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One Sky, One World

Photo Courtesy: Embassy of the Republic of Korea

Kite experts from South Korea unfurl their expertise in Nepali skies and share their passion about kites

Kathmandu, November 20, 2016: Apart from K-Pop and dramas that are popular here, Nepalis and South Koreans share one more bond — kites and kite flying. And South Korean kite expert Oh Jae Hwan was in Kathmandu for a kite flying programme organised by the South Korean Embassy with Kathmandu University (KU). Oh led a delegation from November 6-8 with three other kite experts to participate in the kite flying festival.

Kite flying, one of the oldest games/sports in the world, is a popular tradition in South Korea. However, unlike other sports, it has not yet developed as a professional game. The majority still take kite flying as entertainment; very few people survive through this sport.

Oh opines, “To be an expert, one must have passion and practice very hard — there is no other option.” One of the renowned kite experts of S Korea, Oh makes kites and also provides training on how to fly them.

Interview with kite expert Oh Jae Hwan

As the Director General of Korean Traditional Kite Association, Oh expressed his happiness at this chance to come to Nepal. “Two years ago we had sent a few kites to the Korean Embassy in Nepal. Those kites became a medium to visit Kathmandu and take part in the kite flying festival and a chance to see this beautiful country,” Oh shared.

His love affair with kites goes back 30-40 years when there “weren’t any computer games or other stuff to play. So, I started flying kites like other children during school holidays. I began liking it and slowly became passionate about it”.

Flying kites during holidays was not the only reason he leaned towards kites; Rho Yu Sang, kite expert from his hometown, inspired him to become a professional kite flier. “I learned with him. I learned to make kites and how to fly. I have been a professional kite flier, kite maker and providing training on kite flying for 20 years now.”

And when Oh is flying kites, “I feel all troubles and anxiety have disappeared. I feel light from the bottom of my heart and feel ecstatic”. Furthermore for him “kite flying is the only game which we can play facing towards the sky”.

Lamenting about not enough open space to fly kites back in his country, he says, “I am very glad to see plenty of open spaces to fly kites here.”

Like in the rest of the world, they use alle (kite flying wheel) and sill(thread) to fly wen (kite). Most of the kites that dot the Korean skies are large rectangular ones made of hanji (Korean paper) with a circular hole in the middle. Five bamboo sticks are pasted on to the kite to add strength. And the kites are of three types — Traditional kites, Sport kites and Art kites.

Traditional kites

kite flying festival at Korean embassy

As per Gygeonggi Province’s President and member of Korean Traditional Kite Association Ji Jong Eon, “A traditional kite is smaller than a sports kite and its centre has a circular hole, which helps the kite to fly high. It can go really high.”

These kites are large but everyone — adults and children — can fly them, “but during strong winds, only adults are able to fly these kites,” Ji informs. Ji fell in love with kites as a child and shares, “I used to fly kites on Saturdays and Sundays in my childhood. I flew both traditional and sports kites”

His family’s reaction to him taking up kite flying as a profession was not a happy one. “Our neighbours used to feel happy when they saw us fly kites. But our parents were never happy seeing us flying kites as a profession.”

What about his children then? Are they interested in kites? Ji replies, “I don’t think we should give any kind of pressure to our children to do a particular job. Times are changing and it is their life and decision on what they want to be.”

Ji who had only seen “Nepal through television, whenever I saw the mountains, including Everest, I wondered I would get a chance to visit. I am thankful to our president — because of his coordination with the Embassy we got a chance to come here and participate in kite festival”.

Sports kites

kite flying festival at Korean embassy

Kang Seong Soo, President of the Asian Kite Forum’s Korea, initially liked traditional kites. “But when I saw the kite flying competition 15 years ago in China, I felt good. I thought there is nothing better in this world than the sports of kites. Now I’m working as expert in this field.”

As a sports kites enthusiast, “we go to competitions through Kangnam Team for two months in a year. We mostly go to Malaysia, France, China, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia”.

He hopes that one day kite flying competition becomes a part of the Asian Games. “But for that we need a lot of preparation.”

His love for kites grew when “I used to help children solve kite problems in their homework, which started my interest. At that time I used to like traditional kites”. Kang always feels happy when he gets a chance to fly kites.

Kite experts Ji Jong Eon, Lee Kyoung Sam, and Kang Seong Soo.
Kite experts Ji Jong Eon, Lee Kyoung Sam, and Kang Seong Soo.

Art kites

Art kites are “art”.

“We take a special place, area and things, and try to symbolise those in the kite. We try to resemble it like art. This year we made the Gangnam-style kite from the popular song,” says Oh. “We make art kites, for instance taking the ocean’s size, or the size and colour of a fish, or make an art kite resembling a mountain.”

And flying an art kite is also a different process. “The art kite is flown by two-three people because it is bound by two-three threads.”

Labour of love

Kite making is a labour of love for them as he says, “We make our kites with our hands. We don’t have factories to produce kites.”

As an instructor who provides training on flying kites, Oh says, “To perfect one’s kite flying skills one needs three-six months of training”, which he provides.

Just like the kites that rule the skies, Oh feels, “I think kite development does not have any limitation but it is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. I have delivered some special lectures in South Korean universities on kites, but we do not have a course in the university. We do not have any department on the subject of kites. But in north America, kites are taken as important, especially sports kites. I think this should be developed in theory too.”

And as one looks up at the autumn sky dotted with a couple of kites, Kang’s words linger: “Our kite fliers have slogan too — ‘One Sky, One World’.”

By Sunita Lohani