01 December 2005

Kite Making

During Tuesday’s class, I noticed that there was a lot of activity going on in the large center room of the third floor. At the break, I wandered over to see what was happening. It was a kite making class, organized by the student activities office.

About thirty students were busily constructing kites. I asked who was in charge, and someone led me to the front where a man in his 50’s was helping students to make kites. It turned out he was one of the top kite makers in the city, if not the country. He not only designs and makes kites, but is a champion kite flyer.

This was really exciting, and I expressed my interest in learning how to make a kite. I was invited to join in, but explained that I still had several hours of teaching left. No problem, there would be a second class on Thursday afternoon, after class.

So today, at 3:30, I set out to discover the world of kite construction. I knew that kite flying was a traditional, Vietnamese sport, and I often see kites flying in the distance when I look out my living room window. But that is about all I really know.

As soon as the Kite Master came in, we all got down to business. I watched as he carefully measured out the pattern on a sheet of large paper, and then cut it out. Next, he grabbed a thin strip of bamboo, about 2 feet long and, using a knife, quickly split it exactly down the center. After that, he rapidly whittled the stick to smooth it out. When I had watched a room of students doing the same on Tuesday, I also noted the first aid bag on the center table and more than a few bandaged fingers.

While I grabbed paper and bamboo sticks along with everyone else, a student drew the pattern on the whiteboard. Now, if I only had a ruler. At that moment, another student approached and just started helping me and another teacher. This guy was from a part of Vietnam where they make kites all the time and he seemed to enjoy helping us rather than making his own.

Once the kite was cut out, it was time to glue on the bamboo. I sat down on the floor. I stuck my fingers in a pot of solidified, jello-ish, gluing material. It turned out to be made from rice, I think with the starch stuff that washes off dry rice. This stuff really worked. After securing the strips, I used small pieces of paper to brace the sticks in place. I was having the best time, covered in glue and scooting around the floor to hold sticks and grab glue and paper. The next step was to tie strings to the bamboo strips. Actually, that was the step that should have been before the gluing, but I made due.

My kite was now done and I took it over the instructor for his approval. He tied the side strings together and gave it toss to check the aerodynamics. He nodded his approval. There was no way I was ready to stop, so I decided to attempt a second, different style kite.

My helper was still with me when I got up to get more supplies. It was then that I noticed three students from one of my classes, busily constructing kites. They looked quite adept at the process. When I asked them, they said that they had been making kites all their lives. I know had three more assistants.

By the time I finished number two, my hands were caked in glue, but I didn’t want to stop and go wash them. Anyway, as the stuff dried, it kind of rubbed off easily. I Iooked around the room to see what the others were up to. Groups of three or four students were busy painting their kites, on top of tables, or on the floor, with no paper underneath. The room was a mess. And I had assured the student activities coordinator that I would make sure all the tables were back in rows because 80 students would be testing in there the next morning.

Garbage can in hand, I went around picking up paper and bamboo and glue and string. The other teacher went in search of a broom. Students were leaving, obviously with no intention of picking up. So we swept and mopped and I told the painters to take their brushes to the bathroom and wash them off. I can’t say the room was spotless, but at least it wasn’t a disaster.

Walking down the hall on the way out of the building, I looked through the windows into the second, large activities room and saw one of my students practicing for a fashion show. I opened the door, because I am very nosey, and saw another of my students seated on the side, obviously bored because he was playing games on his cell phone. He looked at my kites and asked what they were. I told him about the kite class down the hall. He seemed sad that he hadn’t known about it. But I told you and the whole class, I said. “We thought you said it was a ‘cake making’ class. Hey, I am sure I wrote it on the board.

It now seems there is a keen interest in making kites and flying them and there is talk of more classes and kite flying contests. I can’t wait!

I’m going to fly a kite!