Witek_betelnut_amis

In the Zhonghe district of New Taipei City, just before the Xiu Lang Bridge on the road to Xindian, at 21 Jingping Road is the Amis Betelnut Stall, run by Mrs Yang and her family - three Amis aboriginal women. Mrs Yang's daughter, who studies at the English Department of Soo Chow University, takes the morning shift from 5am until 10am; afterwards Mrs Yang's niece works from 10am until 10pm, and then Mrs Yang works from 10pm until 1 in the morning, when they close.

Written in large Chinese characters on the shop sign is 'yi-mu-zi', the Chinese transliteration of e'moc, the Amis language name for a spice derived from a cinnamon seeds. Only regular customers or industry insiders know what these characters mean given that they're a transliteration of an Amis language word. The betelnut is another name for
Witek_betelnut_amis_02
areca nut; it gets this name because it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves sealed with slaked lime. The traditional Amis betelnut includes a grain of e'moc amongst the betel leaves, this is very rare to see in Taipei. Mrs Yang says the slaked lime they use comes from sea shells, and therefore doesn't contain the chemical additives that many other Taiwanese betelnuts contain, which means that older aboriginal people won't have problems with their teeth that can be caused by normal betelnuts.

"We were able to bring up two children thanks to this shop." Mrs Yang tells us. Unlike the infamous "betelnut girls" who dress up provocatively and that are so often reported in domestic and foreign media, the betelnut stalls around here are all small family businesses. Although Yang's betelnut stall is run exclusively by women, it's aura is not one of lewd eroticism. There are two kinds of betelnut stall, one is the kind with neon lights, for which "betelnut girls" are the main attraction, the other kind is the more simple traditional betelnut stalls. Mrs Yang continued, "Here you don't need betelnut girls, in reality there are so many betelnut stores here that even if you do hire a Betelnut girl it's not much use, what sells here is the unique flavour."

Mrs Yang is a devout Catholic, in the display window of the stall you can even see pictures of Jesus. She told us that at Easter she came to mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the Tien Educational Centre. When we arrived, the girl minding the shop took out some chairs and asked us to sit, as this is a gathering place for the aboriginal community of the city, whenever they get off work they normally come for a drink and a chat.

"My finger wrapped betelnut until I developed a work-related strain in it." Mrs Yang says as she points at her finger. Her niece wraps all the betelnuts now, because of repetitive strain of wrapping, so her finger has swollen. Every day the stall wraps 2000 betelnuts, this kind of work isn't as easy as it looks. To keep customers they have to open every day, "If we don't open, customers will go elsewhere and get used to going there, so we'll lose all our business.

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Text by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart, photos by Witold Chudy

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