Boom, Goes The Dynamite!

The shockwave of bombs exploding all around.. thick smoke filling the air.. the streets covered in broken glass, rubble, and the color red..

Is this a warzone?

No. Well, not yet, anyway. It's just the growl of the Year of the Tiger in China.

It's been 2010 for more than a month now, if you're into that "Gregorian Calendar" thing. The Chinese use it too, of course - it's convenient for organizing international events such as "Talk Like a Pirate Day." But when it comes to celebrating traditional events, one needs a traditional calendar. What better than a system that's been tried and true for about 3,000 years?

The year of the Ox will come to a close on Feb 13, 2010, and it will be the Tiger's turn to.. be lucky, I suppose. Luck is a big concern around here, it would seem. Vendors line the streets with red and gold scrolls written to bring happiness, safety, and prosperity. They seem to be working already - if anyone's prospering, it's certainly these merchants!

Others sell red lanterns, red clothing, and I'm sure if you had a special request, there would be some red paint nearby. It looks and feels eerily similar to Happy Happy Valley in Earthbound/Mother 2, for anyone who'd get that reference. Red is the color of choice not because of Communist sentiment, but because of time-honored tradition stemming from mythology (the story of the monster Nian). It's amazing just how much humans follow tradition for tradition's sake, and I'd probably smile at it if it weren't holding us back in other arenas such as science, medicine, and human rights.

Here's a different perspective to challenge your idea of what "tradition" can mean: The Monkeys and the Bananas.

As for China, luckily beatings aren't the seasonal theme. Blowing shit up is.

If the color red wasn't enough to frighten away the hungry Nian, making loud noises certainly gets the job done. Not only do Chinese fireworks put to absolute shame the sparklers and snakes permitted in the pussified US states I've lived in, they conveniently double as car-alarm-testers and provide jobs for window manufacturers everywhere.

A friend of mine is dating a Chinese girl who works part-time selling fireworks. He was given a sack of what appeared to be your average fountain sparklers, but upon closer-oh-god-run-away-further inspection, turned out to be projectile fireworks with enough bang to force Chinese bystanders into "duck and cover" positions and appropriately expletive remarks. The most interesting thing about all of these antics is that nobody really gives a damn if you loudly dynamite the middle of a public road so long as you're not damaging anything. Freedoms taken for granted elsewhere, I imagine.

I won't be staying in Harbin for the festivities, but I will by flying to Beijing tomorrow to see the standard fare: Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Great Wall (the non-restored Simatai section). After a few days in a hostel there, I'll make the jump to Xiamen, a good-looking coastal city near Taiwan. I've got a friend who will take me to her parents' place for some authentic New Year feasting.

Take care!


On Monday night, I went with some foreign teachers to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Night is the time to go because the buildings are lit up in vibrant combinations of colors. The sheer size of these icy constructions is awe-inspiring, and only rivaled by the absolutely frigid temperatures. Within half an hour, my toes were so numb that I caved in and visited a refreshment tent to verify my lower digits would still function.

It should have been called the rape tent, because that's what happened there. To justify my seat, I was compelled into purchasing a warm beverage: a small cup of instant coffee for 20 RMB (elsewhere, this would buy a decent dinner for two). My sphincter still quivers at the memory.

I was able to check that my toes were still attached, though, and after doing so, I took off my gloves to pull them over my socks and the proceeded to forcefully stuff it all back into my now-quite-cramped boots. It worked, and I was still able to keep my hands warm by drawing them deep into my coat sleeves.

While I did take some pictures, these ones are bound to be hundreds of times better and require significantly less work on my part as well. Please have a look at what's in my cold, cold backyard here:

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