Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chinese firework safety - I was not kidding

Strolling through Harbin's riverside Stalin Park just before dusk last Thursday, I noticed this young refuse collector (I'm not sure if he was an employee of the city authorities or just a freelance ragpicker) pawing through a heap of spent firecracker wrappings; he soon located 6 or 8 unexploded ones (I don't know what the percentages are, but it does seem that the strings come apart so violently that quite a few individual segments do escape ignition), set them down in a line, and held his cigarette lighter to the first of them - I don't think there was any kind of fuse still attached to them: he was just directly applying fire to the casing of one, and hoping that they would then set each other off in a chain reaction.

When, a couple of weeks back, I catalogued the reckless and self-destructive behaviours I have observed here in relation to the enormous annual firework splurge over the Spring Festival holiday, many of my overseas readers suspected me of exaggeration. Oh, no! Here is some photographic proof. This guy was actually very lucky that the whole row of crackers didn't go off simultaneously in his face as he was trying to light them. He managed to get the casing smouldering without causing an immediate explosion....... and then retired a distance of about 2 ft away.

Later that night, I took a long sequence of photographs of a firecracker string exploding on the sidewalk. In the lower light, the flame is clearly defined, and this proved to me that, with some of the bigger ones at least, the flash alone can have a radius of several inches - and burning debris (or unexploded or half-exploded crackers) can sometimes be ejected a distance of several feet. You really do not want to be stood within less than about 2 or 3 yards of one of these babies when they're going off.

I labelled this photo 'Flinch'. You may not be able to make it out very clearly at this size, but there is airborne debris at the limits of the frame (and beyond), some feet beyond our cringing protagonist. And these, I stress, were small firecrackers; and only a handful of them, not a full string. And honestly - some people hold on to these things while they're going off. It is a crazy country, to be sure.

Footnote: Is Harbin perhaps the only city in the world still to have a Stalin Park? Havana, maybe?? [The answer would appear to be: YES, Harbin is the only place that has a Stalin Park. Bizarrely enough, Colchester and Chatham in the UK are two of the only places in the world to still have streets named after Stalin {there are a couple in his native Georgia, one in Russia, and one in Trinidad & Tobago!! Even the one in Pyongyang was renamed 'Victory Street'.}. Thank heavens for Wikipedia!]

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