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The views expressed here are the author's. They do not reflect those of CUSO International.
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Sunday, 21 December 2014



The closest analog to betel chewing is snuff or chewing tobacco.  Almost entirely absent in the city now, it was ubiquitous in my early rural Alberta experience: the tell-tale round Copenhagen tin in a cowboy’s shirt pocket, the spitting in an empty cola can, the bulging lower lip where the user stashes his tobacco wad.

Betel stands are everywhere.  There is one near my front door, there are two down the street.  Betel sellers walk between cars waiting for green lights.  Betel is a green leaf that here in Myanmar forms the packaging for daub of lime and sometimes powdered nuts.  Chewing it leads to excessive production of red spit.  It is common to see a door of a car open up while standing before a stoplight, with the head of the driver leaning out to deliver a splat of red on the pavement.  Chewing it leads to staining of the teeth. 
It is an ugly addictive habit, like tobacco.  Men seem to chew it more than women, persons of lower more than persons of higher socio-economic standing.  Outside workers more than inside workers.   

Yesterday, a taxi driver had a particularly bad case of the spits.  He delivered it out of the driver’s side window while the car was in motion.  He did have a sense of aerodynamics in that he cupped his hand leeward of his mouth to give the spit some sideways momentum before the wind drag would whisk it backwards.  I moved over so as not to sit directly behind him.  My grasp of aerodynamics is weak, but the downside of betel spit coming back through the open back door window seemed substantial.

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