Fireworks End. (Maybe.)

I knew I should’ve gone to bed earlier. Young friends had warned us Friday night that Sunday would be the last Big Day of the Chinese lunar new year blast. Another one?! we gasped, mostly for laughs but not entirely.

Bombs away. Happy bombs!

At 5:50 a.m., the first of the bombs went off, not far from our apartment. I was shaken out of sleep a few more times, finally giving up by about eight. There was subdued grumbling in apartment 902, and really, it wasn’t nearly so intrusive as other Big Days had been, certainly nothing like “xiao nian” (“little year”, a week before the New Year), the New Year’s eve and day themselves, or “wu tian five days later. The above links are to irritated pieces I wrote in the midst or aftermath of this or that bombardment.

But if I had had a little more detachment, a touch more grace, I might have also written something like what follows. It’s extracted from my review, over in It’s All About Sports, of Jim Yardley’s book Brave Dragons, about a season of watching a Chinese Basketball Association team. It speaks of the Chinese people with sympathy and understanding, and makes for a good introduction to a fine book that really isn’t all about basketball:

I’d always wondered about the moments in Chinese life where Chinese take joy in being Chinese….China was consumed by a churning relentlessness, a pressure cooker wrought by the national mandate of restoring Chinese greatness….Yet the price was that daily life was a grinding stone. Everyone worked hard, often separated from family, as rebuilding and rebranding Chinese greatness was a round-the-clock enterprise. Drive past a construction site at 3 a.m. Men were working. Drive past a textile factory at 4 a.m. Women ere working. Work, work, work, work, work. When was the payoff?

I came to believe that Chinese New Year was the best representation of that single moment when people could exhale….Migrant workers put down their hammers or walked away from their sewing machines and went back to the countryside, like some of the Brave Dragons players. Gifts were bought. Houses were cleaned to sweep away bad luck. Firecrackers were lit as symbolic reminders of the mythical beast…[who] feasted on livestock and crops until farmers realized he was frightened by the color red and the cracking noise of fireworks. Those running the race to the future paused to remember the past…

There are lots of other reasons why the Chinese love fireworks so much, including the fact that they invented them. I sometimes wonder, with more sympathy than irritation, how grey does your life have to be to make all this banging seem amusing, delightful, necessary? And at 11:15 a.m., as the

Colour! Sound. Fury. Signifying…

skyrockets are again going off 50 metres from my ninth floor desk, as skeins of gunning firecrackers detonate serially in the courtyards below, I try to think like Yardley does about it. My students write, yearningly, of their hopes for leading “a colourful life”, and this is one certain way to go about it, I think, for three weeks or so each year. They’re surely not doing it to bug me, and for most Chinese it must seem like the deeply right thing to do. Folks do the best they can, after all, most of the time.

Comments (4)

  1. Alice

    Fireworks are played on New Years Eve that is called Chu Xi to scare away the giant monster Xi that is afraid of red, fire, light and cracking sound, but unfortunately people are afraid of these elements too especially while sleeping. And more people are complaning about having a tiring holiday, meeting relatives, buying gifts, giving money to kids, and getting a train ticket which seems very unlikely during spring festival and getting a train ticket back whcih is totally impossible. We figure out how to survive spring festival anyway and still enjoy the family time. There’s no reason for one not to be home with your family during the holiday. That’s very Chinese. I like it!

  2. Jay,
    You captured the experience perfectly, including the ambivalence and struggle to embrace the culture of our hosts. Or your hosts, I should say. I missed the fireworks deeply this year, but I remember last year being highly irritated by the bone-rattling war zone feeling that pervaded those two weeks. I loved the quote from Yardley. I’m headed over to your review now to check that out.

  3. I watched the fireworks feast last night with my cousin on the top floor, wich is held every yeear of this time and last 30 minutes. It’s really joyful when i was wat ching those splendid blasts without noticing the explosive sound for it’s becaouse there was a river right between them and us . Those beautiful and lovely fireworks were so attractive that I almost forgot the big bang once irritated me. thus the last impression to the fireworks was pretty good to me . The new year holidays were, as you mentioned, the time for people to exhale and relieve. Just stop where it should stop , i think, the firework would be more acceptable and appreciated.

  4. sherri yazdani

    Nice. Very thoughtful. Aalthough no one would blame you for being less than that under the circumstances :).

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