The hills come alive...

Teddy-bear, tiger, fish, squid and even a crocodile in the air!
The sky over Bukit Layang-Layang in Pasir Gudang was filled with colourful cartoon characters, composers and animals. PEGGY LOH was enthralled.

WHO says only swifts, swallows and flying fish can fly? Up in the sky, I saw a teddy-bear, a tiger, a shark, squid and even a crocodile!

For five days, the sky above Bukit Layang-Layang in Pasir Gudang was dotted with colourful creations in various shapes and sizes as kite flyers thrilled spectators at the 16th Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival.

From Feb 16 to 20, the site next to the country’s only Kite Museum was transformed into a carnival where enthusiasts flew their kites, watched by an appreciative audience.

The viewing gallery was packed. Never mind the scorching sun because there was so much to see and admire. Children gasped to see creative balloons take to the skies in an interesting programme of challenges. Each gust of wind lifted the kites higher and everyone was awed by the array of sea creatures including stingray and giant octopus, train kites and larger-than-life versions of animated characters like Sponge Bob and Upin & Ipin!

Perfect spot

Kite flying is more than mere child’s play here because it demands great strength. It started as a post-harvest diversion for paddy farmers but is now an international sport. Fifteen years ago, the inaugural Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival was held here and this year, it attracted 221 participants from 30 nations. Bukit Layang-Layang perfectly catches the seasonal monsoon winds and the kite festival has put Pasir Gudang, Johor, firmly on the map of the kite-flying fraternity.

Spectacular sights

Liannawati and her colourful peacock kite
Participants certainly took this theme, Colouring The Sky, seriously as they splashed the clear blue sky with a palette of hues in brilliantly striped fish, vivid-vested clowns and two-toned teddy-bears. Some kites like Upin & Ipin, koi fish and red devils complete with horns and pointed tails, were flown in pairs.

One of the most eye-catching was a multi-coloured delta barong kite designed with contrasting bold, black eyes and menacing fangs. “This design, inspired by the Balinese king of spirits, won awards for Best Design and Most Colourful categories three years ago,” says Ibu Liannawati proudly as she assembled another kite, made in colourful rip-stop nylon for this year’s event. Liannawati from Bandung, Indonesia, pointed out that the Upin & Ipin kites were also made by her.

Clown and cartoon characters in the sky!

She had turned her hobby into a business, Art Kite Indonesia, and she had been to Malaysia eight times for kite festivals. This year she’s joined by her two sons, Wenda, 24, and Wenas, 18.  In minutes, she had flipped over the kite she was fixing. It stood taller than her petite self and featured a stunning peacock designed in her signature psychedelic colours!

Austrian Helmut Georgi first took part in a kite festival in Alor Setar in 1990 and since then, he and his team have been coming back to the country. They fly train kites or strings of small kites and this year, they showed off a variety of designs with themes like Snowflakes and Composers that featured Austria’s great music maestros.

He noticed a difference between the European and Malaysian kite-flying styles. “We want our kites to remain stable in the sky but with the wau, the aim is to make it swing to and fro,” said Georgi.

When asked to describe the pleasure of kite-flying, his team-mate, Franz Misera, said: “Just watch the faces of kite players as they fly their kites — they look like a baby’s after finishing his milk!”

Special events

His Royal Highness, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor declared the 16th Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival officially open on Feb 19. A horn sounded and a waiting crowd of 3,000 school children rushed across the field, letting out the strings to fly their kites simultaneously in an attempt to enter the Malaysia Book of Records!

Beautiful handpainted kite by the Indian team
Kite-making workshops gave enthusiasts an opportunity to learn from local and international participants from Austria, Japan, Indonesia and India. They watched demos in assembling traditional kites and had fun making their own.

The Indian team wowed everyone with their ambitious and detailed drawings of traditional motifs of gods, camel riding and even a naked woman cleverly camouflaged in a colourful mosaic.

There were also exciting competitions at national and international categories and fringe activities such as flying double-line stunt kites to music, quad-line revolution kites and flying kites while riding a buggy.

It was clear that the international kite players derived joy in simply gathering with fellow kite enthusiasts to fly their kites and enjoying our tropical weather. Many had come early to visit attractions such as the Petronas Twin Towers and Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 3 March 2011

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