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Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 19, 1999

By Dennis Oda,Star-Bulletin
Nuuanu Elementary School teacher Kelvin Chun flies one of the kites
he has made in the traditional way popular in China and the Philippines.
Nuuanu students Matthew Yen, left, and Brett Shintani, both 10,
hold one of the other kites made by Chun.

Asian art on a string

Nuuanu teacher Kelvin Chun
shares the ancient art of kite
making at 'Pasko!'

By Burl Burlingame


KELVIN Y.S. CHUN, a teacher at Nuuanu Elementary, is a good-natured sort, as evidenced by the respect his students give him (he was recently named one of 39 teachers, out of 75,000, in the Walt Disney American Teacher Awards).

But he does have one gripe.

Invariably, his first name is spelled "Kevin" in stories and on awards. So let's get that out of the way: Kelvin Y.S. Chun.


Bullet What: "Pasko! A Filipino Holiday Celebration"
Bullet When: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Where: Honolulu Academy of Arts
Bullet Cost: Free
Bullet Call: 532-8700

The reason we're talking to Chun today is his facility with Asian kites. His colorful manta-shaped kites are often displayed in public libraries as if they're works of art rather than elaborately crafted toys. They aren't "kite"-shaped. They aren't triangular and they feature tails. As we head into pasko season -- the Filipino holiday celebration -- you might want to build one yourself as decoration.

"As a child, I was always struck by the balance and symmetry of Asian kites," said Chun, who will display his work Sunday during the annual "Pasko!" event, themed "Our Children, Our Future," at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

"I was fortunate that there was a neighborhood man, Patricio Gongob, who took me in as an apprentice. He was a master kitesman."

Like most kids, Chun bought store kites and flew them as high as they could possibly go. That was the thrill. "And if the string broke, ooooooh, buckaloose!" said Chun.

He noticed, however, that Gongob's elliptical kites flew almost straight overhead, indicating great lifting power, and were stable. The secret was in the broad tail, comprising about half the lifting surface, coupled with airfoil-shaped tips that flexed in the breeze, like the tip primaries of a bird's wing. Asian kites were also rigged with a line across the back that ensured balance.

By Dennis Oda,Star-Bulletin
Chun shows yet another of his kites.

"Mr. Gongob made his kites out of rice paper on strips of bamboo," said Chun. "I've modernized things a little bit. I still use bamboo -- often from fishing poles -- but I also use ripstop Nylon or Mylar."

One of his smaller kites is actually made of clear Mylar with a Japanese mon design printed on it with a laser printer. Despite any kite's size, when the back rigging is loosened, the kite goes flat, and Chun says they're easy to store.

Gongob didn't only make delicate little kites. Chun remembers a monster the "size of a house that had to be driven to Kapiolani Park on the back of a flatbed. We had to use ropes to hold it in the air!"

Back then, the City and County provided funding for kiting contests. In the 1980s, stores such as Kite Fantasy and High Performance had a wide selection of kites. Chun has seen the popularity of kite flying diminish over the last decade.

Still, it's a centuries-old tradition. The Chinese invented kites, and when Chinese merchants moved to the Philippines they brought kiting with them. When Gongob emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii, he brought the skill with him -- and Chun laughs heartily when he realizes that the Filipino man taught a boy of Chinese descent the art.

Full circle!

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