Issue 45: Taipei International Kite Festival

Since 2000 Jeanette & I have been fortunate enough to be invited to the Taipei County International Kite Festival, but one way or another circumstances have conspired to prevent us from attending. So it was with great excitement that we were able to accept the invitation to the 2005 event.

Now as many of you kiters out there know, festivals have a habit of acting like busses!! You have none for months and then a number of them appear back to back. Well, this was certainly the case for us and meant that we would be returning from a festival in Toronto at 3pm on Tuesday and would then be leaving our house again at 10pm on Wednesday to catch a 1:40am flight Thursday direct to Taipei!! With a 4 year old in tow, this was going to be quite the whirlwind experience!!

Well, Wednesday came and with our baggage having safely arrived back from Toronto (thank goodness!) we woke up our son Ben and loaded him and all of our belongings in to the Super Shuttle. 1:40 in the morning is a god awful time to catch a flight, but it did mean that sleeping on the plane was easier and with the flight departing pretty much on time, sleep is what we did. In fact Ben managed 10 hours during the flight, which I have to say made the 14 hour flight with a 4 year old very manageable!

Now, we are very seasoned travelers, but having never been to Taiwan we had no idea what to expect. When we rolled in to Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport at 6am Friday morning, all was very quiet and we seemed like the only flight there. Passport control was a breeze and it was on to baggage claim. Then came the first excitement of the day, as all of our clothing bags appeared with everyone else’s, but our kite bag was nowhere to be seen. Soon there was just us and 3 other people pacing around the carousel, whilst the same few unclaimed bags passed us by. It took nearly 15 minutes and then one by one, a few odd bags would sporadically appear. And you guessed it, ours was pretty much the last of these to come out. We were glad though, as losing our kite bag would really have made for a very long week!!

Bags in hand, we passed swiftly through the now deserted customs check and out to the greeting area. We had no idea who was going to meet us, but as is true of nearly every overseas event we have attended, the organizers were very much on top of it and sure enough, there was a guy holding a board with our name on it. He spoke zero English and our Mandarin was limited to hello and thank you, so the normal mix of hand signals and gestures ensued and soon we were being whisked away from the airport and on our way to the hotel, where we were met by Angela Wu and her excellent team of helpers.

Our base for the next week was ‘Wan-Li’ on the North East coast of Taiwan. It was a very pleasant area, with views of the ocean, as well as the lush green hills inland. The hotel was a 2 building complex with one building either side of a street leading down to the water. The water was probably less than a quarter mile away and at the bottom of the hill was a large grass field that would be the location of the first weekend’s festivities. Unfortunately, the day we arrived it was raining heavily and from the look of the field, the previous few days weather had probably been the same.

However, no one let this dampen their spirits, and as we sat in the hotel buffet having breakfast on Friday morning, we watched a large team of people putting up tents and large marquees and generally preparing the field. Throughout the day, more and more flyers arrived and by the time evening came, everyone was in place and ready for the coming week.

The Taipei County International Kite Festival is a very interesting event, made up of 2 weekend events, with the 5 days in between filled with visits to schools in the local community, where indoor demonstrations were to be performed for the children.

The other wonderful thing for us about this festival though is the mix of people that were invited. Team Lung Ta (France), Stephen Versteegh (Holland), Gregory Reynes (France), Loic Meunier (France) and Lam Hoac (Canada) joined Jeanette and myself as the Sport Kite pilots, along with teams from Japan and from Taiwan itself. But in addition to this, Angela had brought in Otto Vossen (Holland), Ton Vinken (Holland), Kirsten (Kisa) Sauer and Tomas Jeckle (Germany), Karl Henzinger (Germany), Ramlal Tien (France), along with representatives from the Drachen Foundation and a number of others that I am sure I have forgotten, to provide a beautiful mix of single and multi line kites at all times.

The first Saturday dawned and the weather was still pretty varied. Glorious sunshine was mixed with intermittent downpours and periods of drizzle, but the one unchanging thing was the fact that it was beautifully warm. So even when it rained, you didn’t care and flying just continued. The local population were not at all put off by the weather either and a large number of people made their way to the field in time for the opening speeches and to watch the days performances. And as for Ben…. he liked the rain and thought the puddles were wonderful!!

Both Saturday and Sunday went off very well with performances by all of the flyers and the organizers also put together a head to head trick competition between the Taiwan flyers and the visiting sport kite flyers. This was to run throughout the weekend and would be repeated during the second weekend too, giving the public the opportunity to really get behind their favorite flyers. The public embraced this concept and really came to life as the pumping beat of the carefully selected music filled the air the flyers laid out their best moves. There were no prizes to be won here, just bragging rights and the fun of performing for the crowd. And on a personal note, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to reunite with our former team member Stephen Hoath and to fly one of our old Sky Dance ballet routines. This was a special moment for the 3 of us and the crowd seemed to enjoy it too.

One reoccurring theme of the whole 9 day long festival, was the wonderful organization. Angela had a large number of helpers and each group of people was assigned a dedicated person to translate for them and generally help out. They did a fantastic job and kept us all on course throughout the festival. Also, well organized was the food. Breakfast and dinner were served in the hotel buffet, whilst lunch was delivered directly to us in the form of boxed lunches and we were never left hungry, wherever we may be.

With the first weekend over, we began the week of school visits and a little sightseeing. We were well catered for in terms of sightseeing and got the chance to visit central Taipei, a rural martial arts museum and demonstration and a night market, all of which were fantastic experiences. As for the school visits, they were quite amazing!

Before leaving for Taiwan, the organizers had asked us what types of kiting skills we possessed. Skills such as pair/team flying, night flying, indoor flying, etc. For indoor we had indicated that this was something we had tried literally once or twice before, had no routines for, but would have a go at running around inside if it meant the school children had something to entertain them.

Imagine our surprise when we came to the Monday and we were told that the 10 or so sport kite pilots that were there would be visiting 2 schools that day and at each school we were expected to put on a 2 hour show of musical routines!! We frantically worked to choose some music and when we arrived at the first school, we quickly tried to work out which kite we would be able to fly indoors to music. We had just about made a decision and calmed our nerves enough to fly when it was time to begin. To welcome us, a troop of children from the school came out to put on a musical demonstration, during which they did, (you guessed it) synchronized team flying, indoors!!

After we picked our jaws back up off the floor, we began to wonder why we had been asked to fly when these children were so good. But they were only at the first school and as that day and rest of the week went on, our shows got smoother and the displays got better. The children of Taiwan were a fantastic audience, clapping along with the rhythm and delivering thunderous applause at the end of each routine. Then when the displays were over, they would descend upon us for autographs and to say hello.

Also, having a blond haired, blue eyed 4 year old was pretty fascinating to them too. They all wanted to touch him, to talk to him and to generally look at him. To begin with Ben was overwhelmed and hated the attention. But during the later shows he came to enjoy some of the attention, opening some of the shows by running around the hall flying his Spiderman delta kite. He even relaxed enough to get in on the autograph sessions and soon had a longer line than anyone else.

As Friday approached, the forecast look pretty grim for the upcoming weekend. A typhoon was heading in from the East and was expected to make landfall in Taiwan on Saturday night or Sunday morning. The organizers did what they could to plan for the approaching weather and we went to bed. Saturday morning came and the rain had arrived. We all rounded up our gear, boarded the coaches and headed for the beach about 45 minutes away where the second weekends event was to be held. The rain didn’t let up and as we unloaded the coaches and made our way to the beach, it did not look good.

The wind was already blowing 10 – 15 mph and was rising, but no sooner had we arrived at the beach, than the rain stopped and the sun came out. The wind settled to a steady speed and kites took to the skies. The organizers had a very structured program in mind and we began by sticking to it and the demonstrations began. By 11am however, word was sent from the local government (who sponsor the event) that for public safety, the festival must shut down at midday. We all went in to high gear and did what we could to get as many displays as possible in to the remaining time. The crowd loved it and we actually remained flying until about 1pm and then everything cleared from the sky, back in the bags and it was back on the coaches for us all.

We returned to the hotel sad that the day had been cut short and disappointed that we had to leave such a enthusiastic audience. When we got back the rain had stayed away, the wind was very pleasant and many of us went back down to the grass field near the hotel and flew for the afternoon.

Many times I have heard people speak of the ‘calm before the storm’, but I have never really thought about the truth of the statement. Well in Taiwan we really experienced it. As the evening came, the sun was out, the weather was warm and the wind dropped to about 5mph. There was no sign at all of the impending typhoon!!

Tape was placed on many of the hotel windows and everything was fixed down as much as possible. As we floated around in the hotel pool that evening, we ventured in to the outside section and looked up at an ever darkening sky, but still the air was eerily calm.

When we awoke on Sunday however, things had livened up somewhat. The eye of the typhoon (apparently the size of Katrina!) had hit right in the center of Taiwan, whilst we had received the Northern segment of it. We had winds in the 60-70mph + range, whilst central Taiwan received those in the 100’s. Much damage was reported on the news, but only 1 casualty, which was very encouraging. As for Wan-Li, some panels were ripped off of the hotel entrance ceiling and anything not tied down disappeared, but other than that we survived just fine. Crossing the street to go to breakfast was pretty exciting, but all in all we felt pretty fortunate.

By afternoon in fact, the winds had subsided down to the 50mph range and people could be seen outside trying makeshift single line kite designs and a couple even ventured down to the field and flew mid sized sport kites with 150 foot tube tails. You can’t keep us kiters down for long!!

All too soon Monday arrived and it was time to pack up all of our belongings, go out for a little sightseeing and then head to the airport. We drove through the mountains that sit in the less coastal region of North East Taiwan and then on to Taipei. This time we visited some of the local sights and ended with a trip to the ‘101’, the tallest building in the world. That was an experience in itself, with the fastest elevators in the world, traveling 80+ floors in 38 seconds and the views were incredible!

As with the rest of the week, the organization was impeccable, with the busses coming to collect us from the bottom of 101 just as we completed our tour. Some rapid and very sad goodbyes were said and for us, it was off to the airport. All I

can say is, I wish Angela and her crew could have organized our flight too, because we arrived at the airport to discover that our already fairly late 9:45pm flight had now been delayed, eventually taking off at just before midnight!! Have you tried keeping a 4 year old busy for close to 8 hours in an airport!!

The Taipei County International Kite Festival is certainly a very unique experience and one of the most enjoyable events we have attended. We would like to say a huge thank you to Angela and all of her helpers who made the event so memorable and just hope that they get to continue their work, exposing more and more people to the beauty of kiting.

Mark & Jeanette Lummas
(Pair Bi Dance)