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War Correspondent on the Loose by Lynley Smith

05 October 2012


I may never have said this before, and in fact I have barely admitted it to myself, but I have always had a hankering to be a war correspondent!

I think the idea of racing into a place of great danger and being the first to get the news out about what is really happening at the risk of life and limb has an aura of adventure that is hard to find in any other occupation.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have come as close as I'm ever likely to get to my dream coming true!

This evening I took the opportunity to investigate, at close range, the Chinese traditional Lantern Festival activities in the village of Qinyundian, near Beijing.

I have reached the conclusion that the Chinese will be the last to notice when, and if, World War 3 erupts, and reading below you will understand why!

I was sitting quietly reading in my dormitory, the term used for all accommodation connected to schools in China, when all hell broke loose this evening. Of course February 6 was the date this year for the Lantern Festival, so I expected some celebrations in town. But when large bangs started coming from all sides and at very close quarters, I knew I had to get out and be part of it!

I popped next door to invite a young Chinese student, who has chosen Evens as her English name and refuses to change it to something more conventional, to join me on the adventure and the two of us made our way down the narrow main street to see how close we could get to the action.

Bian pou, or very loud bangers, were going off everywhere, joined by the cacophony of car alarms as these devices succumbed to the evening's entertainment. The street was all but deserted, as families were occupied with igniting their stash of fireworks in their courtyards, or at their front doors. We ducked and dived along the street through a thick blanket of smoke, avoiding piles of rubbish and the odd car that wandered along the street. Periodically we had to duck behind parked cars as we noticed someone ahead of us about to light another powerful volley on the road edge. We stopped to view a magnificent display of fireworks that some villager appeared to be aiming at the full moon, and noted a little dog nonchalantly nosing it's way along the street, not the least perturbed by the commotion - perhaps it was already deaf!

Looking down the street, with pockets of smoke rising everywhere and close-by percussive explosions ricocheting off walls and making me jump, I could not help but think this must be what a village would look like in the throes of war.

Evens and I finally retreated to the safety of our dormitory, not, I want to make it clear, because of the noisy celebrations, but because our thick winter jackets weren't a match for the fast dropping temperatures.

Every culture has its traditions and celebrations - New Zealand has its rugby matches, Santa parades and beach barbecues, Spain has its Three Kings Festival parades where streets are carpeted with more lollies than I thought existed on the planet, and China has its mock war zones (I think the latter is definitely the winner when it comes to creating an adrenaline rush!)

To each their own!

Lynley Smith

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