Before I tell about my experience, here is little bit of background. In the 19th century the town of Yanshui was suffering from a cholera outbreak. Locals called on Guan Gong, the god of war, to ward off the decease. The god agreed to help but said he had to be greeted by fireworks, so people organized large amounts of bottle rockets to be fired off. Apparently it worked (some say the sulfur in the fireworks killed the bacteria) so the town has made it a tradition to set off masses of fireworks on the 14th and 15th days of … Read the rest
It's the last big fireworks of the night and this rack is the biggest, with three tiers of firecrackers ready to be shot out over the audience. The announcer starts the count down and we in the crowd count along with her, three, two, one. The rockets start spewing out from the rack, streaks of orange passing over us, and the sound of explosions somewhere behind us like we're in the middle of an oven full of popcorn. Where I'm standing the rockets seem to be firing right at me, the orange trails just passing over my head; it feels like I'm a soldier under fire. Every once in while a firecracker will actually fall into the crowd, exploding close by, sending sparks flying. I can feel one hit my leg, another hits my left arm, and a one even pings off my visor in a disconcerting way. Despite this I'm not scared, I feel secure in my protective gear. It is a visceral experience.
I'm dripping with sweat, the mask makes it uncomfortable to breath and my visor is fogging up but trying to do anything about that now would be far too dangerous. A cloud of thick smoke is enveloping the crowd, the rack of firecrackers, which I know to be just a few meters in front of me, is all but invisible and people further off in the crowd have disappeared completely. The incessant sounds of explosions fill the air and from the smoke comes burst of orange and flashes of lightning as the firecrackers detonate. All I can do is weather the storm and take it all in.
Despite the south Taiwan heat I'm fully covered: thick jacket, gloves, full face motorcycle helmet and two towels wrapped around my neck to cover all the gaps. I'm sweating like a pig but I can't take any of it off, the protection is necessary for what is about to happen. I stand in a crowd of people and in front of me is the rack absolutely full of fireworks, ready to be set off any minute now. My sense of anticipation is palpable as I watch intently while the final preparations are made...
Last year I went to Tainan to participate in the Yanshui fireworks festival. Unfortunately I had misunderstood the schedule and managed to miss the whole thing. This year I was determined to join so I planned it better, double checking the schedule several times.
The festival was going to start on Monday with the main celebration Tuesday night until Wednesday morning. I originally planned that I and Renegade Wife could ride my motorcycle together over the weekend ending up in Tainan, so we could see the fireworks. Sadly my wife’s aunt passed away during the Chinese New Year so we … Read the rest