A person close to me once describe ballooning as ‘the simplest form of aviation’. While others beg to differ, I could not agree more.
Growing up it has become a norm for my siblings and I to accompany our parents at different events where they would organise tethered hot air balloon rides. Balloons have always been amusing to me, but I never considered it as love.
It was only when my late father decided to host the 1st Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (PIHABF) in 2009 did my passion for ballooning take flight.
I have a thing for organising events and this realisation goes way back from the time I was in high school up to university where I would spearhead and organise events for the Interact club as well as debating tournament after parties and even weddings! I love the high that comes from working under pressure.
So when my late father asked for my help with PIHABF, it was only natural that I would take up the challenge. I did not do much during the 1st instalment as I was in the middle of internship at Ernst & Young. So my sisters and I gathered our close friends to handle the ticketing of balloon rides and merchandise sales at the event.
The crowd turnout was beyond expectation! For an inaugural hot air balloon event in Malaysia (after 20 years) with minimal coverage, we were stunned by the number of people that turned up. We even had our gate crashed at the launch field. Our family was overwhelmed! The event was a success. It managed to draw crowds of multiple races from everywhere for a common purpose. Balloons.
After I graduated in 2010, I decided to come in and work full time for the company (AKA Balloon Sdn Bhd). I was tasked as the Event Assistant Director, but after an internal fall out, I got promoted to Event Director. Not as glamorous as you think. Excited, I would brainstorm ideas with a few friends whenever I hang out and managed to come up with a few profitable ones.
Now an idea is always great but when it comes to execution, I certainly overlooked many things. The technical aspects of the balloons has always been my parents forte while all the other side events and the handling of sponsor were mine. Believing I was able to juggle everything, the 2nd year of PIHABF expanded from 2 to 7 fields. I had to take care of contractors, corporate sponsors, at least 50 bazaar vendors, official merchandising and my side event operators. My phone did not stop ringing and for the first time in my life I had breakouts on my cheeks! (Indicating the level of stress I was in). Talk about throwing me into the deep end!
The following years, I got better at what I did and I really embraced the term ‘DELEGATING’. With both my sisters by my side, we managed to get some of our close friends to work for us, and help us make the event better.
The beauty about having young minds working for you is that they are always open to new methods and ideas and most importantly ever willing to learn. Personally, my biggest achievement is to watch how much the members of my team (Secretariat Team, you know who you are) whether they have left us or still working for us during the event have grown. We were close. The event bonded us together like the family we never had. To witness how this simple event become their career booster and as a way for them to build their character, to be stronger and independent.. it is one of the most satisfying feelings for me.
Since my dad left, I have slowly worked my way into learning the technical side of things. I work closely with my mother and we are lucky to have Sobri (one of my dad’s closest friend, who is also a balloonist) around and stepping in as the Event Chairman. I got familiar with the balloon system and started networking with fellow balloonists from all over the world to select balloons for the event. This is where I realised my relationship with ballooning started to bloom.
The thing about ballooning is, its not just a balloon flight. It goes way beyond big colourful envelopes or the sound of the loud burner as it floats ever so gently above you. It is all about the people. We have had balloonists who have attended the Putrajaya event every single year. Although we live in different parts of the world, you would be amazed by the our chemistry. It really is an extended family.
My sister Eqa went for a Euro trip after she graduated and politely asked a few of our balloonist contacts there if she could come and stay at their place. Each one of them welcomed her like the their own daughter! She breezed through her month-long Euro trip, visiting all their homes. It must have been the trip of her life! It is so wonderful to experience such hospitality from people we only meet once a year in Putrajaya.
It is remarkable that whenever we travel and we post a picture of where we are, there is always someone from the ballooning community who will invite you over for dinner or even offer their place for accommodation. I hope I speak on behalf of most balloonists, that it is a privilege to be a part of this beautiful balloon family. They never look at the colour of your skin or religion or whether we can speak the same language. As long as we understand each other, you are one of them.
We keep our event small, so we can eliminate all the politics that comes with every growing community. It becomes a family day, if not a reunion for most of us. Any new faces we see, they will always be treated like long lost relatives, and by the end of a balloon event, you can feel that your family just got a little bit bigger.
Currently my sister Eqa and I are in Spain, training to get our Private Pilot License (PPL). What a remarkable experience it has been so far. We hope to get our license by the time we leave and be the first two female hot air balloon pilots in Malaysia, following the footsteps of our father who was the first Malaysian balloonist.
The people we have met throughout our journey have been amazing. Just sit with them for 10 minutes and I promise you everyone has their own story to tell, from jaw dropping stories to the ones that will make your stomach churn! It is always fun to listen to these adventure junkies telling their personal experience when it comes to ballooning.
Now I can see why even after so long and after all the hardship, my late father was still as passionate about ballooning as when he first started. It is not about the flight, it is about the people. For this group of people in the ballooning world, it does not matter who you are, whether you are a balloonist, a family member or a crew. You are a part of this big family that shares the same burning passion. Ballooning.
Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards,
for there you have been, and there you long to return.
– Leonardo Da Vinci