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Looking sexy to sell nuts in Taiwan

Photo essay: In Taiwan, fetching young women in outrageous outfits sell betel nuts. Is this a tourist draw, or national shame?

In typical Taiwanese fashion, the latest flap drew a mix of outrage, and pointers on where the "spiciest" betel nut beauties can be found.

The trouble started when "T-Life" magazine, published by the Taiwan High-Speed Rail Corporation and distributed free to riders, listed betel nut beauties as one of the five top attractions in the Hsinchu area.

That drew criticism from some residents of the region, which is known for its gusty weather. Said one indignant local to Apple Daily, "We're the Windy City, not the Immoral City," using a play on words in Chinese.

Soon the Hsinchu mayor and Hsinchu county commissioner had piled on, calling for a correction and apology. Partly, they didn't like being singled out. "Every city and county in Taiwan has betel nut beauties," said a Hsinchu city spokesman by phone. "In the south, there are even more, and they wear even less."

The high-speed rail corporation has so far declined to apologize. But it has "explained" the situation, according to a spokesperson at its Hsinchu station. The magazine is outsourced, the advice on betel nut girls was only "the author's personal point of view," and in the future
the company will "closely review" its articles, the spokesperson said.

"Personally, I think it's inappropriate," to tout betel nut beauties, the spokesperson said. "We should respect different cultures and different points of view, but I wouldn't encourage visitors to see betel nut girls."

Meanwhile, a Hsinchu police official helpfully told the China Post that while the magazine had touted the beauties on Zhonghua Road, the ones on Gongdao Fifth Road and sections one and two of Jingguo Road wore far more revealing outfits.

On the way back to the high-speed rail station, another cab driver, Liu Hsiu-hua, said she respected the beauties' business, but that it was inappropriate to tout them to tourists. "There are so many other things to see around Hsinchu," she said.

And besides, Hsinchu's betel nut girls were nothing special, she said.

"The most outrageous girls? Probably the ones in Longtan," she said, referring to a nearby township that's also the headquarters of Taiwan's army.

(Editor's Note: See more of Tobie Openshaw's photos of betel nut beauties and background on the topic).