Thursday, 20 December 2018

Beyond The Frame | The Last Bamboo Birdcage Maker

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
The Yuen Po street Bird Garden in Hong Kong was built in the late 1990's after the former "Bird Street" at Hong Lok Street was demolished. It was built to preserve the spirit and popularity of the bird stalls that once were in Mongkok. The Chinese have traditionally liked to keep birds as pets, and this tradition is maintained in this small garden. Men (I've not seen a woman there except those selling birds, birdseed and live crickets) walk around; whistling at the caged birds, from delicate canaries to colorful parrots, admiring their plumage and a few walking their pets in cages.

I had read about Chan Lok-Choi in a South China Morning Post newspaper article, and how he was described as the last of the traditional bamboo birdcage makers in Hing Kong. I had no preconceived plan to meet Chan, but came across him as he was opening his stall.

I introduced myself, telling Chan I had read articles about him. He didn't seem surprised at all, and brought a photo book -carefully wrapped in plastic- to show me more photos and a write up about him, along with other craftsmen in Hong Kong. I had seen Sunset Survivors; a book that tells the stories of Hong Kong’s traditional tradesmen and women through imagery and interviews. It covers a number of curious professions that are quickly falling into obscurity, from fortune telling to face threading and letter writing to bird cage making in the streets of old Hong Kong.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Chan is the last bamboo birdcage maker in Hong Kong, and has worked out of his small shop for decades. He is in his 70s, he taught the craft when he was just a teenager. It takes him about a month to make a bamboo bird cage by hand, although these days he spends most of his time repairing old cages.

He has since made a name for himself as a master of crafting traditional birdcages. Making a bamboo birdcage by hand is not easy, as one must shave pieces of bamboo, soak them in hot water for hours, bend and mould them under kerosene lamps, and then nail them altogether. The process can take months. 

Although there's no one interested to learn the craft, Chan is optimistic about the culture and tradition of bird keeping in Hong Kong. It will continue, and in the meantime, he continues to repair birdcages for the aficionados.

Top photograph: Fuji X-Pro2. 18mm. 1/110th. f2.0. iso 800. Aperture Priority. December 6, 2018.

Lower photograph
Fuji X-Pro2. 18mm. 1/100th. f2.0. iso 800. Aperture Priority. December 6, 2018.