BOOM. The explosion shook the windows of the office where Wes and I were meeting with students for office and library hours.
We weren't sure what the source was. My mind raced past the usual suspects -- this sounded bigger than the normal bottle rockets or strings of firecrackers -- and went immediately to the brick quarries they apparently have up in the hills not far from campus. Then it went to recent coal mine explosions (a recent one in the other Shanxi killed 74 people) "Dynamite?" I asked. "Maybe."
Then there was another. BOOOM. Another. BOOOM. Another BOOOOM.
We excused ourselves from the conversations we were having with undeterred students to discover a huge display of colorful aerial fireworks going off just West of campus. "Whoa. What's that all about?" Wes asked.
"Is today a festival? Some holiday?" I asked a student.
"No. Nothing special," she said, not even bothering to stand up and get a glance. She'd seen PLENTY of fireworks in her day. With grad school classes in Thailand each winter, I've somehow managed to NEVER be in China during Spring Festival, but those who have describe it as being almost like a warzone, with nearly constant shellings of fireworks throughout the day making your ears ring. This was just a tiny tiny sliver of what it's like then.
"It's better than 4th of July," I said.
"Yeah. I guess that says something when just any day in China can have a bigger fireworks display than on 4th of July in America."
A good 20 minutes later, as the explosions continued, I asked another student, who had since arrived, about the display, which students pretty much ignored.
"Maybe it's a wedding," she said. "Some rich people, when they get married, they do this."
I tried to calculate how many tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars this display would have cost in the US. "They must be very rich."
I wonder if they're trying to frighten off the same ghosts they try to stave off when they open a new building.