Which birds’ nest for supper?

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: Consumer Fireworks, Travel, Weblogs

Well, it’s morning here in Hong Kong.  As I look out my window here, the harbor is buzzing.  A cruise ship is docked at the pier out front.  Another one being pushed into the dock by a tug.  The funny looking, old-timey Star Ferry running it’s ten minute trips back and forth between Kowloon and Hong Kong.  The turbo jet ferries heading down the coast to Zhu Hai and Shenzhen.  Freighters, tugs, junks (still!), and container ships going back and forth.  It really looks like a busy street out there, there’s so much ocean traffic.  All with the magnificent backdrop of the sun just touching the tips of the skyscrapers with the peak in the back of them.  Past couple of days had nothing to do with actual fireworks; more about being a tourist and an antiques addict.

Dragon eyes chinese fruitEven managed to snag a bunch of dragon eyes to munch on and had ‘em for breakfast this morning.  You can’t get good dragon eyes in Round Hill, Virginia.  Just peel a good dragon eye, and pop it in your mouth.  Doesn’t get any better than this.

You see the damnedest things in Hong Kong. Like the street with all the birds’ nest shops.  Dozens of them.  Open Sunday, even.  Guys sitting right inside the doorway, waiting for somebody to come by and get a nice birds nest for supper.

I can just hear it now:  ‘Oh, and honey?’  my little woman chirps.

‘Yeah?’  says I, on the way out the door to run a couple of errands.

‘Honey, would you pick up some birds’ nests on the way home?’

‘Sure, babe. Not a problem. What kind you want this time?’ ever the doting, caring husband, chimes I.

‘mmmm’  we had crows’ nests last week.  Let’s do swallows.’  She’s such a great kid, sometimes.  She knows swallows are my favorite.

‘Okey dokey.  52 swallows’ nests, coming right up.’  And I am out the door, heading down the hill to get the dry cleaning, and hit the money machine.  I’m finished in record time, and jag left up a side street.  There it is, the swallows’ nest shop.

Yuo chor swallow nest company ChinaMy pal, Sue Choi, is sitting just inside the door picking feathers and stuff out of a pale white, translucent nest.  Takes her about a half an hour per nest.  But when she’s finished, they’re clean as a whistle.  That’s why I shop here.  I think they have the cleanest nests on the street. 

Cheap, they ain’t.  Oh, I can get cheaper ones, the nests that still have the little baby bird down in them. 

And my brother-in-law’s uncle’s cousin says you can’t taste the difference.

Bull.  Those feathers have that little-birdy taste.  And who the hell wants little baby bird down fluffing up the top of their soup?  Not I, said the fly.  Nope.  I’ll pay twice as much to get Sue Choi’s handpicked nests any day.

And those nests are just like consumer fireworks.  You probly think that we just drive up to the big ole fireworks Costco here in China, point at what we want, and then they ship it back to the good ole US of A, whereupon we mark it up 200 times and foist it off on you.

Not quite.  Other than marking it up that much, it ain’t that easy.  Nosireebob.

(By the way, in less time than it took me to write what you’ve read so far, two whole cruise ships have parked themselves at the dock out front.  Chinese ship docking in Hong Kong

Look.   Hey, I never knew it takes 10 or 12 guys and a tug boat to tie up a big ship.  And they can do it in about 5 minutes.)

Nope.  Somebody has to make sure that every single little detail is looked after.  Little things like making sure the tips of the finished sparklers are dipped in a black powder slurry prime so they’ll light easier. 

But’s an extra step.  It costs.  And somebody has to make sure the factory does it. 

Which is why ‘brands’ of fireworks are a good thing.  Brands are something you can rely on.  Because, whether you know it or not, somebody is picking at all the little details to make sure every single type of firework is done right.

And you cannot imagine the work that goes into making just one kind of firework thing, one fountain, for instance, and getting it all the way to you, safely and legally.  It is amazing.  And what’s more amazing to me is that they are so cheap, even after we mark them up 600 times.

And like the feathery birds’ nests, you definitely can get cheaper fireworks than the branded variety. But, you can also depend on the cheaper ones having more problems, performing less reliably, and not looking as good.

Now, I doubt if I took this whole trip to describe all the things that go into making one type of consumer firework, I doubt if I could do justice to describing everything that goes into that one’all the people, effort, R&D, testing, compliance, packaging, shipping, etc.  But I will give you a shot of some of it, as we go along together.

I’m leaving Hong Kong today, and going into Hunan, the province with more fireworks factories than any other place on the planet.  I’ll meet up with Matt Palaszynski, who picks the feathers out of the fireworks that Skylighter imports.  He’s an Americano, married to a Chinese lady he met when he worked over here for GE. 

Now, he’s another fireworks man.

I used to buy from one of the big brands.  They make great fireworks.  But now I get everything through Matt, because he gives me really personal service, and helps me get all the weird and wonderful things that fireworks makers want.  He manages the whole process for me, and is a terrific host when I’m in Liuyang, to boot.  And Matt and I have fun doing this.  We’re both fireworks nuts (how could you be in this crazy business and not be?)  And we like working on getting new stuff made and into your hot little hands.

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll post another one of these tomorrow (internet connections are painfully slow here).  Maybe tell you about how good dragon eyes taste.

By the way, there’s free potassium nitrate at Skylighter again. Click here to check it out.

Harry Gilliam
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer

2 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. jeff evans says:

    I was fortunate enough say 35 years ago to cave the same cave” the birds nest soup”
    comes from.It’s the batu neah cave in eastern malasia(BORNEO),there was no tourism there yet just a giude you tipped after he lead you through the different parts of the cave.At one point you had to do the military shuffle on your chest to get through it,then I slipped while traversing a steep path and slide about 50 feet nothing to hold onto landed in about 2 feet of bat shit.True story my gf at the time was with me!I smelled like shit for awhile.Bat pooh has a very distinct oder.The nest are about 200 feet on the ceiling of the cave the go up on flimsy bamboo poles pick the nest and back down,very dangerous I guess you had to be there! Jeff

  2. rockyd999 says:

    As a kid we took plastic float making material and made hot air balloons as you have described. We used 4-5 foot of this tubular material simular to the plastic you get from the dry cleaner. We would gather the top and tape it. We would use thin slivers of bamboo to make a hoop taped to the the bottom and suspend aluminum foil across the hoop with an aluminum foil cradel to hold fuel. We would lite them and release them on a cool evening without even a brease. Then listen on the radio for reports of UFO’s. The tubes were 2′ in diameter and 5-6 foot high and ranged in color from red, green, yellow, and blue. We had great fun in the late 60′s and early 70′s. It was great to be reminded of the great fun we had.

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