Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trip To Taiwan 台湾: Yilan 宜兰 - Baimi Clog Village 白米木屐村

Photo By: Elin Chow 
Address: No. 174, Yongchun Road, Suao Township, Yilan Country, Taiwan 宜兰县苏澳镇永春路174号

After a sumptuous seafood feast, we left Nanfangao Fishing Port 南方澳渔港 and headed to our next stop of the day - Baimi Clog Village 白米木屐村.

Baimi Clog Village 白米木屐村

Baimi is a small village located in Suao Township 苏澳镇, Yilan Country 宜兰县. The village was once famous for producing traditional wooden clogs. The clog-making industry boomed in the country during the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s and almost everyone owned a pair of clogs. However, the industry has experienced a decreased demand over the years - largely due to the rise of cheap and easy-to-make plastic shoes.

In order to revive the dying industry, the Baimi Clog Museum is established to help to preserve the heritage of traditional clogs. The museum has helped to promote tourism around the area, creating and providing jobs for the villagers.

Operating Hours

The operating hours for the museum is as per below:

9.00 am – 5.00 pm
Weekends & Public Holidays
8.30 am – 5.00 pm

Please note that the museum is closed every Monday (except public holidays) and during Chinese New Year period.

Baimi Clog Museum was originally an abandoned single-storey dormitory for employees of a mining factory.The museum has expanded over the years, into a three-storey building. The expansion not only provided more room for exhibition, but also more space to accommodate the increasing amount of tourists visiting the area.

Admission Price

Admission to the museum is not free. Price of the tickets are as below:

For Who?
TWD 150
General Public
TWD 100
Resident of Yilan Country
Senior Aged 65 Years Old and above

The museum is a little expensive to visit. Please note that people with disabilities, children below 115 cm or less than 3 years of age and resident of Suao Township are allowed to enter for free.

Once we paid for the entrance tickets, we were greeted by a local female tour guide, wearing a pair of wooden clogs, who enthusiastically welcomed us. Ti-ti-ta, ta-ta-ti. Her clogs were noisily clapping the floor as she walked us through the museum.

Baimi Clog Museum consists of three floors. We started on the ground floor where a short video was shown to us explaining about the long history of Baimi community and wooden clogs in Suao Township, Yilan.

Although the name "Baimi" literally translated as "white rice" in Chinese, the village does not produce any rice. The name has a very interesting origin. It was said that during the Qing Dynasty, a patrolling official discovered an almost empty creek that was covered with lots of white pebbles. From a distance, the exposed pebbles looked like grains of white rice sitting on the river, thus naming the area "Baimi".

Surrounded by rugged mountains on three sides, the area around the town is rich in natural resources, which provided the perfect environment for growing Jiangmou tree Scheffera Octophylla 江某树 that produce extremely hard wood suitable for manufacturing clogs. Clogs were handmade from the wood coming from Jiangmou tree, with a leather strap nailed to a wooden sole.

During the period of Japanese colonization, there was a high demand for wooden clogs, which developed the clog making industry in the town. Having rich sources of wood needed to make the wooden shoes, Baimi town has become an important and major supplier for clogs in Taiwan.

Other than wood, the mountains are blessed with an abundance of limestone - a main ingredient used to make cement. As a result, the town started develop its mining industry, which eventually replaced the locally handcrafted clog industry.

The environment was severely damaged by the stone mining industry, which severely affected the quality of life. Roads were infected with trucks carrying gravels and dirt. According to statistics, Baimi town has the highest rate of dust pollution in the country.

Locals protested against various industrial pollution and pushed for environmental movements. Thanks to the efforts of the villagers, the environmental quality around the area has improved significantly over time.

The second floor is a craft shop where visitors will learn about the process of making clogs. As the guide narrates, a master craftsman silently demonstrated  how a pair of clogs is made, from cutting the wood to nailing the leather parts together.

The first step is to split a piece of wood into half with an ax.

After cutting the wood, the edges need to be shave into perfectly symmetrical curves.

Wood cutting and sculpting requires a lot of techniques. Once the wooden shoe body is made, one needs to mould and paint the leather strap before nailing it to the shoe.

A wooden clog is easy to make, but it is difficult to make a good one. It takes one a lot of hard work and practice to perfect one's clog making skills

Other than that, the master craftsman also demonstrated his impressive wood carving skill to us. Visitors can even choose from a number of patterns and the master craftsman will have them carved on the wooden feet shape plaque for you.

As the market demand for clogs continue to decrease, young people are leaving the small town for bigger cities to seek for better opportunities.Traditional clog making skills are now in the hands of an ageing population and are in a risk of being lost forever. The skills may become extinct one day.

There is a section selling tourist souvenirs. Visitors will get to observe the artisans at work here and purchase some of their finished products.

Wooden clogs are no longer only a footwear, but also a decoration. You will find decorative pairs of miniature wooden clogs available in different colors and designs. The wooden soles are either painted in different colors or designs or are decorated with fine and intricate carvings.

This would be a great place to buy some locally made souvenirs or gifts for your family and friends back home.

All the decorative clogs can be customized with engraved name and special message, adding personal touch to your gifts or souvenirs.

The museum offers free engraving service with every purchase. Engraving is performed by higly skilled artisans who use a pyrograph to burn the words into the wood.

My husband and I have our names and the date we got married engraved on the mini wooden clog we purchased.

Besides decorative clogs, you will also a small retail section selling wearable clogs.

Every wooden clog produced here is entirely handmade, making each pair of them unique. Each pair of  hand made wooden clogs contains time, passion and love of clog-making craftmen and artisans, who take pride in their work.

As soon as you came to this section, you will see the guide enthusiastically explained about the health benefits of wearing clogs. According to her, one of the benefit of is that you will not develop athlete's foot from wearing clogs.

Wooden clogs were once necessities of life. During Japanese Colonial period, clogs were the most common kind of footwear in the country. Most people would have wore clogs at some time or another.

A new pair of wooden clogs would cost an average family several days of wages. However, the handicraft was once lost to the mass production of plastic shoes, which have gradually replaced clogs and made the wooden shoes redundant.

The rise of cheap and easy-to-make plastic shoes caused the demand for clogs to decrease drastically. It is an undeniable fact that traditional wooden clogs have lost their appeal nowadays. Most of the younger generation would actually prefer the modern plastic shoes to the traditional wooden clogs.

I am not a fan of wooden clogs too. The wooden shoes are very hard since they does not have a padded footbed and thus, can be uncomfortable to walk in. Furthermore, the wooden shoes look really ugly and clunky to me. I certainly could not imagine myself wearing clogs at all.

However, in Baimi Clog Village, these wooden shoes are not just a decoration; they are very much part of everyday life. Most villagers in the village wear clogs, and they wear them all the time.

In the middle of the room, you will find a pair of oversized clogs. The enormous clogs were very photogenic, as well as attractive.

Despite being a famous tourist attraction in Yilan, the museum is not crowded. In fact, we were the only group of visitors visiting on that day.

In order to revitalize the clog industry, the museum began to produce custom hand-decorated wooden shoes. Located in a corner of the room, you will find shelves of  brightly colored clogs, each with its own distinctive style.

Clogs are painted in a large variety of patterns and colors, varying from flowers to your favorite cartoon characters from the television. Only highly skilled artists can hand-paint these wooden shoes with a variety of designs.

Unlike clogs made anywhere else in the world, Baimi clogs are made from one piece of wood.

Descending a flight of stairs to the first floor, we were ushered into an enormous sales area adorned with all manner of decorated clogs costing from TWD 1,000 per pair.

On the third floor, you will find a small library and cafe where you can read a book or just relax with a cup of coffee.

If you are not interested in buying, you may proceed to the Clog Handicraft Studio 木屐工艺馆 located in another building.

A hands-on experience is offered where visitors can try making their own custom wooden shoe key ring.

Visitors can choose the colors and designs and have them painted on the leather strap.

Once you are have finished painting and allowed it to dry thoroughly, the artisan will nail the leather strap into the shoe body for you.

The entire tour was 50 minutes. Although I am not a huge fan of museums, I still enjoyed visiting this place. We were impressed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the villagers. Our guide gave us an excellent tour explaining about the history of Baimi Clog Village.

Baimi Clog Village relied heavily on tourism as a generator of revenue and jobs. It is a great place to experience local culture and learn about the traditional art of clog making.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 11D10N round island tour itinerary for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 11 days in Taiwan. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for the latest updates on my 11 days adventures in Taiwan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

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