Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cheap Thrills


Australia's grand prize-winning fireworks display



GIANT SPERM-SHAPED SHOOTING STARS IGNITE MANILA’S NIGHT SKY



ME and one of my good friends from the state university who sings in lounges and bars have always prided ourselves of savoring our so-called “cheap thrills,” such as enjoying a walk in the park discussing movies, literature and philosophy while eating ham sandwiches she made at home.


Australia's grand prize trophy



On the evening of December 30 we found ourselves at the Harbor Square, in the vicinity of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) which is a reclaimed area (along Roxas Boulevard), in Pasay City, done during the Marcos regime, waiting for the fireworks from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ignite the night sky.

And they did, a good hour after my friend finished her lechon kawali (pan-fried pork).

But we found out that we didn’t have a vantage point, so after the last of the UAE fireworks shot up to the sky we walked to The Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel, settled ourselves at its seawall and wait for the Philippines’ fireworks to burst into mid-air from a barge on Manila Bay.



UAE's fireworks display



Our effort paid off, as we witnessed a wonderful orgy of lights, colors and explosions before the black sky and the light-peppered horizon.

The UAE and eight other foreign countries were participants to the first World Pyro Olympics held in Manila on December 26 to 30. The Philippines, being the host-country, was not in competition.

Aside from the burst of colors (which my friend, being also a painter and maker of short films, is so particular about), we also looked out for the type of shell (mix of explosives used in each contraption) in a pyrotechnician’s palette.

We uttered “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” along with the other spectators every time we saw “The Peony,” the kind of fireworks concoction that sends off brilliant dots from a center like an exploding star, and “The Ring,” which goes off from an invisible center and only defines the edge of an empty circle.

Our favorite pyrotechnic shell during that night, however, was the “Kamuros,” which create wiggly noodles that sparkle brightly when falling down. My friend and I would giggle and forget about the wiggly noodles, seeing only giant sperm-shaped shooting stars igniting the black sky.


The Philippines' sperm-shaped pyro shell



The other pyrotechnic shells we witnessed during that night were “Mines,” a spray of light going upwards like an anti-aircraft fire, “Palms” (which leave outlines of palm fronds sagging from a trunk), “Golden Swirls” (like circles of fire dancing), and the “8-Break Blooms” (a single shell that can explode eight times in the air).

And professional musician, my friend also took note of the fireworks’ “highs and lows,” those soft moments that allowed us to breathe before the intense moments wherein the explosions reached a high point.

According to experts, modern pyrotechnics allow for “multi-level firing,” or fireworks that are set aglow at different heights. This means there are displays intended to be watched at eye-level.

Another modern technique is “mid-range,” wherein explosions are done just above the horizon.

The usual “high level” explosions are those that are staged well over the city skyline.

Well, we hadn’t watched the previous participants, some of whom exhibited the “nautical shells” (designed to be fired from a barge and blow up even when falling on water) in their fireworks.

Organizers said this was the reason why Pyro Olympics had a special viewing deck for the judges and paying audiences (P100 per head). Built at the Esplanade area of the Mall of Asia complex, also part of the reclaimed area, in Pasay City, the viewing deck offered the best line of sight to all firing levels.

The other competing teams were from Australia (the grand prize winner) and China (which mounted their fireworks on December 26), Germany and South Korea (December 27), Russia and the United Kingdom (December 28), and the United States and South Africa (December 29).



The Philippines' stars



My friend went back to the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel the following night, New Year’s Eve, this time to serenade the hotel guests and merrymakers on a concert for a countdown to year 2006.

I proceeded to Malate, where Manila Mayor Lito Atienza had arranged for a display of fireworks as Manilans welcomed The Year of the Dog.

And so it was more fireworks for me, after listening to the priest talking about the essence of time (with regard to one’s Christian faith and deeds) in his homily at the historic Malate Church.

After her hotel concert, my friend and I met up at “O” bar at the corner of Julio Nakpil and Ma. Orosa Streets (below the gay shop Top & Bottom), in Malate, danced to the music, and drank till morning.

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