Betel Nut, Betel Nut, Betel Nut
Say it thrice and it appears. A red pool of spittle splattered everywhere you step. If you're not careful you'll walk right into it or worse, catch it on your shoe at the end of its tragic flight from some one's mouth to the ground. It's betel nut (pronounced like beetle or Beatle, which ever you prefer) and it's everywhere in SE Asia. Of course some countries more than others. In Myanmar it is prolific. The nut from the betel tree is crushed, rolled up in a betel leaf along with spices and lime (the calcium oxide/hydroxide type not the fruit) then popped into the mouth and chewed. The nut is a not actually a true 'nut' but the hard dried berry of the Areca tree. When it is dried it becomes hard as a nut and when wrapped in the betel leaf you get the betel nut. When chewed, the betel nut produces a dark red colored spit that seems to be everywhere when you look down in Myanmar. It's a disgusting habit and turns the user's mouth and teeth red. Over time it leads to horrible tooth decay, gum loss, and cancer of the mouth. So, why do so many chew the betel nut? Well, as we learned, it is steeped in tradition and used in many cultural ceremonies including marriage proposal. The prospective groom brings a tray of the ingredients to make the betel nut and if the lady accepts the proposal she makes the betel nut and they chew it together solidifying the agreement. It is also viewed as a way to get fresh breath by some. The smell of betel nut is pleasant but definitely an acquired like nonetheless. The betel nut also contains certain chemical elements that act as a stimulant much like caffeine or nicotine. Long haul truck drivers, taxi drivers, and bus drivers (there's a pattern here) - basically any job where you work long hours and need a certain level of attentiveness to do you job - use it ALL the time. Think chain smoking, chain betel nut chewing. The practice of chewing the betel nut is becoming passé in younger people however. Going about life with a mouth of red teeth is just not appealing to the youth anymore. Public campaigns to clean up their sidewalks of the ugly sight of betel spit has curbed the use in many countries. Though I kinda wanted to try it I opted to just view others doing it from the sidelines. I'll try many things at least once, sometimes twice. Betel nut and the subsequent red mouth attached to its use is something I passed on however.