Stories from Mike Rogero's travels around the world

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Rogero.com Travel Stories


How About A Few Million Bottle-Rockets - Pointed At YOU!!
Yenshui, March 1999

A hundred years ago, a small town in Southern Taiwan was afflicted with a plague that nothing seemed to help. The local doctors were at a loss as to what could be done as the townsmen died. The town called in a local shaman who suggested that the only way to rid the town of the plague was through fire. Fires were set, gun powder was burned, and rockets were sent through the town. The legend says that this rather unconventional method worked and the town of Yen Shui was freed from the plague.

Each year around March, Yen Shui continues the ritual cleaning but in a way that is hard to believe unless you've been there for yourself. The town is filled with literally millions of fireworks, mostly stacked in large walls specifically built and pointed directly into the two. These walls of rockets, usually 6-7 feet high look like a porcupine with quills of rocket heads facing out. Unlike most fireworks displays where one looks up and watched the explosions, these are not designed to go up at all. They are fired directly into the town flying horizontally and looking for all the world like the US bombing of Bagdad, but in a much smaller area.

On the evening of the festival the down of 30,000 people swells to 200,000 or more all crowded into the center of town for the festival. A central part of the festival is taking the gods in a ritual tour of the town. The gods are small figurines carved of wood that are placed in carts with metal cages designed to keep most of the rockets out. These carts are pulled through the masses of people and wherever there is a cart, the fireworks will be sailing.

Imagine if you will standing in a small rural town with 250,000 of your closest friends, the night is dark but you see trails of fire around you in all directions as millions of fireworks fly horizontally through the crowd. You are wearing a motorcycle helmet thank goodness as every few seconds a firework will fly directly into your face leaving black burns on the plastic visor. The crowd is surging back and forth as the carts carrying the local gods pass and the sound of gongs and other Chinese instruments blearing from loudspeakers is deafening. If you fall or stumble you will be crushed by the feet of the crowds, however you are so packed in with bodies that many times you can lift your feet off the ground and be supported by those pressed against you.

This goes on from about 9:00pm till after midnight, and if you are lucky enough to emerge from the crowds and stumble home to wash the cordite out of your nose in thick black patches, or the dirt off your hands, you'll be sure to swear that the plague has definitely left your bones for another year.


 

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