The Paradox of Tightly Packed Gun Powder

I may quite possibly be the biggest fan of Chinese New Year in China.  Ironic, I know.  You would think the biggest fan would be an actual Chinese person but it’s not.  It’s me.  The fireworks display at midnight is completely unexplainable to those who have not experienced it.  Massive explosions literally shake the air around you.  Countless bursts of color and fire fill the sky in every direction.  Children twirl their sparklers while grown men light washing machine size boxes just a few meters away.  Deafening strings of firecrackers pause only long enough for someone to light another.  Chest pounding with every boom, eyes stinging from the smoke, nose burning with the smell of gunpowder, ears ringing, every sense is overloaded.  When 1.3 billion people play with tightly packed gunpowder at the exact same moment it is awesome.  


The element of danger enhances the experience.  The thought of how ridiculous it is to be standing directly beneath a display that dwarfs my hometown’s fourth of July (which was ignited from a mile away by trained firemen surrounded by emergency medical professionals) somehow makes it even better.  When canons aimed up tip over and shoot straight along the ground, everyone grabs their children, scurries for a safe spot and when it is obvious that no one is hurt, there is a relieved “whoa!” followed by an amazed laugh and an instant retelling of what just happened by all parties involved.  The reality of danger is occasionally present but conveniently easy to ignore.


Unfortunately, even the diehardest of diehard fireworks lovers, like myself, must at some point admit that ignoring the danger doesn’t change it’s reality.  Below is a picture of a five star hotel just a couple of blocks from where we lived in Shenyang.  It was taken around 12:30 am this New Year’s.  Thankfully everyone got out safely but obviously tremendous damage was done and this was not an isolated event by any means.


This Year in China

  • 11,800 reported fires (up from 7480 last year)
  • $8.5 Billion (56 Billion RMB) in damages 
  • At least 40 fireworks related deaths

I think fireworks in China are representative of the much bigger picture of living cross culturally and possibly just life in general.  They are wonderful and dangerous and beautiful and harmful.  They create awe inspiring displays and overwhelming challenges all at the same time.  One side doesn’t cancel other.  Seeing one side and not the other (depending on your choice) can either get you hurt badly or cause you to miss something really good.  Learning to live in paradox on the other hand, can give you a deep appreciation for the beautiful and a sobering respect for the challenges.  That’s kind of how I feel about living in China.

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