Thursday, October 2, 2014
We probably could have bought any junky toy with a "Made in China" sticker, but we decided to go a little more authentic. There was a little shop where passersby were welcomed by the smell of raw fish, and where the clerk was happily chatting away in Mandarin with her customers. Perfect! Moving beyond the fish, we wound through a maze of shelves of toys, food stacked high on unopened shipping boxes, and candy bins taking up one-fourth of the floor space. We decided it would be somewhat adventurous, and hopefully funny, to pick out some candy with absolutely no English writing on the label. In Mexico, we often find candy that is salty, sour, spicy, and sweet all in one. We were hoping for some interesting surprises with our mystery Chinese candy too.
Wandering to the back of the store, I found a corner packed with brightly colored boxes of all shapes and sizes. Knowing that the Chinese are big on fireworks, I decided a box of those would be a perfect consolation gift to make up for the potentially disgusting candy. We are one of those families who never buys our own fireworks. We prefer to instead gather with friends and watch other people literally burn through $200 worth of paper and chemicals. So we decided it would be a real treat for our kids to participate in an ancient Chinese tradition and to get to use matches. Additionally, they would be the only ones on our street putting on a light show for no reason in October. I found a canister of some extra-long sparklers, figuring their burn time gives more bang for the buck and probably fewer troubles with the TSA. Plus, my inexperienced children would be less likely to need a trip to the hospital lighting sparklers than bottle rockets.
Our first night back, we gathered the children and spent an hour going through photos and telling them about all the interesting places we had visited. We wrapped up with Chinatown, at which point I pulled out the candy. They liked choosing two pieces each of the unknown, and were kind enough to not complain too much about only two pieces each. The candy was stiff and chewy, like Laffy Taffy, but with real fruit flavors instead of artificial. They thought it was weird, and asked if we had brought anything else. I pulled out the sparklers, and they were excited to find 50 sticks crowded into the container. They each took one out and we headed to the front porch. After a few unsuccessful attempts at lighting the sparklers in the night's breeze, we moved into the garage. #2 got one of the sticks to catch and burn like a candle for about five seconds before it went out and just smoked. We tried with two others and got the same result. We looked at the package to try to figure out what was wrong with these sparklers, but my limited memory from one year of studying Mandarin in college was no help with the gold characters covering the canister. We brought the sparklers inside where Kent took one sniff and realized that our surprise gift giving had backfired, so to speak. We had brought home another 4000-year-old Chinese tradition. Even though the kids' excitement quickly turned to disappointment, at least we can now add incense to our family meditation practices. So much for our fun October light show; incense doesn't pack quite the same punch.