Wednesday, July 11, 2007
While traveling across the island, we noticed an unusual amount of palm trees growing on mountain sides and other places where it looked like a more forest-type of a tree belonged. RM told us that these forests were actually farms and the palms were purposely planted there. They were Betel Nut farms. A Betel Nut is an addictive seed of the Betel Palm. To quote from Wikipedia: "The nut is either slivered or grated, often flavoured with spices according to local tradition, and usually wrapped in a betel leaf (note that betel leaf comes from the betel pepper plant Piper betle, which is not botanically related to the Betel Palm), along with some lime (calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide) to better extract the alkaloids. Some people also chew tobacco with betel nut. After about 20 minutes of chewing, the fibrous residue which remains of the nut is spat on the street, where it remains visible due to its characteristic bright red pigment." The red pigment also makes the inside of the chewer's mouth red as well. One person I met in Taiwan described it as a "nasty habit."
I guess what astounded me the most was that it is legal. It is sold in the Night Markets and along road side stands.
Again to quote from Wikipedia:
"In Taiwan, betel nuts are known as binlang. Bags of 20 to 40 betel nuts are purchased fresh daily by a large number of consumers. To meet the steady year-round demand, there exist two kinds of betel nut shops, each of which sells cigarettes and drinks including beer in addition to their primary purpose of supplying betel nuts. On one hand, there are small mom and pop shops that are often poorly maintained and often do not stand out from other stores nearby. On the other hand, the second provides a sight unique to Taiwan. Such a shop often consists of nothing more than a single free-standing room, or booth, elevated one meter above the street that measures less than 3 meters by 2 meters. Large picture windows comprise two or more of the walls, allowing those who pass by a complete view of the interior. The interior is often painted brightly. Within such a shop, a provocatively dressed young woman can be seen preparing betel nuts (see betel nut beauty) . Shops are often identified by multicolored (commonly green) fluorescent tubes or neon lights that frame the windows or that are arranged radially above a store. Customers stop on the side of the road and wait for the girls to bring their betel nut to their vehicles."
Once they were pointed out to us, I realized I had seen many of these all over the place. They usually have bright blinking lights to attract attention. They were in the country side, and in the middle of the city.
It was a curious phenomenon.