Each November in the UK we celebrate a failed attempt to once blow up a king by huddling together in a draughty back garden to watch (from a safe distance) someone’s dad struggle to ignite (at arms length) a succession of damp fireworks.
This bizarre festival to celebrate the capture of a religious terrorist is then made all the more strange by the fact that we encourage our children to produce effigies of him – Guy Fawkes – that we then chuck onto a fire and watch him burn.
After our terrorist has burned and we have ‘enjoyed’ the disappointing whizz-bang-pops (that British fireworks have become) we sit around eating sugar coated apples and discuss how big, dangerous and exciting fireworks used to be in the ‘olden-days’ when we were small.
In Myanmar they do fireworks a little differently….
I’ve witnessed the orgy of light and noise that is the New Year celebrations at Sydney harbour in Australia, I’ve been to the Benidorm November festival and I was in Monrovia (the capital of Liberia) when the Chinese army let off of an Independence day firework display right in front of my house, that left the rest of the city digging up their AK47’s in the belief that the war had returned, before the police drove through the streets shouting “false alarm” through loud hailers and encouraging everyone to rebury their arms.
I’ve seen some fireworks in my time.
But all that fades into insignificance when compared with the phantasmagorical fire balloon festival that is Tazaungdaing, in Taunggyi that is happening right now in Myanmar.
This is one of the many ‘Nya Mee Gyi’ balloons that are released during the festival. These amazingly complicated contraptions are a paper and bamboo balloon that is inflated using hot air from flaming torches. As the balloon begins to rise the fuses of the fireworks attached to a framework undercarriage are lit and (if all goes to plan) a breathtaking display of fireworks is presented from below the balloon that builds in intensity the higher the balloon rises.
If the balloon successfully ascends and the fireworks go off at the right time then the the crowd goes wild, and the pyrotechnicians congratulate themselves on a job well done, this is a competition, there is money to be won for the best display worth many millions of Kyat. However more importantly there are reputations to be upheld. The ‘firemasters’ or ‘meesaya’ spend months designing and building their balloons and perfecting their fireworks displays and each year they get more and more elaborate.
Unfortunately every year there are incidents when everything doesn’t go to plan, and sometimes balloons don’t behave as they should. Casualties and sometimes fatalities occur as revellers are packed in close together in the balloon launching ground and cannot escape if a balloon were to fail.
And as you can see from the video, being under the balloon is half the ‘fun’, this experience is, as a Myanmar friend explained to me “The running of the bulls in Myanmar”.