Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Welcome to the Year of the Rat

Chuc Mung Nam Moi! And if you can’t remember what that means, you might want to check out a few of my posts (1 and 2) from a year ago. But, Têt comes around on an annual basis, and tonight it has arrived yet again in full force.

Têt arrived with a literally explosive *BANG* tonight as at the stroke of midnight the town began shooting off several billion Vietnamese dong worth of fireworks over the river. I was in Cao Bang for Têt last year, but due to some cost-saving measures, the annual fireworks display had been cancelled. So I felt doubly fortunate this year to discover that the fireworks were back on the agenda and that my new house has an almost perfect view from the upstairs balcony. Rachael and I enjoyed an almost 10 minute display of continuous bangs and sparkles ricocheting through the sky, bouncing off of softly floating lantern balloons drifting through the thickening smoke.

After the tremendous display, Rachael and I dropped down to the street to watch small children playing with and teenagers jumping through the shower of sparks sent off by smaller fountain fireworks and to look at the mini-offerings placed outside the doors for the ancestors. I was just about to photograph a few of them when Rachael screamed, “Behind you!”

The next thing I knew we were in the middle of a war zone. Without any warning to us or the other neighbors, the owner of the house across the street had lit a huge firework charged with 20+ rockets in the middle of the street. Each charge screamed up about 30 feet and exploded at about the third story of my house which was directly in the line of fire and sent showers of hot ash bulleting out of the sky while the spent charge was propelled out into the street, many barely missing us. Rachael and I were trapped between a house and a parked car with our only options being to cower where we were or run back into the line of fire. Talk about friendly fire.

The whole show probably lasted two minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Then, just as the box was winding down to its last pops, four motorbikes and a cop car pulled around the corner. Obviously whatever thing this was wasn’t so legal – considering the fire danger something exploding at barely roof level or lower, I’m hardly surprised it attracted attention. But the police simply waited for the charges to stop firing, then circled around and stared at the people on the street (mainly, the two foreigners, uh-oh), grabbed the spent box and drove off. We were surprised and gratified that it got a lot of attention, for all the good it did.

And with that our new year was off with a bang. Tomorrow the feasting begins, as do the responsibilities of shine care-taking that comes with house ownership. But more on that tomorrow.

(Thanks to Rachael for saving my life and for the pictures...)

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