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Fireworks –Writing Assignment, Year 1, Amherst College, 2006__Jason Leung

Fireworks                                           Jason Leung, Year 1, Amherst College, 2006 

Fireworks have always been one of the focuses of my childhood fascination. A joy shared by many friends of my age, they represented a sort of ultimate boy’s toy, so fundamentally more animated than mere action figures and their movable parts. They beguiled me with their siren song of loud reports and bright explosions, their dangerous volatility only adding to their glamour. Nor did I think of their impermanence as a disadvantage against playing with them. Part of their attraction was their seemingly miraculous abilities of transformation from colorful little objects to bits of charred remains, things that we could spectacularly destroy without fear of punishment. Besides, it was my parents who were paying for them. 

My enthusiasm for them may have been reinforced by the fact that I had few opportunities to get hands-on with them. The big city I grew up in had banned fireworks because of some unhappy history, so for a long time my contact with them was limited to the dazzling displays the government put on every New Year, which I watched on television. Fortunately, there was a time when fireworks were not banned in the territories outside the city, so for several years straight my family would gather friends and go on sightseeing trips to those places. At daytime there was plenty to see, but for me, the real fun came at night. Before those places banned fireworks as well, we would go to the fireworks shops before sunset in town and stock up on classic bottle rockets, Catherine wheels, Roman Candles, powerful shells packed in long, inch-thick tubes, bandoliers of firecrackers and my personal favorite, fist-sized cardboard tanks which alternately shot forward erratically and sprayed sparks from their faux cannons.

After the sun went down, the boys, with adult supervision, of course - would locate some empty ground and let off out loot in a two-hour pyrotechnic carnival. We started off with the cheap and plentiful bottle rockets, touching off volleys of them to cut blazing trails across the darkened ground. Catherine wheels spun and sprayed sparks in every direction; fortunately their fuses were long enough so we could run to a safe distance before they went off. The larger fireworks, which we usually saved for last, were even more dangerous. Our parents would only let adults light the big tube launchers which shot great flaming patterns high into the night sky, rivaling in a small way the magnificence of the New Year celebrations. Those also had dangerously erratic fuse delays, but at least no one was tempted to peer down the tube to check if they were duds. Once the adults broke them out, I remember putting on my old swimming goggles as my safety-concerned parents instructed to protect my eyes. They were uncomfortable and blurry things and I could only see blurs in the dark through their scratched lenses, so eventually I took them off. There were also less dangerous fireworks too, strings which sparked and burned slowly along their length and “sand bombs”, tiny paper bags filled with nothing but sand, a dusting of black powder and little pieces of flint. They didn’t even have fuses and the only way to ignite them was to throw them hard at the ground, where they made loud pops. I didn’t have to cringe and run for cover to enjoy the latter, so even those relative squibs occupied a fair share of our time. 

Nevertheless, the true fun was to be had in those tank-shaped rockets. They glided bravely along the ground after being lit, propelled on two rocket flares. After fizzing to a stop, another set of fireworks would spray a shower of sparks at imaginary enemies. As the fireworks inside the tank never exploded after burning out, we could always recover the empty hulk intact. In this regard, they were the only fireworks which had replay value. We would line up the spent tanks and send fresh battalions rolling towards them, try to hit them with our remaining bottle rockets, or even replace the spent fireworks inside the tank with fresh bottle rockets, sending them on one final glory charge before they too exploded. Devising fresh uses for the spent tank fireworks was something my friends and I spent much time planning during the days of the trip. Reinforcing each others’ creativity, we sought to one-up each others’ master plans involving the most rockets and the most tanks. Most of these were Frankenstein creations that ran along the theme of combining multiple fireworks into bigger fireworks using packaging material, remains of fireworks and rubber bands. It was perhaps fortunate for our health that the most outlandish ones never went off. 

Each trip lasted for several days and several nights and my family made such trips three years in a row, from 1997 to 1999. Each year was a new summer holiday leading to a slightly different destination, but I tend to think of all those fireworks nights, between which we would comb the town for a shop selling the same brand of firework tanks or seek out open but safe ground, as one long night, connected by similarity of experience. For days on end I would see local sights, fall ill and even transfer schools, but during those nights my family and friends shared the fun sense of complicity for circumventing the law.  During the last trip in 1999 this was particularly acute, as the local government had also clamped down on fireworks like my hometown did. We acquired our fireworks that year from the secret attic of a nondescript store, which we reached through climbing up a ladder, and our supply was decidedly limited. During those few fireworks nights we pretty much hustled from spot to spot, away from towns and possible police interference. We let off fireworks in turn on a riverbank, a desolate field with nothing in sight, and a spot next to two houses where the loud fireworks triggered a louder series of dog barks, forcing us to relocate rather quickly. With all its highlights, that was a particularly memorable night. It was also to be the last time I had the opportunity to get my hands on fireworks. I think you will not begrudge me in missing those nights, which I regard as one of the high points of my childhood.

: 二段閱後感: 

蕭若碧 (Amy Leung, Jason’s 母親) 

和一群一同長大的孩子, 在大人手挽手的呵護之下, 穿插於邊境小鎮的大街小巷, 爬上小雜貨店的塵封閣樓, 翻寶藏似的找出違法的煙花炮仗, 然後焦急地等到晚上, 避開公安執法的範圍, 走到黯淡荒蕪的河岸邊, 為黑暗的夜空, 畫出一朵又一朵火樹銀花, 耳邊是震撼人心的呼嘯和爆炸聲音, 夾雜著受了驚嚇的狗隻唁唁狂吠…

所有童年成長路上的磕磕絆絆, 疾病, 轉變, 在這刻都不重要了, 那種興奮期待的心情, 小小的冒險犯難經歷, 最後凝結成永恆美麗絢爛的一晚!

相信這是Jason 想寫的東西 

Yu Fong-ying (余晃英) 

Jason shows immense talent in writing. At the level of English 100, he has already got a firm grasp of some sophisticated techniques to give shape and substance to his reminiscences of a childhood fascination. There is the climactic buildup from ordinary firecrackers to the “one glory charge,” the parallelism between the danger of the fireworks themselves to the danger of skirting law, the anticlimax at the end of the first spate of narration (the first paragraph), the paradox of enthusiasm, the contrast between day and night. The range of vocabulary and syntax indicates a mature hold on the language. I like especially the realized sense of wonder at beauty, impermanence, and sadness.  

There are a few grammatical and other infelicities (corrected in this version) but  the exuberance of the narration carries us past them almost unheeded. Still, the exuberance could be contained, and a greater precision attained for both grammar and content..




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