The ability of salt to preserve food is one of the foundations of civilization. The word “salary” is derived from the Roman word for salt, as soldiers were often paid for their services in bags of this precious mineral. It was even traded for slaves in ancient times, creating the expression, “worth his salt”, an archaic equivalent to the more modern “worth one’s weight in gold”.
Often spending entire lifetimes harvesting the “gift of the sea”, the hardy, colorful and resilient salt farmers of Hon Khoi Salt Port (Ninh Diem, Ninh Hoa) radiate a remarkably tranquil contentedness that never fails to amaze visitors.
Unheralded, salt sits in every kitchen, a simple substance, but one of great importance. This apparent anonymity is shared with those whose chosen life’s work is its collection. These people have been performing essentially the same task, almost unchanged, for generations.
Beginning work before sunrise in the early chill of the morning, the farmers work through the heat of the day as the blazing afternoon sun evaporates the salty seawater. They happily endure these conditions, it being just one short chapter in the fascinating story of the salt farmer.
If you have the time and inclination, take a morning to visit Hon Khoi Salt Port (45km north of the city center) during peak season (March–September). The dream-like landscape of the salt fields and joyful welcoming smiles of the salt farmers will impress as you marvel at their unique way of life. As they relay back and forth across the fields, shaded under conical hats, they resemble camels crossing the desert, silently enduring a heavy load and blazing heat.
People often focus on the back-breaking work of the salt farmer, but if you engage them in conversation, and enquire as to the source of their seemingly eternal happiness, then the grandeur of the crystal salt domes and the farmer’s ever smiling resilience will leave you with lasting and tender memories of salt and its ‘silent friends’.
Sitting near a wheelbarrow for a short respite from the heat, Ms. My Lan – a very friendly lady, and lifelong inhabitant of the salt fields, happily shared her thoughts with the Discover Nha Trang Team, as she watched over her son at work across the field: “I have been here for twenty-five years, but my son only started with me two months ago. He could go to work for one of the big factories in town, but he told me that he loves the salt fields and wants to be a Salt Farmer like me and his dad – so here we are happily collecting the “gift of the sea” together.”
Pointing at an old woman who was remonstrating excitedly with other salt farmers, Ms. Lan added: “Do you see this old woman? She is now at an age where she can stay at home with a full retirement allowance, but she has decided to keep working because she can’t stand being away from this salt field, nor is she ready to be separated from our daily banter and jokes.”
No one denies that working on the salt field is a difficult and tiresome endeavor, but if you can make friends with your job and treat it sincerely, then the laborious workload and inherent satisfaction that comes from it are melded together – each inseparable from the other.
While adding flavor to the food we eat, this deep and pleasant taste is born of strength and passion, through the tireless work of the salt farmers. Now, when we add that dash of salt to our meal, we should spare a thought for those souls who bring us that magical “gift of the sea”.