Asia Beijing, China
On Location: Beijing
An American photographer is seduced by Chinese fireworks—and real Chinese food
BY CHRIS M. ROGERS
Photographer Chris Rogers in front of the Forbidden City; lanterns outside a Beijing restaurant.

Rogers lives in New York City and on a small island off Charleston, SC. He visited China on a shoot for Endless Vacation® magazine and happened to be there during the annual Spring Festival. (The timing for this 15-day event varies according to the lunar calendar; in 2009, it will be celebrated from January 26 to February 10.)

 

Come Again?

“What?” My ears are still ringing. I have not participated, ever, in celebrating with fireworks. Watching them from afar, from down the beach or from my driveway doesn’t count, my friend. I’m talking about hauling a 10-pound load of Thunder Flashes into the street with hundreds of people around and lighting them yourself, then zig-zagging back to the safety of the sidewalk in time to marvel at what you seemingly just put your life on the line for. As thousands of fireworks shoot up into the midnight sky, you home in on yours. “Beautiful!” you scream, but no one can hear you. I have successfully lit what could blow up a small car, you think. It is gorgeous, dangerous, exhilarating, fun and dumb—but most of all, memorable.

 

Blowed Up Real Good

Spring Festival is a serious holiday in Beijing. People often spend a month’s salary on the perfect collection of fireworks. Night and day, fireworks are exploding all over, and I don’t think anyone flinches but me. Each one is different, from the smallest Dragon’s Egg that just goes crack to the Mortar Maroon Monsters that shake the ground, triggering car alarms. One evening some friends and I venture to wide Erm-Douban Street, where people are known for shooting off the best fireworks. Six of us carry the stash of explosives that our friend Julian has amassed over two months. He’s a seasoned showman, and he’s proud of the variety. “These we can start with,” Julian says, “but don’t touch those four boxes of Turbillion Sky Streakers until the end. We need those for the perfectly timed finale.” It’s a bit scary how much he loves this. 

 

Guess We Can Forget About Egg Rolls

There’s more to China than fireworks: The food is amazing. In Beijing, the aromas fill the streets. Let’s just say you can eat anything here—scorpion on a stick, fried starfish, steamed chicken feet (apparently these taste like chewy calamari with a little crunch at the end). A dish that looks like halved onion rings turns out to be some kind of eels—the eyes are the giveaway. When I mention some of the items we have in Chinese restaurants in the States, locals don’t recognize a thing. “Lo mein? Never heard of it.” So keep an open mind, folks, and get ready to experience a whole new menu.


NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.

Published: May 1, 2008 
Photos: Michael Bonacci, Chris M. Rogers
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