Revitalisation plan aims to show Tai O pans are still worth their salt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am

Tai O's salt-making industry, famous for hundreds of years for its exports to the mainland, declined in the first half of the 20th century. Now the government wants to restore 3,000 square metres of disused salt pans.

The problem is that the salt pans ceased to operate in the 1970s, and most of the experienced salt makers are well over 70 years old. So if the local art has a chance of being revitalised, a new generation of artisans needs to be found and trained.

Demonstrations are being scheduled, the Development Bureau says, and the masters of the craft will teach visitors to the salt pans how to do it.

It is part of a pending Tai O revitalisation plan, which officially invited proposals from the public yesterday under a design competition organised by the bureau. The winning proposals will be selected in August.

To test the plan's viability, a 50-square-metre salt pan situated next to Tai O's famed stilt houses was selected for revitalisation.

A salt pan is a container or a depression in the ground in which saltwater evaporates, leaving a deposit. Some local tour groups and school workshops already offer historical tours about the industry.

Chan Kam, 75, who worked as a salt maker for almost 30 years, has been telling stories about her craft as part of a local history education workshop.

'Right now, we're only at the initial stage,' she said. 'We are seeking advice from academics and appealing to professionals and the public for their views about the revitalisation of Tai O as a whole.'

The bureau has not established a detailed timeline or a budget for the salt pan restoration plan.

Located next to mangroves, dykes and drains will be constructed to channel saltwater into the pans instead of the inland riverbank, which had become polluted because of daily discharge from residents.

Wong Wai-king, of the Tai O Cultural Workshop, said he doubted whether Tai O could use such a vast area of salt pans.

'It would be good to have some small salt pans for the sake of local history, learning and tourism,' she said. 'But I think 3,000 square metres of salt pans would be irrelevant to the development of Tai O in terms of the local economy and sustainability.'