Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

After the smoke clears: What drives grown men to blow up $400,000

Posted by Kimberly on September 17, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 17, 2007, page 4 (999 words)

There was a lot more at stake on Saturday night than the type usually seen at Macau’s casinos.
On the one hand, you had Kimbolton Fireworks Ltd, a company that had been invited to compete at the Macau International Fireworks Festival for the first time.
On the other hand was Hanwha Corporation from South Korea, who needed to prove that last year’s fiasco was not going to impact on this year’s performance.
For the former, there ware two firsts; the one previously spoken of, and the team to kick off the round of competition. It wasn’t the ideal beginning, said Display Director, Mr Darryl Fleming, to the Macau Daily Times.
“I always think it’s a disadvantage to go first.”
His reason for the statement is that, for a display of that magnitude, not many would be considered bad.
“They’re all powerful,” he said.
Which means if a judge awards, say, an eight out of ten, the next display, which may be even better, gets a nine perhaps.
“Then you’ve almost left yourself nowhere to go. It’s rather difficult for the judges because they have to remember they are seeing ten displays over the course of four weeks,” he added.
South Korea’s difficulty on the other hand, stemmed from their accident last year and the resulting effect on the company’s reputation.
“There was a fire during the first part of our show. The show was stopped,” said Mr Cheol-Woong Lee, General Manager of the Fireworks Division.
“So when we were invited again this year, we had to show our best presentation because we had to compensate for the last mistake,” he added.
Where something as volatile as fireworks are concerned, mistakes can happen all too often. Hanwha themselves almost ran into trouble before the night had even begun as a result of the earlier rainfall.
Despite usually covering their equipment on the barge, it hadn’t been done this time.
“Parts of the case were wet so some shells didn’t fire but it was pretty small. Generally I think our show was perfect, as we planned,” said Lee.
In fact neither team had anything that concerned them in regards to their performance.
For Kimbolton, the display was “technically flawless,” with everything going on time.
“In retrospect I think it was a combination of euphoria and relief because I didn’t think we’d get it ready in time,” said Mr Fleming.
The South Koreans, on the other hand, felt that theirs was successful.
“It was performed as we planned,” said Lee.
They more concerned it seems, with the nearness of the UK’s barge.
“The two barges were so close that the shells could be dropped onto ours,” he said.
“During the show I could not look at the sky. I was just staring at my barge in case anything happened by accident.
“We would not have been able to make the show,” he added, willing to laugh at the incident now.
The question had to be asked, of course, as to their thoughts on their respective competitors. Not that there was ever going to be open criticism from either party.
“They used a lot more shells compared to our show,” said Mr Lee.
“When I saw the barge of the UK the whole area was packed with shells,” he added.
For him, fireworks are “a kind of art in the night sky.”
“A good show doesn’t mean a large quantity of shells. The show must have a kind of strong part and weak part, like a wave,” he added.
As for Kimbolton’s view of South Korea’s effort, Mr Fleming did manage to see some of it, of which he said, “I thought there were some interesting colour in there, certainly some of the maroons we’d not seen before, perhaps largely because we can’t import them into the UK now as they’re too hazardous,” adding that it was a very well-fired display.”
Despite not being able to hear the music, “it seemed to flow and it was a very good display,” he said.
One commonality between the two performances was the use of a particular shell, the red parachute.
When asked about this, Mr Fleming said it wasn’t usually used in their shows because, “if it’s windy they can travel an awful long way, land in a field and catch fire, which can cause all sorts of problems.”
But he added that, “at the end of the day, there’s obviously a finite number of fireworks so there’s going to be a certain point of overlap.”
That finite number is still incredible, as evidenced by the sheer number used in both displays.
“We probably had close to about 400 different types of fireworks, which is quite a lot for that duration,” said Mr Fleming.
“Then we could have had quantities ranging up to 50 or 60 of each type, maybe more to create the shows,” he added.
The South Koreans on the other hand, were a bit more reserved, using around 900 shells.
Of the types used, two were newly introduced to their display.
“The first, we call the ‘butterfly’ the other one was the waterfall,” said Mr Lee.
“Generally we would have used that one higher than we did last night. The barge wasn’t small so we couldn’t do that,” he added.
Both teams had the same number of locals to assist them, around five, with four or five of their own people onboard.
When asked about the budget for the competition, both teams admitted that the US18,000 offered by Macau barely scratched the surface of the true costs associated with such a mammoth task, with costs tending to reach nearer to US50,000 for a 25 minute show. But then neither team are in it for the money, after all.
For the Kimbolton team, “fingers crossed, if we get a good result, then the bragging rights afterwards would justify the initial investment,” said Mr Fleming.
For the South Koreans, a win would wipe out the memory of last year’s failure, surely a priceless moment.

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