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Jul 6, 2007

Betel nut culture

The Liberty Times carried an editorial today criticizing the "betel nut culture" of Taiwan and insisting it was not something Taiwanese should be so proud of (he was writing in response to a recent convention). In particular, he pointed out the health risks (did you know that over 90% of Taiwanese victims of oral cancer chew betel nut, the #4 cancer killer here?) The author recalls the painful death of both his parents from oral cancer, their insomnia, inability to drink water, and the generally painful end. He asks: is this something Taiwan should be proud of, showing off, promoting, and inviting the world to notice?

And what of cultural issues as they relate to the aboriginies and Holo Taiwanese? Betel nut was once given by all Taiwanese, and still by some aboriginies, as an engagement gift. And there is a lot to say for betel nut beauties and vendors in general: how many people are employed just selling this stuff? And people outside of Taiwan do search about it most of the time it pops up in the news.

I'm not trying to say its the pride of Taiwan. But it is a very interesting part of Taiwan for locals and visitors alike. And personally, I enjoy my betel nut in moderation (one bag every 2-3 months on average). But is there maybe a way to appreciate betel nut while not promoting cancer? I think there just might be.

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