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Betel nut beauties told to cover up

From CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy

Betel nut beauty
Male drivers are often so distracted by the betel nut vendors they lose control of their vehicles

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CNN's Mike Chinoy reports Taiwan officials want scantily clad 'betel nut girls' to cover up.
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- Selling betel nuts is a cut-throat business in Taiwan.

This mild stimulant is chewed by millions of Taiwanese -- the vast majority male.

Which is why many female roadside vendors have found that skimpier outfits equals higher sales.

But showing flesh to peddle nuts has riled many people in Taiwan.

Now, Taoyuan county near Taipei has issued a new edict requiring the so-called "betel nut beauties" to cover up their breasts, buttocks, and belly buttons or face the full force of the law.

Taoyuan deputy magistrate Liao Cheng-ching was the prime mover behind the new rules which he says are needed not only for reasons of public decency.

"Even more important, hospital records show that many male drivers have been so distracted by the betel nut girls that they're run into telephone poles," comments Cheng-ching.

23-year-old Hsiao Lu has been selling betel nut for five years. She says the new rules could destroy her livelihood.

"It's very unfair," she says. "The economy is bad now. Dressing sexy makes a huge difference to our earnings. These regulations will make it very hard to go on."

Public support

There appears to be considerable public support for the cover-up campaign.

But Josephine Ho, who runs a university research center on sexuality, and has worked with betel nut girls for years, argues the edict is all about politics and class.

"The girls are mostly from working class backgrounds. Their outfit is merely a way of gaining more financially. If they really want to clean up the society, they should get rid of the high fashion model shows," says Ho.

"They should get rid of the girls demonstrating cars in the car shows. Many, many of the sex-appeal oriented competitive strategies will have to be examined."

For now, the betel nut sellers of Taoyuan county appear to be complying with the new rules.

But the betel nut business is so big and the competition for sales so fierce that whatever the rules, the basic dynamic of the trade is likely to remain the same.

And that, is sex sells.



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