betel nuts are something completely new to us, and i was kind of fascinated by them. they grow on a type of skinny palm tree, and are sold fresh wrapped in betel leaf, with a bit of slaked lime mixed in. the stalls and shops that sell them are everywhere on the side of the roads — once you notice their flashy fluorescent neons at night, you cannot unsee them.
in taiwan, they’re sold fresh in little bags of a dozen or so nuts. the nuts and leaves are chewed together, to give people a buzz and a warm feeling (or so we’ve heard). like tobacco, they’re also carcinogenic, so it’s not something i was eager to try. there’s a curious magic to them though: when chewed, the whole saliva and mouth of the person turns blood red… it’s more than a little disconcerting to see someone smiling while chewing them. the leftovers are spit out after the chewing is done, often on the floor. in taipei, it’s forbidden to spit them out on the pavement, which i guess hinders its consumption… but around the country there is no such problem, and everywhere you go outside the capital, you see the red spats on the floor.
apparently, they’re more of a southern asia thing, which helps explain why we never saw them in shanghai. anyway, maybe not the nicest aspect of taiwan, but yeah… it made me look and discover something new.