high on betel

Maybe you'd be better suited with elastic, sir; you're very "strong"
Y’know, it sure feels like I’ve been to Taiwan more than 4 times. But, that’s what my passport says: 4 times. So, I guess it really only has been 4 times. I do know, however, that ever since my first visit here, I’ve wanted to try betel nut. Betel nut is actually a seed that the Taiwanese roll in a leaf and chew whole. It’s a green thing to begin with, but once you start chewing it it turns bright red. You see betel nut “shops” all over town, usually near major roadways. Most of them are setup similarly: a large window and with an attractive young woman sitting inside, wearing a short miniskirt and not much up top, rolling up the betel nut for sale. There are usually bright flashing neon tubes hanging above the storefront to help pull your eye. When you ask the locals about the stuff, they mostly just shrug you off – acting like it’s a habit that’s beneath a civilized person. If you press them on why people chew the stuff, they say that it “keeps you awake, helps you concentrate, makes you feel hot and sweaty, and maybe even a little drunk.” It’s always sounded to me like some mild drug, and I’ve always wanted to check it out -but my hosts have always managed to dissuade me from actually purchasing any.

Today, however, when we came out of our last customer’s office – I spotted a betel nut joint just across the road. I mentioned to Wayne how I’d always wanted to try it, and he didn’t put up too much of a protest. So once again, I asked some of the locals I was with about it. This time though, they escorted us right across and bought me a small baggie full. They kinda look like the fat end of a piece of raw asparagus, about a half-inch long and wrapped tight in a leaf. There were about ten of them in the 50NT baggie. Our host explained that you first bite off the “endcap” from the stalk, and then chuck the entire leaf-wrapped thing in your mouth and chew it. Due to some communication confusion, Wayne and I were left confused as to whether or not we were supposed to spit or swallow the resulting blood-red saliva, so we played it safe and spit every 30sec. Only afterward did we learn that it’s only customary to spit the 1st batch of juice out after you start chewing, and then you’re supposed to ingest the rest. Check it:

The betel nut joint.

The merch.

Scored a dime.

Makeshift spittoon.

Anyway, it was a new Taiwan experience for me. I’ve got the remainder of the stash tucked away in my mini-fridge (it’s a plant, I figured it may need to be refrigerated) – and plan to chew one properly this evening, swallowing the spittle and all. The locals reminded Wayne that the emergency number here is 119 and not 911 – just in case.

Right now it’s 3:42pm where my home and wife are. Here it’s 7:42am and I’m getting ready for my final day of “work,” as tomorrow’s a free day. I have to go back to the tailor tonight to do the final fitting on the custom slacks I ordered. Don’t I sound so regal? Right now, perhaps, there is some man sewing a pair of pants made especially to fit my legs. If these things really fit-fit, I’m gonna be elated. I may wear them all the time, just for the crap of it. Last night was another round of karaoke with some of the women from the bar downstairs, we had a good time – and I think, overall, we brought our A-game karaoke to the table last night. You should’ve heard Wayne and I belt out Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.”

Well folks, I don’t have much time before I have to fill my breast pocket with business cards (English on the front, simplified Chinese on the reverse) and head downstairs. I’ve got all the cards I’ve collected on previous visits stowed away in my bag, and I’ll review them on the way to the customer – on the off chance that I’ll be able to recognize someone and greet them by name before we exchange them. This way, I’ll appear as the concerned and genuine businessman… the one who cares enough about you to remember your name. Other than that, today is pretty much full. There’s the pants-fitting, the stopover at the Cuban cigar place, and talk of an evening massage possibly followed by the night market tonight.

Good afternoon; good morning. Dave out.

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