During the opening ceremony, a Chinese marching band led by a man in a kilt played LaBamba. It is one of those poignant and bemusing moments on the international kite circuit that needs to be savored, and appreciated, and shared. The test of living a charmed life is never needing to make up stories.
Twenty-six teams representing a dozen nations are here and I carry the burden of representing the USA alone. That’s why I brought more than 200 pounds of gear. You can never take too many kites to an international festival.
The runways stretch out into the bay within site of the dynamic skyline and floating junks (traditional Chinese boats). Of course, we aren’t going to fly way out there where the wind is clean. Instead the venue is within 100 meters of the terminal on a pitted cement parking lot for jumbo jets.
At the start of the week, I was asked to meet with the local media who wanted to see one of my kites. How do you explain to someone who has never seen one that a 90 foot octopus just looks like a large (very large) pile of ripstop when laying on the floor of the hotel lobby?
There is a six story parking garage across the street from the hotel. Lawrence Chen, the organizer, asked if we could run over there and do a quick flying demonstration. Right. We are going to “run” across the street with a 70 pound bag and then launch a giant kite from a rooftop in the middle of downtown Hong Kong. Oh yes, and there are cars and lampposts up there too.
But Lawrence looked at me with the hopeful glance of a man who is paying all the bills. Half an hour later, a monster Squid eased into the afternoon sky – probably scaring the hell out of anyone driving on the freeway directly below.
It was actually great fun! And Lawrence assured me we were completely insured…
Hong Kong is a delightful mix of good friends, fine kites, warm hospitality, and the excitement of one of the great cosmopolitan cities of the world.
We did a second media fly the day before the festival at the metropolitan soccer stadium. Of course, the stadium was designed to minimize wind so it was much like indoor flying with no roof. But we had good fun trying. Oh, and we all had to take our shoes off to go on the grass. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and you can see my 252 “resting” in the seats at the lower left.)
We visited jewelry factories and art museums.
Everywhere, the huge skyscrapers were bedecked with holiday lights and bustling with Chinese shopkeepers wearing Santa hats. Believe me, a 50 story building blinking with seasonal greetings is enough to soften even a grinch like me!
Downtown, we were stopped every twenty steps by someone offering to sell an imitation Rolex or take us to the best custom suit-maker in town. They all had brochures printed in English.
I took the brochure from the first fellow and when the next one accosted me, I offered to swap with him. Some laughed, some scowled, and one bright guy followed me down the street trying to convince me that his tailor was better then the one in the brochure I had.
What a city!
On festival day, we took a 20 minute bus ride to the field which was a five minute walk across the skybridge and through the parking garage that I’d flown from earlier.
We had drawn lots to decide the order of demonstrations on the main field. This process was a solemn affair right out of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and naturally, the United States was the last to go alphabetically. I sat in the back row and watched the event unfold in front of me as each team reached into a box to pull a numbered ball and have their name posted on the big board.
Singapore … Taiwan … United Kingdom… And all the while, the number one position remained unclaimed. Finally I walked to the stage, smiled knowingly, and raised a single finger into the air while reaching in the box with my other hand.
Sure enough, the final ball read “1”. Big surprise — big laugh. I then loudly demanded a re-count which unfortunately was a joke that everyone in the room understood.
Thirty thousand people came to watch the kite show. Unfortunately, the number one demonstration was scheduled for nine in the morning in absolutely no wind. And trust me, a 90 foot octopus in no wind is still just a big pile of ripstop nylon.
We stretched the line out across the tarmac, recruited two Chinese guys named Bob to help hold the mouth open, and ran our demonstration into the sky. The next morning, a huge red octopus graced the cover of the South China Sea Post. But for us, the flying day was just beginning.
Each team was judged in their turn and once we had all finished, predictably, the wind came up. Of course, this was also the time scheduled for public flying and all of those 30,000 people came onto the field with their new plastic diamonds. It was hot, the winds came and went, and kids were running in every imaginable direction dragging kites behind them. In short — it was a perfect festival.
After lunch, the fields were cleared so the hired guests could put up a show. The wind finally came up and I found Bob and Bob to anchor the Squid. (It is difficult to plant anchor stakes in concrete.) The Octopus was flown by a delightful new friend from Western Australia who originally came from South Africa. Her accent was enchanting but her last name was all v’s, j’s and vowels.
I stood back, shouted directions, watched others work, and crossed my fingers that nothing big would drop into the crowd.
At one point, I was approached by a group of children who wanted their picture taken and to shake hands with the “handsome American”. When we finished, the smallest one (second from left) turned to me and in perfect English said, “Thank you for being so kind”. I like kids like this! And how come no one calls me handsome in the States??
With the wind finally blowing smooth, we left the field at three and returned to the hotel to clean up for the farewell banquet. I walked instead of waiting for the bus…
Our dinner was in the heart of downtown Hong Kong and featured six marvelous courses of classic Chinese food, fine wine, and bad karaoke. I enjoyed the first two and avoided the third. Good friends made toasts and wished each other well until our next meeting.
I’m now in the air, flying home. The flight is 15 hours long and the child sitting behind me is restless.
Good company and new adventures are the heart of international kite travel. And of course, the kites are cool too. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed at home tonight. But I expect to dream of Hong Kong and the fine memories I’m carrying home with me.