Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Happy New Year (again)!!

Yes, one of the great joys of living in China is that we get to celebrate the New Year twice - about a month apart.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of The Year Of The Rat.

Special greetings (and a special rat, below) to my favourite 'rat' - Moonrat, of course. I can't believe it's actually her birth year in the Chinese zodiac, but since she has a special affinity with the animal I think she can properly claim all the privilege and good fortune (but skip any bad stuff) which the astrologers may ascribe to 'Rat' people for the year ahead.


moonrat said...

zhu ni xin nian kuai le, froog xiansheng!!

that picture does look rather a lot like my cousin sally.

Froog said...

Cousin Sally, if you're reading, I'm sure she meant that in a nice way!

Will you be heading into Chinatown tonight, Moonie?

Chunjie's always a bit dull in Beijing. There's almost no public celebration; it's very much a private party at home with the family. And all my favourite bars and restaurants will be closed. I might well stay in and read a book (although it's hard to concentrate with the constant din of firecrackers surrounding me).

Hope you have a fun time. And 'gongxi facai' in the Year of the Rat. I wish you many good things for 'Dolores' and all of your children. (Have you given 'Manuscript of Doom' a friendly name yet? It might help you to surround it with good vibes as you send it off to the printers and the bookstores.)

Mothman said...

I would be fascinated to hear more about how Chinese New Year is celebrated out there, Froog. As you know, I favour more steamy climes. My only experience of the event was in the unlikely setting of St.-Laurent-de-Maroni in French Guyana a few years ago.

Tucking into my New Year celebratory Langouste in Black Bean Sauce (whose texture suggested that it had swum in from Paris), I was bemused to see the restaurant manager close and bolt the front door as The Hour approached. The function of the massive bags of red paper suspended from the ceilings of every sidewalk arcade became apparent as youths hurled along lighting them with tapers and the damned things exploded.

I swear to God that each of these 'fireworks' had to contain a hundredweight or more of gunpowder and there must have been thousands of the things festooned around town. Not since listening to an artillery demonstration on Salisbury Plain in my youth can I recall such a racket.

In the morning I recall being amused to see great heaps of red snow piled up along the sidewalks in the equatorial heat...shredded gunpowder casings.

Is it the same in the Mother Country? Or are the explosives laws not as liberal as in the home of Devil's Island?

Now I think of it this was December 31st...maybe a warm-up for the 'real thing'?

St. Laurent had a wonderful grocer called Fuk Yu. Really.

Froog said...

There's a restaurant in my 'hood called Fu Ku, which is quite close enough to obscenity. But there seem to be so many more opportunities for such mirth with Cantonese - I remember encountering a Lo Fat down in Hong Kong once.

I have just written a post about local firework behaviour.

My impression is that things are comparatively subdued this year - but that means that things are still pretty extreme. And the firework overkill goes on for about three weeks.

The last couple of years, the airport's been closed down a number of times by the thick pall of gunpowder smoke hanging over the city. Nowhere near that bad this time. Not yet, anyway.

Mothman said...

The Chinese 'fireworks' in Fr. Guyana were about four to six feet long and - as I say - must have contained up to a hundredweight of gunpowder. They set them off more or less simultaneously at midnight (the bangs lasted about a quarter of an hour). If you'd been right next to one of these 'big boys' you would have been severely damaged - no qestion of that, which is why the restaurant door was locked, presumably. There must have been several thousand of them hanging from the roofs of the arcaded streets throughout town (which appeared to be one huge 'Chinese Quarter'). The sidewalk was KNEE DEEP in red shredded paper along ALL of the streets the next day. Regrettably my camera was on the blink but I did get video footage...I honestly wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. Where the hell did they get all the gunpowder from, apart from all else?

The impression that I got from your 'fireworks' post (yes, read it) was that it was a bit like Bonfire Night in the UK but more prolonged and lethal. Do you have these bombs (which is what they were, basically) in the 'Mother Country'? They didn't piss around with rockets and Catherine wheels in Fr. Guyana - just giant bangers (or, more accurately I suppose, 'boomers')

Froog said...

I think the increasing sophistication (and thus expense) of the fireworks available here in the last year or two has resulted in a decline in the sheer bloody volume of ordnance being detonated. Traditional firecrackers still predominate - some quite big, though not so HUGE as you speak of in this exotic locale.

There is one little toy here (again, not much in evidence this year) I like to think of as the 'bunker-buster'. It is a small tub of dynamite about the size of a 1.5l paint can, and it serves not purpose whatsoever other than to create a huge whoooommmmmp, more of a pressure wave than just a bang, primarily felt in the pit of the stomach rather than merely heard. It sets off every car alarm within a quarter of a mile radius. And I'm sure it would take off half a limb if you were within 10yds of one when it went off.

Quite the favourite in the last two or three years, but tastes seem to have moved on.

Mothman said...

Thanks for the reply, Froog. I have to admit that I am still in awe of the magnitude of the bangs that we experienced in French Guyana. I mentioned it yesterday to the on-off common-law Mrs. Mothman who was with me at the time and she grimaced and winced at the memory. Since the population of that strange 'country' (ie detached region of France) is only in the tens of thousands and the Chinese contingent can (surely?!) only be a tiny fraction of that I was wondering... If the same amount of ordinance par capita were used in the Mother Country why has the earth not long since shifted its rotational axis..?

It does explain, however, why the citizens of the Middle KIngdom are so damned loud all of the time - presumably they are all stone deaf?

It always horrified me, while tabbing around the otherwise-silent, remote wildernesses of the New Territories in Hong Kong that the only fellow masochists we ever encountered were Chinese boy scouts - woggles and shorts and all - invariably preceded by a troop leader with a huge boom-box on his shoulder turned up to full volume... In the land of Confucius love of peace and quiet, puzzlingly, does not seem to be a national trait. Is this a post-Communist manifestation do you think - all of the inwardly contemplative intellectuals having long since been ground up into fertiliser? I observe the same phenomenon in Bulgaria - another (?) ex-commie basket case.

Those paint cans about which you write remind me of those massively destructive bombs that the Septic Tanks developed a few years back. They appear to consist simply of a huge steel container into which a mist of some highly inflammable liquid is injected and ignited in a fraction of a second. The resulting shock-wave pulps everything inanimate and soon-to-be-inanimate within the proverbial 'two or three blocks' I am told. They are supposed to be the Best (non-thermonuclear) Bang Since The Big One. Doubtless The Bookseller (with his cyclopaedic knowledge of useless military arcana)will remind me of their name...

It is surprising what gas-air mixtures when contained can make in the way of a bang. In Grenada (that's Gren-AY-da...the Caribbean island made famous by the American invasion...not the place in Spain) I recall that at Christmas and New Year time the kids construct ingenious little 'cannons' made out of five-inch diameter bamboo trunks about six feet long and hollowed out. They tip Paraffin (Kerosene) into a little reservoir at the end and ignite it through a touch-hole like a real cannon. It makes a hell of a bang and is endlessly re-useable. The little sods particularly love letting one off when a honky driver (notably me) is attempting some tricky manoeuvre nearby.

I suspect that it would be illegal here in Mud Island. Most fun seems to be.

Froog said...

I believe the generic term for that kind of device is 'fuel-air bomb'. I remember seeing a documentary about the biggest of them the last time I was back in the UK, but I forget what it was called; some cutesy acronym.

The use of fireworks here is indeed huge. The figures regularly quoted (though almost entirely conjectural, I'm sure) for the annual expenditure run to well over a billion RMB per year for Beijing alone. That would be over 100 RMB for every man, woman, and child living here. And since probably at least half the population decamps to their real homes elsewhere for the holidays, and a sizeable proportion of the remainder are too poor to spend very much on fireworks, that probably amounts to several hundreds of - perhaps more than a thousand - renminbi spent by every householder of any significant means. That's a month's wages for most people. Staggering!

Mothman said...

The American military do seem to be fond of grossly inappropriate names for their toys, don't they? I seem to recall that in Vietnam they had a thing called 'Puff the Magic Dragon' that could pour out enough ordinance in a few seconds to liquify an entire battalion...

Those figures for expenditure on Chinese CIVILIAN ordinance are amazing. In HK I was told that the bangs were to scare away evil spirits. Is this for true? They certainly scared the shit out of me.