Fri, May 17, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: A trio of traditional industries

Our intrepid travel writer visited traditional industries that for the most part have disappeared, including a paper mill in Nantou, a jade workshop in Hualien and a tile kiln in Kaoshiung

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Goang Xing Paper Mill employees produce paper that will be sold in the mill’s on-site shop in Puli Township, Nantou County.

Photo: Steven Crook

Few countries have seen economic transformations like those experienced by Taiwan. Just before World War II, the island was a food exporter of global importance, ranking no. 3 in the world for bananas and canned pineapples. After the 1950s, industrialization was rapid — but many of the products that were money spinners then are now made elsewhere. Services currently account for a greater share of Taiwan’s economy than manufacturing and agriculture combined. Nonetheless, a number of traditional businesses continue to thrive.

GOANG XING PAPER MILL

Located in the northwestern part of Puli Township in Nantou County, Goang Xing Paper Mill (廣興紙寮) has survived the competitive challenge posed by larger, more efficient paper factories by repositioning itself. It’s now both a “tourism factory” (an ugly term for businesses that go beyond manufacturing, and try to educate and entertain visitors) and a supplier of high-end xuan paper (宣紙). This kind of paper can be made from bamboo, rice straw, hemp or other materials. In terms of texture, absorbability and resistance to creasing, it’s ideal for classical Chinese calligraphy.

The exhibition room displays some specialized tools, but watching the mill’s employees going about their work is much more interesting. One team conjures table-sized rectangles of cream or light brown paper from vats filled with pulpy water. After pressing to get rid of excess water, these sheets are passed to ladies who spread them, one at a time, on a heated metal surface. Using brushes made of pine needles, they skillfully rid each sheet of creases.

The modern building next to the mill has a coffee shop and a store where you can purchase the mill’s artisanal paper products.

Admission to the mill is NT$50 and includes a short guided tour in Mandarin. Tours start every half hour, 9:30am to 11:30am and 1pm to 4pm. If you want to join a DIY activity, get a Chinese-speaker to call (04) 9291-3037 a few days in advance, as not much English is spoken on site. The mill’s Web site, www.taiwanpaper.net, is Chinese only

The mill’s address is 310 Tieshan Road, Puli Township, Nantou County (南投縣埔里鎮鐵山路310號). The nearest bus stops on Highway 14 are 1.3 km away and served by Taichung-Puli services including bus numbers 6268A, 6268D and 6899.

LU-FANG TAIWAN JADE WORKSHOP

Working with jade is both one of the most ancient art forms in Taiwan and an industry that boomed after World War II, before collapsing within two generations.

Jade artefacts were highly valued by the neolithic Beinan culture (卑南文化), which thrived in what’s now Taitung County, over 2,000 years ago. Jade knives and arrowheads from that era are displayed in the National Museum of Prehistory (國立臺灣史前文化博物館) on the outskirts of Taitung City. After many centuries of dormancy, east Taiwan’s jade mines were revived in the early 1960s. Between 1962 and 1986, the island was responsible for more than 50 percent of global nephrite output. (Nephrite is one of two types of jade; the other is jadeite.)

These days, extracting jade from the hills of Hualien is a very minor industry. However, one business continues to turn chunks of nephrite into decorative and ritual items, and its workshop is open to tourists who’d like to try their hand at cutting, carving and polishing.

As soon as you enter the workshop, you’ll see a pile of nephrite and craftsmen busily grinding and polishing. The working environment isn’t nearly so baneful as you might expect: The electric machinery hums rather than roars, and water sprays minimize dust.

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