Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chin-Pao Chen | Betel Nut Girls

Photo © Chin-Pao Chen-All Rights Reserved
In my travels to South and Southeast Asia, I've frequently come across the ubiquitous betel nut, and the people who are addicted to chewing it. Whether in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam, betel nut chewing is a habit that unfortunately many take up as a stimulant, and which can cause oral cancer.

In Taiwan, the betel nut is the second largest agricultural crop, and its seed, when chewed, is nicknamed “Taiwan Chewing Gum”. This, along with other economic reasons, has created the phenomenon of the "Betel Nut Girl" known locally as "bin lang xishi".

These are young attractive women (usually not well educated, and prone to exploitation) usually wearing skimpy dresses or small bikinis in clear glass booths whose only purpose is to attract clients to buy their small packages of betel nuts. These booths are found all many of the main avenues and streets, where traffic is high.

Working on the streets since the 1990s when this trend started in earnest, these women have been shedding more and more clothes to lure customers as competition intensifies among betel nut sellers.
An estimated 100,000 brightly decorated kiosks can be found on the island, though they are banned in the city limits of the capital Taipei.

Chin-Pao Chen's Betel Nut Girls is a collection of photographs of such young women, who are controversial in Taiwan. Conservative politicans in Taiwan see the provocatively dressed women as morally reprehensible, while women's rights groups see the work as degrading. 

Chin-Pao Chen attended the Department of Photography of School of Visual Arts in New York in 1996, and earned his degree of BFA with an award for outstanding Achievement three years later. He holds a MFA degree from School of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts and was awarded The Overseas Photographer Award of The 26th Higashikawa award at 2008.