As a semi-regular visitor to Hong Kong, there is one thing I always notice on my travels: the sheer amount of bamboo used as scaffolding for building projects on the islands. I am told there are over 1,500 registered bamboo scaffolders in Hong Kong, yet apparently the practice of this unique industry is diminishing due to major shortages in labour and material. Is this a sign of the times and a threat to one of Hong Kong’s cultural symbols?
Bamboo scaffolding was first introduced to the building industry in Hong Kong immediately after colonisation in the 19th century. This method was widely used in the building of houses and multi-story buildings prior to the development of metal scaffolding, and this is certainly why it has a place in the iconography of Hong Kong. There is something so enchanting about seeing this basic bamboo structure in the foreground, while ultra-modern glass skyscrapers can be seen on the horizon.
Despite the diminishing trade, wherever I walk in Hong Kong I see evidence of bamboo scaffolding that props up the buildings beside the roads or on the construction sites. I am told there are rigorous training methods involved in obtaining licences to work as a bamboo scaffolder and this may be one of the reasons younger generations of Hong Kongers are not taking up the same industry as their forebears. Material shortages are also a factor in the decline. The bamboo materials were imported from mainland China, but over the past two decades, scaffolding firms have had to look to elsewhere on the mainland, or even from Thailand, which all adds the expenses.
When you come to Hong Kong, you may be used to the bright lights of Causeway Bay and the glass skyscrapers of Victoria Harbour, but deeper into the city state you can find more homely signs that you’re in Asia, and there’s no bigger sign than bamboo scaffolding enveloping a new building as you walk past!