Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bombs Away, Dreambabies


It was one of those "only in China" moments. I had been invited by a senior editor for a Feb 8 Sunday afternoon and evening "New Year firecracker viewing" with his wife, 10-year old son and some of his pals who included two he described as a "China Supreme Court justice" and "head of the China Press Association" (I took the titles as loose translations, though who knows?) to Zhuo Zhuo, a small town about an hour outside of metropolitan Beijing.

After a lot of mao tai (Chinese rocket fuel) toasts and food with the deputy mayor and his entourage, we piled into various vehicles in a ramshackle caravan and police escort that lead through most of Zhuo Zhuo's blighted areas - a large aluminum factory that seems (or seemed, it appeared to be shut down, but possibly on hiatus) to be the town's main industry, to a large open field. It was pitch black as we pulled over to the side of the road and our hosts began unloading many crates of high octane fireworks.

I'm not really a pyrotechnic freak and after a month of near-Baghdad/Beirut combat night shellings in Beijing (the worst was to come with the New Year burning of the new CCTV hotel/convention annex) all in the name of "traditional Chinese New Year" fun, I had been getting weary (and growing deaf) amid the revelery. But as I watched and dodged the rockets and low-end mortar shells for awhile on the roadside perhaps it was the mao tai in me, but I got into the spirit and began pulling bricks of small ariel shells out of the boxes, tearing the wrappers off like a kid at Christmas and lighting multiple fuses.

I tossed one brick like a grenade into field, then quickly stumbled back as the shells went whistling horizontally at me and the others. One of our hosts pulled me aside and said something in Chinese. My editor translated: "Don't throw them! Stand them up!" Okay, okay. Sorry, sorry...

The fire fun continued however to the point that me and the man identified as the Supreme Court justice and I were good naturedly squabbling over the remaining brick o' explosives about 10-minutes later. I diplomatically surrendered it, handed him my lighter and mused briefly imagining tussling with the likes of John Roberts, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas or maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg over a remaining fistfull of M-80s in a vacant lot in a depressed Pennsylvania factory town on July 4 ... as his Chinese honor lit the fuse and the rockets screamed.

(Note to faithful readers, all 3.4 of you. It is with sincere regret that I've switched the comments to pre-approval mode. It grates on me as a supposed advocate of free speech and all that, but recent contributions by an anonymous troll or two have forced the change. I continue to accept constructive brickbats and corrections (Jaxxson, you reading this?) but nothing from malformed stalkers.)

6 comments:

Stuart said...

I was just reading over some of the referred to comments a few posts back. Looks like you've managed to piss off some self-aggrandizing "old china hand". Justin, how dare you encroach upon his area of expertise. (Now watch him start flaming me at my site--unlike you, Justin, I'm nowhere near as interested in free speech and enabled comment approval a long, long time ago).

Justin, I've been reading this blog ever since it was Shenzhen Zen, and it's always entertaining. Keep it up.

Justin said...

Many thanks, Stuart. Very much appreciated.

craig in korea said...

It is hard to think I might be one of your 3 or 4 readers. I stumbled on your first blog some time ago, and I enjoy hearing about your time in Beijing. I enjoy your insights.

Justin said...

And ,kahmsahhahmnida to you also, Craig.

Sherry said...

Your fireworks story reminded me of a 4th of July in Texas circa 1967. We drove out to some hay fields near Dimmit, parked the car and proceeded to light black cats on the dirt road. My string bounced around and ended in the hay stalks starting a prairie fire. You should have seen all of us kids dancing around on that fire trying to put it out. The wind was just right, the town would have been a direct hit if we hadn't succeeded.

pdm said...

I was hoping that you'd been somewhere in the neighborhood to see the CCTV Koolhaas fire. I had a brief love affair with pictures of that damn building complex -- and then it goes and gets all lit on fire. On the final day of New Years! A most inauspicious beginning indeed....

Sorry to hear about your trolling issues, my friend. Hope everything else is great with you. I'm beginning to kind of seriously sort of start looking for a job in the HK area again. It's bout time.