Thursday, March 1, 2012

Taiwan Salt Industry

Salt flats of central west coast of Taiwan.


We woke up on Wednesday morning and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day to go to the coast and see the salt flats. We drove on a beautifully modern “expressway” where we could look out over miles of dammed up land that had been salt fields for centuries until the 1970’s when they began to process salt through electrodialysis. We followed the map through small fishing villages starting at Dongshih and drove south through Budai and Beimen.  
Salt mountain in Budai just south of Dongshih.
Then in the middle of nowhere there was a sign for the salt museum. We turned into a large parking lot with very few cars that was in front of a building in the shape of two pyramids. This was the Taiwan Salt Museum built to resemble the salt “mountains” of the past.  

There was a mountain of salt on display outside that you could climb to the top and overlook the old salt flats.

Inside the museum, we learned all about the process of solar drying (evaporation) seawater to extract the salt to be useable for three purposes: human consumption, industrial use and animal husbandry. It was labor intensive! First, the floor of the slat needed to be lined. There were two kinds of salt beds…mud floor and tile floor. The Japanese invented the tile floor where the bottom of the bed was lined with pottery shards and/ or tiles. These were laid by hand. And there were miles of them!  

In contrast to the tedious, light work of lining the tile floor bed (which was always done by women), the mud floor bed was extremely heavy work being that it was compressed solid by a man dragging a cement roller over it.

After the bed was prepared, there was a systematic process of letting in the water and flooding these beds beginning in the biggest field which drained into several smaller fields and so on until it ended up in a small field that was more salt than water. In each of these fields, the water was raked and settled and raked and settled.

Then it was finally scooped into containers and loaded into a railcar on a track that ran along the salt flat. This was big business and was taxed heavily by both the Japanese government during occupation and by their own government after the war. This led to selling salt on the “black market.” Watch towers were built to supervise the salt fields by the "salt police."

All of this history was depicted by very life-like dioramas, as you can see in the pictures above.

The museum also explained and displayed about salt processing around the world and other methods such as mining. It was very interesting. I have a greater appreciation for how salt gets to my table after exploring this museum.

The museum also had a gift shop where we bought a few presents to bring home, including salt coffee. This was funny to us because Don adds salt to the coffee grounds when he makes coffee at home, something he learned in the Marine Corp. People consistently comment on how good the coffee is when he makes it. Then he’ll say that he puts salt in the grounds. Most people will think that’s strange, but they can’t deny that they think he makes great coffee. After more than 39 years, we realized while we were at the salt museum gift shop that the Marines probably picked up the habit of adding salt to their coffee grounds after traveling in the Far East. It’s a wonder what you can find out about yourself while traveling half way around the world.

On our return trip from the museum, we turned off the road again when we saw a sign for a “Black-faced Spoonbill Reserve.” It was also in the middle of nowhere. But it was very nice with a boardwalk with spyglasses to look over the water to a sand bar that was covered with black-faced spoonbills. Very, very cool place.

The sun shone the entire day! The air was warm, but not hot. It was an utterly delightful day!  

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