One of the last books I read in 2010 was Salt: A World History. Throughout, images of the salt pans in Thailand and the people working in them kept popping into my head. In the glare of the midday sun or the rosy light of sunset or dawn, they are protean visions mimicking the moods of the skies. The practice of flooding a field with seawater and letting the sun evaporate the water out to get the salt to crystallize is the same method that’s been used for centuries. But the work is hard to imagine. Salt workers spend the day in the relentless heat, wearing rubber boots, covered head to toe with long-sleeve shirts, gloves, a wide-brimmed hat. They even wear kerchiefs over their faces like bandits, to ward off the rays that will make their skin darker — a sure sign of being a member of the lower, working class. (Here there is little respect for that honest work, and that’s just one of the many themes in the whole political drama of red shirts and yellow shirts.)
And yet, along the network of roads along the coast outside of Bangkok, the tiny gleaming white pyramids of salt crystals these men and women draw together with homemade bristle brooms urge me to pull over and just stare. Are they even aware of that? Do others on the highways catch their breath at the sight of sun and cloud reflected in the waters? I wonder if this salt is the sea salt gourmands rave of, or if, more likely, it is loaded without ceremony into ship containers, to be shipped away and scattered on gray winter highways in the northern states of the Western world.