No Bucks, No Bang in Da Nang
It’s a big deal. Every two years Da Nang hosts an International Fireworks Competition. We’d been talking about it for weeks: ‘Apparently, Italy does its show with grand opera and the Chinese go for delicate floral patterns.’ ‘There’s not just fireworks and music, there’s dance and all sorts of acrobatics.’ Fireworks as the platform for cultural insight and difference, interesting.
At one stage we were going to stay in Da Nang for a couple of nights before economic sanity prevailed. In the end we shared a small bus with a dozen or so others from Hoi An to see just one night and come straight back home. I barely knew these people but the mood was upbeat as we headed out past An Bang beach. Tall Ken who was sitting on the Esky suddenly stood, and hunchbacked by the van’s roof passed out the wine and beer. By the time Montgomerie Links was in sight ‘upbeat’ had turned into the excitement and the camaraderie that attends intrepid expeditions.
On hitting Da Nang proper we slowed to a crawl. Police were creating havoc by redirecting traffic away from the bridges and soon the Esky was empty. How were we going to get to our unique vantage point, the oddly-named Soho (Thai restaurant), by the river?
Not easily intimidated, our driver, after 5 minutes’ argument at a barrier, abruptly u-turned, slipped down narrow lanes and along prohibited roads as if in a James Bond chase scene. In almost no time, miraculously we were seated on the restaurant’s terrace with tons of elbow room and 30 minutes to spare. Brilliant.
Below, the streets were packed with people hurrying up-river by vehicle and on foot. Meanwhile, like kings, we had our splendid, open-air terrace all to ourselves. There was a romantic couple on the far side at a small round table but they soon moved on to join the stream below.
I think they realised they didn’t belong. This was our place, at least for the night. You could just sense it. Everyone was enjoying themselves thoroughly apart from the kids who, impatient for the main act, were kept at bay with succulent barbecued prawns and delectable fruit plates.
Temporarily, the wind left our sails when we discovered that only San Miguel of the 30 advertised international draft beers was available. Undaunted, we got the local bottled Larue at a very competitive price instead and our spirits remained high. Nor did the overnight mushrooming of a multi-story scaffolded building and its ominous, giant crane between us and the river dampen our spirits. ‘It’s going to happen high in the sky,’ someone pointed out cheerily to the kids.
But 15 minutes after the advertised starting time there had been nothing. And still there was no one else on our terrace apart from our convivial group. Had Pandy booked it exclusively? Yes, this was our place there was no doubt about it and we luxuriated in our privilege. Meanwhile, below, there was a steady stream of people and vehicles pouring up-river as before, hunting for good viewing spots, rushing desperately. We were indeed living like kings.
Then Emma saw it. Just above the crown of a tall tree on the horizon was the silent, faint sparkle of a fireworks ball, possibly 4 or 5 kilometres away. Perhaps they’d been going for some time. We bundled up the kids and scrambled upstairs to a rooftop annex (possibly an area for drying laundered tablecloths) in panic as if floods were approaching, frantic not to miss anything.
Along with Vietnam, the 2015 contestants were Australia, the USA, Poland and South Africa. That night South Africa was the first cab off the rank and the USA and Vietnam would follow. The other two would perform the next night.We cranked up our zooms to the max and clicked away but the fireworks were hopelessly distant.
‘Boom, boom,’ said Ken derisively as he returned to his comfortable spot downstairs, never to return.
Curiously, after the first performance by South Africa, the traffic immediately began to pour down-river in the opposite direction. No one was staying for the USA and surely the schedulers had been very silly putting Vietnam on last, well after local bedtime.
Or, was there a more simple explanation? Maybe the locals could see what we refused to acknowledge: there was simply nothing to see from this part of town so why hang around.
Nevertheless, a fine time was had by all and many vowed to do it again in two years’ time with extra planning – one more fully-packed Esky at least. Would we stump up the 500,000VND each for stadium seats next time? ‘Let’s not get carried away’, someone said between lustily sung songs on the trip home.
Two days later I checked out the action we had missed here (https://www.facebook.com/pages/DaNang-International-Fireworks-Competition/337342392888?sk=wall). Australia won after its performance the following night with its “Symphony of Colours”, Poland came second and the USA and Vietnam tied for third. Newcomers South Africa were given an encouragement award. So, just as it is in a modern school, everyone walked away with something.
Revised and updated March 2018
First Published 2015
Photography: Rob Whitworth