Hundreds of Cambodians have taken up kite flying as their favorite afternoon
pastime. But as Anette Marcher discovered, the colorful phenomenon nearly came
to an end last week, when security guards expelled people from the parks and
armed police confiscated the kite vendors' merchandise.
A boy happy with his kite in the park near the Independence Monument.
Last week the kite mania came head to head with municipal authorities
FOR WEEKS now,
the sky above Phnom Penh has been adorned with dancing spots, speckling the
monsoon clouds with red, green, blue, orange and every other imaginable color.
Swirling, dashing kites have suddenly become the favorite afternoon pastime for
hundreds of Cambodians from all walks of life. And particularly the public parks
east of the Independence Monument have been popular rallying points for joyful
But the kite craze nearly came to an end last week when
municipal authorities decided to crack down on kite flyers and vendors. Security
guards threw people out from the parks and police began a heavy-handed campaign
of kite confiscations.
This week, both district and municipal authorities
seemed slightly embarrassed about the whole affair and tried to downplay or hush
up the impact of their initiative. But the kite mania in the public parks still
appears in a cautious state as evictions and confiscations continue.
kite crackdown began formally on Thursday last week. Through the Chief of
Cabinet, Man Chhoeun, the order came out from First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara
that flying kites on the grass or endangering the traffic would not be welcome
behavior in the public parks.
Immediately, park security guards began
handing out warnings. But already the day before, police officers armed with
machine guns was seen patrolling the park nearest the Independence Monument.
They confiscated at least one kite from a group of children.
however, overzealous park security decided to evict everybody seen with a kite
in hand in the parks east of the Monument. That afternoon, the colorful kite
ballet vanished completely with a few waves of half a dozen batons.
asked about future crackdowns, security guards wowed to chase all kite flyers
away "tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, for ever".
"We cannot even let
two or three people play with kites in the park," said one security guard on
Friday afternoon. "Because then there will suddenly be 100 or 200 people flying
Meanwhile kite-sellers along the river front and around the
parks complain that police officers from Chamcarmon district frequently
confiscate their kites for no obvious reason.
On Friday afternoon, one
such incident turned violent in the park close to the Naga Casino, when a
20-year-old vendor ran away with a batch of kites that the police were closing
in on to confiscate. One police officer chased after the vendor, waving a gun
around and threatening to kill him if he saw him again.
escaped safely into the fenced off area next to the Hotel Cambodiana. The police
managed to grab one kite and 20 strings from the basket before the vendor
Later that day, another vendor lost four or five kites to
"I had to go down to the police station to buy them back,"
she said while anxiously glancing up the street, watching for the police's
The vendor next to her on the sidewalk also had his
motorbike ready to whiz off if the police showed up.
"We already pay
2,000 riel a day to the police, so why do they also want to take our kites?" he
"They come around here every day at four or five o'clock to
collect the money. Sometimes they also take some kites. Many people here have
lost a lot of kites".
Both kite vendors refused to give their
At a price of between two and six dollars a kite, a batch of them
is a valuable asset. However, the Deputy Inspector at Chamcarmon police station,
Hy Narin, denies any knowledge that kite sellers have had to pay the police to
get their merchandise back.
"We have only confiscated kites one time - 50
in all - and we always give them back to the people," said Narin.
claimed that the Governor of Chamcarmon District, Chey Salong, gave the order to
confiscate kites from the vendors. The reason was that if there were kite
sellers in the parks, there would also be kite flyers, who damaged the grass and
put traffic and passers-by in jeopardy.
Narin had also never heard that
the kite sellers had to pay a daily fee of 2,000 riel to the
Chamcarmon's Governor, Chey Salong, referred to the Phnom Penh
municipality, where, he said, the request to crack down on kites had come from.
However, Salong didn't know or remember exactly who gave the
"Phnom Penh municipality requested us to suppress everybody who
fly or sell kites in the parks, because of the public order," said
"But the police never took money from the vendors or threatened
them with a gun. Today, they still chase people out of the parks and confiscate
When the Post first contacted Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor
Chea Sophara regarding the new kite regulations, he had no recollection of the
issue at all.
Later, he acknowledged that the request to restore public
order in the parks had come from him, since the kite flyers were trampling and
damaging the grass and endangering traffic. During the weekend, after hearing
about the crackdown and the confiscations, he had pointed out that only kite
flyers running on the grass or acting irresponsibly should be expelled from the
"I have just asked the authorized persons - especially the
security guards - to not chase everybody away from the parks. After I got
information about the police confiscating kites from the vendors, I called
everybody to a meeting and asked them not to do that anymore," said
But whereas Sunday saw the usual horde of kite flyers frolicking
on and off the grass, they seemed to have learned the lesson during the
following week. When security guards show up in the park, they often withdraw
discreetely to the pavement.
And kite vendors still watch nervously out
for police trucks that patrol the area every afternoon.
Despite the odds,
the kite craze continues with dozens of shark, bird and butterfly shaped gliders
soaring towards the clouds every afternoon. Young schoolboys make their kites
perform vertical dives and somersaults while parents teach their kids how to
keep the line tight and not get entangled in the surrounding forest of strings
reaching to the sky.
Approaching Phnom Penh by air in the afternoon, the
highest flying kites flutter like life buoys everywhere above the city. And even
in the Bassac squatter area, people walk around with kites in all shapes, shades
Money is not necessarily a condition for joining in on the
hype. A plastic bag and a couple of bamboo sticks is enough to piece together a
flying toy. And all over town, the homemade devices mingle with sophisticated,
expensive kites, imported from Vietnam and Thailand.
phenomenon has created not only an abundance of joy and laughter over the past
few weeks, but also surprise and slight astonishment.
The real kite
season is not supposed to set in until January or February when the monsoon is
long gone and the rice harvest begins. Traditionally, flying kites is supposed
to keep the rain away, so that farmers can gather their crops without their
being destroyed or washed away.
But this year, the short dry season that
appears from late July to late August in the middle of the monsoon has brought a
steady breeze, ideal for kite flying when the rain holds off. Also, some say,
cunning entrepreneurs have brought the phenomenon from neighboring Vietnam,
where most of the kites are produced.
"I don't know exactly why so many
people fly kites this year. I think somebody saw the Vietnamese playing with
beautiful kites and decided to take them to Cambodia," said one content kite
vendor, who still manages to sell more than ten kites a day.
And no doubt
there are many first-timers among the kite flyers.
"I never flew kites
before, but now I do it all the time. Every day I go to the park between three
and five o'clock. I like to fly my kite because everybody else does it too,"
explained one youngster with his eyes fixed firmly on the sky.
kite vendor offered this explanation to the hype:
"Cambodians like to fly
the kites because they look so pretty in the sky. It makes them happy. And it
makes them relax - because it has nothing to do with politics".