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A Pyrotechnic War Zone
The Beehive Fireworks Festival Yanshui, Taiwan
February 17, 2014 By John Saboe
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I had heard about the Beehive Fireworks Festival from some of my Taiwanese friends. It is one of the biggest events on the island that helps bring to an end The Lunar New Year festivities. The other one is the world famous Sky Lantern Festival held in Pingxi, Northern Taiwan. Having seen both now I would describe them as the complete polar opposites of each other. The Sky Lantern Festival, although crowded, is a ballet in the sky. The sky lanterns glowing and dancing as they fly away with the dreams of the releasers written on their four sides.
The Beehive Fireworks Festival held in Yanshui, Taiwan could be described as a war zone with no enemy. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of firecrackers and or bottle rockets lit simultaneously. It’s called the “beehive” because when the firecrackers(rockets) are lit they stream out like bees leaving their hive. Wildly flying off in all directions. Spectators geared up with motorbike helmets, towels draped over the necks and heavy coats. Some wearing an extra pair of pants. It’s dangerous in the war zone of firecrackers.
I’m not exaggerating. I ignored advice from my friends and decided not to gear up. I thought if I was far enough away from the “beehive” I wouldn’t need any protection. I was lucky. That mistake could have cost me an eye, ear, or possibly even a finger. I was, I thought, far enough away from the action. But the force of the blast is so powerful firecrackers fly for hundreds of meters. I was in the street when the center of the beehive was about 200 meters away. Once I saw the firecrackers flying and heard them whizzing past me I ran for shelter.
I met a teacher from Tainan earlier in the evening who was showing me around the area. He was supposed to wait for me in this shelter. He too had no protection. But he was nowhere to be found. Missing in action. I think he was really scared. I hardly blame him. He took off never to be found.
The festival started in 1885. According to the official website for the event there was a cholera epidemic sweeping through Yanshui with little in the way of medicine to help. Locals prayed to the god of war Gaun Di for assistance. With the Gods help and the faithful lighting firecrackers throughout the streets the plague was wiped out overnight. The ritual has taken place ever since.
The video I hope captures some of the spirit of the evening. I know it helps me recall some pretty scary moments. If you see me there next year I’ll be the one dressed as a medieval knight.
A stop on the rugged north coast of Taiwan while cycling the island. Taiwan is a cycling paradise!
John's a former radio announcer so the audio on these is great - smooth pipes! The content is great if you're into traveling to exotic places, exploring other cultures, delving into your spiritual side and getting far off the beaten track. John climbs mountains, treks to far out places, explores rat palaces, caves, monkeys, gibbons, tigers, camel safaris and disappearing cultures. Highly recommended!
- Mark Bossert
John's podcasts are both fascinating and entertaining. Having travelled to India, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan amongst others, his insights are based on first hand personal experience. I would advise anyone travelling to the far east to check these out first.