Hue's kite crew

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A small group of dedicated artisans and enthusiasts keep Hue's legends and kites afloat

oreign tourists enjoy kite performances at the Vietnam Kite Festival held near the Imperial Citadel's Flag Pole during Hue Festival 2012 in April

On a recent blustery afternoon, Nguyen Van Be and his crew gathered outside the Imperial Citadel to put on a show.

Hundreds of spectators gathered near the palace's Flag Pole, craning their necks at a sky filled with bright fabric orioles and sparrows. As the birds flitted through the sky, Be, the president of Cau lac bo dieu Hue (the Hue Kite Club), narrated the legend and quietly prepared a grand finale.

When the time was right, the club launched a two-meter long fabric phoenix into a sky. Once the massive bird had stabilized, a loud pop sounded and a fledgling kite dropped from its mother's body and tumbled toward earth.

Few in the crowd knew what would become of the second phoenix which had been affixed to its mother's body by an explosive cracker.

After a moment of uncertainty, the fledgling joined the rest of the birds on the wind.

Phượng hoàng Ä‘ẻ con (the phoenix gives birth) is just one of several Vietnamese folk tales that have been brought to life by the kite club. Lately, the group has performed their take on Superman and the Chinese legend of the monkey Sun Wu Kong.

The crew began in 1973 as the Thua Phong Hue Club and disbanded in 1975 following reunification and reopened.

In 1983, Be reopened the organization under its current name. Two years later, he returned from the southern province of Long An with a new ultra-light fabric that opened he and his fellow kite enthusiasts up to a whole world of new possibilities.

In 1992, the club represented Vietnam at the 7th Diepe International Kite Festival in Normandy, France. Today, they continue to participate in workshops to sustain a legacy they remain somewhat uncertain about.

A Hue artisan with a butterfly-shaped kite he made at the Vietnam Kite Festival

Be has no idea when kite flying first debuted in Hue. He does know, however, that the pastime was elevated into a royal sport by King Bao Dai, the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty who ruled from 1926 to 1945.

During Bao Dai's reign, the royal court organized a kite festival, every year drawing elegant and elaborate submissions from artisans all over Vietnam.

The emperor's personal collection included the long diều (dragon-shaped kite), Ä‘iệp diều (butterfly-shaped kite), and phụng diều (phoenix-shaped kite).

The long diều took around 40 days to make and stretched up to 90-meters in length and featured an impossibly ornate head. The elaborate creature was kept airborne by 100 circular flaps held in place by bamboo struts.

The kites today are somewhat less ornate-most are kept afloat by a single string hypotenuse, according to artisan Nguyen Van Cu.

Every kite is made by hand and conveys something significant from each artisan.

"A kite is an artwork born of the patience, knowledge, and passion of the creator," Cu said.

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