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Recently I ran across an article about betel nuts and the positive harm they do to one’s health and body.

Betel nuts?  What do I know about betel nuts?  The answer?  Not that much.

Who’s in the same boat with me, and who likely first heard of betel nuts in a song from the musical-turned-beautiful-film, South Pacific, in which the late Juanita Hall (below) was cast as Bloody Mary?

Here’s a reminder or an introduction, depending upon your age, memory, or locale.

If this does not play, my apologies.  Please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k67Yh0Nmr-o

And, why the bloody in the moniker Bloody Mary?

Native to Southeast Asia, these nuts are ground and often combined with mineral lime and wrapped in the leaf of a Betel pepper plant, although they are sometimes consumed (‘chewed’) alone.

Frequent use can stain teeth black, and its daily use is associated with increased risk of mouth cancers.

[Registered/Enrolled Dental Hygienist’s Patient-From-Hell?]

Variants of the betel and lime combination are extremely common in many Asian cultures and have a long history of human use.

When betel nuts are chewed, the spittle created from so doing is blood-red.

Recently, I ran across this.

Spitting betel nuts ‘spreading tuberculosis’ – The popular habit of chewing betel nuts could banned from the streets of Papua New Guinea amid concerns spitting it out is spreading tuberculosis.

[Fire starters display their betel nut stained tongues during a break in the 50th Goroka singsing (cultural show) in Papua New Guinea Photo: TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images]

The habit, which is virtually a national pastime, involves chewing the small palm tree nut, which is mixed with lime powder and mustard, before spitting out red-tinged spittle to the floor. The mixture produces a mild stimulant likened to the rush from cigarettes – and the streets of the capital, Port Moresby, are littered with the red spills.

However, the country’s newly-elected government wants to ban the practice after health experts warned the spittle is unhygienic and has led to rising rates of airborne diseases.

“It’s got to be banned,” said John Pundari, the minister for environment and conservation.

“Now what is life compared to chewing betel nut and spitting betel nut How will we contain the disease? Everywhere around the country, we’ve got to legislate and force that legislation, ban betel nut chewing.”

Authorities in Papua New Guinea have long sought to limit the consumption of betel nuts but have batted against both its popularity and its contribution to the local economy. Thousands of Papua New Guineans make a living from growing the crops and supplying it on the streets of the capital and larger towns.

The governor of Port Moresby, Powes Parkop, has been pushing for the ban for years and believes the betel nut habit is both unhygienic and unsafe.

“If we start taking some of these measures, getting our people to practice good habits chewing habits whatever, practice preventive health care, maybe they don’t need to go to the hospital, they don’t need to see a doctor,” he told ABC Radio.

“TB is making a comeback in our city, cancer is making a comeback in our city and most of them is airborne disease, passed through chewing of betel nut and spitting out here and there.”

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What I never realized is just how very widespread this gnawing passion, pastime or addiction really is, and as per this map.

[Areas in green indicate where betel nuts are chewed]

Contrary to Governor Parkop, as above, native medicine’s view of betel nuts varies wildly and differently from Westernised views.

[Pregnant or not, it’s always time to chew?]

So where do these nuts come from, a plant on the ground ala the peanut or a tree?

[Betel nuts on tree]

Apparently, however, there are plenty of girls in the betel nut world who most decidedly do not look like Juanita Hall’s portrayal in the film South Pacific.

Indeed, they are situated on land between two strategic straits, the Taiwan Strait, facing the southeastern coast of China, and the Luzon Strait, which connects the Pacific Ocean with the South China Sea north of the Philippines.

The friendly, hospitable,  ultra-high-tech, free, democratic people of Taiwan have their own quite unique betel nut culture, if you will.

On Taiwan, the term betel nut beauty or betel nut girl refers to a common sight along roadsides in that nation; namely, a young woman selling betel nuts and cigarettes from a brightly-lit glass enclosure.

[Betel nut beauty’s kiosk in Taiwan]

Very innovative, one might say.  Good idea.

There’s a catch.

All the while they are on-duty these beauties are wearing somewhat revealing or far more than somewhat revealing clothing.

The original betel nut beauties were the Shuangdong Girls who, in the 1960s, brought glamour to the opening of the Shuangdong Betel Nut Stand in Guoxing Township, Nantou County.

The success of the marketing strategy led competitors to follow suit, and by the end of the century betel nut beauties and their neon-topped kiosks were a trademark feature of Taiwan’s cities and countryside.

The kiosks appear in urban, suburban and rural settings alike. They are most characteristically encountered along major highways where truck drivers–famously enthusiastic consumers of betel nuts–can easily find them.

While there is no drive-through lane, so to speak, the Taiwanese ladies have adapted an American idea dating from the late 1940s or early 1950s; namely, perky young gals coming over to one’s parked car offering kerb-service (or curb-service) in a drive-in restaurant!

That said, perhaps I’m way too old (quiet now, all those creasing themselves with laughter and who know me best!), but I confess I don’t remember the drive-ins’ carhops of my day dressed like this!

All of which takes me back to one of the most beautiful and memorable songs from South Pacific.  I refer of course to Some Enchanted Evening (and not as used in the Taiwanese contexts, above).

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you’ll see her
Again and again.

Some enchanted evening
Someone may be laughin’,
You may hear her laughin’
Across a crowded room
And night after night,
As strange as it seems
The sound of her laughter
Will sing in your dreams.

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go.
Once you have found her,
Never let her go!

If this does not play, my apologies.  Please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwWBj-lfizc

Okay, right. I agree.

Although I’m sure all their Mamas love their betel nut beauty daughters, Gentlemen, I’m certain none of our Mums would have agreed that we should have anything but the kind of reticent gal South Pacific portrays.

And, whatever the nation or the era, Mama is always right.  I’m blessed that once, years ago, I found my gal from the sub-tropics of Florida.

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For those interested in Taiwan and her much more beautiful, modern side, please review my previous posting Glass Everywhere here: Glass Everywhere

Hat-tips:

Kelli O’Hara’s website is here: http://www.kelliohara.com/

Paolo Szot’s website is here:   http://pauloszot.com/index2.php

The Daily Telegraph (London), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/papuanewguinea/9645543/Spitting-betel-nuts-spreading-tuberculosis.html

The Taipei Times, http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/03/12/2003351976

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (The New Broadway Cast) features the Oklahoma-born and -educated Kelli O’Hara and Paolo Szot, a Brazilian-born Pole who is an  operatic baritone and graduate of Uniwersytet Jagielloński  (The Jagiellonian University) in Krakow, Poland, one of the world’s oldest.

The album (ASIN: B0017I1G0W) is here:  Amazon USA South Pacific – Amazon USA

Amazon UK  South Pacific – Amazon UK