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Saturday, December 8, 2007

In the news ニュース

From Friday's Daily Yomiuri, "Efforts afoot to save Taiwan betel nut culture" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/culture/20071207TDY05308.htm:

"Originally from an indigenous culture, the once-widespread custom of chewing betel nuts 檳榔子 has become less popular in Taiwan. To save the custom and the plant, experts are seeking new uses for it."

Though it may seem hard to believe considering the increase in the number of betel nut-selling stands here in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原:

"...the number of people continuing the custom of chewing betel nuts has been decreasing in urban areas and among younger generations."

This has to be considered good news. Though I admittedly don't have a problem with the scantily-clad young women selling the nuts from glass-enclosed roadside stands :) betel-nut chewing is a disgusting habit, and a dangerous one to boot, both in terms of health and the environment:

"...several years ago, (Taiwanese authorities) began pointing out a possible causal connection between betel nut consumption and mouth cancer, while also claiming that production of betel palm trees, which have short roots, could cause mudslides in heavy rains, moves seemingly aimed at promoting a ban on betel nut consumption. Meanwhile, more and more people have been expressing disgust over the gobbets of red saliva on streets that are the product of those chewing betel nuts."

It can lead to oral cancer among its users, and its cultivation is a major cause of soil erosion in the mountains, thus leading to damaging landslides. Plus it just plain looks bad, whether you're talking about stained pavements or stained teeth. This is one aspect of traditional Taiwanese culture I would be happy to see die out. Others, however, have a different view:

"...some academics have started calling for the plant to be protected as it is an integral aspect of (Taiwanese aboriginal) tribal culture. With industrial usages in mind, National Pingtung 屏東 University of Science and Technology and offices in the county have been exploring new applications for the plant. The university and local offices produced clothes and handkerchiefs dyed with the plant as well as dishes such as stir fry, soups and salads using the plant, which has a similar texture to bamboo shoots. With production decreasing, farming families that grow the plant have been hard hit. As support measures for them, the university and local offices promoted on a trial basis a method of growing coffee trees at the foot of betel trees because coffee grows better out of direct sunlight."

I would certainly stop to buy a cup of coffee from a scantily-clad young woman working out of a glass-enclosed roadside java stand!

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