With continuous night shifts and working like crazy right up to showtime, here is what we accomplished when the stroke of midnight finally tolled on Jan 1st, 2011:
This isn’t the best-quality video, but it shows at the start a bit of the craziness over at the Dajia site with the racetrack of bursts running across the sky, then has a decent view of the 101 Building and an excellent angle on the “100″ display that shoots up in the middle of the show. If you want HD video, different angles and whatnot, you can find additional videos easily. (This one is my favorite!)
So I last left off at two days before show day and they are all pretty much a blur. After we finished lifting the last floor of props (I signed my name on the last one in my column I sent up) it was down to wiring in the last of the product we could set up before the show and making sure all the firing systems were plugged in correctly. I also found a harness finally and was able to climb out over the scaffolding and walk around on the edge of the building. Up on the 90th floor I spent some time pulling up cable plugs to attach to the firing system – this was at 9pm when it was dark and windy, but the ledge is at least 3-4 feet wide and very stable and easy to walk along no problems. What a thrill!
I’ve already talked about the stress people were under for this show, but both Grucci and Giant Show pulled together and worked extremely hard to get everything done that we needed to in order to be ready to fire come New Years. Not a single person from either group quit or even slowed down, even though none of us were getting the sleep that we wanted. Several people switched over to less-intensive tasks every now and again so that they wouldn’t risk critical mistakes due to tiredness, and I was cross-checking a lot of my fellow’s work and making sure other people were checking over mine as well to ensure that things didn’t get overlooked. I know some people might have found that a little bit insulting, like I didn’t trust them to do the job right, but it’s a standard practice among the military and it’s done because we’re all human and we can all make mistakes. If someone points something out to me that I have already considered I don’t say “yes, I know that” I just say “thanks” – I would rather someone yell at me for appearing pretentious (remember I was a newbie on this crew) than keep my mouth shut and find out later that it was something critical that was overlooked.
So when showtime came around we all pulled back to the 58th floor command center, where we had all the firing computers set up and a wall projection showing the news broadcast of the show. The show’s Associate Producer called out the names of the people who would be manning the firing computers, and I was surprised to hear myself called out for backup on one of the systems! I seriously considered asking to be replaced but after I sat down and started remembering the training I began to feel a bit more comfortable. Since I was on backup, my computer wouldn’t need to be used unless the primary failed. So after I got set up I kept eyes on the two primaries (one for another system, one for mine) to either side of me to make sure they were running okay and their operators were doing the right things (again, here’s that issue where I was pointing stuff out to people. I got the “it’s okay, been doing this for a while you know” response from one person but I don’t care. If I see I will point it out. People who think it’s me trying to show off or something are very short-sighted).
Sidney, the head of Giant Show, was on the radio and giving us the count. “10 minutes!” and then “5 minutes!” and then “3 minutes!” all the way down to the final 10 second countdown – and then the show began. Now, realize we aren’t in the center of the building or anything – the access door outside is about 15 feet behind me – so when things start going off on the building you hear and feel them. One of the techs later described it as like being inside a bunker that was being bombed – yes it was extremely cool. The computers don’t really need monitoring as long as things are going okay, but I had to be ready to jump in should something happen so my attention was mainly on the screen rather than the projection showing the building from the outside. No real matter since Sidney was standing right in front of me blocking my view, haha. Helped me focus.
After the show was over, there came the congratulatory hugs and kisses and Happy New Year wishes all around. Wow – what a relief it was!!! But the celebration was short-lived because we immediately had to break out into teams and check over the building exterior to make sure we hadn’t started any fires that needed to be handled – standard procedure. That process took about an hour because even after we cleared a floor we had to wait at least 30 minutes to make sure there were no slow-cookers waiting to fire off. But at least I got to wait around on the 74th floor and look out over Taiwan and see all the fireworks still going off around the city and far off into the distance. Here’s what it looked like:
Looking out over Taipei about an hour after midnight on New Years Day, from the 74th floor.
Once we had cleared all the floors and packed up the command center a bit, we finally headed down to street level to get back to the hotel for some sleep – except we had no way to do so. While we had a “Transportation Manager”, apparently no thought was made to the fact that there would be no cabs available to take us anywhere. It took myself and several others about an hour and a half to find a cab and get back to the hotel. At one point I seriously considered going back into the building and sleeping on some folded up boxes since it wouldn’t be any harder than the mattress at my hotel room. It was one of the few times I openly whined and complained about a predicament but dammit I was tired and wanted some sleep now that the show was over! I finally got to bed around 4am.
The next day, on the 1st, it was back to 101 because we needed to pull our electronics off the building so they could be shipped back – these are not expendable items. So I went back up to floor 90 to start breaking down up there. The weather was still nice if a little overcast in some areas and I found myself pausing out on the ledge several times to just gaze out as I like to do. Finally I just decided to take a break, sitting out on the edge while hooked in to the scaffolding and took this video:
Sitting on the ledge of Floor 90
Later on in the day I finally got an excuse to head up to the top of the building, Floor 101RF – even higher than the observation deck the general public has access to. The only place you can view that is higher is the top of the spire, but at this point the height difference isn’t so much greater that the view could be considered any better IMO, so I was content with just getting up to 101. Here are some pictures and video from my experience way up at the top of the second-tallest building in the world
Walking around the outside of 101RF
If you noticed the wind dropping in and out of the last video – here’s why
After spending the day stripping the electronics off the building, we all headed out to do some more hot pot. This was my second time going out for hot pot and it was different than the first, where I had my own bowl over a catering cooker-type burner. Here we still had our own bowls but instead it was an electronic hot plate set in the table that cooked our pots and there was a much wider selection of meats and seafood and vegetables. We also did another group hot pot outing the night before we left (on the 3rd) that was different yet again – this time several of us shared a large pot in the table that could be split up into as many as 4 sections for various broths, and we picked our food buffet-style to put in and eat. Whichever way we did it though it was all yummy!
On January 2nd we had to all return to Taipei 101 for one last time to haul down some still-remaining equipment on all the floors. I must have lifted several thousand pounds combined throughout the day! After a full day of working I treated myself to some well-deserved ice cream from Cold Stone and went out to dinner with some of the translators and my new friends from Giant Show – where I tried out delicacies like frog and squid mouth parts. They were…. okay After dinner we all went out to Karaoke – here in the East they don’t do Karaoke a lot in bars, but rather in private rooms. We started in a small room then and more and more people showed up we eventually moved into a medium-sized and large room with a projection screen, disco lights and… a stripper pole. Yes I swung on it. We passed the night listening to some Chinese songs sung by the translators and G-Show people, and totally butchered as a group the American songs that were selected – poor Sinatra was turning in his grave over what we did to “New York, New York”!
The other night one of the Grucci’s asked for (and I quote) “a local beer” – well you can’t get more local than this!! The squid mouth is right behind the bottle and the frog is in the pot. Poor Kermit!
The next day, on the third, was finally our first day off – but I volunteered to work a few hours in the afternoon getting the tent at Dajia cleaned up and organized so that our shipping container could be loaded with the equipment that needed to make its way back to the states. You can call it kissing up but in reality I’m still trying to get experience working all aspects of a show – the more you learn the better you become and I’m certainly not going to learn anything asleep in my hotel room. It only took us about 2-3 hours of work to get everything packed up and sorted so I still had time in the afternoon to wander around the city and take care of some things I’ve been meaning to do, like head over to the bank and exchange some money to get some coin and bill denominations you can’t find out on the streets. I couldn’t get a half-cent, but I otherwise have every coin and bill in the Taiwanese currency, along with some Hong Kong money I collected at the airport on the way back. My father used to travel around the world a lot when I was a kid and when he came home he would always hand me any spare change from wherever he was so I started collecting foreign currency that way (along with domestic coins and bills). I have a whole box full of foreign currency and old US coins/bills – but that’s for another entry sometime.
The final day, the fourth, found me once again volunteering for work in the early morning because we had to re-do some of what we did the previous day thanks to Customs. Okay maybe this time I was sucking up just a little bit But also I got to hang out with my good friend Justin, who I had barely seen this entire trip since he was captain of the huge set piece over at Dajia and was not on the building crew. Things got a bit dicey when the cabs that were supposed to show up to take us back to the hotel never did and some of us still had to finish packing – we all finally piled into the back of a van and one of the G-Show guys drove us back with time for us all to catch the buses that took us to the airport. From here it was a hop to Hong Kong, a 2hr layover and then the 15hr flight to JFK. Home at last!!
Now that I’m home and reflecting I must say that the one biggest difference I notice about myself are my thumb, index and middle fingers – they are so heavily callused now that they almost feel numb at the tips. I also have a dozen or so bad cuts and scratches on my hands, fingers and arms that are going to take another few days to fully heal. They are battle scars of the insane work I and the rest of us were doing out there though, and I shall wear them proudly.
Here are a few more random pictures from the trip. I don’t know if we will ever be going back to Taiwan, but I do sure hope so. I had a great time and left behind a lot of new friends I wouldn’t mind seeing again!