And I’ve seen some fireworks. The first time I left the country was July 4th 1986. That was the year they unveiled the refurbished Statue of Liberty with a huge fireworks display. My plane departed JFK just as the pyrotechnics began, and I remember looking out of the window as the plane tilted over the harbor and thinking, “Holy Jesus, it’s the apocalypse!”
Then my wife and I lived in Columbus, Ohio for five years, home to the famous “Red, White, and Boom!” display that every waitress for fourteen miles around will tell you is just the best fireworks ever, hon, and don’t you let no one tell you different.
The fireworks in Hong Kong, though, were something entirely different.
For one thing, there were movements. We’d been waiting for the display to begin for maybe an hour when I turned to Ellen and asked what time it was. She glanced at her wrist and said, “Just about eight. They should start any minute—“
BOOM! And like that they had our attention. Huge green bursts followed by red bursts, followed by white. Then more red, some huge “blooming lotus”—soft, white bursts that disintegrated slowly—and shatterings of yellow spreading out in front of and above the skyline of Hong Kong Island.
Once they’d warmed us up, though, they held back. White hissing flares lifted from the harbor, forming an arch that rose higher and higher until it pulled apart, making room for green and yellow flares that rose, fell, and burst silently before hitting the water. White, you realized pretty soon, was used like the curtain during a stage play, signaling the end of one act and the start of another. Every time white appeared then, the crowd would roar and applaud, afraid it was over, until more flares would rise and the sky would be filled with orange smiley faces, or the red flowers that form the Hong Kong flag, or the symbol for China 60 which appeared, oddly enough, 60 times. It’s almost like they planned it or something.
Part of what makes Hong Kong fireworks so spectacular, of course, is just the setting. Fireworks are one thing: but fireworks set against a skyline of neon-lit buildings and crisscrossing spotlights? The sound, too, was amazing: we were nestled in a little park up on a walkway, our view of the harbor framed by buildings on the left and right, with another rank of skyscrapers just behind us. Every time there was an explosion, then, it burst off the water, pounded against the buildings behind us, then got trapped in a valley of reverb off the buildings to our left and right. The effect was of being surrounded by the drum section of the University of Indiana marching band, forced to play louder and louder and harder and harder just to make up for their pathetic excuse of a football team: Boom! Bam! Ratta-tat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!
In all, they used 31,888 fireworks in just 23 minutes, roughly 1,386 fireworks per minute, or 23 per second.
Excuse me for acting like a sixteen-year-old skate punk (and for using italics twice in two lines), but how cool is that?
Pretty damn, as my grannie used to say.
Okay, not really, but had she seen these fireworks, that’s what she would have said. Or worse. They were just that cool.
Finally, though, a series of white flares burst up from the water, followed by huge white lotus flowers and red bursts of light. Then silence.
The crowd stood for a moment, awe struck and not wanting to believe it was over. Then they applauded, heartily, appreciatively. Parents bent to gather their children, old men started to rise from their seats, and lovers swapped their gum back, trying to remember who brought the cherry and who liked grape.
Until blooms of red and green appeared, silent and suspended, over the harbor. Everyone stopped what they were doing—and stared. The colors hung for what seemed like hours, then started to drift down. Immediately, other bursts appeared where the first had just been, still silent, then others behind them, and more behind them, until the sky was filled with thick, soft, falling color, big and silent and drifting softly like snow in early December.
It was, if not one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life, easily one of the most dramatic. And the crowd knew it. Dropping their water bottles, their half-assembled strollers, their canes and cameras and newborns, everyone burst into loud and sustained shouts of “Owaaahh!” and applause and applause and applause. And then more applause.
And that, my friend? That is what you call harmony.