Today the city has gone crazy! This is especially funny because it has about one-tenth the usual population. But it must be the liveliest noisiest tenth. The explosions started around 8:30 AM.
I had been up until 3:30 reading a novel. But I couldn't feel grouchy at the sort of ebullience that has to start setting off fireworks first thing in the morning. You can imagine that by the time it got dark, it was almost unbelievable. At first I found it a little frightening. But it's hard to know whether that was also an effect of going somewhere else in Beijing than my neighborhood. I'm not used to adventuring.
You could say I had a date, but it was a friend-date. I was nervous anyway, in almost exactly a "date" sort of way. I got there too early because I hadn't wanted to be late. Then I walked around to kill time. People were blowing things up, everywhere. Explosions on the sidewalks, dangerous-looking bursts of brilliance shooting high into the air. Near and distant thundering sounds, nearly constant.
I was still nervous when I called to say I was there. But it turned out fine. The Lama, whom I had met in HK and liked a lot, had agreed that it seemed too fine a holiday for us each to be sitting alone in our rooms reading our respective classical Chinese texts. For once, it was a social engagement that I really wanted to go to, and at no point regretting agreeing to, at no point felt like canceling. But I was still anxious. He is a professor--would I seem young and silly and ignorant? And he is a he--would it be weird?
But it was fine, it was natural. We are kindred spirits, and companionably shared Peking duck at an unpretentious restaurant, talking shop (he does Asian and comparative philosophy), talking about life in Beijing, talking just at random. He was good at asking questions, and the conversation never flagged. I did not feel too ignorant. I even felt okay confessing to him that I had found his book in the library and read part of it. He didn't think it sycophantic or stalkerish, just seemed pleased that I had shown an interest.
Afterward, we strolled through the narrow hutongs in his neighborhood. Many were refurbished, little coffee-shops, restaurants, youth hostels--a pleasant comfortable feeling to the place, possibly in part due to the fact that people were gleefully blowing things up and setting things on fire (okay, for "things" read fireworks) every few steps. There are long strips of fireworks that set each other off with a domino effect--these enterprising folks had draped theirs on a ladder, and had great lights too.
We ended up near the lake where Pocket of Bolts and I had gone ice-chairing, Houhai--a strip of expensive but nice bars where we went in and had a drink and talked some more while sitting by the window and watching fireworks go up over the water.
It dawned on me how much better I would feel here if I had friends like this. We talked until after 11, hardly noticing the time passing, and the subway was closed. He hailed a cab for me, and then I rode through the glittering, shining, exploding city. The driver occasionally startled and flinched when fireworks shot out at us from the sides of the street. The fireworks that can be obtained on this particular festival are NO JOKE! These are real fireworks.
I made it home just before midnight, and even in my modest little courtyard, which faces west and away from the city, there were gigantic municipal-sized fireworks shooting up from the little pre-school in the back, bursting into momentary flowers that filled my whole window. Meanwhile, in every other courtyard in the city,
the same thing was happening. Fireworks against a backdrop of fireworks, all civilian as far as I could tell, nothing coordinated, everything in gleeful excess and wonderfulness.
Now it is past one. I talked to Pocket of Bolts for a while, told him all about my evening. The resounding explosions are finally starting to die down, the way popcorn finishes popping--you think it's down, and then there is another explosive little round. But eventually silence, an exciting smell of burnt gunpowder. And in me a strange afterglow feeling, almost a restlessness, fading sparks of unaccustomed happiness, alcohol in my blood, deep tiredness, so deep that suddenly my eyes will hardly stay open.
So this is the new year. Contra the Death Cab for Cutie song, I DO feel different. I'm just not quite sure how or why.