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Are you ready to go totally crackers?
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I celebrated my first Chinese New Year by nearly blowing up my boss, his wife and their neighbors. My firecracker had fallen off its mantle and shot into the crowd. I screamed in terror as fireballs narrowly missed my head, sending a crowd of Beijingers ducking for cover. That's what you call Peking duck.


The cold night air was filled with gunpowder and explosions and here we go again. The expression tai bang le (really fantastic) perfectly sums New Year's Eve. If you're new to China, it will be a night you'll never forget. Tai BANG le!


New Year's Eve celebrations are big occasions around the world highlighted by a huge 20-minute firework display at midnight. Local authorities stage shows in a public place and hordes gather in parks or town squares to enjoy the buzz.


But in China, everybody gets in on the act and fireworks explode everywhere. The noise is surreal.


Last year Beijing locals went absolutely crackers. The Beijing government had lifted the ban of fireworks in 2006 and the capital lit up like a Roman candle. A few days after last year's big night, I caught a plane back to Australia and from 20,000 feet, could still see fireworks going off down below.


Chinese New Year is a special occasion and my boss had invited me over to his home for dinner. He lives in a high-rise apartment and we could see the fire works exploding outside his window.


But before we let off our own crackers, we took part in another Chinese New Year tradition - watching CCTV's gala show, the world's most watched TV program.


The five-hour telecast attracts 700 million viewers and is packed with singing, dancing and comedy sketches, which include one-liners that become popular sayings for the rest of the year. Last year, two of China's most popular comedians Zhao Benshan and Song Dandan played farmers who had set up a dubious website promoting a rooster that laid golden eggs.


Song tells her husband Zhao: Ni tai you cai le (you're very talented), and the expression still sparks laughter among my Chinese friends. The gala show is screened on CCTV9 with English subtitles.


After the show we joined residents, who were letting off fireworks in the large courtyard. I had bought a bag of crackers and my pride and joy was a 20-ball rocket shooter until it all went horribly wrong. Despite the drama, everybody laughed.


The experience reminded me of a time when fireworks were legal back home and cheeky youngsters like myself were busy blowing up neighborhood letterboxes.


Poor Mrs Mertle of 46 Warrington Street, Bexley (a suburb of Sydney) can blame a Chinese cook for her splintered letterbox.


Fireworks originated in China about 2,000 years ago and some say were discovered by accident by a Chinese cook. He happened to mix charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter, all common kitchen ingredients at the time. When he compressed the mixture inside a bamboo tube and lit the fuse, the world of fireworks began. Tai BANG le!


(China Daily by Patrick Whiteley February 4, 2008)


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