Sunday, February 28, 2010

Songs of Liberty

I had the oddest revelation last night. I had to travel half way around the world to realize just what it might have been like on the night Francis Scott Key penned the Star Spangled Banner. The infamous line, "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air," really, and I do mean REALLY came to life for me last night.

In the United States we celebrate the 4th of July with magnificent ariel rocket displays and explosions. The bigger, the louder, the more compelx, the better. We synchronize them to music and broadcast orchestras playing the score across the radio waves. There are televised programs spanning through the time zones so that we could literally sit for hours in from of our tv's and see maybe half a dozen major shows across the USA.

Here in China, where the firecracker was made and perfected, I might add, they have a whole different response to the "fireworks display." Rather than large corporations sinking $30,000 - $100,000 dollars into a show, the local family takes their child to the fireworks stand (which at the moment occupy many major street corners) with coin, or if they are lucky, coins in hand.

The children peer over the counter if they are tall enough, if not, the father lifts him/her to the best seat in the house, his shoulders. The mothers are with them, usually smiling but it appears to be an exchange between father and child. Soon they find what the are able to afford and just like kids in the US they are drawn mostly to the illusive looming small but mighty powder keg. Very few leave with that one, because even though made here and NOT imported, they are very expensive.

Happily they leave, crackers in hand, smiles on faces - of both the young and the old. Many return to their homes or neighborhoods to light their goodies with family and friends, some can only make it 10 feet from the fireworks stand before pulling the lighter out of their pocket and setting them ablaze. No one jumps, no one fears, for you see - it is Lantern Festival, it is one of the few days they can be openly happy, joyful and somewhat mischeivious. Those days are limited for the Chinese, so much of their time is spent living inside the lines, living with checks and balances. Open times of celebration tend to drawn everyone from their home regardless of the weather, the snow, the frigid cold.

No wonder the explosions, which honestly had to number in the millions went on from 7-8 hours, uninterrupted with less that 30 second intervals. They were happy, they were letting each other know they find joy in the small indulgences they are afforded a few times a year. This morning the air is calm, it is quiet except for the sound of the cable car which runs by the hotel. The streets are strewn with paper wrappers, but like all other morning there is a host of workers who ride around on bicycles to clean the streets with rudimentary twig brooms for the fun is over and this is what their government requires of them. The streets will be clean within the hour.

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