In the 1980s, Kunkun Sudjana, then a teenager, regularly visited Gang Sereh, an alley on Jl. Astana Anyar Bandung.
He said that back then, he was very much into kites and Gang Sereh’s shops drew the attention of kite enthusiasts who were on the hunt for cheaper supplies.
Now a father of two, Kunkun said he recently revisited Gang Sereh as he wanted to introduce kites to his son.
These days, the alley is home to around six kite shops, some of which have been around since the first kite boom, such as the Rudy and the Akiat kite shops.
Aside from kites, the shops offer a variety of threads, including kenur thread made from nylon and gelasan thread, which is dangerously sharp as it has been coated with a mixture of glass powder and starch.
Akiat is owned by Lie Fie Kiat alias Akiat, who is a three-time winner at international kite festivals, including the International Dieppe Kite Festival in 2004.
The shop is decorated with framed articles about his wins from the local and international media.
Akiat, who happened to be in the shop during Kunkun’s visit, said he trained hard for the events. “I trained almost every day,” he recalled.
When it rained, he would take a break and would continue after the skies had cleared. His hands would bleed sometimes after coming into contact with gelasan thread, as expected.
Akiat said living in a tropical climate gave me him an advantage as it allowed more practice time. “Here we don’t experience autumn or winter, so we can train all year long as long as it’s not raining.”
According to him, there are two types of kite competitions: the first one involves fighter kites, which go against each other until there’s only one kite left flying, having cut all the threads from other’s kites.
The second is more about aesthetics, where contestants are judged by the beauty of how their kites fly.
“It’s like martial arts,” Akiat said of his passion for participating in the fighter kite competition. “It’s like going into a battle where you need to think of the best way to survive.” For him, the best strategy is to study the enemies’ playing style.
He recalled that one of the toughest enemies he ever faced was a contestant from Korea who used silk thread, which made it harder to cut. But it was a memorable victory when he was able to cut the Korean opponent’s thread.
Gang Sereh is a great place for kite enthusiasts to visit. Aside from it being a shopping center, on certain days, one might even be able to chat and learn a trick or two from a kite flying maestro.
Kites at Akiat’s start at Rp 500 (US$0.05) per piece and the threads are priced beginning at Rp 5,000 per roll.
The shops in Gang Sereh are usually open daily from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.