The Life On Air team made their way to the land of Cik Siti Wan Kembang, Kelantan. Upon their arrival, they headed straight to Wadi Sofia International School for a site recce. There, they met up with Fardia Fadzil, a cheerful baby-faced teacher whose family owns and runs the school. She showed them a lush green field in the compound of the school, making the team excited for tomorrow’s workshop.
200 local and international students filled up the field as the team started to inflate the balloon. A lot of parents came as well. It was a Sunday, but in Kelantan it was the first day of the week so schools and offices operate as usual. As the balloon workshop commences, Izzati Khairudin started to throw questions to the students and the first to answer was a seven-year old girl. As always the feedback from the students are always positive and filled with enthusiasm.
After the balloon workshop, 39 passengers including students lined up for their tethered ride piloted by Atiqah Khairudin. The younger children were very expressive and a keened their experience to being a bird that gets to see the whole view of the school, and sharing that special moment with their friends. As for Fardia and husband Amir Mukmin Hassani, their ride on a hot air balloon together was a special one as they celebrated their 20th anniversary.
Muhammad Arif Irfan bin Ali Azizan, 17, who’s interest sparked a few years before, found his passion in ballooning rekindled after a conversation with the balloon sisters. A budding cyclist who’s getting ready to represent Malaysia in the Southeast Asia Games, Arif expressed his desire to become a balloon pilot himself. It was obvious that he was engrossed in the whole experience as he was the only student from the upper secondary level that stayed with the younger students to pack the balloon and even converse with the crews.
It seems so far, that the main objective of the expedition has been accomplished with great success. Students are thrilled to learn about the balloons and some of the older students even voiced out that they would like to seriously consider ballooning as a vocation, or at least acquire a pilot license.
Pleasantly surprising for the team was also the fact that Kelantan’s geographical topography remained untouched for most part, and had many wonderful landscapes to offer. In order for them to dive into the historical part of Kelantan, they invited former Sunday Star journalist, Eddin Khoo who stayed in Kelantan for over thirty years to learn about Kelantanese culture, specially Wayang Kulit, Main Puteri and Tarian Mak Yong.
Initially, the balloon sisters were set to take off from Kota Bahru’s Rural Transformation Center. However, after realising it was too close to the airport, pilot Izzati Khairudin decided to take the ‘scenic route’ and try to fly in Pasir Mas. It has been one of the items in her balloon bucket list to land in the middle of a paddy field! This hope was casually mentioned to Fardia in passing and as luck would have it she eagerly told the pilot that it would probably be a good idea to take off from Amir’s solar farm situated there. A site recce right after the balloon workshop confirmed that there was ample space for them to fly, along the Kelantan river and above the paddy fields.
Chasing the first light of the next morning, pilot and team woke up extra early to drive to their departure field. The sight could not have been more mesmerising. Everyone was in awe by the rising sun.
“We had the site recce yesterday when the sun was about to set, and now we are able to see the sun rise. The land is so flat! You could literally see the path where the sun comes up and retires at the end of the day”, declared Atiqah Khairudin in astonishment! Kelantan proved to be a balloonist’s dream destination to fly.
The Pasir Mas Solar Farm is the largest solar farm in Kelantan. Fardia explains that Kelantan, along with a few states in the Northern region such as Penang, Perlis, Kedah as well as Sabah has the most effective sun hours compared to other states. Thus, making it a perfect location to ‘harvest’ the sun. The Government supports green energy endeavours, even offering grants for them to set up their farm in which the energy they produced will then be sold to Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB). Apart from having almost no negative impact on the environment, it is also a very lucrative business venture!
While the sisters had a 2000 feet clearance this time from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Izzati opted to fly low instead to enjoy the view. This time the locals working their crops chased the balloon and made sure they took photos of that white gentle giant floating in the morning. They crossed the Kelantan river twice, before finally locating a small intersection in the middle of the field to land. As they were landing, the locals ran towards the balloon. Another common assumption is that balloons land on runways, similar to other aircrafts, when all they need is some empty, accessible space to land. After explaining to them what was really happening, the pilots and passengers got a little scolding.
“Why didn’t you let me know that you were coming? I would have cooked you some food! Land here and please join me in my home,” said an elderly man when the balloon landed. Eddin explained that the first time he ever set foot in Kelantan, he was greeted with the same kind of friendliness and generosity. A total stranger offered him a place to stay the first time he arrived in Kelantan! He seemed to have nothing but fond memories of this place. Wayang Kulit or Shadow Puppets was one of his passions, even more so after taking classes from a famous teacher there.
One would think that Wayang Kulit is on the verge of extinction but on the contrary, in the last five years, it has been flourishing more than ever in Kelantan. Through his efforts in Pusaka, there are now over a thousand people who participate to keep this heritage alive. Eddin believes culture is what makes a society whole. It brings forth character and deters one from useless pursuits. When there is no more culture, the mind gets bored and restless because there is nothing to do. Nowadays there are a lot of restriction as most of what was practiced is deemed to be quite contradicting to ones religion and beliefs.
A good example would be the Wayang Kulit, which traditionally depicts the story of Ramayana. Some extremist would go as far as banning it outright but most have taken the step to “adapt” the storyline to the Malay culture, providing good values and valuable lessons at the end of the tale.
It’s safe to assume that at the age where everybody is chasing the next technological high, there are still individuals who believe that nature and even the arts are fundamental to our everyday life. Sometimes it’s best to just go back to the basics.
“I would never have guessed this myself,’ says Izzati. “Here we are with not one but two local heroes in Kelantan! I am very much a supporter of sustainable energy and green initiatives. Cultural conservation is no less important. What these unsung heroes are doing should really be highlighted and appreciated. Both projects have long term benefits and those benefit goes beyond generations. Their present work will positively impact our nation’s future, fifty, even hundred years from now. These kind of initiatives and passion should really be the kind of lessons and values that we nurture our children so that they too, will continue to feel responsible for the well-being of their community and their future.
This expedition is made possible in association with AKA Balloon Sdn Bhd, Ford Motor Company and local distributor, Sime Darby Auto Connexion (SDAC) as Official Vehicle, iM4U.fm as Official Radio, Ultron as Official Apparel and De’Viana Hotel and Apartments as Official Hotel.
To find out more information on the expedition, visit www.lifeonair.asia and #LifeOnAirMY on Facebook and Twitter. Live feed is available on Youtube and Snapchat, @LifeOnAir.