MH17: A game of kites and turbulence

In Malaysia, kites are played during the monsoon season, when the winds are too turbulent, but ideal for aerial sport.


In 2007, the founder of GLUE was approached by the head of business development at Marfo for a special design commission. It was the celebration of Malaysia’s 50th year of independence. Marfo is the travel catering arm of Martinair, a Dutch-based airlines based in Amsterdam. Read the story here
Design © Zarina Holmes / GLUE Studio

In the eastern coasts of Peninsular Malaysia, village folks – fishermen and seamen – compete in kite-flying competitions to kill the time whilst the seas rage under the monsoon winds.

They are not small kites. They are huge. Some go up to ten feet in height. The frame is made of bamboo. It is a heavy object traditionally crafted, designed and flown by adult men. It’s called ‘wau bulan’ – the moon kit – because the shape is that of a crescent.

Cheating happens during competitions. A few players would resort to putting fragments of glass on the strings of their kites, should the lines crossed, to cut the rival kites loose. Before the time of ‘religious revival’, spectators would bet on kite-flying competitors, like they once bet on cockfights.

It’s a mesmerising game to watch. The kites hum as they zoom past and swoop up and down. They hold against turbulence well. In fact, they cannot soar high without the turbulence. It’s a game played during the most hostile of seasons, from October to January, when the coasts get hit by winds and floods.

A man and his kite at the International Kite Festival in Pasir Gudang, Johor, Malaysia. Photo: ©
A man and his kite at the International Kite Festival in Pasir Gudang, Johor, Malaysia. Photo: ©

When Malaysia Airlines MH17 went down on Saturday, we were cycling around Richmond Park. We rushed home to catch Tour de France only to see the bad news all over the media. It was sad to see images of our national carrier, and in particular, the kite – the Malaysia Airlines symbol – lying in pieces. But kites only fly high in strong winds.

You play the kite to weather the storm. You make the most out of the turbulence and your downtime. This is the wisdom of our folks.


GLUE Studio: The moon kite – designing a national icon for Malaysia Airlines


Noor, RM. (2012) Reproducing a traditional “wau” as a potential commercialized product. London: Humanities, Science and Engineering Research (SHUSER), 2012 IEEE Symposium on Humanities, Science and Engineering Research.


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