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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Up, up and away - but kite craze faces pulldown

Up, up and away - but kite craze faces pulldown

kite.jpg
kite.jpg

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

kite flyers.

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.

The

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.

On Friday,

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.

When

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

kites too".

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.

The vendor

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

sprinted off.

Later that day, another vendor lost four or five kites to

the police.

"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

pick-up truck.

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

asked.

"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

names.

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.

He

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

police.

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

order.

"Phnom Penh municipality requested us to suppress everybody who

fly or sell kites in the parks, because of the public order," said

Salong.

"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

kites".

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

parks.

"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

Sophara.

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

and sizes.

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.

This colorful

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.

An elderly

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".

 

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