Off the quid

betel_man.jpg

Betel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paan) stands are prolific throughout downtown Yangon, and though they all basically sell the same product, there are minor differences and variations from one store to another that lead to fierce loyalty and strongly-held
opinions about the “best” betel purveyors. Think coffee in the US. This stall’s popularity is apparent – it commands a more sizable chunk of sidewalk real-estate then most other stands so that it can accommodate two chairs (and therefore two betel quid crafters). Though the other chair is unoccupied as the apprentice has returned home for the day, the owner (and master) still sits at his post and business is still surprisingly steady for this time of night. Not surprising, considering he’s been at this same corner for 15 years. Is there any quantifiable rate to measure the “rate of change” of a city’s sidewalk vibrancy? Foot traffic? Average number of canvas-roofed stalls per block by neighborhood? Total revenue of municipal street sweepers who have forged symbiotic relationships with many of the streetside entrepreneurs for cleaning up their refuse in return for a small sum or a bit of the merchandise (a betel quid or two, in this case)?

The white substance on the leaves is lime (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_hydroxide), applied for the calcium needed to activate the effects of the ingredients in the betel quid. While use of lime is standard across all betel quid configurations here (one of the few constants besides the chopped  pieces of betelnut and the betel leaf itself), the means of applying  the lime vary from one seller to another.Some sellers have specialized plastic rods they dip into the lime pot. Resembling jumbo-sized swizzle sticks, they swirl the applicator around in the lime pot before ladling a dollop on to a quid-to-be.

This seller has taken an interesting approach by applying the lime using two of the “fingers” from a modified sanitary glove. Dipping one’s fingers in the lime, besides not being particularly sanitary and therefore requiring the extra effort of always having to wash one’s fingers (tricky when access to a reliable water source can vary from block to block), it wreaks havoc on one’s fingers to have them almost constantly doused in the stuff.

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