Creative Kites

Liannawati [Right] with her sons, Wenda [Left]
and Wenas [Centre] at last year's Pasir Gudang Kite Fest
They come in all shapes and sizes.  Peggy Loh takes her pick of some creative kites in this year's Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival.  

I was asked, “What comes to mind when you think of Pasir Gudang – just an industrial site?”  Not willing to appear ignorant, I promptly replied, “It’s an industrial area that’s also renowned for the World Kite Fest!”  After hosting the World Kite Fest at Bukit Layang-Layang 17 times, Pasir Gudang has since become synonymous with kite-flying to both local and international kite enthusiasts.  Bukit Layang-Layang or Kite Hill is also home to our nation’s first Kite Museum which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. 

The Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival from 15 to 19 February, in the theme “One Sky One Culture” aptly describes how this sport unites kite enthusiasts from every nation who share the same passion for kite-flying.  Some 557 local participants in 110 teams representing National, School and Corporate categories, and 225 international participants from 34 nations meet on Bukit Layang-Layang once again to show off their creatively designed kites and kite-flying skills.  This year’s fest attracted participants from three more nations – Colombia, Turkey and Curacao.  Even though the weather was wet at times, the keen kite-flyers remain undeterred because once the rain abated they took advantage of the prevailing monsoon winds to launch an amazing variety of breath-taking kites. 

With one eye on the sky and the other watching my step lest I get strangled by the many long lines linked to their soaring kites, I pick my way carefully among the kite-flyers in the field.  I’m thrilled to meet Liannawati and her son, Wenda, from Bandung, among the 44-strong Indonesian team.  I remember them from last year for their Upin & Ipin kites and this year, they brought a special caterpillar figure kite, complete with 500 LED lights as well as three sizes of kites in a cute design of a squirrel eating a slice of watermelon. 

The Kite Fest is an annual carnival on the Johor tourism calendar organized with a host of activities that include kite workshops and a kite exhibition by International participants.  It’s mostly a family affair for visitors who come along with kids and grandparents as well as many participants who come with families who share their passion in kite-making and kite-flying.  The most anticipated moments of this 5-day fest are when the sky is dotted with a variety of traditional kites and creatively designed figure kites of giant squid, dragon and fish.  Here are five fascinating picks I discovered.

Cellophane Kite from Curacao

Kite maker from Curacao, Carol Jansen, with her kite
made with cellophane
Her grandmother first taught her brothers the art of kite-flying and since she was five years old, Carol Jansen, has been flying kites.  “Everyone flies kites in Curacao,” said Jansen, a first-timer in the 17th Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival.  As she watched the teams working enthusiastically together to fly their kites, Jansen, the nation’s sole representative, said that she will encourage her brothers to come as her team to the next fest.

She said there’s just more kite-flying in Curacao during the kite season between March and June and they will compete for the Curacao Cup in a kite-flying competition at the end of the season.

Jansen, a Kite Artist, is constantly looking for new ideas to design her kites.  One day in a stationery shop, she noticed the vibrant colours on sheets of cellophane and decided to try using them to make her kites.  Coloured cellophane sheets stretched across her rattan kite frames designed as insects and birds are so eye-catching that it started a trend in using cellophane on kites in Curacao!

Visit for more info on kite-flying in Curacao.

Khleng Kloah from Cambodia

Cheang Yarin from Cambodia with a
traditional khleng kloah or parasol kite
Cheang Yarin and her husband, Sim Sarak, representatives from the Cambodian team, are proud to present a variety of their traditional kites that are generally known as khleng at the Kite Fest.  In Khmer language, the word khleng is used for a predatory bird of prey that eats snakes, fish and rodents.  

The art of kite-making and the passion for kite-flying was virtually destroyed in 1970’s civil war in Cambodia but this cultural heritage is seeing a revival since they initiated a kite festival in early 1994.  With several kite festivals held in 1994, 1996 and 1999, the younger generation are discovering more about their national kites.

Sim Sarak, who is also Cultural Advisor to the Prime Minister, has collaborated with Cheang Yarin to compile a book entitled, “Khmer Kites” to reintroduce a wide range of traditional kites and this sport to the nation.   This couple from Phnom Penh, calls themselves, the Khmer Kite Family, and shares their passion for kite-making with him making the kite while she paints the designs.  Cheang Yarin explains that the designs she painted on the kite are inspired by the carvings seen at the entrance of the Angkor Wat. 

Figure Kite from Indonesia

Figure kite by H. Asran Kunyi Muhidin from Indonesia
named after his grand-daughter, Amelia
H. Asran Kunyi Muhidin, pull strongly on the kite line, anchoring the soaring figure kite while a few young men rallied around, helping to keep the kite airborne in the changing wind direction.  But the cloudy sky and threatening storm did not deter this team from braving the elements to keep the kite flying.  When more than one streak of lightning split the sky, Asran, a 9-time participant at the Kite Fest, knew it was time to reel in his kite and let the storm blow over before he tried to fly it again.

“Amelia” he said the word in a heavy Indonesian accent, referring to his kite, a dolly with two plaits of hair hanging down the sides of her cherubic face and went on to explain that his creation is inspired by his 12-year old grand-daughter.  Asran, from Kalimantan, uses ultra-light rip-stop parachute fabric to make his giant kites.  Besides, “Amelia” he also brought along two other big kites designed as a dragon and a squid, to fly in the Kite Fest.

Box kite from Australia

Micahel Alvares from Australia with his
box kite gift to the Kite Museum
Lawrence Hargrave, inventor of the box kite in the late 1800’s, would be happy to know that Michael Alvares is carrying on his legacy of flying box kites. 

Alvares, who has a collection of kites from some 32 countries, is a kite enthusiast who studies the mythology, aerodynamics and cultural history of kite-flying and shares his passion in this sport with school children through kite workshops and design exhibitions.  Among the kite-flying anecdotes he likes to share is how in ancient times, people used to write prayers on kites to send them sky-wards to communicate with the gods!

Alvares is no stranger to Kite Fest and already has one of his box kites displayed in the Kite Museum.  To commemorate the museum’s 10th anniversary, he will present a box kite painted with Australian icons.  Made from Tyvek – a non-tear, lightweight synthetic material, this kite has designs that include the Australian coat-of-arms that features a kangaroo and emu, koala and joey, cockatoos, goanna, leafy sea dragon, honey-pot ants, wombat and platypus.  Alvares is fascinated by how the frill-necked lizard drinks the dew collected on its back and hopes that these icons will teach visitors more about Australia.

Visit for more info on Kite Kinetics in Perth, Western Australia.  Note: Some pictures of box kites by inventor, Lawrence Hargrave, are featured on the reverse side of the old A$20 note.

Appliqué Kite from Switzerland

Olivier Reymond from Switzerland
with his applique kite

Olivier Reymond made this kite designed with a woman and three fish in a past Dieppe Kite Fest, the most renowned kite fest in Western Europe (France), under the theme “Myths & Legends” and calls it, “Luxottica” after the brand name for the sports eyewear.  

He borrowed the picture from an ad for that eyewear and wove a mythical legend that she transformed her three sons into fish to protect them from evil.  At first glance the stained-glass effect on the Rokkaku-shaped kite already looks attractive and when flipped over to its reverse side, the kite is even more impressive because it’s made using the appliqué technique on rip-stop nylon!

Since Switzerland does not have any kite-making tradition, Reymond is happy that there’s no limit to his creativity.  This retired biologist has turned his 17-year old hobby in kites into a full-time job and he also gives workshops in the appliqué technique.  

Reymond, another first-timer at the Kite Fest, has more than a 100 kites in his own collection and is happy to give them away to museums where kite enthusiasts can appreciate them.  He will present his appliqué kite entitled, “Clement” a design inspired by Samuel Spottford Clement, a former slave, to the Kite Museum for its 10th anniversary celebration.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 23 February 2012

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