Posts Tagged ‘Rural Culture’

New Years in the Middle of Nowhere pt. 2: Drunken Fireworks

February 4, 2012

My experience in Yiyang, Hunan included just a few brief respites from constant eating and drinking. After a massive dinner on New Year’s eve, and after chatting through several hours of the 春节晚会 (the New Year’s variety show which is sort of the Chinese equivalent to Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve), we went outside for the part of the evening that I’ve been looking forward to the most: fireworks. 博哥 knew how excited I was for this part, and I think I had his father prepare a particularly large haul for this year. Leaving the apartment, I helped haul a load of boxes out to the pedestrian street, which at this point was mostly deserted. These were filled with a massive assortment of fireworks of all shapes and sizes, including many of a size that I’m sure require some sort of professional license to use in the US.

(The video starts getting good about 15-20 seconds in)

The last time I was in China over Chunjie I remembered reading stories of fireworks-related burns and injuries—I’m sure, with the combination of professional-grade fireworks and heavy drinking that there are dozens of accidents a year. So I was a little nervous when Bo’s father lit a cigarette and thrust it into my hand. “Just touch the cigarette there and then run this way,” he said. As I walked up to the first case of fireworks, my boots slid a little on the pavement, which was smooth and slick with half-melted snow. I lit the fuse, though, hopping frantically over the slippery pavement as I heard it sizzle behind me. Looking up into the sky I was rewarded with explosions of the size that you’d only see at Fourth of July in the US.

While the show was amazing, it did little to quell my concerns about the irresponsibility of making such large explosives so widely available to drunk people. One uncle lit a box of big rockets and then, as the rockets began to shoot into the air, shuffled immediately to another box a few feet away so that he could set both off simultaneously. While the first few rockets launched into the air without a hitch, the third rocket only lofted a lazy ten feet into the air, exploding just above his head as he was crouching to light the second box. Another big rocket lit soon after gave off sparks but never got off the ground, instead exploding in a shower of green sparks just ten feet away from us. No one was injured, but it did make me wonder how often one comes across a defective firework. The big expensive fireworks were soon expended, leaving an assortment of sparklers, roman candles, and other novelties. My favorite among these, which they called a “butterfly,” consisted of a small rocket with a set of small cardboard wings. Once lit, a stream of sparks causes it to spin rapidly, such that it lifts into the air like a flying saucer, making an unearthly buzzing sound before exploding with a crack.

When we finished, a wasteland of smoking and discarded cardboard packages lay before us. This being China, after all, we of course simply left them behind us and took off for the last activity of the evening. The residents of Yiyang have a tradition of visiting a local temple to burn incense and make a prayer for the new year. More about that next week.


Who Wants to Start a Restaurant in Rural Sichuan?

November 2, 2010

Since revealing to many of my friends here that I’m leaving Sichuan in less than two weeks, I’ve received a rather surprising numbers of proposals from friends to go into business with them. My guess is that this isn’t particularly common among local residents, but a lot of the people I know here seem to be so taken with the potential profits to be had through working with a foreigner that they can’t help themselves. I’ve had offers to sell local alcohol in Beijing, to run a tour guide company at the Jiu Zhai Gou 九寨沟 national park in Sichuan, to sell printers in Chengdu. The most intense offer, though, came from the friend who faithful readers of the blog will remember as the rabbit farmer. I got a phone call from him a couple of days ago which began first with a lament from him about the quickness of my departure, following which he asked me if I was interested in finding work in China after I went back to the US. When I gave my usual ambivalent answer, he interrupted with an excited proposal that we partner up to open a 农家乐—a type of rural-themed restaurant that is quite common here and specializes in serving freshly-grown ingredients and traditional peasant foods.

He continued furthermore to say that a friend of his from the nearby village of Ri Xing 日兴, a cop –“our cops here aren’t like your cops there, they can still do other things on the side besides being cops”—who was thinking of going in with him on the restaurant, was having dinner with him the next day, and I should come. Never one to miss out on few sources of food, I took the bus to Ri Xing the next day, and soon found myself in a hotpot restaurant with my friend and an unknown cop in his early 30’s.

Before we started eating the cop explained that two more of his friends were coming, and it wasn’t until they showed up that I realized what was going on. As the two new friends sat down, our new cop friend introduced me: “and this is our American friend, he’s wants to invest in our restaurant.” Suddenly it was clear that I was the primary target of an investment pitch dinner. They spent most of the rest of the meal trying to convince me that if I invested, I’d be sure to get my investment (of which I think they wanted at least $10,000 US) back within a year. “All we have to do is put your face on the billboards and the advertisements, and people will flock from all around.” Which is probably true. I did my best to keep my responses as ambivalent as possible for the rest of the meal.

As we ate liberal amounts of two different types of baijiu (白酒—local booze) were passed around. Traditional business practice drinking rules stipulate that one has to toast and take a drink with every other person at the table at least once (if not more) in order to show your respect for them. This goes for everyone at the table, which results in a lot of drinking. The food eaten and the alcohol drunk, we were whisked back to Jincheng (the main city where I have been living) for Karaoke, where more beer accompanied the singing. Once again I was grateful to the Beatles for being famous enough to be offered on every single karaoke list in Asia.

I had thought that I had more or less kept up with my hosts in terms of drinking, but it was soon clear that I had not reached the expected level of drunkenness. By the time the we had paid for expired, most of my hosts had thrown up and were passed out on the couches in the karaoke room, giving me the chance to slip back to the ARDY office while they stumbled back to a friend’s car.

So if anyone’s interested in splitting stock in a restaurant in rural Sichuan, let me know.