April 27, 2006
Transition in Weifang

I was walking down a business street in Weifang when I noticed a knarled old man in a dusty Suit sitting on a bench back next to one of the buildings. He was staring straight at me, smiling a huge, half-toothed grin and quietly clapping his hands. My presence in China was being applauded!

DG in China

When I first came to China in 1989, groups of people would follow me down the street awed at the sight of a Western visitor. It isn’t quite that way anymore. But the kite fliers visiting Weifang are still celebrities. Frequently the locals will call out a cheery “hello!”.

Young people ask to have their photos taken with you. Children will gape while their parents shyly watch you out of the corner of their eye. If you turn to greet them, the response is startled delight and embarrassment.

I walked further up the street, checked my watch, and decided to return to my hotel for the next scheduled outing. A moment after I turned, a car veered off the roadway to the curb. A well-dressed woman in the back unrolled the window.

“Are you lost?” she asked. “May we drop you somewhere??”

Weifang calls itself the World Kite Capital. The reference is well earned. Opening ceremonies and pageantry are as elaborate as any I have seen anywhere in the world. The Kite Museum is a treasure. Kites are seen and flown everywhere. And the crowds that gather for our events are astounding.

Opening Ceremony

But Weifang, like the rest of China, is rapidly changing. Once a dusty industrial city, the older buildings are being town down and gleaming new ones erected in their place. Trees, shrubs, and flowers are being planted in attractive greenbelts. Riverbanks have been turned into parks.

The people themselves have changed as well. The clothing is upscale, everyone has cell phones, and the music is right out of American Idol. There is a new WalMart up the street. (Shudder!) And as you walk through the store, you wonder what Chairman Mao might have thought of the thong underwear on display…

Kite Square Kite Square Kite Square

Next to the Museum, a dilapidated school is gone, replaced now with Kite Square. It is a huge manicured park with a brass relief entrance gate featuring traditional Chinese kite culture.

Kite Square Kite Square Kite Square

But that culture is rapidly disappearing. The stores and factories offer nylon kites in Western designs more than the traditional silk and bamboo creations. The festival focuses on sport kite teams. And in the craft stores, kites available are faded and rough.

It seems that fiberglass and a sewing machine are more practical than bending bamboo over an oil lamp and hand painting the silk covering. I wonder where the next generation of traditional kite makers may come from.

Flying Field Flying Field Flying Field

We march onto the field in teams, each country led by a young woman and a national sign. Fences and soldiers hold back the crowds which easily number 50,000.

As a long time participant and Vice President of the International Kite Federation, I stand with the hosts on the stage as the event opens.

Meanie

I partner with a Chinese team and use their high-flying Dragon as a pilot for my lower Blue Meanie. The combination delights everyone – including a group of costumed visitors.

Flying is difficult not only because of the number of lines in the air, but also because the flying styles from so many countries differ. There are Korean and Afghani fighters along side Chinese centipedes and New Zealand inflatables.

Flying continues for two days. There are competitions for traditional kites as well as sport kite teams, highest flying, inflatable, largest, and fighters. It is a kite Olympics!

Flying Field Flying Field Flying Field Flying Field

On our final afternoon in the city, the Congress of the International Kite Federation convenes. I am invited to present a proposal. The speech is televised on screens at the front of the room and translators broadcast the words to headsets in three languages.

With the real Olympics coming to Beijing in two years, I ask the Chinese Olympic Committee to include international kite demonstrations and sport kiting into the Olympic program. Representatives from the international delegations each sign the dramatic proposal. It is a long shot, we know. But if it is going to happen it will happen in China.

IKF Meeting IKF Meeting IKF Meeting IKF Meeting

Monday early, we boarded busses to the airport. I'd been up until midnight each evening and rose at five to do emails each morning. Programs began at eight right after breakfast. I was tired and slept hard through the flight home.

April is a crazy month. Thursday I leave again on a third international trip in as many weeks. Someone has to do it!

Check back next week for a report on the International Kite Festival in Weymouth England.

PL New Kite Sale: You've seen the two new giant kites. The question now is, who will be the first to own one in North America??

To make that question more interesting, we'll offer a $500 discount on either kite through May 15. The normal price on a "maxi" forty foot giant is $4200. With the discount, we won't make any money, but it will be fun to get a few over here.

No "middies" yet, but we're working on it.

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