Enter the Dragon

When was the last time you were nearly consumed by a fire breathing dragon? Regardless of what any Chinese friends tell you, they aren’t your friends. Unless, you’re made of gun powder. Then, you’re good.

section.culture.Fire Lantern Fest

Way out in east Guangdong lies the little known hot spring-warmed town of Feng Shun. Despite its anonymity, once a year this sleepy village is descended upon by approximately 50,000 people. Why? To see the fire dragon and celebrate the Latern Festival!

The breathtaking display takes place each year in a vast area that’s large enough to accommodate a sea of bodies. Countless tripods were seen assembled on surrounding rooftops in every direction, as many visitors came purely to win the annual competition for best snap of the night.

Keeping us feeling safe was a thousand-man police force that was also milling about and mentally preparing for the pending hordes. Calling the scene immense is an understatement.

As dusk arrived, and with growing hordes of revellers in tow, anticipation was hanging in the air. Wisps of smoke lingered from a few fire crackers lit before. Then, not far in the distance, the dragon’s head reared. With it, bare-chested men and boys appeared, scampering around, while passionately beating gongs and cymbals. It all started to feel particularly ritualistic.

“How do you feel?” barked a faceless silhouette. With my best Mandarin, I told the blinding light that it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen.

Numerous other effigies—each stuffed to the brim with a foreboding amount of explosives—began shuffling past.

I watched frozen in awe as the 20 meter-long beast was hauled along by burly locals. As the dragon reached us, my colleague nudged me to follow. After joining the parade, I quickly became consumed by the ever-building collection of spectators who began to involuntarily push me onward.

As we neared the climax, tension began mounting considerably, especially when the mass became congested at a bottleneck turn. At this point, police were frantically struggling to control the situation by firing instructions through megaphones. A woman wearing a motorbike helmet passed me and I realized she had done this before.

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All of the sudden, we turned a corner and saw it: the previously empty expanse was now populated as far as the eye could see. Fireworks began soaring and I spotted a fleet of drones filming overhead.

It dawned on me that most of the mob except us was hiding behind protective barriers. Rattled, I quickly asked my friend why we weren’t on the other side. “Wait and see.”

As the dragon began encircling us, my mind started racing: “What have I gotten myself into?”

Out of nowhere, a camera was thrusted into my face.

“How do you feel?” barked a faceless silhouette. With my best Mandarin, I told the blinding light that it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen.

All at once, the dragon came to life and showers of sparks began bursting from every orifice of the giant creature. As random strangers were clutching onto me, I fully realized that I had not done enough research into what would happen.

Without warning, various sections of the flaming dragon began probing the crowd—now, packed as tight as sardines. There was no escape from this ring of fire.

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Time began to slow as confusion chaotically evolved into panic. I watched desperately as bodies broke free and fled. When I tried to do the same, my companion grabbed my arm and shouted not to quit.

Again, the dragon intensified its fury with sparks, flames and spiralling Catherine wheels. By then, the squeeze of swarm became nearly unbearable and I recalled watching videos of stampedes. A guy next to me fell screaming after taking an ember to the face, but heroically continued filming despite his bad luck.

The noose continued to tighten—bones now cracking—until a pinnacle moment when the beast began to graciously run out of steam. With its fuel spent, the creature broke formation and was carted away. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a second wave of the incendiary-ridden creatures approaching and quickly took my leave.

The antics continued for the next few hours, including burning a traditional Chinese gate and a tall pole—containing all manner of explosives—being set off in a bottom to top sequence.

I left exhilarated, prickling with adrendaline and already looking forward to next year. I promised myself that I’d bring a mask and eye goggles next time and double check my insurance coverage. This spectacle was not for the faint hearted. Any safety standards most foreigners consider normal are virtually non-existent, but if you love a good show, mark it on your bucket list.

Category Culture