insulate every heart from another – are bid a fond and flaming F— YOU! Maybe that’s it. I know there are traditions I’m too ignorant to know about or respect. I also hear Huaqiang, reminding me that I live in a relatively wealthy development, where people have more money than they know what to do with. There’s that, too.

The little oval courtyard, not strewn delightfully with cherry blossoms. My camera doesn’t capture the smell.

I watch for a while. Below my kitchen window are paths and a little attempt at a pond, and in the middle is an oval courtyard. It is a fine launching place. A man, middle-aged or older, stoops to light a five-metre stretch of mini-bombs. Kraa-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!!! He is alone. He walks slowly away. Beside the first path curving from the courtyard, he leans down, then hops away. A sad little rocket, its bark far more dramatic than its bright, goes off. He walks back to Building 32. Another man, older, has a broad red ribbon of noise over his shoulder. He takes his turn. The flashes of light snake away from him as the roar spreads up and around. He leaves. A man without such careless resourcefulness, carrying a broom hand-fashioned out of branches and twigs, comes in to sweep up the red casings. He and other poor folk have been doing this for days. Moments later, another long bit of percussion begins, near the same spot. This one must have been over ten metres long, but cheap goods – the crackling seemed a little dispirited, disjointed, and the volume fell well shy of deafening, though it did go on for a minute and a half. I can’t see anyone even watching the sound show.

It’s nine-forty-five in the morning. The smoke and the sea-borne fog mingle.

Sky-rocket casings adorn my neighbourhood. Back home, I suppose it would be Xmas trees on the curb in January.


* This is wu tian, the fifth day after New Year’s. This is the supposed birthday of the King of Wealth. Wealth is fu. It rhymes with wu. Five is a therefore a lucky number. This banging is supposed to celebrate (awaken, startle, piss off) the god of wealth. This Festival is thickly clouded with meaning. Maybe I should have a better attitude to the god of wealth, but he is so extreme and unjust.



P.S. My wife checks the ‘Net for pollution figures. The number in Dalian is a lusty 289, which indicates a “heavily polluted” atmosphere and the need for children and the elderly to be kept indoors, even though traffic has been light and industrial activity lessened during the holiday. China adopted a Western scale of air pollution measurement, with an upper limit of 500, which was thought to be unreachable. For much of January and February, the northeast (and especially Beijing) have been routinely exceeding the ceiling. Beijing, we hear, has been relatively quiet, as citizens have (surprisingly, or perhaps not) responded to calls to reduce their fireworks frenzy. Today, Beijing is at 42.

Comments (2)

  1. […] from its implied rebuke to my resentment of the weeks of pre-spring explosions, Yardley shows here – as in his discussions of corruption, […]

  2. Guoxiaoqiang

    Situation is beter in the countryside.
    But i do not think firecrackers should be banned. Anyway it is our tradition.
    Government is advocating using less fireworks because of their pollution.

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