Tropical storm Bebinca was about to douse northern Vietnam on Saturday June 22, the day of the fifth full moon of the lunar year and the most celebrated festive day of the year in Dai Hoang, a village renowned for its braised fish in the northern province of Ha Nam's Ly Nhan District.
It's the day when the entire village and its sons and daughters, no matter how far away they might have moved, gather in the yard before the village temple for arguably the oldest kite competition in Vietnam.
One day prior to this year's festival, the people took their worries about the storm to the temple to beseech the deities for clement weather and a successful kite contest.
Their prayers were answered in the main. The sky was as clear as crystal on Saturday morning when the fun began with sporty, active games like human chess, duck catching, and a card game called tổ tôm that uses a deck of 120 cards and is played by five people.
By early afternoon, however, it was growing dark and spattered rain began falling on the merrymakers.
As the big competition approached, the 22 all-male kite flyers could not stop looking nervously toward the heavens as they held their delicate kites covered in plastic sheets to protect them from the elements and prayed that the rain would go away and the wind would ease up.
At three o'clock the rain did indeed cease but the wind was even stronger, as though an unseen twister were bearing down on the village to tear the kites to pieces.
Fortunately, no hurricane or whirlwind hit Dai Hoang that afternoon. The sky miraculously cleared and a fresh breeze ensued to deliver an omen for a prosperous year ahead for the village, which supplies several tons of braised fish for export to countries where the Lunar New Year is celebrated.
A few minutes after a string of drums were struck to kick off the event, 22 of the lightest kites in Vietnam flew high up into the air. As it does every year, the amazing scene took first-time visitors by surprise.
The kites were soon vanishingly small like dots in the sky as they reached an altitude of a thousand meters, forcing the judges to pick up their binoculars.
Old Tran Huu Duyet related how there used to be a rice field in front of the temple gate that provided adequate space to fly the kites.
"I was told that, before the binoculars they use nowadays, people observed the kites through a water basin and it was very clear," the 74-year-old spectator from Hamlet 4 said.
Dai Hoang kites have no tail, and its frame is flat and made of bamboo and ultralight giấy bản.
The award for this year's best performance went to the kite representing Hamlet 6 as it flew the highest while remaining stable. The festivities concluded with a big feast of Dai Hoang's traditional fish soup.
Oldest and lightest
Believed to be the oldest in Vietnam, the Dai Hoang kite has a unique design and is remarkably light, much more so than kites elsewhere in the land.
It has no tail for one, and its frame is flat and made of bamboo and ultralight giấy bản, which is a traditional paper of the Dao ethnic people in the northern mountainous province of Cao Bang.
"We make our kites the same way they've always been made, using the techniques of the past," said senior kite maker Tran Huu Yen, 76, whose kites won first prize and second prize six and three times respectively.
Yen chooses bamboo cut down the previous November and doesn't use glue but a resin of well-chewed persimmon to stick the paper to the frame, connected with a synthetic fiber rope instead of a silk cord as in the past, to make a lozenge-shaped kite of 2.05 meters in length.
The long sticks of bamboo to make the frame should be sharpened in such a way that their two heads are smallest, while the outermost part of the two wings should bend a little, he said.
It's the lack of a tail, the flat design and a weight below one kilogram that lets a Dai Hoang kite fly so high, he added.
Yen's senior, 81-year-old Tran Huu Sac, said that the festival is held after harvest time to give thanks to the deities and gods. It's also a windy time of the year.
Like most of the villagers, Sac's family name is Tran since their village was found by Prince Yen Sinh Tran Lieu (12111251), the elder brother of Tran Thai Tong (1218-1277) the first emperor of the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400).
According to the Tran descendant, the kite festival was not held from 1946 and was only revived in 2000, when the local government responded to a petition from the villagers and helped them get it going again. This year it is an integral part of the National Tourism Year Red Delta 2013 campaign.
Said Sac, "Previously, the competition involved only five kites representing five hamlets, but now we have 25 kites for 25 hamlets. In the past, the five kites were distinguished by their colors, for example, a white background with pink on the wings, red in the middle of the wings and red at the center of the main body."