Betel Nut Chewing

Betel nut is the seed of a palm tree. It was chewed by many locals, mainly women, because women and children made up 80% or more of the visible rural civilian population. Most visible civilian males were below age 16, old men, or visibly crippled if they were in the military service age group. It was easy to spot a chewer; they had black teeth and vivid blood red gums. They looked like someone just hit them in mouth and were beginning to spit blood. It was not a good look!

GI folklore was that it was a mild narcotic. I was waiting for a convoy from Dau Tieng to get moving and attempted to talk with the Vietnamese that were also waiting. An old woman (over 21) with a blood red mouth and black teeth offered me a flat hairy green fruit or seed. I guessed she was telling me it was betel nut and that I should chew it. I hesitated for a moment then took it, washed it with canteen water, put it in my mouth and began to chew. After 2 or 3 mashings it was too bitter to keep chewing and I spit it out. The women had a good laugh. I had a laugh as well because I was not going to look like she did.


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