Betel nut is a scourge on the landscape, a public health nuisance, and the cause of unsightly stains on the ground wherever you go in Taiwan. It is a USD$1 billion dollar crop, the second most important after rice, and consumed by about 10% of the population.
Apart from blighting much of the interior of the nation, betel nut booths also litter roadways throughout the cities and countryside, particularly outside the capital. Betel nut culture is far less visible in Taipei 台北, which I refer to as “sanitized for international consumption”, but completely inescapable here in Changhua 彰化. Most unusual—for me at least—is the prevalence of betel nut booths in even the most obscure rural locations. Overhead is low and demand is high so you see these tiny booths setup just about anywhere in the countryside, even along the smallest and least trafficked roads. Seeing one such booth abandoned while I was out riding my bike on new year’s eve was a welcome sight.