He looked deeply into my eyes.
“There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you.”
“Will you go to the Yanshui fireworks festival with me?”
Yes! Yes, a thousand time yes!….wait, what?
The Yanshui Fireworks Beehive Festival was to be on Valentine’s Day this year in Taiwan and if there’s anything more romantic than fireworks being shot at your head ON PURPOSE, well then, I don’t know what it is. This festival is said to have begun after a cholera epidemic back in the 1800’s and the fireworks were a way to exorcise those pesky demons. The beehives have nothing to do with honey and everything to do with shooting off as many bottle rockets as possible from its two sided shelves. Rumor has it that this festival is the 3rd most dangerous in the world. I’m guessing number two is Running of the Bulls and number one is like….any war zone.
Warning bells went off in my head, as did reminders that I am afraid of fire, but I accepted the invitation to the festival. Love was to be in the air…..along with clouds of smoke and fiery embers.
As the day drew closer, I grew more concerned about my safety at this festival of fire attacks. My dad sending me suggestions of looking up firework accidents was not helpful. I decided I would wimp out, stand on a hillside nearby the event, and take pictures. It would be awesome to witness this massive event, but I didn’t really want to take a firecracker to my precious face. So, when the others babbled on about buying a helmet for protection and wearing special clothing, I ignored it, as this seemed like practical advice that didn’t pertain to me. Well, let me tell you now, future attendees of Yanshui Fireworks Beehive Festival, YOU BEST WEAR PROTECTION. NO MATTER WHAT. I’M SERIOUS.
For when our taxi dropped us off at the festival, right up the street from the mayhem, I came to realize that there was no bystander vantage point for me to hide at. God damn, there wasn’t even any hills. The whole neighborhood was full of deranged people setting off various kinds of firecrackers, fireworks, bombs, whatever the hell those things were, and I’m really not even sure if some of these people were legitimately part of the official firework-setting-off-committee. The maze of streets each had fireworks shooting off into the sky at differing times and you never knew when or where the fireworks would start and stop. The boys had put on their scooter helmets; duct taped a towel around their neck to keep anything from going up the helmet and were wearing rain jackets for protection. I was wearing nothing so I stayed behind with a three year old child and its parents, thinking no child would be kept in a danger zone. The boys ran off into the crowd and Regina stayed nearby to make sure my helmet-less head didn’t get lost. A replica of some god showed up in a glass case that was being jostled around by guys in extra-protected outfits. I soon found that wherever the gods were at was where the carnage was. Taiwan does religious festivals right.
I saw fireworks being set off on the ground near me and started cozying up to the people in front of me with big, plastic shields. Good thing that I did because that’s when it RAINED FIRE. I remember squealing; “OH MY GOD!!” but sadly, the gods in the glass case could not hear me. I had only a cotton hood on for protection and so I ducked down as far as I could, hoping that my hair would not catch on fire. I felt a firework hit my arm, feeling like being hit by a paintball. In a couple minutes, it was over and it seemed there was no damage done. The three year old was still alive and I knew now that its parents were crazy. I was elated that I’d been hit on the arm because being hit by a firework is good luck, which is why all the crazies stand face to face with the beehives. Greedy bastards.
Regina and I found each other again and decided we needed street food to regain our strength for the next battle. One bag of fried chicken and a curry burrito later, we met up with the boys, Kasey and Josh, by a huge, neon sign stating, “LOVE”. This was the only thing reminiscent of Valentine’s Day and it quickly lost even that sentiment when it was shown to be a beehive, ready to maim.
The boys tried to get as close as they could to the loving fireworks and Regina and I watched from some benches that were about twenty feet away from the crowd. The first firework went off and hit a metal sign on the houses next to it (oh yes, they set these things off next to people’s homes and businesses) with a resounding bang that struck fear into, at least, my heart. If it’s hitting that sign with THAT much power, well then, that’s going to feel great when it hits the people in cardboard armor down below. Jets of fire began shooting out in every direction, even at us!! I had to do the firework jig with my head down, wondering if Regina would be a good enough friend to put out any fires that might start on me. One hit my jeans leaving a mark and Regina got a piece stuck in her helmet. The boys came back with burnt jackets and Kasey had, what he called a burn, on his neck. As we were comparing battle wounds, a group of random foreigner boys came over and one pulled up his shirt excitedly saying, “Isn’t this crazy? I got burnt three times!” and I saw three black burns on his stomach and black holes throughout his clothes. He obviously wanted to start a conversation, but we all just stared at him in confusion and awe until he went away.
We walked through the streets swilling from a bottle of shit wine, as gold, shimmery fireworks filled the sky above us. It was absolutely beautiful and more stunning than any fireworks show I’ve ever seen before. Bright red blood ran down the faces of festivalgoers as they passionately kissed amongst the piles of red trash left behind by the bottle rockets and I thought, love sure is grand.
…….I’m messing with you. That last part was me messing with you. Honestly, it was a thrilling way to spend a Valentine’s Day, but Cupid was obviously far too scared to show his face there. If I’m in Taiwan next year, I aim to go back. This time with protection because, if there’s one thing I really love, it’s my non-burnt face.