Cishan Ice Factory: Birthplace of Crystal-clear Ice／旗山製冰廠 產製晶瑩剔透的冰塊
Cishan Ice Factory: Birthplace of Crystal-clear Ice
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Pao Chung-hui
Located in one of the 18 brick buildings on Cishan's Old Street, the unassuming facade of Cishan Ice Factory easily escapes the attention of those passing by. Having been in business for 85 years, the factory today produces ice using the exact same method as when it was established in 1929. Manager Mr. Wu Gui-jhong says the ice business does not make large profits, and most of the earnings come during the busy summer season. The income is enough to keep the factory running through the slow winter months while supporting his family. The old ice factory has a strong reputation for quality and service. Consequently, it enjoys the patronage of local fishmongers, restaurants, and caterers.
Back when Cishan Ice Factory was first established, it was considered a fashionable business. Cishan was a transportation hub connecting the coast to the mountainous interior. Refrigeration was not as commonplace as today, so ice blocks were a necessity for those who wanted to keep their food and beverages chilled when traveling to mountain areas. When the railroad was extended to connect Cishan to what is now Kaohsiung's Dashu district, the ice business went as far as the railroad reached. It was the heyday of the ice business. Mr. Wu says that, back then, almost every fishing port had a nearby ice factory. Today only a few of them remain, and the only reason they produce ice is to keep fish fresh.
Stepping into the ice factory, one sees rows and rows of ice tanks covered by wooden planks. Mr. Wu says this gigantic refrigerator is manually controlled; there is a grid of ammonia tubes running in the saltwater base beneath the tanks, and a motor pump keeps the saltwater in circulation so as to distribute the coldness evenly. The temperature of the whole ice tank area is kept between -7 degrees Celsius and -13 degrees Celsius (19.4 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit). It should not go lower, otherwise the ice blocks will crack. The water is extracted from 40 meters (43 yards) underground, and poured into the tanks from the top. Underground water produces cleaner ice with greater hardness and density, which means the blocks melt more slowly. During the production process, an air tube pumps air slowly into the ice to create the distinctive crystalline look. An ice block starts to form from the edge and slowly forms in the center. That is when the air tube is pulled out, leaving a white column in the middle where the water did not have any air pumped into it.
The factory has 103 tanks, each of which produces a block weighing 144 kg (317 lbs). It takes three days to make a batch of ice. The ice tanks are pulled out by a machine and turned around by a pulley, so the ice slides out while the tank stays in place. The ice block is then slid to the ground floor via a ramp. There, the gigantic blocks of ice are cut into smaller sizes. Mr. Wu secures each chunk with a giant clamp and moves it into a refrigerated storage area. The ice factory's design is so precise it is hard not to be impressed by the wisdom of those who designed it several decades ago.
Ice-making is hard work, Mr. Wu says, and his work environment is an ice box 10 degrees Celsius below zero (14 degrees Fahrenheit). He has to go in and out frequently, as on a hot day his job is to transport these gigantic ice blocks to his customers, regardless whether they need it to chill some food or preserve a whole boatload of fish. However, Mr. Wu loves his job. He has vowed to watch over a factory older than he is, and maintain impeccable quality. Cishan has numerous traditional industries still in existence, passed down by ancestors in much the same way as the ice factory. Local artisans demonstrate their appreciation of the past, their persistent quest for quality keeping such traditions alive for future generations.