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Driving Evil Spirits Away with Bottle Rockets

Normally, when it comes to clothing used for a religious rite, you think of robes, a miter, a tallit (or prayer shawl), and perhaps a head scarf.Here is what I wore to honor Guan Yu, the red-faced, bushy-bearded god of war and wealth, at his annual Beehive Bottle Rocket Festival in the village of Yan Shui, Taiwan: a full helmet, large goggles, a dust mask over my mouth to prevent my ingesting debris, ear plugs so I wouldn’t go deaf, a wet towel rolled up around my neck so the rockets wouldn’t enter the helmet and blow my brains out, gloves, a long fireman’s coat that was made of heavy, bullet-proof fabric and lined with what looked like asbestos, two pairs of cotton pants, socks, and sneakers so I could run fast.Participants in the festival are generally testosterone-charged teenage boys. But there I was, an estrogen-challenged, middle-aged woman, putting her life and sanity on the line to have several hundred thousand bottle rockets shot at me. I was not alone. There was a gaggle of other international journalists with me. Before the event even started, two women writers from Japan ran away screaming. …

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