Chinese New Year = Happiness for any man or boy from America who has been deprived of the privilege of lighting off fireworks for so many years.  And do the Chinese know how to do it.  Imagine the Disneyland fireworks display but going off on each street corner.  I’m not kidding, huge 5″ and 8″ mortar bombs that launch 8, 10 and 12 pound bombs several hundred feet into the air.  I’m surprised no one was killed…

As we finished dinner and cracked open the second bottle of wine, I began looking over my wonderful collection of bombs and rockets.  At the prompting of the other party guests, I posed “Rambo” style with my explosives just before I began lighting them off.

To set the mood properly, I must explain that fireworks had been going off all week long: mortar bombs, skyrockets and long strings of firecrackers.  As I’d said in an earlier post, Chinese firecrackers put their little American cousins to shame.  The Chinese firecrackers are about as thick as a cigarette and about an inch and a half long.  The body is constructed of cement and when they explode, rock shrapnel flies everywhere and they are about as loud as a 9mm handgun.  A string of them is like standing next to 3 guys with Mp5 submachineguns on full auto – all firing at once.

By New Years Eve (this day), the strings of firecrackers and bombs were continuous.  You couldn’t count to ten – any time of the day – without hearing some firework commotion in the distance.  I was quite happy to add to the commotion and began with some acorn sized cherry bombs.  I was wise enough to light them and run away as I didn’t want to lose any fingers (yes, they are powerful enough to separate digits).  And I am surprised that more Chinese aren’t blind; if it wasn’t for my sunglasses, I certainly would be!

After I lit of this cherry bomb and ran away, Anya snapped the shutter just as it blew up.  You can see the shrapnel flying towards the camera over 20 feet away!  Yes, these fireworks really pack a punch!


Next up, I lit off a string of firecrackers.  During the day, I could rely on my sunglasses to protect my eyes but at night it was too dark to see.  So, I closed one eye and held the camera in front of the other eye.  While my eye was protected, my face was constantly splattered with cement dust and small cement rocks; I had little red welts all over my face the next morning.



Then came the skyrockets.  As you can see in the video, they are quite loud, even when 100′ or more high.  If one was to blow up near you it would be quite a bang.  The Chinese seemed to be good sports and have good aim about their fireworks as I didn’t see any fires, broken out windows or anyone otherwise injured.  I still shake my head thinking about it.



I heard a loud string of firecrackers going off in an open stairwell in an apartment overlooking the police station.  When I came to get a closer look I found that the policemen (who were on duty) had a bigger arsenal than mine.  They were firing Roman candles with wanton abandon causing as much ruckus as the people who lived nearby.



Even at 1 hour to midnight the roar of the fireworks increased and increased.



Finally, at midnight, the girls lit off some sparkler cones that I bought especially for them.  It was a festive mood and everyone was dancing and singing and you could barely hear due to the overwhelming bangs and booms and stings of firecrackers.  As we approached midnight, the sound became a strong roar – something like at the Superbowl or a playoff game – except that instead of screaming fans, you had never ending strings of hundreds of thousands of firecrackers and mortar bombs exploding.

Right at midnight, between our dancing and singing, we went up on the roof to view the firework show that was in all directions and went as far as the eye could see.  Realize, we are only in Guilin, a relatively small city in China, and we are in the suburbs on the outskirts of town and still the fireworks were this intense.  I met other westerners on the flight home who were in downtown Beijing at hotels on the 10th floor who explained that they had to keep all the windows open or else they would be broken by the shock waves.  The firework shows went on for hours.

All of these fireworks that you see are not the local high school, the city or Disneyland, these are the fireworks that local people and business men were lighting off.  China’s industry and wealth has grown in the last decades and the Chinese are displaying their newly acquired riches in the forms of grand and colorful firework shows.  Just as many American communities compete for the biggest lawn and roof light show at Christmas time, the Chinese compete with gunpowder.



I can say, it was quite a show – and one that I will not soon forget!


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Winston’s Christmas Party

On our first day in Sanya, we had asked Becky if she knew where we could find a nice bottle of wine.  Unfortunately, in China most everything is pirated: DVDs, computer software and even alcohol.  Yes, that bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label is probably produced in China and even the stickers and bottle match the real thing.  You have to look for subtle differences in packaging to know if you have the real thing or not.  In choosing a bottle of wine, you can’t just go to the grocery or liquor store if you want an authentic bottle.  Wendy knew just the place.  A prominent business man who owned some restaurants and a coffee shop had a wine club and cellar.  We visited the wine shop and purchased a bottle or two.

The “wine club” was in a makeshift wine cellar in a coffee shop and had quite a selection of wine.  I was most impressed with Anya’s wine taste and knowledge and I had a crash lesson in wine tasting and appreciation.  The waitresses at the coffee shop, one who was studying to be a sommelier, took especially good care of us.  We tried several different wines and they even served us some cookies and fruit.  Later, Wendy called back and said that the owner of the establishment had heard that some westerners had come to call on his business and he wanted to meet us.  He asked us to come over for an ad hoc Christmas Eve party at his wine cellar.

Of course we agreed to come.  As I think about it, this kind of thing never happens to me.  I’d have to say that Anya is responsible for the invitation.  She didn’t “do” anything per se, but I suppose that either her stars are aligned just right or her magnetic personality just draws people towards her.  I have made a mental note that I must be more friendly and open when I travel so that I don’t miss unique experiences like this.

When we arrived, we met Winston.  Not his real name of course, but it seems that everyone in China has a western name to make it “easier” on us westerners.  I thought about that, how considerate is that, everyone taking a second name for our comfort.  Can you imagine suggesting that we take Chinese names when we received visitors from China?  No one would even consider it.  Again, the Chinese have impressed upon me a certain level of graciousness that will  not soon be forgotten.

Winston met us eagerly and escorted us into his cellar.  He had already made some wine selections for our tasting and in no time we were all in a festive party mood.  Winston was also well versed in wine knowledge and he was impressed with Anya’s understanding of wine.  The two talked on and on about this wine and that and its characteristics and flavors.  Winston spared no expense and uncorked bottle after bottle of wine and popped a few champagne corks as well.  This is someone who we don’t even know and he is treating us as honored guests.  Yes, the Chinese to impress me.

With each round of drinks came more and more refreshments.  One in particular, a beautifully arranged bowl of local fruits was brought (above) and we tried some fruits that were new to us.  I’d had Dragon Fruit before, while in Vietnam; it has a hard purple skin with spines on it, the inside fruit is white with black seeds and to my taste it reminds me of a mix of honey-dew melon and kiwi.  In the photo below, you can see a yellow fruit that is shaped like a star.  This fruit, the star fruit, was not cut like this, it is its natural shape.  It reminded me of an orange but more tangy in taste.

Again and again, we had more and more drinks and appetizers and snacks and I was so impressed with Winston’s hospitality.  He really made us feel like we were at a Christmas party – he had even sent one of the girls out to get us Christmas hats which we wore with some embarrassment – but all in good cheer.

Just before midnight, Winston made a toast and asked each of us to make our toasts.  We finished just before the stroke of 12 and from the balcony above, confetti and glitter started raining down on us.  Winston had directed some of his employees to be standing above us on the balcony and to drop the confetti right at midnight.  He had missed nothing and again we were impressed.

Later, Lulu, Winston’s wife (second from left) joined us and we continued to laugh and make toasts for Christmas happiness.  The party went til quite late and we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  Winston had a fun hearty laugh and we enjoyed his company and that of the other employees and his wife.  When it was time to go home for the evening, Winston sent us home with a half case of wine and refused any payment at all.  I really, really couldn’t believe the hospitality.  We came as customers and left as dear friends.


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