On the surface, there may be a striking resemblance between Taiwanese betel nut beauties and the window prostitutes of such countries as Japan and the Netherlands; but as a uniquely indigenous development, its nature is completely different. The girls function mainly as any drive-thru window service crew, serving passing drivers with stimulants such as betel nuts for chewing or other energizing beverages–except perhaps the girls would be dressed in a more theatrical fashion than what you would find at a McDonald’s drive-thru. The scanty outfit and high heels work not only as a powerful weapon of business competition but also as a legitimate outlet for young girls who are eager for opportunities to put their sexual attractiveness to test these days.
The government’s new policy of dress code for betel nut girls reflects a crude and reductive view of women’s body display that, in focusing merely on what is being “exposed” by the young women, fails to recognize the ingenuity of such innocent forms of flirting and enticing that not only amount to financial gains for the women, but more importantly, invigorates both parties of the betel nut transaction and lights up, even though only for a brief moment, an otherwise boring and dreary workday within our highly sex negative culture. Many betel nut girls will tell you outright that theirs is a decent job that plays only on the visual aspect of flirtation but carries little opportunity of real sexual exploitation. The customers can only watch but cannot touch, as many girls proudly say.
The existence of such lower-class “vulgar” culture has long been debated but never settled. The reason why Tau-Yuan County announced the new decree may have much to do with the administration’s effort to shed its image of vulgarity so as to move upward on the hierarchical order of international status. In other words, the scantily dressed local betel nut girls must give way, ironically, to the even more scantily dressed international fashion models; the public must learn to detest the betel nut girls but admire Parisian or Italian fashion models. In that sense, this decree is not only a class-based move, but also part of Taiwan’s effort to push forward the nation-state building project.