At around 6 pm each night this week, the night sky above the
Chroy Changvar peninsula in front of the Royal Palace
becomes a host to a spectacle of lights and explosions.
The bright fireworks show attracts the gaze of hundreds of
thousands of spectators as they make their way along the waterfront, crowding
both banks of the Tonle Sap. But the display
is not all fun. For the soldiers manning the tubes, it’s hard work, treated like a battle.
Before the show begins, a crew takes three hours to prepare.
The team must dig holes in the ground, monitor the placement of the fireworks and
prepare plastic bags in case of rain.
“If the fireworks are not placed properly, the explosives
don’t lift straight out, but will burst inside the tube,” said Lt. Col. Chea
Sreng, the technical expert in charge of the RCAF fireworks team.
The fireworks have different shapes and sizes, ranging from
the numbers one to twelve. The smallest, one and two, look like bamboo tubes
the length of a hand. These are put together in clusters of 50 or more, so that
when they launch, a continuous explosion will ensue. When these burst, they
appear as flowers of different colors.
From numbers three through twelve, the shape is spherical,
ranging in size from a tennis ball to a soccer ball. Beneath the sphere is a
lift charge, which launches the ball of powder into the air. Once the ball is
airborne, a series of explosions creates the show.
The crew, comprised of RCAF soldiers under the Ministry of
Defense, places these fireworks in tubes, making sure they will lift straight
up, and install infuses.
Is it dangerous? “Yes, of course,” Chea Sreng said,
explaining that part of their task is keeping people away from the launch zone.
“When we are here, it is just like a battlefield,” he said.
“This is our mission.”
Lt. Gen. Ith Sarath said 2,400 fireworks are fired each
night for five nights running during the Water Festival, in shows that last up
to 30 minutes. He would not say how much money it takes.