Issue 47: Festival Layang Layang

In mid February I had the opportunity to attend the Pasir Gudang kite festival in Malaysia.  This is a huge Annual International kite festival. This year there were 170 invited guests from all over the world.

The trip there and back was grueling. It took 24 hours to get there, 16 hours nonstop from San Francisco to Hong Kong, then another plane the almost 4 hours to Singapore… My butt will never be the same! At the airport Singapore we were met by a guy name Sufian, he was a great guy with good humor and excellent English. Sufian drove us to the immigration office at the Singapore border, helped us fill out the papers and walked us thru and back to the van where we crossed the causeway over the Singapore Straights and into the Malaysian Immigration offices. Again more papers and more walking thru. We Arrived at the Selsea Hotel around 2 am and went straight to bed.   When the sun came up our first daylight sight of Malaysia was out the room window and in the distance we could hear chanting, apparently the morning prayers broadcast from a beautiful Mosque just a few blocks away. We are truly “out of town”!

The key shown above opened the door AND turned on the power
to the room, no key, no power… Including air conditioning!

I traveled with Miguel Rodriguez and Troy Gunn, and for the first night roomed with both, we were anxious to get out and get started and with little sleep we were up and out.  The meals were taken in the Hotel with an all you can eat buffet both breakfast and dinner. The meals were of Thai style and plentiful, with some “what the heck is that” items included! I really enjoyed the food, others didn’t.

There were many shuttles to and from the flying field. enough that there was seldom a wait and you could come and go as you pleased, very laid back!  At the flying field, a huge beautiful complex there were  dozens of vendors selling goods and foods of every kind. It was a interesting to just wander thru and try and figure out what the heck we were looking at and enjoy the very friendly Malaysian people. All had a smile for you and jumped at the opportunity to try out their English… “Good morning, hello, welcome to Malaysia. They also took some kinda joy in having their photos taken with us!

There were even auto dealers selling cars! There were more
vendors in the parking lot, and on the other side of the field!

The field was huge. Half of which was being used for the local annual kite making competitions These were a big deal here and took all week long to complete.

They make Wau kites of all sizes and shapes. They are unbelievable and very intense to construct with cutout paper and a zillion of tiny colored pieces glued on then framed in  complicated bamboo frames… All this working on the floor, I asked one gentleman how they were made and his reply was “it’s too complicated to explain” this was an understatement!

Wednesday was pretty quiet with only bout half the guests in town. The fields looked pretty empty at this point.

Since our first day was slow we decided to check out the kite museum. It’s in a building in the center of the park, a 3 story building with nice displays and even some audio visual stuff going on. It was however HOT and humid in there, and hotter the higher ya went up! There is a windmill on top of the building that runs a water wheel that moves water thru various fountains and waterways in the park. I’m told it also generates enough power to run the museum but i crawled all over it and didn’t see any generating equipment.

I gotta say it was hot and humid there, it was in the high 80’s to low 90’s night and day  with matching humidity, but in spite of it there were always some one willing to go out in the sun and put up some kites. Peter Lynn with his side-kick Clyde Cook was there so were the characters of Team No Limit from Germany with their Sesame street character kites so there was no shortage of big kites… Dozens of big kites, many I didn’t get photos of, or the acres of ripstop on the ground when the winds died. Fortunately the winds in Pasir Gudang blow pretty strong every day and night even, building from the morning to pretty strong in the afternoon, unfortunately the park is inland and surrounded by trees which makes the flying challenging at best those that flew quad line kites had it best as they could handle the winds and maneuver in and out of the big kites… I’m reminded again that these BIG kite festivals are NO place to fly kites!

Teams did demos, Miguel and I did several as did Troy. and a six person quad team from Japan and a 6 person team from China did dual line demos with tails! By the end of the week the crowds were getting huge! and enjoyed the shows. and the crashes!

We were treated very good both on and off the field, Each country was assigned a team of helpers, Kids from the local college studying tourism. There were 20 or more of them all so polite and helpful. They were also a wealth of local information if ya took the time to ask, most all speaking good English and using “English” nicknames Fossi and Eddie were our helpers, They were responsible for our daily needs like water ,tables and chairs and schlepping kites if we needed it. They did a pretty good job and were good fun. They were also responsible for the Thai team and I think they enjoyed them more as they spent most of their time with them.

The lunches on the field usually came before the morning meal wore off! They were nice box lunches usually with a salad and desert of some kind. There was also much appreciated cases of water available at arms reach!! Funny, we drank water all day but never had to use the restroom!!

At the end of the day we stored our kites in a building onsite and caught a shuttle back to the hotel. There you could go swimming in the pool, or walk the block or so to the mall to use the internet or shop or have American style food like McDonalds or Kentucky Fried chicken. (by the end of the week that chicken tasted sooo good!) Or stay in and have the buffet at the hotel, me, I usually luxuriated in the air conditioning and a bed!

Thursday evening, those that wanted to go, loaded into a bus and headed to a dinner ON the Singapore Straights, we drove way out in what seemed like the boonies of Malaysia to a barge like open air seafood restaurant, we walked past water pens where live fish and whatevers were kept till needed. The food was excellent and plenty of it!  Sigh but NO air conditioning!

This event is called an International Kite Festival because They really do invite flyers from all over the world, names like Helmut Georgie from Austria, Asgar Belhim from India, Eduardo Borghetti from Italy, Jimmy Sampson from Ghana, Gadis Widiyati and Shakib Gun along with 8 others from Singapore, Wolfgang Schimmelphinning and the Team No Limit guys from Germany, Michael Alvares from Australia, Malcolm Goodman and George Webber from England, Greg Mountjoy and his son from South Africa, Sami Sayegh from Lebanon, 12 from Thailand 1 from Vietnam, 5 Cambodia, 5 from the Philippines, 5 from India, 4 from Taiwan, 10 from Brunei , 14 from Japan, 3 from Holland, 20 from China, 10 from South Korea, 4 from France and the 6 of us from the USA… Miguel Rodriguez, Troy Gunn, Scott Skinner, Ali Fujino, Matt Stubbs and myself. the list totaled 170 people, UNBELIEVABLE! International indeed! It is fun to travel that far and still recognize faces in the group.

Friday you could tell things were heating up, WAY more people in the park, and lots of activity behind the museum where the Sultan would arrive on Saturday. We also had scheduled demos and the sky was unbelievably filled with kites.

Saturday proved to be the busiest day of the week with morning demos scheduled and the Sultan arriving in the afternoon. Each country was to fly for him after  a “receiving line” where we all stood behind signs indicating our countries. The getting ready for this guy was intense. Carpets, flowers, a private toilet, and babe singers. Soldiers keeping the area clear for his motorcade which included a hospital on wheels. Beautiful women holding mylar palm trees, kids lining a path from his car to his seat. I stood in the sun for hours watching in disbelief! This is a BIG deal!

Finally an hour or so late, cars with spinning lights and motorcycles started arriving, then from a big shinny car the Sultan emerged to a flurry of photographers and commotion. He walked the ‘Line” with his wife and took his special seat. A loooong prayer was said then he spoke for a bit and when that was all done he came over to  where we were all standing behind our respective country signs and walked thru shaking hands and passing out a gift to each person he shook hands with… Of course my big rear end was pushed to the back where I watched anonymously… Not only did I not shake hand or receive the commemorative gift, but the guy never even looked at me! While this continued I had to go find some shade, I was cooking in the sun! I lost about 100 photos from this period so I can’t show ya the one of me UNDER one of Troy’s kites, curled up taking advantage of the shade! Did I mention it was hot out there?!

After the hand shaking each country had a chance to fly for the Sultan… Because he was running late Miguel and my routine was cut from the schedule… Sigh. Later the park filled with thousands and thousands of people… Wall to wall, shoulder to shoulder, and by late afternoon they took over the entire flying field… There was a cultural show scheduled out there and they were packing in. One of the organizers finally told us to get the heck out of there and head back to the hotel.

Sunday saw more flying to billions of people and packing out of the park early to get ready for  fancy shmancy awards ceremony banquet that was to be held at a local stadium. It was a heck of a night with dignitary guests. Live music and 2 hours of  traditionally dressed dancers doing traditional dances! The Meal was cold but good. It was a nice end to a nice week… Although that stadium could use better AIR CONDITIONING!!!

With the festival done we had the opportunity to go to an Island resort for some R&R. The 4 hour or so bus ride to Sibu Island was great (I thought) as we got to see lots of the countryside and how they really live out there!

We arrived at the ferry terminal and Jacketed up for the boat trip to the island. The trip took about 45 minutes, the water was a bit choppy and before we could get there it rained… HARD! Those on deck got soaked before they could squeeze inside the boat… Yes, I was on the deck! These next photos were taken at the ferry terminal.

This tropical Island is nothing but incredible, lush plants 4 beaches to choose from a big beautiful pool, the rooms are little cottages on stilts sprinkled about on the hillside. Large open air lobby/restaurant with a night club and gift shop. It even has a wilderness trail thru a rain forest.

We were greeted by singers got a hand made lei and handed a multi colored fruit drink then fed immediately yet another all ya can eat buffet… ‘nother awesome buffet. In the evening around dark they had another feast… BBQ lamb and a ton of other “what the heck is this” nummy food! During dinner they presented another show, first a small group with vocals and then more dancing and more dancing!! Then they played a game with the kiters, another fun night in paradise… While it was cooler there, it was still STEAMY! The air conditioning in the rooms was the best of the trip! Poor Troy went straight to his room with travelers revenge and missed everything. (He wasn’t the only one with this problem… Wink!)

Morning came  way too soon and after a nice breakfast we headed back to the boat and the mainland for the trip back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the loooong trip back home. We had to get up at 2:30 and get back in Sufian’s van for the return trip to the Singapore airport… Back through both immigration stations… ‘tho this time we had to carry our luggage over! 6 hours from Singapore to Japan airport then 9 and a half to San Francisco… I got home around noon and slept for days!

My hats off to the people that put this thing together, specially Mr Lee Poi, he was on his feet everyday directing the festival and also Haji abu Baker, Ismail Mat Taib, Haji and Husin Bin Organizers of this major undertaking.

Thank You!

Brian Champie

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Author:Brian Champie

One of the founding members of BASKL, and a key player in the Bay Area kite scene, Brian is an accomplished dual line pilot, past competitor, big kite enthusiast, and all around nice guy. Visit Brian's web site here!

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