Some time ago I was at a dinner with business colleagues of AMM. There were about 12 of us seated at a large round table with a huge glass ‘lazy susan’ in the centre, on which all the food was placed.
I was doing my best to make small talk with the Chinese woman seated to one side of me, a task that was not the easiest as my Mandarin was, and is still, very much that of a beginner and her English was not much better. After we’d exhausted the topics of whether I had children, their ages etc, and how I liked living in Beijing, there was a lull in the conversation so I started asking her about some of the dishes we were being served. After a telling me a few details about the local delicacies that were on the table, she asked me a question.
“How do you cook your bamboo in England?” – certainly something I’d never been asked before, and I told her that on the whole we don’t cook bamboo in Britain as we don’t really eat bamboo (obviously a meal at the local Chinese restaurant down the Holloway Road doesn’t really count). She was amazed, “why don’t you eat bamboo?” I did my best to explain that we don’t really grow much bamboo in the UK – well, apart from some varieties grown as decorative garden plants.
Her question got me thinking about bamboo. In the far East it is everywhere, in fact I think that the people of China (not to mention Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, etc etc) could not imagine life without it.
It is a truly remarkable plant. I’m sure all you clever clogs know that bamboo is not a tree, it is a lignifying grass (ie a grass that turns into wood) and it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Some varieties, in the right conditions, can grow 60cms or more in a single day!
Furniture can be made from it. From earliest times bamboo slats strung together were used as something to write on, and then the Chinese discovered how to turn it into paper. Nowadays it is also turned into fabric. It can be used to pipe water from one place to another. Many musical instruments are made from it such as the Chinese flute called a Dizi. That’s just for starters – there are hats, baskets, bowls, chopsticks, toothpicks, flooring, bicycles all made from bamboo…the list seems endless.
I tell you what, if Kirsty Young ever casts me away on the famous Desert Island, never mind choosing a luxury, what I hope is that there will be loads of bamboo growing wild!
Scientists can beaver away inventing useful materials such as polyester, carbon fibre and Kevlar but honestly Mother Nature has already trumped mans best efforts producing bamboo, the most amazingly versatile material.
Oh, and by the way,the Giant Panda swears by it – would hardly eat anything else.