Go Fly Kite

This is a kind of ‘Singlish’ (Singapore’s brand of english) phrase used for telling people off. It is saying ‘don’t waste my time’ and ‘go do something frivolous’ in the process. Sometimes it is said in jest amongst friends when someone had cracked a lousy joke or was sarcastic but it can also be used to tick someone off when the person had offended you or demanded something outrageous.

Well, it was totally different in my kampung (village) days when someone was to say, “Go fly kite.” We would all jump with glee at the opportunity to do so, especially on a bright and windy day! When I was too young to fly a kite, I would look at the older kids flying one and how they prepared their kites. It was not only the thrill of flying it, it was more of the competition. Yes, you heard me right, a competition!

Fancilful kites

Fanciful Fun Kites

The photo above showed many colorful and fanciful kites that people usually fly near the beach or at a high open ground. Well these are not the kites I was referring to. The kites that we flew or rather compete with other kite flyers was not much to look at as shown in the following photo:

Local kites

Kites we flew during our kampung days.

The kite was not larger than a foot square and made of thin translucent paper held and glued up with two pieces of thin bamboo twigs. It costs around 30 to 50 cents and were sold at provision shops in the kampung. However, the demand was for those that had a particular `brand’ which sells out faster than the others and it was because the workmanship was better. Before I go into the kite flying part, let me elaborate on the whole structure of this kite flying community (mainly children between 8 and 16 years old). There will be those who fly the kites, those who made the strings, those who retrieve the kites and those who watch the whole thing. Some may be involved in more than one of these activities.

The group that prepared the strings earned by selling these special strings to the kite flyers. The strings would be laced with powdered glass… yes, glass mixed with some kind of glue mixture. The string would be wound around some tree trunks to spread it out and the craftsman or kid would use a rag dipped in the glue-glass mixture and run it through the strings, it would cover about two thirds the length of the string starting from the point attached to the kite. You may figure out why it was done this way later. The strings would be left to dry and then rolled back to its holder. These strings cost more than the kites obviously.

The group that retrieve the kites would usually be in a group or in pairs and the leader would carry an improvised long pole that sometimes looked like deer antlers at the top. They would go in the direction of a loose kite which usually landed on a rooftop, a tree or telephone wires. Some of the kites would drift far beyond what these groups could follow so they would stop and look for another within reach. These retriever groups would `fight’ when they reached a kite at the same time and more often than not, the kite would be torn to shreds by the retrieving poles and you would hear them swearing at each other but soon split up to look for another kite.

Now, the kite flyers would be the ones battling it out in the skies and I managed to learn the craft of choosing the right kites, made the glass embedded strings (with the help of my kampung gang) and fly the kites. We even had mentors in the form of adults who were experienced in kite flying in the past and I would listen to their tales and methods. Armed with good kites and strings, with the winds in my favour and choosing the right spot with unobstructed view from my side of the kampung… LET THE GAME BEGIN!

Once my kite was launched in the air, I will let it go up as high as the others already in the air. Keeping such a small kite steady with strong winds was not easy. Here’s the real challenge. When you reach the same level or range with the rest of the other kites in the air, THE BATTLE BEGINS! Soon you will see a kite making a sudden swerve towards another and the intention was to cross the line (string) of that kite so it would get cut off (now you know why the glass embedded string was used). When that happens, you will see the victim kite suddenly fall out from the group. Sometimes, the aggressor may get cut off too if the defender had `sharper’ and stronger strings. The battle was in the skies so the lower part of the strings need not be covered with that mixture so hope this explained the two thirds coverage.

When I first started off in this raging aerial battle, I kept a lower altitude so it was difficult for the aggressor to reach me and some people think that it was cowardly. Well, I was new and cowardly. The aggressive kites had a particular color and style so we sort of know that it belonged to a particular group in the kampung. Newbies tend to lose their kites a lot and it can get costly especially when the strings were also cut off. After some practice and a loss of a few kites, I devised a strategy. I decided to fly the kite to one side of the group a little further off to let them give chase and I would swiftly bring the kite back before they could reach me. When they could not reach me, they had to turn back to their original position and there I would choose to strike! I would quickly go back in and turn towards them and WADDAYANOE! That was a happy day for my side of the kampung as we managed to `chop off’ 3 aggressive kites and could fly a little longer than usual that day.

From then on, my confidence was heightened and I became the pride of my gang. So the next round I flew a kite, there were spectators as word got out about our `killing’. I began to experiment more with some methods of quick twists and twirls with my kite and WALA! This time not only did we cut off the kites, we managed to bring back a kite by twirling around the string when it was drifting away. Soon I was bringing back the `spoils of war’ one by one and the haul was 3 for that day! My spectators cheered when we cut off kites and cheered even more when we brought back kites.

I must say those were the GLORY DAYS!

So if someone was to say to me, “Go Fly Kite!” I will say, “Thank you for the memories!”

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3 thoughts on “Go Fly Kite

  1. I could see this scene in my imagination. We had very simple inexpensive kites when I was a kid. I remember one time I did manage to get my kite way up high as I struggled to keep hold of the very end of the string.

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