Da Nang Fireworks Competition 2009, Vietnam


Da Nang is no major tourist destination. Anyway, it’s worth visiting. We were there to visit my husbands’ family and friends, though we stayed at a hotel (Elegant Hotel). It’s located next to Han River, separated only by a broad street and some constructions at the river bank. Through one of our windows, directing to the street and the river, we could admire the heavily frequented street even without going out by day. There were lots of bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes in any size, color and type. Few private cars and some more cabs were are well part of this scenery. Now we Germans should forget the tidy and regulated traffic concept we have in mind when getting such a description. Here we are talking about a broad four-lane one-way street. Despite visibly separated tracks, it felt like all traffic participants being jumbled in a giant dice cup, spit out again and accidentally rolled around the street. The two-wheelers were occupied by up to five passengers. And normally, certain rules apply for passing, but not in Da Nang: overtaking on the left, on the right, sometimes twelve vehicles neck-and-neck – It’s unbelievable! For me, it was sheer chaos. Impossible to cross the street (or even drive myself), I thought. But somehow, it works! Actually, pedestrians who want to go across this broad street can do so. And here it is – the tutorial “How to cross a street in Vietnam”: Step 1: Never catch a driver’s eye, no matter what kind of vehicle he’s driving! Step 2: With your head held up high and full of self-confidence, go straightforward and do not hesitate! This method works out all right – at least for the Vietnamese. Yet, I have to continue practicing: Even though everything else worked out, no further than in the middle of the street, I made eye contact with some driver and then… Stop! Everything stood still. Suddenly, there was no way forward anymore. But this, too, worked. So far, I’ve been in Vietnam three times and it has always worked well enough. I wish you the best of luck when crossing a Vietnamese street! By the way, honking has nothing to do with you or me. In the Vietnamese traffic jungle, hooting the car horn is considered good manners because everyone wants to call attention. And this seems to be the recipe for a successful traffic flow. But let’s get back to my street, this time at night. The traffic during the day was nothing compared to the night when the working population turned into people enjoying their leisure time out in the streets. So, what goes for the day, goes for the night as well: Again, bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, some private cars and cabs as far as the eye can see, just ten times more! I have never witnessed something so heavily vibrant, cheerful, multicolored, noisy and peaceful at the same time. I was fascinated by such an amount of positive energy. The motorcade went up to my one-way street, turned to the left, turned back on a parallel street, once more turned to the left and passed our hotel once again. It was a motorized rotary consisting of happy, beatific people that composed the overall picture of the radiantly illuminated avenue. But only until 10 p.m. – then the bright traffic lights went out. The Vietnamese are well-behaved. It’s a pity this feeling cannot be saved. However, the experience remains unforgettable. Fireworks competition 2009 Our third and last evening in Da Nang turned out to be completely different but somehow similar at the same time. By chance, we found out that the Da Nang International Fireworks Competition (DIFC) took place in front of our hotel at Han River that evening. Neither at the travel agency nor in the internet nor when booking our hotel we were told about the DIFC. So we had no idea about this competition and its successful premiere one year ago, which helped to become one of the top cultural events in Vietnam. Up to now it’s almost only known to citizens but in the long-run Da Nang wants to attract more tourists with the fireworks competition. Some interesting background information: Fireworks in Vietnam have been a tradition for centuries. Especially at the Vietnamese New Year’s Eve Festival (tet, lunar calendar), there are public fireworks in the cities. Since 1995, the government has prohibited private fireworks because of an increasing number of injuries and deaths. Dreamlike, magical, gaudy – That was the slogan for the Da Nang Fireworks Festival in 2009. On two evenings five countries (Australia, China, the Philippines, Spain and Vietnam) competed for the fairest and most beautiful fireworks, each with 25 minutes for their presentation of their pyrotechnics show with music. Adorned and colorfully illuminated boats went up and down the Han River. Sounds, colors, lights and pictures emblazed the dark sky. That was kind of nice but nothing new to me. In Germany we’re spoilt with a lot of things which are still something special to the Vietnamese, such as a teleferic or fireworks. I’ve already seen so many gorgeous fireworks, for example in Cologne, at Lake Constance or Disneyland (US). All of them were somehow beautiful. Yet there was something in Da Nang I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The street of our hotel described above had been blocked: far and wide not a single car, motorbike, moped or bike. Everything was gone. Instead, the long, broad street was crowded with people. It is hard to make a guess but the number of people marching up and down the street was probably exceeding 10,000. Waiting, mainly together in groups or with their families, they were beaming with joy and enthusiasm. That’s pretty hard to describe. Among the thousands of Vietnamese, us four Germans were the only foreign looking tourists in sight. Standing out of the masses like white alien giants it was no surprise that people noticed us. All the same, we were involved, welcomed and greeted in a friendly way. Everyone treated us with consideration and was happy us having there. It was just incredible. All four of us have felt as safe as everyone else. Tired children just sat down in the street amid this persistently moving crowd and no one said anything against a child sitting in their way. The crowd simply divided to step aside the child and merged back together after passing it. It did not need any alcohol to make the people blitheful and cheery. They were frolic by themselves. As soon as one firework started, the whole crowd stood still with anticipation and watched, listened, sighed with delight, cheered with rapture and clapped their hands ecstatically. We stood right in the middle, surrounded by the masses. And though often suffering from claustrophobia, I enjoyed belonging to the crowd, inhaling the exaltation, sharing the lightheartedness with these people and feeling their longing for peace. This evening in Da Nang, with all these thousands of people gave me something, something I had sadly lost a long time ago here in Germany: The untroubled joy of a child. And the implicitness of showing it and letting foreigners be a part of it. Of course, these competitions will attract more nonnatives in the next years and, as a matter of fact, not be as original as I had the chance to experience them. However, I wish everyone visiting this contest the same beneficial experience. An hour of happiness – In your whole life you’ll never be able to buy it!