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  • Writer's pictureDC Eastman

Burn on the 4th of July


Picture this: the Fourth of July on steroids, with a pinch of insanity and a sprinkle of “What the F***?”



If you ever find yourself in Taiwan around the Lantern Festival, there's one event you absolutely cannot miss – the Fong Pao Fireworks Festival in Yanshui, Tainan.

It all started back in 1885 when the town was hit by a cholera epidemic.


The locals, in their desperation, turned to Guan Yu, the Chinese god of war, and decided fireworks were the best way to get his attention. According to them, it worked, and not as many people succumbed to the disease as in the other neighboring towns.

Now they celebrate every year by setting off a gazillion bottle rockets.


The "beehive" fireworks, where thousands of bottle rockets shoot out from structures that look like beehives, continue from dusk until dawn. Everyone, including locals and seasoned festival-goers, wears motorcycle helmets, jackets, gloves, and a towel taped to the bottom of the helmet to serve as some kind of protective cloak.





The beehive fireworks symbolize driving away evil spirits and welcoming good fortune, but for others like yours, truly, it meant bad luck and hospitalization. But I suppose that’s what you get for going on a bender at a religious festival.


It’s an all-out war.


We’d be sitting having our beers on the curb, and then someone would spot fireworks going up in the air a few blocks away. That would be our cue. We’d down our beers, stomp out our ciggies, and gear up for the next battle.




As soon as you get to one of the spots where one of the gods is parked in their glass boxes, you’d put on your helmet and wait for the horizontal bottle rockets to start blasting you from all sides. At the same time, they also through strings of firecrackers under your feet. If you don’t hop and dance, you could lose a toe.


This mayhem lasts for about two to three minutes, after which everybody takes off their helmets, hands out high-fives, and chucks more beers down their gullets until the next activity takes place somewhere else in the small town.


But getting myself blasted to bits from all sides wasn’t enough. No sirree. Fueled by cheap beer and 711 whiskey, I raised the bar a bit.

 

One of the locals asked me if I wanted a scarf of fireworks wrapped around my neck. I looked at the four friends (there were only two, but I was seeing double at that time) who studied me with anime eyes, probably thinking, “Don’t do it, you f**cking idiot.”




Of course, at that point in my life, rational thinking was like kryptonite for me, and I nodded my head. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that the towel I had taped around the bottom of my neck had come loose, leaving a gap between my shoulder and the helmet.


After it was over, my clothes were shot to bits and I almost choked because of the all the smoke in my helmet. I ripped off the helmet and gasped for air, and that’s when I realized something else was wrong. My face and neck felt as if somebody had thrown boiling water on it.




I walked over to a fire truck and asked the guy for some ice, but after he studied the back of my neck and my face, his eyes widened, and he instructed me to sit down. He jumped on his two-way radio, and within minutes, an ambulance came to whisk me away to the hospital.




In my drunken state, I didn’t worry so much. I thought it was the typical knee-jerked over-concerned response I had come to admire and loathe of the kind Taiwanese people. I found it even more hilarious when I showed up at the hospital and found a news camera crew waiting for me.


Here is the news video featuring an interview with my drunken ass.




I went back into the festival two hours later, but this time, I refrained from being Ricky Rocket and observed the spectacle from the outskirts… with a beer in my hand, of course. Idiot.


The next morning, I woke up feeling and looking like shit. I received messages from the concerned personnel at the school I was teaching at, asking me if I was OK because they saw me on the news.


I was horrified. I couldn’t really remember the interview and what I had said in my drunken state... and not to mention my wounds!




I still can’t believe how fast I healed. Within two weeks, it was all gone. Maybe they’re right about the gods’ mystical powers in that town.


All I know is that I’ll never go test their patience again by getting stupid drunk and wrapping fireworks around my neck…






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writerdannyraye
14 มิ.ย.

Oh my gosh, Dan! I love how this post is laced with humor, just you cracking up at your own lack of rational thinking due to the drunken state. But how awesome that you got to be on Taiwanese news! And you have an accent! I can't hear it come through your books when I read them lol Thank you for sharing this with images, by the way. I'm gonna show it to my reckless daughter who's fearless with fireworks. And thanks for posting it just in time for the 4th of July!

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