After revisiting the ‘Bug Doom’ ruins from the 2009 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale, I came across another beautiful bamboo structure a few days ago in Hong Kong. This time a temporary theatre, for the traditional Cantonese opera performance during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), the West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre.
The structure is entirely made out of bamboo, covered with thin metal sheets, built by scaffolding masters on-site and decorated with colourful show advertisements and flags. It is assembled easily and flexible, and recyclable. Its form and construction method depends on capacity, an average size theatre for 300 audience with the roof ridge running longitudinally, takes about one week to construct; while larger theatre for 500-1000 audience requires transverse roof ridge to solve technical difficulty and emphasis its grandeur by height.
The West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre has a capacity of 800 audience, including a large stage, a backstage, as well as first-aid area together under one big roof. The afternoon breeze came through all sides, this dynamic structure seemed even lighter, the performance on the stage was engaging, I could well be in a countryside Cantonese village, and I could be in the early 20th Century. It didn’t matter it is actually the 21st Century, and I was right in the middle of a metropolis, the kind of alienation I often get when I visited Hong Kong disappeared, being in this bamboo theatre I felt comfortable and happy.
Night time image from CNNGo, 20.01.2012.
At the end of year 2010, A book called Scaffolding‧Viewing‧Assembling: Cultural Observations on Bamboo Scaffolding, Chinese Opera and Markets, by Tse Yin Mo, Xiao Kou, Poon Sze Man, was published and exhibitions were held to discuss topics as traditional performances and temporary cultural spaces in Hong Kong. The book traces the long history of such practices and demonstrates how important these bamboo structures were as part of the vibrant ordinary livelihoods.
All the way down in the southern hemisphere, back in the mid-19th Century, Māori people created hākari (feast) stage to hold food for large inter-tribe gatherings, sometimes feeding up to 3000 people, it was also a demonstration of wealth and abundance while they were trading goods.
Te mahi kai – food production economics. Image from Te Ara.
Stage for Hakari or Feast given to Governor Grey in 1849 at the Bay of Islands to celebrate the peace between the two races. Image from University of Auckland
Hākari stage. Image from Te Ara.
Seemingly completely unrelated, though both of these large temporary structures doesn’t just make the holding of festival and gatherings possible, they are also symbols of pride. And as they serve the ordinary people — to entertain the villagers or feed the tribe, this pride belongs to the ordinary public.
At the flower market which took place during the Spring Festival in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, I saw bamboo scaffolding again, small and simple stands catering the needs of each individual seller. Blooming flowers in the foreground, bamboo sticks quietly stayed in the background, in different length, on different angle.
I must say I have not met another building materials that’s as relaxed and friendly as bamboo.