Betel nut beauty
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|Betel nut beauty|
In Taiwan, a betel nut beauty or binlang girl (Chinese: 檳榔西施; pinyin: bīnláng xīshī; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pin-nn̂g se-si) is a young woman selling betel nuts and cigarettes from a brightly lit glass enclosure while wearing revealing clothing. The term in Chinese comes from Xi Shi, the legendary beauty of imperial China's Spring and Autumn period. Though betel nuts are chewed in many regions in Southeast Asia, the betel nut beauty phenomenon is distinctly Taiwanese.
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, Nantou. The success of the marketing strategy led competitors to follow suit, and by the end of the century, betel nut stands topped with neon signs became a common feature of Taiwan. The stands appear in urban, suburban and rural settings alike.
As icons of Taiwanese culture, betel nut beauties appear frequently in art and film, notably the 2001 movie Betelnut Beauty and the 2007 art film Help Me, Eros. In 2016, director Tony Xue released Betelnut Girls, with lead actors Peggy Tseng and Paul Hsu.
Definition and distribution
In a general sense, betel nut beauty refers to any female betel nut saleswoman wearing seductive clothing.
Flamboyant betel nut stands decorated with flashing neon signs are a common sight on many major roads in Taiwan. Their primary target consumers are blue-collar laborers, including truck drivers, construction workers, and fishermen, who use betel nut's stimulating properties to stay awake during long work hours. Some shop owners started to hire girls dressed in sexy outfits to grab customers' attention, and rivals followed suit.
Apart from being scantily clothed, some betel nut beauties also allowed customers to touch their bodies, putting them on a par with sex workers. However, this special kind of service was believed to be available only to customers who had purchased a certain amount of betel nut.
Aside from the fear that these practices would generate crime, the presence of betel nut beauties is said to also distract drivers and cause more car accidents.
Taiwanese betel nut culture
Betel nut refers to the seed of Areca catechu, or betel palm, which, like Cocos nucifera (coconut palm), belongs to family Arecaceae. It is an evergreen tree whose trunk can grow as tall as twenty meters. The word binlan originated from Indonesian. Betel nut was initially used as a herbal plant, although in modern times it is mostly taken for its stimulating properties.
Betel nut chewing is a widespread practice in Taiwan, first introduced to the majority Han population by the native Taiwanese Aborigines. It is estimated that over a hundred billion New Taiwan dollars are spent annually on this so-called "Taiwanese chewing gum". Frequent users are often called the "red-lip clan", since the residue often stains the lips and gums. According to the Council of Agriculture, as many as seventy farms have joined this lucrative pursuit by planting betel nut trees, which makes betel nut the most important economic crop in Taiwan since the 1990s. However, the upsurge of betel nut planting causes problems with soil and water conservation on the hillside land. It was also found that the Taiwanese way of consuming betel nut significantly enhances its potential to cause cancer.
Controversy surrounding betel nut beauties generally centers on two questions:
- the propriety of their revealing dress in public places
- whether their dress marks them as victims of exploitation
Betel nut beauties often hail from agricultural and working-class sectors of Taiwanese society. This has led some critics to regard their revealing dress as a sign of exploitation. Other observers, such as Josephene Ho, coordinator of the Center for the Study of Sexuality at National Central University, see betel nut beauties as self-empowering: young women with few resources who better their economic situation by employing a marketing technique that requires confidence.
In 2002, local governments in Taiwan started to impose laws or regulations covering the dress code of betel nut beauties, prohibiting the wearing of over-revealing clothes. Taipei was the first to initiate the change, followed by Taoyuan County (now Taoyuan City), Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung.
Some betel nut beauties are high school dropouts and their jobs represent the principal source of income for their families. Most have difficulty finding a job in a convenience store because they lack an educational qualification or because of age restrictions; some choose to enter this profession for its higher pay.
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- Translated from the equivalent article on the Chinese Wikipedia on 27 March 2008.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Betel nut beauties.|
- Betelnut Beauties, An extensive Flickr photo set and discussion by Tobie Openshaw, who has been researching and documenting the girls for many years.
- , Illustrated TEDx talk on eight years of documenting the subject