Ah, betel nut, my blood-red nemesis, the mouth-cancer breeder of SE Asia. Betel nut is a stimulant that has been around for ages, chewed with a bit of lime to give the brain a high and turn the mouth a vibrant crimson colour. The huge numbers in this industry are what gave birth to the enormous number of betel palms on the island, part of which caused such terrible devastation in last year’s typhoon. It’s hard for the government to control as well, as a lot of people grow it on their own land and sell the nuts to others under the table. To control this would take massive amounts of people that the government just doesn’t have.
The taste is quite strong at first (see Christine’s father’s expression as he has his first taste as evidence), as is the stimulating effect, which is why you’re supposed to spit the first mouthful out. I swallowed it once and it made my head spin for an hour afterward. You keep chewing and spitting or swallowing, enjoying the lightheadedness, until the whole thing breaks up or you’re sick of the taste, whichever comes first. Truck drivers use it a lot to keep going on the roads, which is why women on highways in betel nut booths often dress skimpily – they want the most business. It’s usually a job requirement.