Betel Nut - First Time - Adventures in Betel Nut Island

Jamshyd

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It's been a while since I had written a trip report. Let's hope I can still do these things ;).


Prelude

Penang is an island in the Strait of Malacca off the western coast of Malaysia. Its main city, Georgetown, is one of Malaysia's booming economic centres. And yet, for all of its hyperdevelopement, Georgetown managed to retain something that many other super-cities of East Asia seem to have lost in the process: authenticity. Penang is an amazing mosaic of several different and unique cultural groups that seem to live side-by-side with little tension or conflict. One can easily hear the prayer-calls of the Muslim Muezzin while catching a whiff of some lovely incense burning at a Hindu temple nearby. I must say, I was impressed: here we have, for once, a successful experiment in multiculturalism.

Unlike the Thai Islands just a few hours due north, Penang's beaches are quite and uneventful for the most part. This is due in part for the beaches being sub-par when compared to others in the area, and part because Malaysian society is rather conservative. In all honesty, I can greatly appreciate the tranquillity this can bring about, especially hiking in the national park on the island.

This was my second time in Penang. Besides being a popular tourist destination in Malaysia, Penang also attracts foreigners coming from Thailand to do the necessary visa paperwork in order to keep their jobs legally (...or illegaly), as one needs to do that at a Thai consulate outside of Thailand. I had met up on the train with an awesome fellow traveller who had a half-day to spare in Penang before continuing on his travels northwards. At one point in our conversations, the idea of trying Betel Nut came along, but seeing that we didn't know anything about it, the idea sort of evaporated.

The word "Penang" actually means "Betel Nut" in Malay, and as a matter of fact, the tree on the provincial flag is just that. During colonial times (and before), the Island used to be a major source of the Betel Nut plant (Areca catechu) which, strictly speaking, is not really a nut. Anyway, the next day I asked a few locals about where I could find it. One said that it was not in-season, and so it would be hard to find. Another said that spice stores in Little India (the Indian quarter of Georgetown) will have it in stock.


Provincial Flag of Penang

I decided to go check out Little India. On my way there, I stopped by a Chinese tea house to check out their tea pots. To my delight, the shopkeeper invited me for some tea. It was most interesting to watch: Scalding-hot water is poured over loose Oolong Tea in a tiny ceramic pot, and immediately decanted over the tiny cups to rinse them. Then the water in the cups is used to rinse the cups themselves, each with the other, until all the water had finished. After that, scalding hot water is poured again over the tea, left to steep for just a minute, and then poured ceremoniously through a sieve into a second small pot, from which it was to be poured into cups.

I kid you not, it was the best Oolong I have ever had. I simply had to buy a pot from this old man, if for nothing then just as a thanks for this wonderful gesture. I was surprised how noticeable of an effect this tea had on me - as I walked out of the store, I found myself in a wonderful mood and in high spirits.


Hindu Temple Gate - Penang

Happy with my new Teapots, I continued on to Little India, in which I found a spice store very quickly. As soon as I walked in I asked for betel nut. The clerk ran to his boss and whispered something, and the boss nodded. And so the clerk went to one of the bags and scooped out half a gram of what looked like dry, sliced nuts, each disk about 1.5cm in diameter. It was very cheap - a few dollars-equivalent for half a kilo. The boss on the cash register asked me, "Betel Nut?" to which I said yes. He did something very subtle with his face that I wasn't sure how to interpret, but got a bad vibe from. A very bad vibe, in fact, that I decided not to ask about the leaves and just pay and leave as quickly as possible.

I decided I will simply chew on the nuts without doing the whole quid thing. I made my way to my guest house room, and proceeded to consume my new drug.

Trip Report - Betel Nut


Betel Nut slices.

I started by chewing half a slice, just to be on the safe side. Immediately, there was a striking sensation in the mouth - this is a powerful astringent. Another very striking effect was the flood of saliva released. As I chewed, the flavour filled my mouth, and it was pretty bad. It tasted as though it was a walnut gone sour or rotten, or something like that. The Betel Nut has a very distinctive smell/taste that I cannot compare to anything, really. It had the consistency of cork wood and got softer with saliva.

About a minute after I started chewing, I felt something very mild. At that time, I decided I had enough of the taste and spit it out. There was a marked lightheadedness, but that was about it for the effects. So I decided to go for a whole slice.

As I chewed on that one, I felt a rather rapid (but still mild) effect. I would be very hesitant to call it a "rush" though, since I tend to reserve that term for things like Speedballs or IV Ketamine.

Ah, I see. This is one of those stimulants that are simultaneously sedating and stimulating. The lightheadedness increased, with a hint of nausea, too. So I decided to lie down and read. There was perhaps a subtle mood lift, and I was rather absorbed in my reading.

These effects seem to last about as long as the nasty taste lingers in one's mouth - so about half an hour, after which they seem to become totally unnoticeable. I cannot stress enough that these effects are very mild - if I had to compare to another drug, I'd compare it to the first time I smoked a cigar and inhaled a bit too hard.

Appetite seemed to be unaffected for the duration of the effects, and seemed to actually increase. I had a hearty meal (something Mexican in a Malaysian restaurant - don't ask!) and enjoyed it thoroughly. Libido seems to also go up (no pun intended), but I can just as well attribute that to my haywire hormones.

One curious thing that should be noted: I felt as though the effects were completely gone by the 1h mark. And yet, that night, I was entirely unable to sleep. It seemed impossible to just drift to sleep, even though I was sleepy.

There was no crash or hangover to speak of. However, this drug is far from benign. It feels rather "dirty" - kind of like industrial-grade tobacco. I simply have no desire to ingest it again, interesting as this experiment was.

Conclusion

It is unfortunate that I was unable to get the full cultural experience with Bettel Nut - with the leaves and red saliva and all. After that dirty look I got from the shopkeeper, I decided not to bring up the subject to anyone again, and so I went solo. Still, it was nice to try a new drug in its native land. I can see why the locals may find this drug addictive, there is a compulsion to redose shortly after one spits out. Add to this the fact that it is carcinogenic and you have something that ought to be tried very sparringly, and only for the unique experience.

substancecode_betel
substancecode_betelnut
substancecode_ethnobotanicals
substancecode_stimulants
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ToxicFerret

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Yeah devon avenue in chicago is covered in big red splotches from spitting out the juice. That's kinda nasty if you ask me, same as chewing tobacco. I've always wanted to try betel just for the novel experience, but then again it doesn't sound too enjoyable.
 

Xorkoth

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Nice report. :) I agree about Betel Nut... it feels strange and dirty. It gives me a funny feeling of strain or something behind the eyes. It's a feeling I associate with starting to come down with a cold. And the effects are extremely mild as well.

My only experiences have been with dried nut... the dried nut is hard as a rock and has to be sucked on for a long time to softed enough to even dent at all.

You mean Chicago, Illinois? People chew Betel Nut there? 8o I'm from there and it would be news to me.
 

MyDoorsAreOpen

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It's a very popular drug in Taiwan. Makes working class men drool red everywhere.

I would definitely say the closest drug to it is tobacco, in terms of effect. Jamshyd, what you described as 'lightheadedness' I would more correctly describe as a momentary dulling of proprioception. I didn't find it euphoric in the least, and don't get the attraction at all.
 

aoe2junkie

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i had this when i was in taiwan, you can find it everywhere....it is sold at mom and pop shops that have flashing lights on main roads and you can usually find a scantily clad girl selling them. i would say the "high" of betel nut is similar to nicotine but lasts longer. truck drivers use them and our tour bus driver was chewing these when we were driving through the mountains
 

ToxicFerret

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Nice report. :) I agree about Betel Nut... it feels strange and dirty. It gives me a funny feeling of strain or something behind the eyes. It's a feeling I associate with starting to come down with a cold. And the effects are extremely mild as well.

My only experiences have been with dried nut... the dried nut is hard as a rock and has to be sucked on for a long time to softed enough to even dent at all.

You mean Chicago, Illinois? People chew Betel Nut there? 8o I'm from there and it would be news to me.
The indian and paki areas on devon avenue are full of the stuff. I hear it's a bit harder to get ahold of for a white dude like me. Having never really been interested I've actually not ever tried to buy some.

See the truth comes out now, I knew there had to be more chicago or ex chicagoens here. I found out in italy that chicago has a reputation for being a drugs city across the atlantic, and I know firsthand we sure have a lot of potheads and drunkards...
 

Jabberwocky

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interesting report. I was just reading a travel story where a guy was using these with a group of people (Paul Bowles). Sounds like mild stuff like your report suggests.

I wouldn't mind trying it someday traveling if it were sold/used locally but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way for it.

I liked your writing...I've become really into travel writing and I like how your story flows well. I miss your journal too :(
 

Dtergent

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Thanks for sharing, Jammy. This grows all over the country here. It used to grow down the street from me, but I only tried it last week. I bought a bag of seeds and just sucked on a lot of them, chewed them around all day.

They made the opening of my throat contract and I got a buzz that was mild, but after a few seeds it escalated, but not to a level of my satisfaction. Eventually I got tired of having them in my mouth.

You are right about the astringency. I dislike astringent stuff in general, and would love to have this in another form to consume on regular days.

The seeds are going to be planted in my garden, though.
 

Lady Codone

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I've always wanted to try Betel nut but haven't gotten around to it. It seems so exotic and fun. Habitual use of it over a long period of time increases the risk of oral cancer, though, so be careful. Good report.
 

Xorkoth

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I didn't find it fun at all... very mild and slightly strange feeling. Maybe fresh but would work differently (usually fresh plants are far superior to dried).
 

Piper methysticum

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Being into the herbal and organic psychoactives as I am, I have tried Betel Nut on more than one occasion.

My first experience included a two hour hike in rather familiar woodlands about where I live and was rather enjoyable. The stimulation would have been unsettling if I had remained inactive.

Along with its obvious stimulant effects, there was a very mild psychedelic effect to be noted. I cannot pinpoint what it was, but something just wasn't quite the same as far as my mood and perception of enjoying my hike.

The second time around, I chewed them in a laid back, social setting. I felt rather uncomfortable, and the effects just seemed to leave me with the nasty side effects I get from moderate to high doses of Caffeine. I was disappointed.

So, there is my account. I can't say that it is a hit or miss situation because I have experience with a wide range of psychoactives from different cultures, including rarities. I know there are specific uses for certain psychoactive plants. Sometimes they can be enjoyed otherwise, sometimes not.

This one just seems like one for people who enjoy chewing along with having an intolerance to the side effects of stimulants or for a situational occasion such as my first account described. I couldn't enjoy the effects unless I was physically active. It proved more useful that way.
 
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