You all know some nut who?s a total work-a-holic ?studying all the time, always working on a problem set, spending Friday night in the library, right?

My Taiwanese roommates are like that. They never leave campus ? they study from 8 a.m. till midnight, seven days a week, no breaks. I?ve begun to suspect they?re actually droids.

Testing Trauma

They tell me it?s because they have tests ? one of them has a different test every weekend this month.

Big deal ? I have tests too, and I still leave the dorm at least a couple nights a week.

But these are no ordinary tests. Next time you?re cursing midterms, just be glad your grades probably won?t affect your marriage prospects.

Tests in Taiwan determine your life. If you pass, you go on to fame, fortune and lucrative government posts where you can solicit bribes and be wooed by beautiful women.

If you fail, you sell gum and tiddly-winks for the rest of your life. Or, in my roommates? case, you get to do compulsory military service ? which in Taiwan means you spend two years in a bunker on an island 20 yards off the coast of mainland China, peering suspiciously at the local fishing fleet.

Stress relief

This can put a severe damper on your dating prospects, so the pressure to suceed is rather heavy. Every so often one of my roommates will have a nervous breakdown, pull out an air pistol and start firing across the room.

Luckily, they?re good shots ? they have yet to hit any innocent bystanders like myself.

I?m sure they?ll make fine soldiers if they fail exams. On days when they?re particularly aggravated, they set up a target and write ?Beijing? in the middle. Direct hits are cause for wild celebration.


Luckily, many Taiwanese have adopted a novel and less hazardous way to relieve stress ?betelnuts. They?re small, green, and produce a mild, relaxing high when chewed.

They also turn your mouth red, rot your teeth, give you cancer and make you salivate uncontrollably, so they?ve become quite popular.

Public squares and sidewalks everywhere are covered with the distinct red splatters of betelnut spittle, which looks eerily similar to spilled blood.

This is quite novel to uninitiated Americans like myself, but it pales in comparison to the way the nuts are marketed, which is the most blatant use of pure sex appeal ever ? it makes, say, Victoria?s Secret catalogs look modest and understated.

Sex sells

Betelnuts are sold in highly visible roadside booths with flashing lights on top, where women wearing skimpy pink bikinis and bunny ears sit behind large picture glass windows seductively cutting and wrapping the nuts for your personal consumption.

If you?re good, they?ll even bring it out to your car. If you don?t get hooked on the nuts, the thinking goes, you?ll at least keep coming back for the view.

Taiwan?s teachings

So, to sum up this column, here are three things I?ve learned in Taiwan. One, if you?re feeling uptight, chew some nuts. Two, when bunny-eared women sell you narcotics, be prepared to tip.

Finally, ?beteljuice? is more than just a movie ? it?s a way of life.

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