By LIN, Ya-Yin
Life is full of surprises. We never know where we’re going to end up when we take our first step. In 2012, I went to Belgium to attend the 9th World Bamboo Congress (WBC). I had been invited by an architect friend to collaborate with her on the design of a bamboo library for an elementary school. We were looking for information about cutting-edge techniques for the treatment of bamboo as a structural building material. It was our plan to meet with a man at the conference who had built a low-temperature heat treatment kiln for bamboo.
Since bamboo has been retreating from our daily lives and mainstream markets in Taiwan, what surprised me most at the WBC was to learn that it should be so widely studied and promoted by many people from around the world. This high level of interest has led to a great variety of research for many different applications – not only architectural but industrial, artisanal, and culinary as well. Though every attendee at the WBC had a different approach to working with bamboo, whether they represented the private sector or a governmental agency, or were driven by commercial or academic interests, there was a strong sense of collective purpose and action. In many parts of the world, people are turning the traditional notion of bamboo as poor man’s wood into thriving value-added businesses.
Though its prominence has lately been fading away, the Chinese culture has always had a strong bamboo tradition. In addition to its utilitarian functions, bamboo was a major artistic subject. Praised by poets and frequently occurring in literature, paintings and music, bamboo was a symbol of pure character and integrity. What’s happening nowadays is that although our bamboo artifacts and art may have achieved their highest artistic and handicraft value in history, bamboo has long since lost its relevance to our daily lives.
It turned out that the people from Taiwan who attended the 9th WBC were so inspired that we decided to establish a national organization named the Taiwan Bamboo Society. The goal of this non-profit organization is to unite people and resources in order to revive the interest and usage of bamboo in Taiwan.
The next unexpected step was that I saw a letter from Mr. Michel Abadie, the President of the World Bamboo Organization (WBO), soliciting members for the international organizing committee for the 10th WBC. I volunteered and was accepted as a member of the Technical Committee of the 10th WBC.
Now at last I come to the main subject of this article: the 15th Bamboo Festival in Damyang, Korea. When the county of Damyang was preparing for their annual event this year, they invited the 10th WBC Technical Committee to meet with them during the festival. Three of us represented the WBO in Damyang in May, 2013: the chair of the technical committee, Ms. Nirmala Chongtham from India, the co-chair, Mr. Jean-luc Koujoumji from France, and myself from Taiwan.
I left for Damyang with eight other Taiwanese bamboo craft artists, two of whom had been invited to exhibit their artifacts along with artists from five other countries. My first Korean lesson began by reading traffic signs with Korean-English parallel texts on the way from Incheon international airport to Damyang, trying to figure out the rules of the Korean phonetic alphabet. It was not too hard; in fact, I found it pretty logical. Sejong Daewang, a great king six hundred years ago, invented the Korean written language so that even the most humble people could learn to read and write. As we approached Damyang by car, we began to see more and more bamboo growing along the roads and on surrounding hillsides. In the region’s early summer, the air was agreeably cool and fresh.
As a visitor to Damyang, you get the feelings that someone has been trying every possible way to make your life related to bamboo. The most obvious thing is that you have bamboo shoots prepared in many different ways presented in small dishes practically at every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is bamboo sausage in the food stalls along the riverfront by the Yeong-San River. You may have refreshing bamboo tea, bamboo wine or bamboo beer to go with it. In restaurants, you commonly see huge bamboo shoots dipped in alcohol displayed in big jars. It is said that with bamboo in the alcohol, you cannot get drunk. Rather than testing this theory, we sipped bamboo tea and bamboo vinegar when we were thirsty. (The chopsticks, surprisingly, are made of steel instead of the bamboo which most east Asian people use.)
Apart from the culinary uses, there are all kinds of locally produced bamboo products, old and new. Bamboo odor-absorbers, organic bamboo soap, kitchen cleansers, clothes-washing detergent in liquid as well as in solid form were common items on the shelves. In the exhibition hall at the Bamboo Festival, people were lying on a therapeutic heated couch with its surface made of bamboo charcoal tiles. Nirmala even received a nice massage from a lady selling all kinds of body treatment utensils made of bamboo. We visited a bamboo oil factory, too. The owner stated that cosmetics including of his products make your skin whiter than ever, and that bamboo oil also keeps crops and domestic animals disease-free.
If you care for some outdoors activities, try floating down the river in a bamboo raft. Bamboo lanterns were flickering along the riverbanks and hanging under the bamboo tunnel. You could see children busy filling their bamboo water guns. Some would step into the temporary fish pond on the shallow side of the river, trying to catch fishes with bamboo scoops. Suddenly, we heard drums pounding and there came a parade circulating the area on their way to the bamboo market.
The most amazing experience for me was to sleep in a hanok, a traditional Korean residence. It was like a dream come true. The one I stayed in had a very friendly scale, with a wide porch for enjoying the breeze on hot days. Make sure to take off your shoes before stepping up on the porch, as the hanok is designed for bare feet only. Inside, the floor is heated so you can lie straight on it; this ensures you have a nice warm sleep on cold nights. Traditionally, the wooden floor was elevated above the ground. Part of the space between the floor and the ground was enclosed with stone and mud to form an airway for hot air to circulate beneath the bedrooms. The hot air came often from the cooking stove, so that the heat was used twice before being drafted outside.
Hanoks are normally framed with strong wooden poles and beams. The façade, sometimes even two sides, consist of big windows that look like doors. When they are wide open, the interior and the exterior merge together. The structure of the walls is usually bamboo wattle and daub with an earthen plaster finish. The local earth, called “yellow dirt,” has a beautiful pale yellowish color. Lime plaster was applied to the hanoks of rich or noble families. Hanoks have big and very characteristic roofs with curved lines and a covering of black tiles. The black rooftop and the yellowish or white walls combine into a very harmonious esthetic.
The hanok I stayed in was situated in the Bamboo Culture Experience Village, surrounded by groves of bamboo of course. If you take a walk in the morning along the trail, it will lead you to a vast bamboo park on a hill covered mainly with the three major local bamboo species. Bamboo craft masters and scholars were sitting here and there under the roofs of traditional pavilions, making bamboo fans or painting personalized inscriptions on the fan you just bought from another master.
Back in Belgium, at the 9th WBC in 2012, I had first met the Korean delegation from Damyang. A very impressive and passionate team led by the Governor, Mr. Choi Hsung-sik, was there to present themselves as a candidate to host the 10th WBC. I was just one of the attendees of the congress and they were total strangers to me at that time. Who would have figured that a year later I would be visiting their county, making good friends with the people of the place. Life is a sheer miracle.
The theme of the 10th WBC is “Bamboo for a Greener Future”. It will be held from June 27th to July 1st, 2015 in Damyang, concurrent with a World Bamboo Fair running from June 27th to August 15th. I am sure that Damyang will be ready to give visitors a very warm welcome. Damyang is undergoing huge renovations to become an eco-city showcasing sustainable bamboo markets and businesses. Curiously, there is no bamboo construction tradition in Korea. The Governor is determined to change that no later than 2015.
The Damyang Bamboo Festival website：
For more information about WBC, for now please read here：
The WBC website will begin to take on information by 1 July www.worldbamboocongress.org
Also published here : http://nbnetwork.org/