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The Coolest Kites

We took LOTS of photos, of course, and saw many more kites than we actually photographed. As I waded through all of these photos when preparing this story, it occurred to me that maybe (just maybe) there might be someone reading who was not (gasp!) as big a fan of kites as I am. And maybe this hypothetical person might even say something as ill-considered and uninformed as "If you've seen one kite, you've seen them all."

If YOU are like that hypothetical person, then this page is for you. I've pulled out images of the very coolest kites we saw.

The first kites we saw up-close-and-personal was also one of the most mind-boggling. We came across a team from South Korea that looked as if it was launching a bunch of little country flags:

On closer inspection, that is EXACTLY what they were doing! They had made a modern-day dragon kite, where each slice of the body was a miniature national flag. What a neat idea! A flying United Nations:

So that every nation could be represented, this kite was over 1,000 meters long. (Think a kilometer is long for a kite?!? Nah -- the longest kite we saw that day was 2.6 kilometers long. That's right -- a kite more than ONE MILE long).

Sadly for the Koreans, their beautiful kite broke before it was fully deployed, and the flying string-of-nations floated down into a nearby village. We forgot to ask between which two flags the string broke -- let's hope it wasn't China and the US!

Next cool kite: China is justifiably proud of being the site of the 2008 Olympics. Olympic signs are everywhere, including, of course, in Weifang. Many kites sported the Olympic logo, but this one was my favorite -- a huge, state-of-the-art parafoil.

A kite this big and powerful needed a large team to keep it under control:

Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but the symbolism of the whole effort was striking: their Olympic kite was state-of-the-art, flying among dozens of other kites whose designs have not changed in a millenium or more. It took a huge team of young people to launch, and once it was flying, it was hard to control, whipping back and forth. Most of all, it caught your eye, and made all the other kites seem puny, frail, and old-fashioned by comparison.

Next up: the Japanese entry. As you know, tensions are high right now between China and Japan for reasons dating back many decades.

We were therefore surprised to see two members of the Japanese National Kite Flying team at the festival, but not surprised that no was talking to them or helping them prepare their massive kite for flight. We felt sorry for them, and rushed over to make friends. Though we had no common language between us, they seemd to appreciate our efforts to reach out.

Their kite was hard to see on the ground, but when it finally lifted off, it was magnificent:

I have never before (or since) seen anything like it. Elegant, inventive, technically-complex, yet simple overall. It felt like a perfect expression of modern Japan.

The next cool kite was another Chinese entry. It was built and flown by a student group, who had a very simple idea: put a different Chinese character on each section of a dragon kite, so that when the kite was aloft, it sent a message. Kind of like those banners that fly behind biplanes over a sports stadium!

I'm embarassed to say I don't remember the meaning of the characters, but they sure are beautiful!

The idea of updating the dragon kite idea was not exclsuive to the these guys.

Many different teams had the same "update-the-dragon" idea. Given that it is a pre-Olympic year, I just had to give another "cool kite" nod to the team who came up with an Olmpyic Dragon:

Time for a refreshing break. Too many big kites. Too much complexity. So much WORK!

How about an itty-bitty kite? A lovely, old-fashioned one?

There were many to choose from, but this one caught my eye. It was probably the smallest one entered -- a mere 2 inches across, this one was obviously a labor of love. More amazing is the fact that it could fly really well.

Isn't it cool how kites bring out the best of human ingenuity and creativity?

The next "cool" thing was saw was actually a kite accessory - a "kite crawler" designed to work with a long dragon kite. They are often shaped like butterflies, like the enormous one we saw (we saw smaller ones, too, but this was by far the most dramatic).

Step one: get the dragon up in the air.

Step two: prepare the butterfly to "crawl" up the string. It manages this feat though a spring-type mechanism, and its speed up the dragon's string is controlled by handlers on the ground.
Step three: attach a string of firecrackers to the butterfly's tail, then hook it onto the dragon's line.

Step four: light the firecrackers, and let 'er rip!

The butterfly starts zipping up the string, accompanied by loud and lucky bangs and pops!

After a few seconds, the butterfly reaches the mouth of the dragon kite, just as the firecrackers finish their outburst. The dragon pretends to "eat" the butterfly, whose wings fold (courtesy of a hard tug from the ground). Then the butterfly slides back down the string, ready for another round of firecracker-assisted flight.

I never got tired of watching this little dance!

I also loved watching the teams of synchronized kite fliers. I'm especially fond of stunt kites, which feature two separate strings. You hold one string in your left hand, and the other in your right. They attach to the corresponding sides of the kite, so that when you pull a string, the kite flies in one direction or the other. With a stiff wind and a big kite, you can built up a fair bit of speed. It's like racing sports cars in the sky.

I didn't expect to see stunt kites at the festival, since they were invented in America and distinctly NOT Chinese. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I saw a team setting up, with snappy unifornms and matching kites.

Then, on a cue, all the kites lifted off together, and started flying in formation! It was a beautiful sight. The team was clearly still getting the hang of it, though, since they kept getting their strings tangled. Even so, seeing the kites flying together was definitely one of my cooler memories of the festival.

Now that you've seen the best of the best, click here to see the rest!



Kite Festival chapter shortcuts: Intro Coolest Kinds Vendors Girls Teams Judging Dragon Kites

Weifang chapter shortcuts: Intro Kite Festival Kite Factory Kite Museum Calendar Factory

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