It's probably no surprise that fireworks are a big part of Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations (they were invented here in China after all). But, I was (and still am) surprised at the quantity and duration of the fireworks. Every night (and pretty much during the day too) from about a week before CNY people have been letting loose with a vast assortment of pyrotechnics, from sparklers (although they're much bigger here than in the US) to full-on aerial starbursts. I'm told this will go on until fifteen days after CNY with a final hurrah on that last day. There's a constant booming like distant artillery pretty much all the time out here in the suburbs; I'm told in the city it can get so loud that you can't hear the TV. Some evenings we can smell the burnt gunpowder in the air.
Before the CNY holiday, fireworks stands started popping up all over the place, like latte stands in Seattle. The big boxes in front of the tent below contains the big aerial shells you see at public Fourth of July events. They go for about 1000 RMB (about USD$145) -- very pricey, especially for people making Chinese wages. A huge string of firecrackers way bigger than anything I've seen in the US (they look like machine gun ammo belts) goes for 20 RMB (less than USD$3) by comparison.
Our ayi (the woman who helps us around the house with cleaning and such) runs a fireworks stand during this time of year where she says she makes the equivalent of six months of ayi pay in a week. She was kind enough to bring us a bag of what she called "safe for kids" fireworks -- sparklers, Roman candles, fountains, spinners, and a small rocket multi-pack.
We set out to the designated fireworks area in our neighborhood with some friends after dinner. After struggling with crappy lighters (we were rescued by a kind neighbor), we started out with the Roman candles. The kids quickly figured out the Roman candles were like magic wands and started yelling spells from Harry Potter. True to form, Andrew (11) sent stunning and disarming spells while Michael went directly for avada kedavra -- the killing curse. Here's me helping Michael (8).
We then moved to the 2.5 foot long sparklers. Here's Andrew in front of the rest of the family and our friends waving two sparklers around. Notice all the firecracker paper on the ground.
A van pulled up and some serious looking guys came out with some really serious fireworks. They started out with a few long strings of firecrackers. You can see Andrew and Michael below waving their relatively pathetic sparklers as they watch the three strings of firecrackers going off.
Then they brought out the big guns. We were almost literally under these huge shells with paper (and in one case a ball of flame) falling on our heads until we backed off a little. I was probably fifty feet at most from the launch point in the shot below. This went on for a good fifteen minutes. They had clearly spent a fortune and were enjoying themselves. We were happy to enjoy the show too. Our hearing recovered surprisingly quickly.
This scene was repeated in thousands of places around the city. Here's Andrew on a pile of firecracker paper in front of a restaurant where we had breakfast one morning. People clean up the mess the next morning and then start all over again.
I kind of wish we'd been downtown on New Year's Eve to see the mayhem. We plan to get a hotel downtown next CNY to really immerse ourselves in this fun custom of our new home.