The sound of explosions has been a regular feature of our travels – hardly surprising, I suppose, in the country that invented gunpowder and fireworks. Barely a day goes by without the the machine-gun staccato of firecrackers, rockets and other pyrotechnics. Riding through some of the smaller cities was an experience akin to driving through Baghdad, though without the accompanying body count.
Unlike home, fireworks appear to be predominantly set off during the daytime, and therefore emphasize extreme volume and smoke over patterns and vivid colours you’d expect. There’s a lot of money to be spent and made in it. One morning in Henan province, we passed some brightly-hued jeeps towing what I can only describe as mortar tubes of a sort last seen on BBC reports from the middle east.
These guys in the above pic were professional pyrotechnicians on their way to some festivities in the next town. I couldn’t help but think they would likely be surrounded by soldiers and on their way to a 5-10 year stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure had they driven through downtown Belfast.
Why so many whizz-bangs, you may ask? There are many reasons – celebration, good luck, warding off evil spirits. You name it: there’s an excuse for profligate use of gunpowder. Jared and I discussed this, prompting the following exchange:
“Ok, but every day? Exactly how many evil spirits are there?”
“1.4 billion people – that’s a whole lot of dead ancestors. You’ve got to assume some of them are pissed about something.”
We’ve been lucky enough to observe one of the good luck ceremonies up close, watching as a truck driver walked calmly around his lorry with a lit string of firecrackers, setting them off in a circle before leaving on a long journey. Wedding parties throwing firecrackers out car windows have also been a fairly common sight- though the carload of guests conducting a drive-by with roman candles would have been more comfortably appreciated from a greater distance than 3 metres.
I’m confident that we’ll encounter a fair bit more shock and awe before we leave China behind us. Time to invest in some earplugs, methinks.