If you ever start to feel like you’ve seen so much that nothing really impresses anymore, come to Shanghai for the midnight celebration of the Lunar New Year. (Spring Festival, as it’s called here) If it doesn’t excite you, ready the defibrillator.
The celebration started a day early for us. Around ten or eleven the night before the big night the compound guards launched a few rounds of fireworks. They were just impatient and having fun. It was nothing more than a sample, a minute taste, of the spectacle to come. Excited in our ignorance, we lay some cushions in our bay window and huddled under some blankets, bracing ourselves against the cold glass. Had we known what was to come, we would’ve just trimmed our fingernails or organized our sweater drawers instead.
The next day, we had dinner and started to wash our dishes. But as soon as the sun set, our neighbors began to light off fireworks. We would rush from what we were doing to catch a glimpse, only too often to find them done by the time we reached the right room and window. By about seven, there were enough fireworks that the booms became incessant. After twenty minutes of zipping about from room to room to catch the best view, the sight started to feel monotonous and we went about our night-time routine. I showered, picked up dirty clothes, and scrubbed the floor, all with an explosive soundtrack in the background. At eight, we made some dessert and watched the CCTV “Spring Festival Gala” on T.V. (More on that another day) Around nine, three boxes of mortars, each spaced a block apart were going off on a street parallel to our building. We watched for a while, but decided we were pretty cold in the corner room and retreated to the bedroom. By ten, we were so jaded we would peek out at fireworks only from our bedroom, and only if they were particularly close. Around eleven, with the peppering of sound in the background, my wife fell soundly asleep. We joked about her ability to sleep through anything. She only lasted about thirty-five minutes.
I was working on my computer and didn’t notice at first, until a particularly close set of sharp firecrackers sent my eyes to the clock. I knew that midnight was said to be something special; it was around 11:20 and I returned to my work. Then the booming started in earnest, and I looked out the window and saw a complex a mile away beginning to launch some larger fireworks. Across the ensuing minutes, they come closer and louder. By 11:40, the crescendo was unmistakable and a glance out the window revealed three mortars firing at once. My wife woke up and I started trying to convince her to go outside. Like instruments joining the melody of some triumphant symphony, every moment brought another firing to the array of sight and sound. Each minute seemed to compound with explosions in a new range or register. By 11:50, there were six, seven, eight distinct displays occurring simultaneously. Greens, blues, reds and whites lit the sky near and far. Whistles, pops, bangs, booms, sizzles, resounded with precisely what they were: a percussion section composed entirely of explosives, ignited independently by hundreds of individuals, their sound somehow unified only by their steadily increasing numbers. By 11:56, we headed out to our balcony.
Outside, the symphony had become a maelstrom, a hurricane of sight and sound. Within and beyond our complex, there were more fireworks exploding than we could possibly witness. Each slight turn of the head revealed at least a half-dozen different blossoms of fire. Below us, residents were lighting off strings of firecrackers that seemed to combine into an endless stream of pops. As midnight approached, the fury of the fireworks grew impossibly more intense until it seemed that every building near and far was bathed in showers of color. Fireworks fit to entertain whole cities were being launched between buildings not thirty yards apart. Embers would collide with the side of our twenty story towers and bounce or slide down. Shorter buildings in the distance were surrounded by streams of colored fire.
Soon, we saw a mortar being set up directly below our balcony and scurried inside for cover. We dashed from room to room, seeing and feeling ourselves immersed in the explosions going on above, below, near and far. Our office, the very corner room with the best windows, presented a dizzying array of spectacles. No sooner had we settled there, than a shower of sparks and explosions right outside our window drew us back to the bedroom. As we lay on our bay window shelf, the fireworks were exploding not ten feet above us, so bright as to seem dangerous just to watch.
Once they finished, we again found ourselves running from room to room to catch the best displays. Smoke leaked into our sealed apartment and seemed to envelope the city outside. By 12:15, the decrescendo had begun. Booms near and far, high and low began to fall away, never concluding. One lone resident, with a simply massive cannon of sparks, smoke and sound, offered something of a finale, sending his loudest of booms out across the neighborhood every minute or two. Even now, as I write this two hours later, the fireworks are still echoing on. Every four or five minutes a lone series of booms or a string of pops splits the night.
Happy New Year!
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