It’s a little after 9pm on a damp 40ish F Thursday night here in Shanghai. I can see two parks from my kitchen window. This time of year they mostly show up as large dark areas in a sea of city lights and flashing neon. It’s not exactly the most popular time for tourists to be wandering in the parks, much less the height of tourist season. But the kite sellers are out anyway. I know they are there because I can see the LED light up kites flying high over the park.
I wish I could take a picture of them that would do them justice. Believe me, I have tried. But if I do a broad shot so you can see the context the kites just look like little light blips on the film. If I do a close up they look like I went to Home Depot and stood too close to a light display. So I will try to do them justice with a word picture. If you want to see them for yourself come to Shanghai and go to the park with the giant sundial near the Science and Technology Museum. It’s worth the trip!
Tonight, as I said, is cold and damp. A fog from the sea has rolled in and makes skyscrapers in the distance look like glowing sentinel space ships waiting for their crews to return and take off to another planet. I am not sure if the fog has tamped down the noise or if people have moved inside for a warm pot of tea or noodle soup, but it is very quiet tonight. High above the park, higher than you can imagine – almost 10 or 12 stories high- float twinkling little UFO’s. From the angle of my view they appear to be about level with the tops of 50 story buildings, many of which have aircraft beacons on them. So the LEDs blend in at first. But watch them for a minute. They bob and drift and swoop. They twinkle in different, changing colors and patterns. They float in the sky for hours and hours at varying heights. A delicately choreographed ballet of several kites dance almost every night.
I try to imagine the motivation of the people flying them. In the summer and fall it seemed obvious – sell them to tourists. But now, late at night in the winter, who is there to buy them? Is the pure joy of flying them the motivation? I really don’t know. But they are beautiful and I am happy to see them. This is a city which is constantly on the move. Work, work, work. Rush, rush, rush. The beauty of a kite is you have to stand still and be patient. You watch the sky and chat with your fellow kite flyers. It is the perfect antidote to city life. The Yin to all that Yang.
If you go to this link and scroll down on the page you can see a short video that gives you a little idea of what the kites look like.