For six weeks during the summer of 2005, I went to visit my father in Taiwan. I was ecstatic. I could not wait to visit a place so different from what I had grown accustomed to. I had visited Latin America (and lived there) many times before, but it’s such a westernized culture. This would be my first time in Asia. None of the comforts of home would be there. No Abrahamic characters on street signs. Buddhism, the predominant religion there, is one I had no familiarity with. I got to discover in the first-person what living there would be like. I couldn’t wait to experience all of the cultural faux pas and diatribes different from what I know. My first day there, I dragged my jet-lagged butt down to my dad’s jobsite to inventory the facility. I noticed multiple dried-up puddles of what appeared to be blood on the pavement. A feeling of fear completely enveloped me. How many people had died here? Was this place safe? Why would my dad place himself in such a high risk environment? Why would he allow ME to be there?
I decided it was time I spoke up about this. I was genuinely afraid for my life. After consulting my father, he sat silent for a moment, and then chuckled. “Sorry, I should have explained this to you earlier. The locals chew this stuff called Betel Nut. It’s some sort of seed or something and it produces a buzz similar to what you get from smoking, (definitely some emphasis on the YOU… paps always gave me crap for smoking at 15) or drinking a cup of coffee. I tried it once, and it was nasty. Believe me; you don’t want to try it.” A new buzz? You know I was all about that. The following day I made friends with two girls at the teahouse down the street from my dad’s place. I asked them about this so called Nut of the Betel. They told me it was gross; only manual laborers (makes sense why the jobsite was covered with the brownish-red spit) and poor people chewed the stuff. They also told me how these “scantily clad prostitute-looking women” who sit in all glass kiosks are the primary vendors. Perfect! I had already seen heaps of those around town.
I bee-lined straight for the nearest kiosk, purchased a couple quids of the stuff and threw one in. “Ooh, peppery,” I thought. I let the fluid buildup in my mouth a little, then stained the sidewalk with my blood-like saliva. My body began to tingle ever so slightly, and then it hit me. “Mehh.” It felt like I had drunk a cup of coffee. In its defense, I guess you could say it felt like I IV’d a cup of coffee. Nothing to write home about, though. Definitely not cocaine or meth. Let me put it this way: I went home, brushed my teeth, and threw away the remaining 3 quids I had. That was the one and only time I tried the stuff.
So, you might be wondering, what exactly is Betel Nut? The nut itself is actually Areca Nut. It comes from the Areca Palm. The nut is doused in lime to allow for psychoactivity. This solution is then wrapped in the Betel Leaf. The combination of the 3 provides for the stimulant buzz http://www.treatment4addiction.com/drugs/stimulants/ (Gupta, Ray. 2004). The stimulant effects are produced by way of 9 pyridine alkaloids (Wolters Kluwer Health, 2009).
I don’t think I would not outright recommend it to anyone. I think the nastiest teeth I have ever laid eyes on came from the mouths’ of Betel Nut chewers. This is coming from the guy that injected solutions that may have sort of been heroin into my arm. Some things do have to be learned on your own, though. It was one of those things I just couldn’t keep myself from trying. So the saying goes; When in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese do…until next time.