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Quick vision, fast hands: Burmese kite fighters compete in the sky

On any clear evening, kites can be seen in just about every direction in the skies above the suburbs of Mandalay.

People fly kites for the pleasure of seeing the colorful designs. Or they watch for kite fighting – a game where one uses the kite’s string to cut the string of other kites.

“I lost six today,” said Ko Paik, who uses his kites for kite fighting. “I beat about 20. More than 20, I guess.”

There are more than 10 kite flying teams in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city and a center of Burmese culture. Kite flying competitions are held in three different locations every year.

Most kite flyers are elderly or middle-aged, as many young people these days don’t spend time on the sport.

“Times have changed. Back then, a lot of young people used to fly kites,” Mandalay resident Soe Han said. 

Members of the younger generation would rather spend time playing games on their phone, he said.

There are about 20 kite businesses in Mandalay. But they’re no longer as profitable because of the sport’s declining popularity and higher prices. 

“Business was OK in previous years,” kite store owner Aung Ko Oo said. “But since the price of goods has gone up, people don’t spend time on this anymore.” 

Kite flyer Ko Baw Di encourages young people to fly kites because it is relaxing and supports physical health.

“You have to have a quick vision and fast hands while running at the same time,” he said. “Your brain has to work fast to win, too.”

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed.