Too noisy to think

Noise you are not yourself hearing, like pain you are not feeling or cold you are not shivering through, is hard to take seriously. So unless you yourself are sitting right now in Beijing, Shanghai, or some similar venue, I expect your eye to skid past the assertion that I will have heard hundreds of thousands of loud explosions before this night is through. (Math below.)

But my God! This Fifth Night of China's "Spring Festival," when the God of Wealth is welcomed in -- with explosions!! -- for the year ahead, is one of those moments when the noise is so relentless and inescapable that you can barely think of anything else. The last such time that comes to mind for me: being on the deck of an aircraft carrier, on a reporting trip years ago, with the jets screamingly preparing for takeoff and everyone with a set of protective headsets except for the visitor, me. Right now, in my Beijing apartment, my noise-canceling headset, over a normal set of foam ear plugs, has never seemed so useful.

A year ago, in Shanghai, my wife and I were far enough away from the center of Fifth Night detonations to be able to think: how folkloric! This year, with strings of firecrackers being set off, continuously, just across the street from our building, and fireworks being sent up from the building's driveway and exploding at eye level outside our (21st floor) window, we're reduced to telling ourselves: at some point, this night will end. In the meantime, where are more of those earplugs?

(Math: a string of 1000 firecrackers takes about 20 seconds to detonate -- and we've seen such strings fired off nonstop today. That's 50 per second. Let's generously assume that through the course of an hour the average rate is much lower, say 10 per second. That would be 600 per minute, 36,000 per hour, more than 100,000 every three hours. Or even if it's half that much -- it's a lot. And the night is young.)