Melaka Shopping Tip :: Uncle Chong – The Kite Man Of Jalan Tokong

By Fadzli Ramli

The kite maker, Chong Swee Ching, 52 & his wife, Chua Siew Hong, 49. Pic: Fadzli Ramli

MELAKA, Oct 13 (Bernama) — For those who pass through Jalan Tokong in this world heritage city, they are sure to come across a man who is seen painstakingly working on slender bamboo strips and paper, turning these materials into Chinese traditional kites.

The workplace for Chong Swee Ching is in a shop located in a row of more than a century old shophouses.

‘Uncle Chong’, as this 52-year-old kitemaker is known, has been active in making these kites in his effort to ensure that this heritage does not fade with time.

“People now do not like to fly kites under the hot sun anymore, (to them) it is better to play video games in the comfort of air-conditioned homes,” he told Bernama here recently.

FAMILY TRADITION

Swee Ching learnt kitemaking from his father, Chong Chin Wah, 83, 20 years ago. Then, he did it only as a hobby.

The international kite carnival held at Bandar Hilir here in 1990 was the turning point. Swee Ching became infatuated with the beauty of kites and started to make them from then onwards.

Swee Ching is the second of four siblings but the others do not share his interest. However his 24-yearold son, Thein Siang, and 21-year-old daughter, May Teng, have shown that they too are adept in making the Chinese traditional kites.

The businessman, who is also a supplier of construction materials and owner of a grocery shop, is aided by his 49-year-old wife Chua Siew Hong in making the kites. Their collective turnover is some 20-30 kites a day depending on the size and design of the kites.

The bamboo strips, dried under the sun for one week, were later scraped and cleaned before turned into frames for the kites. Only Swee Ching knows how to do this as a frame need to be properly ‘weighted’ at all of its four corners in order for the kite to be able to fly.

“Three to four decades ago, kites were made only from papers. Now there are plastics and even cloth but I still use the paper as I want to retain the arts in making kites,” he said.

Swee Ching only uses special paper imported from China.

Most of Uncle Chong’s kites measure between some 90cm (0.9m) and 150cm (1.5m).

OVERWHELMING DEMAND

The demand for Swee Ching’s kite has been overwhelming and this made him to import kites from China in order to meet the local demand.

The kites from China are usually priced RM1 a piece but there are some that reach the price of more than RM500.

Each month Swee Ching manages to sell more than 200 of these traditional kites. At the time when he approached by this Bernama journalist, Swee Ching was in the midst of completing an order of 100 kites from a Kuala Lumpur-based fashion designer who wants them for film shooting.

The year 2006 gave Swee Ching a memorable moment when, after a challenge from five friends during some chatter over coffee, he created a name for himself when Swee Ching’s name was included in the Malaysian Book of Records for flying the largest kite in Malaysia.

“The kite is huge, measuring 33.2m long and 15.8m wide. We had to use a string 2.54cm thick and tied its end to a lorry that moved. Six people had to fly the kite at Tun Fatimah Stadium,” he said.

INVITATIONS

The record made by the stingray-shaped kite ‘Impian’ stands until today.

Swee Ching receives many invitations to perform shows with his kites nationwide. He also went to Hong Kong for the shows. Swee Ching was also in Bintulu, Sarawak for the same purpose last month.

As a parting advice for the family institution, Swee Ching said kite-flying is able to revive any strains and enhance relations in the family.

Bernama