Where I come from fireworks are very special things. They are like a rare, exotic animal that we only see on occasion and when we do it’s a big deal and we’re all super excited. However, since I’ve been in Hefei I’ve encountered these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat where they aren’t in the slightest bit endangered. On the contrary, they are over-populated and more of pests than special spectacles.
For the last five months I’ve known that I’m in China each day because I hear fireworks at some point. Sometimes it’s at 7 a.m. other times right in the middle of a class I’m teaching or maybe at night while I’m trying to fall asleep. In fact, as I wrote that sentence another went off. This isn’t just the case with Hefei, I’ve heard these noisy beasts in just about every Chinese city I’ve been in at random times including Macau but not Hong Kong. (Is that really China though?)
I’ve learned as I’ve been here that fireworks are used to celebrate everything even the most minute accomplishment or commemoration like finishing a certain point on a construction project. That means that throughout a high-rise apartment complex’s construction process there will most likely be multiple sets of detonations of fireworks to recognize various goals such as ground-breakings, finishing x number of floors or each building, finishing the project, opening the complex and then each little store opening on the main level.
Fireworks are, of course, used to celebrate other events such as weddings, holidays and funerals. For all of these reasons, the explosives go off not just in the evening but at all times of the day, very much in contrast to the land of my nativity where fireworks are usually set off only when its dark so that they can be seen as well as heard, and we only set them off once or twice a year.
Even with all of these extemporaneous uses of fireworks, they are still held in high regard for the biggest holiday of the year. I would say the Spring Festival or lunar New Year is like the mating season of fireworks, if we continue with the animal metaphor. It is when they are most active and leaving their marks all over the place. It’s hard to walk down a sidewalk without passing over some red paper droppings from the pests.
During the build up to the holiday and throughout, fireworks were being set off everywhere, the culmination being New Year’s Eve, 22 Jan 2012. That day it wasn’t just a few here or there but for most of the day you couldn’t go without hearing the blasts or echoes off buildings. However, the night was something to behold. For about an hour straight right around the change of the lunar year, people were setting off fireworks of all kinds from little crackers to big aerials.
Someone once told me that they tried to ban fireworks in the city but there were too many complaints and rule-breakers that they again allowed them. China is the natural environment of fireworks and they like to remind me, even if sometimes it feels like I’m in a war zone.
Best part about it is that I’ll get back to the States on the third or Fourth of July and wont realize I’m back if I’m counting on not hearing fireworks.