Thursday, January 3, 2008

New year and firecrackers


We spent our first new year in the Netherlands, quietly and peacefully. I was wondering where have all our neighbors in the street gone. It seems that most of the households lights were off. Other than one day, the 31 of December, the sound of firecrackers woke us up in the early morning until after midnight in the new year. I was woken up by a round of loud crackers and checked up the time, it was 3am in the new year.

Then I got to know, the legal time to play fireworks in the Netherlands is from 10am on Dec.31, to 2am on Jan.1st. It was a gloomy day on the 31st. Many kids were gathered on the street playing fireworks. They have to enjoy the whole time span that was legal to play, rather than waiting until the night falls. Around the midnight, it was a fireworks show! We stayed in our balcony for a while, the whole town was in the smoke and smell of firecrackers.

Some interesting data relating to the fireworks in the new year celebration:
1. Hundreds of people were fined by police for having played fireworks out of the legal time period;
2. The auto insurance company would have to pay four million euros for the cars damaged by firecrackers during the new year.
3. This year, shops all over have stored 9,500 tons of fireworks, and sold for around 60 million euro.

On the new year day, we went out for a walk, at the same time inspecting the battle field remains of the previous night's firecrackers. I have passed the age of playing fireworks. Although I enjoy the splendid scene in the sky, it also reminds me the busy emergency rooms in the hospitals because of the screaming emergency trucks passing by. It reminds me of the firework factory disaster in 2000 in the Dutch town of Enschede, in which in a split second almost 400 houses were reduced to their foundations and another 1,000 damaged.

Why do people know that it is dangerous but still playing with it? In the toy industry in the past year, so many recall of toys made in China due to problems that might have potential risk, such as the lead paint. But why is fireworks not banned fully with so much apparent damage? Isn't it burning the money for a second of loud sound or shining in the sky?

In China, people always think that a new year without firecrackers doesn't feel like a new year. In the history, the new year - nian - is an evil. People play firecrackers to scare him away. How were firecrackers able to survive but some other new year rituals dying without any complain? Chinese cities have banned firecrackers for several years, but it seems to be loosening the control in recent years. I would really hope that there would be some great toys coming into the market for the celebration of the new year, with light and sound, to replace fireworks.

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