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The kites and culture of Galt and Weifang

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 2:14 pm

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Weifang, China, which is in the very center of the beautiful Shandong Province. This mythical place has a culture built all around kites.

Legend has it that more than 2,800 years ago, a Shandong rice farmer once tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing too far away, and hence the kite was born. Today, the level of craftsmanship and artistry that goes into their world-famous handmade kites is nothing short of amazing.

I was invited to return to the Weifang International Kite Festival, which is held during the latter part of every April. Due to some commitments here at home, I could not go. Too bad, because I love kites and also Weifang’s delicious cuisine and tremendously gracious hospitality.

Serendipitously, a few weeks ago the Galt Historical Society hosted their own Kite Day at the incredibly lovely McFarland Living History Ranch. Although I had neither a kid nor a kite, I scored some free Velvet Grill ice cream and a hot dog just because of the generosity of others.

“Frank the Tank” from the Real Men’s Club was there feeling charitable as usual. I didn’t have to buy a thing. I pulled out a buck anyway. Come to think of it, when I was in Weifang, I didn’t pay for any of my meals there either. Sometimes it’s good to be me.

The McFarland Ranch was absolutely gorgeous as usual. The wind was blowing softly, not enough to lift the kites very high, but no one seemed to care. The green landscape and blue sky blended together so beautifully. Kids and adults alike were so happy just to immerse themselves in God’s gift of clouds and sunshine. It was a beautiful day to enjoy Galt’s local living history and culture right here in our own community backyard.

Anyone who is familiar with the Galt Historical Society knows Earl Frey. He is a former 36-year General Mills employee always quick to volunteer to make Galt a better place. Like so many Galt Historical Society members, his generous, unselfish spirit tends to make others want to somehow get involved. Earl somehow convinced fellow retired 35-year General Mills employee Pete Sheragy to bring his unique kite building skills to the McFarland Ranch. Sometimes it’s good to be Galt.

Pete displays his kites at three events each year: Lodi’s Sandhill Crane Festival, the Galt Winter Bird Festival, and McFarland Ranch Kite Day, where he loans out several kites to children so they can learn about the magic of kite flying for themselves.

Pete told me he had been making kites since he was 8 years old, originally just out of old newspapers. Today his kites are quite elaborate. His butterfly design alone took nearly seven years to perfect.

“A lot of kite makers are old people like me — takes an old guy who likes to tinker,” he said with a laugh.

As I marveled at the intricacy of his kites, I realized that this was much more than just kid’s play.

“A successful kite maker must marry the skills of a mechanic with that of an artist,” he said. “I am a mechanic first, but at times I have to be an artist too. You can be one or the other, but in the end you have to be both.”

I snapped a picture of Pete and Earl next to a large kite on the wall that had the word “China” underneath it so I could show it to my friends next time I am in Weifang. I almost forgot that Earl, too, had recently visited China with the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. (Their next trip departs Oct. 23. Anyone looking for an exotic, fun, and great value trip will not be disappointed.)

If I am in the U.S., I will try to pay it forward by going to the next Real Men’s Club charitable monthly luncheon; $25 for an incredible lunch and 100 percent of the proceeds goes towards local charities.

Also, please mark your calendars for the Galt Strawberry Festival, which is being held on May 17 and 18. This is the 19th year for this fun family event which is organized by the Galt District Chamber of Commerce.

On July 26, the Galt Historical Society will be throwing its fourth annual Sip and Snack at McFarland Ranch. It is a deliciously fun event, and another way to make some memories and support Galt’s ever-evolving living history.

The Galt Historical Society, Galt Chamber and Real Men’s Club is a huge part of what helps make Galt great. More volunteers and members are always welcomed.

For more information about any of the above, please call the Galt District Chamber of Commerce at 209-745-2529 and ask for Chris, or drop me a line at frank@gayaldointernational.com.

Galt has a fabulous culture and delicious Spaan’s cookie cuisine, but unlike Weifang, no plane ticket or passport is needed. Depending on your time and travel budget, I highly recommend putting both on your bucket list.

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