06 May 2006

Making My Own Kite

On 5 May 2006, the eve of Singapore's Polling Day, PM Lee described other political parties as follows:

"They fly a kite and see if it catches the wind. If it doesn't, they let it go, fly another one. (If it still) doesn't, fly another one, and finally if it doesn't fly or no wind, then they give up flying kites and go play with some other games, marbles or something like that..."

PM Lee could well have been describing my childhood hobby of kite flying. In the 1960s, the phrase "go fly a kite" had a very different meaning from what it means today. It literally meant that we went kite flying. In those days, many Singaporean families were poor and ours was no exception. Hence we made or improvised most of our toys ourselves, usually from recycled materials which were free of charge.

I will describe how I made my own kite even though very nicely-made painted ones were available from the neighbourhood mama shops for only 10 cents a piece. In comparison, the cost of my self-made kite was next to nothing. The time spent to make the kite was only about 5 minutes as I was a fast worker. However, perhaps the most important thing was the great satisfaction and pride which I derived from making my own kite.

First, the materials required:

Tracing paper, 2 Sapu Lidi sticks, glue, a pair of scissors and a reel of string.

a. Tracing paper.

This item was actually the wrapper which came free with our French loaves. No Delifrance in those days, only the humble neighbourhood bakery which supplied them hot and fresh from the oven at only 15 cents a loaf. Sometimes I had to fight with my siblings over the tracing paper because they needed to use it for tracing maps while I wanted it for making my kite. For this demo, I bought the roll of the tracing paper from a provision shop for 20 cents.

b. Two Sapu Lidi Sticks.

These sticks were obtained from the sweeper's broom. Don't ask me why the broom was called Sapu Lidi. Sapu is a Malay word which means "sweep". Maybe Lidi happened to be the name of the sweeper lady then. We stole these sticks from the broom by just pulling them out. The neighbourhood kids pilfered so much of the sticks that when the sweeper picked up the broom the next morning, all the remaining sticks just fell out of the broom. (For those who do not know, the sticks actually come from the coconut leaf.)

c. Glue, a reel of string and a pair of scissors.

These items were kindly "donated" by my mother. Actually I sort of helped myself to the items in the drawer without asking my mum.

Now we are ready to get down to business.

What To Do

1. Cut out a 14-inch square of tracing paper. You can do this more easily by folding across the diagonal of the square first before cutting:

2. Break off enough of the thinner end of one of the sticks so that the longer stick that remains is about 2 inches shorter than the diagonal of the square. Place the stick on a diagonal of the square so that one end touches one of the corners of the square. Glue and fold the other corner of the paper over the stick to secure it. Cut out 2 little pieces of 2-inch square tracing paper and apply glue one side of the 2 pieces of paper. Use one piece to secure the other end of the stick and the other piece to secure the middle of the stick.

3. Bend the other stick into a curve and break off the extra length of the thinner end of stick so that the ends of the remaining thicker stick is long enough to just touch the other 2 corners of the big square tracing paper when the stick is bent into a curve. (The purpose of bending the stick is to make the kite taut enough to catch the wind when flying.)

4. Apply glue at the other 2 corners of the big square paper and fold them over to secure the bent stick in place.

5. Punch tiny holes in the kite at the positions indicated and thread a doubled-up string through the holes and secure the string. The string should be tied such that the front section of the string is slightly shorter than the rear section. (If both sections are of the same length the kite will not fly and if the rear section is longer than the front, your kite will fly backwards.)

6. Cut the remaining tracing paper into long thin strips, join them together with glue and attach the strips to the tail end of your kite to make a long tail. (The tail makes the kite more stable in flight.)

7. Paint the kite if you want to, attach a reel of string to the kite and you are ready for your kite to catch the wind.

If it can't fly, make another one. If after several attempts and your kite still doesn't fly, then go and play some other games like marbles.


Chris Sim said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. How do you know I "luv to fly kite", Victor? It's always been one of my favorite pastime. No kidding.

Sapu Lily? To me, it conjures up an image of a girl with long hair. Lily with long flowing hair. But she soon became "botak" because naughty kids like you pulled out all her hair in the quiet of the night. All for the love of kite-flying.

I must commend you for your ability to multitask, Victor. In between penning this post and showing of your dexterity in the kite-making, you actually found time looking out for cheaper LCD TV for me! Thanks pal. I really appreciate your help. Cheers!

me said...

nice entry, suddenly I recalled how I used plastic bag (no kidding), tied to rafia (is that how it is spelled?) string... now I know how to make a good kite. hee..

and I had to say, the face on the kite is cute lol. Did you do that all by urself ?

Victor said...

Thanks Chris and Elaine.

Anything for you, Chris. It's my pleasure. Whether it is to let you relive your childhood memories or finding out which store offered the best prices for LCD TVs. Actually some of the photos were taken several days ago. That is to say it was not a one-day job although the post could have been put up within one day - remember that I said I was a fast worker.

Actually it was what the PM said which made me put up the post immediately (for maximum impact, hehe).

Elaine, yes I made the kite all by myself, including stealing the sapu lily sticks from the neighbourhood sweeper's broom, hee.

Lam Chun See said...

Looks like the GE has inspired a lot of blogging topics; including this one and my Kampong Badminton post.

Lam Chun See said...

I usually cut strips of newspaper for the 'tail'. We also glue shorter strips of newspaper to the 2 side corners. It helps to stabilize the kite. How come you don't have that? Or did you forget?

Anonymous said...

My dad used to run a provision shop (from home), and I always got to choose the nicer-decorated kites, FOC some more!

I remembered some of the guys had "glass strings" for kite-flying. What are those actually made of?

Victor said...

Chun See, I didn't forget. My kites did not have tails at the corners. Maybe we were:

a. From different times (4 years is quite a long time;

b. From different localities (you were from Lorong Kinchir while I was from Bugis Street area);

c. We were from different parties (sorry I am still in political mode);

d. You were more kiasu (tail alone was enough to keep the kite stable)

e. All of the above.

Alex, actually I wanted to spring a surprise by blogging about how I made my own glass string for flying my kite. But now that you have let the cat out of the bag, it will no longer be a surprise.

Chun See, would you like to ask Chuck to blog about how to make glass string instead since I jumped the queue and blogged about kite making before he did? (Don't say I never ask hor.)

Lam Chun See said...

Wise men think alike. I was going to ask Chuck to do just that later.

fr said...

I have a suggestion: write a love poem on the kite. The kite might fall into the hands of a lovely lady and the lovely lady falls in love with you....hahahaha..

got the idea from chinese opera

Anonymous said...

Here's how we made glass strings.

First we boil some glue (gu kar puay in hokkien; Chun See says, ngou pei kow in Cantonese) with water. Then we add glass fragments obtained by pounding fluorescent tubes. Then we rub the glue onto the string, protecting our fingers with a cloth. Finally, we coil the string around a tree trunk and wait a few hours for the glue to dry. When flying the kite, the more careful ones will apply a plaster around the finger for protection. Most of us don't bother.

Anonymous said...

Also to instead of using glue for the paper like you mentioned in your article, we usually use boiled rice.

Victor said...

Hmm... interesting. I didn't know that a post on kite making would generate more interest than the General Election (I mean my previous post). I am quite encouraged by the comments received to what I thought was quite an ordinary post. Thanks everyone for your comments.

Frannxis - you want me to get into trouble is it? Write a poem and get a lady to fall in love with me? (Not that I don't have that ability and charm you know, but I don't think my wife would like that and I don't want to rock my marriage. Besides, people get chopped up for doing these things you know? :P) But hey, on second thought, that is not a bad idea after all, i.e. writing the poem, not attracting the lady. Since my Chinese is not so good, can you do me a favour and pen me one for me here as comments? Thanking you in anticipation.

Chuck - Thanks for rightly pointing out that we could use boiled rice grains as substitute for glue and the interesting tips on how to make glass string. But what Chun See and I meant was for you do a separate post on glass string making, not just commenting about it on my post lah. Can or not? If cannot, may I have permission to cut-and-paste your comments for part of a similar post which I will put up in due course? :P

Anonymous said...

Victor, you can have my permission to cut and paste (at the price of 1 kite - 10 cents... actually, you kerna 'koo tok'. We used to pay only 5 cents per kite)
Maybe city folks like to pay more for most of the things.