It was with trepidation that I accepted Thomas proposal to cover the yearly MyBaloon Fiesta in Kuala Lumpur. Hot air balloons, I though! I did not hesitate a minute and contacted the Public Relations person for the event, Miss Ezrin Balqis, in order to get some details on the event as well as to arrange accommodation for my stay.
Considering that Asian Itinerary had previously covered some of the activities of the famous Malaysian balloon sisters, great articles that I had read with much interest – READ THEM HERE -, I immediately thought that the best angle to cover the event would be to discuss the idea of women behind handling these giant balloons, something usually related to men.
I then arranged an interview with Izzati Khairudin, the first child of a man passioned about hot air balloons, who managed to pass on this passion to her daughters. Yes, not just one but two. Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin have a hot air balloon license and are indeed the women pioneer in this sport in Malaysia, the land of hibiscus.
Hot air ballooning is the oldest form of aviation in history, and even though accidents involving hot air balloons are rare, this sport is still considered as amongst slightly risky sports together with scuba diving and winter sports. Apart from that, for a woman to get involved in this sport is very rare too, and looking at these two young women, it is hard to believe they have ballooned in the sky so many times in their lives.
So the first question I threw at Izzati was sharp:
AI – “What do you think about Malaysian society perception on women involved in dangerous sports? Do you think people underestimate them or not?”
Izzati was not at all shocked and her answer came our after a big smile painted on her fresh face:
IZZATI – “I believe it is a matter of opinion. I feel that in Malaysia females are treated equally, I truly believe so as I have never felt handled differently than people would handle a man. Same in ballooning. When I was training in Spain, people treated equally as well. You know, if you want to be a pilot, you need to pilot your own balloon. Nobody is going to do it for you.”
AI – “Do you actually think hot air balloon is a dangerous sport?”
IZZATI – “Yes, I believe so, however it is really fun. I mean it’s not so hard. You take your license, you practice your landings and you get all the important knowledge needed to fly a hot air balloon, which is a lot. Because the thing with hot air balloon is that you can’t navigate the way, can’t really chose where the balloon goes and things like that. Therefore, when we fly a balloon we always need to look out for things like power lines, lamp posts and any other obstacles. And when we need to land, we really need to understand wind conditions and weather patterns.”
AI – “So what would you say are the main challenges behind hot air balloon?”
IZZATI – “In terms of flying, there are of course challenges. For instance, once I was flying in Penang and I couldn’t find a suitable field to land so I improvised and landed in a muddy pineapple plantation. Though it was not the most ideal place to land, the operation turned out safe. Hardest are palm oil plantation, and we have plenty here in Malaysia. Generally, landing spaces are very limited, but the good thing about this country is that morning weather is usually tame, so tricky landings are possible.”
AI – “What is your sweetest memory about balloons?”
IZZATI – “I think my best memory is doing it with my sister: we did our license together and we flew a lot together. Ballooning is my life, and so are my ballooning fans and my company. We are a very small team and we are very close to each other. Our office is like our second home. I work a lot with young people with very bright mind, very accommodating and committed like the AKA balloon team.”
AI – ”What message would you give to those who wish to try piloting a hot air balloon?”
IZZATI – “My message is: go for it. It took my sister and I a while to get our hot air balloon license, it was a long 7 years process from the initial idea to finally get it materialized, collecting necessary funds etc. Having some savings is important, so you can buy your own balloon and do not have to rely on renting one.”
AI – ”Plans for the future?”
IZZATI – “We are mainly planning towards setting up official training for hot air balloon pilots so that Malaysians do not have to travel out of their countries to get a license. Abroad, the cost of getting a license is about 50,000 Malaysian Ringgit (about 10000 euros).”
I said goodbye to Izzati and went on enjoying my morning at Putrajaya, observing amazing balloons taking off and flying away. I love Izzati commitment towards what she loves the most, she should be an inspiration to all women.
There is nothing better than doing what you desire the most in the world. And let me end this article with a quote by author of ‘Letters from the Lost Soul’, Bob Bitchin: “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.”