Dragons, Drums and Firecrackers

Erica’s Mom asked us if we were going to come and see the street “Ding ding dong.”  I am not sure if this was the official name, I think that it was just the closest she could come to explaining it to us in English.  We nodded affirmatively, we definitely wanted to come and see the parades.  Erica’s Mother was the second half of the yellow dragon from her team’s Dragon procession and we promised to look for them.

The team was up early and long gone before we had finished breakfast.  We went out roaming the streets to find them.  Along the way, we saw a large parade procession moving from building to building dancing along with banging cymbals and drums (above).   We would later run into this long parade, but for now, we looked for Erica’s Mom’s yellow dragon.  After some time, we had success and found them performing in front of a local business.

As the dancer and dragons danced and banged away on their cymbals and drums, the business owner lit off roll after roll of firecrackers.  Even the locals had to run for cover from time to time (below).  The business owners showered the dragon team with gifts of chocolates, cartons of cigarettes and red envelopes stuffed with cash.  We followed along from building to building covering our ears while trying to steady our cameras.

If you ever come to Chinese New Year, be sure to bring earplugs!  After some time, I found a tissue and rolled some up into each ear.

 

 

Later, we caught up to the large parade procession and followed it along.  Behind the dragon followed a large group of Chinese men all wearing blue jump suits.  They looked like a karate club.  The procession came to a long business district road that dead-ended at what looked like a commercial bank.  All of the dragons came and danced in front of this business, alternately bowing as string after string of firecrackers was lit off.  As the dragons danced, some of the blue jumpsuit wearing Chinese men came to the front and threw some punches, kicks and karate moves.  The entire sight was quite a spectacle as you can see in the video below:

 

 

After the dragons finished their dance, the blue jumpsuit men brought up some bamboo poles and made a huge human pyramid.  As they began climbing ever upwards, someone in the bank building lowered a large red bag down by a rope; I could only imagine that the bag was stuffed with cash.  In not time, the blue men climbed up and triumphantly snatched the bag to the pleasure of the crowd who clapped and cheered.

 

 

As the blue men climbed for the bank bag, the dragons took a break (they were actually sitting down) and I used this opportunity to capture a photo of them.  They were elaborately decorated and had bright and vibrant colors.

For the rest of the morning, we walked around and watched as the Chinese people celebrated another Lunar New Year.  We saw so many dragon and dancing teams and avoided large strings of firecrackers.  One business wrapped so many firecrackers around a tree and set them off.  I stepped back to some distance and recorded the event.  As you can see, the entire city was filled with acrid smoke and the ground was littered with fireworks papers:

 

 


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Dragon practice

Chinese Ma said that she was eager to show us our photos on the wall of fame in the town cultural center.  The local people had heard that we were coming to town and had been asking about us and asked that we drop by again to say hello.  On arrival, the town elders and the Mayor (center, top photo, smiling) were just finishing a meeting before the Dragon practice was to begin.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the Dragon practice was about but it would soon be explained to me.

Ma displayed the photo board and sure enough I can see my photo(s) in the top left corner.  I feel very privileged to be included in this community’s hall of fame.

After a while, the benches and chairs were pulled back in anticipation of the Dragon practice.  It was explained to me that there are several Dragon teams that compete for the privilege of blessing local businesses and public buildings.  On New Years day, the Dragon comes into the building accompanied by banging drums and clashing cymbals to scare away evil demons and to bring good luck.

One of Erica’s relatives was inside one of the costumes and would be performing the next day.  We were invited to come and watch the rituals as they went from business to business.  A week or two earlier, they sent out invites asking the local businesses if they wanted their Dragon service and several dozen responded.  A route was mapped out and the Dragon team would pass by all of these businesses and conduct their ritual.  In exchange, the business gives envelopes with cash and gifts of alcohol, sweets and other delicacies.

The practice was quite noisy with a lot of drum beating and cymbal crashing (below).  The Dragon team was quite energetic and danced all around the room and I kept thinking how this was a scene right out of a movie.  We still had a long night ahead but I was curious to see what the actual performance would look like.

I included the photo below to give you an idea of the practice and spectator areas inside of the cultural center.  Quite a few members of the community were present and there was a neighborhood camaraderie that we don’t always find in Western countries.  As always, I am impressed with the Chinese sense of community and their interaction with each other.


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Guilin ghost town

Wow, what a difference in Guilin since we last visited in December; the streets were full of people, cars filled the streets and were honking their horns, the sidewalks were full of people and the noise of the city buzzed.  On our first day back there is no one on the streets.  It is quite an eerie feeling, almost like a war zone.  No, actually, exactly like a war zone: there are no people, the only sound I hear is of distant explosions and of nearby firecrackers (that sound like machine gun fire), there are no people to be seen anywhere and the acrid smell of sulphur lingers in the air like a thick fog of a nearby battle.

I shot this video just outside of Erica’s parents home.  The building on the right with the blue overhang is the local police station.  Later we would blow off enough fireworks to entertain an entire American city block as the police looked on and nodded with approval.  Gosh, I love China.

 

 

As we went out to forage for last-minute party favors we found that store after store was closed.  It seemed that many of the people left the city for the countryside to visit relatives.  Those who are left were staying indoors to visit with family.  The spent bodies of firecracker remains were everywhere.  Unlike American firecrackers that are a small roll of cardboard, the Chinese firecrackers are about the thickness of a cigarette and about 1/2 as long.  Their bodies are made of cement, not cardboard, and when the explode they are about as loud as a 9mm handgun.  When a string of them goes off, it sounds like someone is firing a MAC-10 or UZI near you.  Many times I had to hold my hands over my ears and by the end of the day, my ears were ringing.

We finally did find one open store a few blocks away.  The proprietor’s children were playing with some of their own fireworks.  I spent all I had; firecrackers (belts and belts of them), cherry bombs, mortars, sky rockets, sparklers, cones, everything.  Oh, and a couple bottles of liquor.  I was grinning ear to ear.  Come on, booze and bombs?  What’s not to love?


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