In Taiwan it was common in the old days to chew a palm nut to stay alert and awake.  Coffee was not yet imported and popular, tea was drunk in more relaxed company.  Tobacco, well that is another story.  The Areca palm is one of the cash crops, planted in large plantations or in a vacant lot next to your house along with some bananas.

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The palm is called bing lang in mandarin Chinese, Areca catechu is its scientific name.  It has nice stilt roots.Image

Where you see large neon displays on the street, that is where the bing lang stands are.  There is usually a female store keeper, ‘dressed to impress’, wrapping up the not quite ripe palm nuts in the betel leaf, while dabbing a bit of lime paste in the package.  The betel leaf is heart shaped; its botanical name is Piper betle.  Other species of Piper plants include the pepper (black and white pepper are from the same plant), as well as the Polynesian brew kava kava.

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After you take a few chews a great warmth swarms over your body, as does a feeling of vigor and power.  It is as if a small southeast Asian typhoon was inside.  The leaf and nut are not swallowed, but sucked on and passed from cheek to cheek.  Then you gotta spit.  The spit is red.  There is a lot of spitting, out the window or on the sidewalk.  Check out the dashboard – another 200 kilometers to go…

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Well, that is part of the reason for the decline of betel nut chewing.  The sidewalks were all stained red.  Besides, spitting is not really an acceptable aspect of civilized modern culture.  Street cameras were installed, fines were levied.  The taxi cab drivers still chew, but ppttuiiii into cups.  Other pills, drinks, and remedies have now over taken this particular plant and human relationship.

What is consistent through time is the use of plant based chemicals in different forms to stay alert, whether in war time situations or in day to day working life.  With any such substance, there is always the danger of addiction and abuse.  Beware of dosage, reflect on your mind state.  Maintain a healthy balance.

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