Last week was the 2010 Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. The whole country basically shuts down for the celebration. Shops and restaurants were closed and most people travel to their hometowns to be with their relatives for the week so Beijing was near empty. Mary Kate and I spent the festival week in Beijing and her co-worker invited both of us over to her apartment for New Year's Eve night. Her parents made a huge meal for us and we when the clock ticked close to midnight everybody made jiaozi dumplings with pork and chives filling. Then we went outside to set off fireworks...
I have heard that fireworks are a big deal here but nothing prepared me for the war zone that Beijing turned into. People set off fireworks in the courtyards of their apartment complexes and the first night they are allowed to set them off all night which basically means you can't get any sleep. Mercifully, the rest of the week people are only allowed to set off fireworks during the day and up until midnight... but then they start again at 7 am. Above is a video of of some of the fireworks during the first night of the festival. In the video we are in the courtyard of an average apartment building complex, called 小区, (xiao qu), which is the type of place most Beijingers live. The fireworks celebrations were the same all over the city and I expect someone flying over Beijing in an airplane would have thought we were in the middle of World War III. The fireworks you can buy here are industrial strength (the kind they set off at Disney World or over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York) so these were not wimpy sparklers. People set them off so close to buildings that sometimes the buildings catch fire which actually happened to one of the buildings next to us. An outdoor air conditioner on the 10th floor of the building caught fire and it managed to burn a pretty big hole in the building before the police came and put it out.
It was an unforgettable night and a lot of dangerous fun.