Fear Factor – Taiwanese Style:
Taipei is a remarkably unappealing city, especially when you consider that the country has, according to a recent World Bank report, more money than God himself. You would think that the Taiwanese might erect some parking garages to get the plague of motorbikes off the sidewalks. Just to walk down a sidewalk in Taipei feels like you’re negotiating some kind of life-sized rat’s maze. The only thing missing is a mild electrical shock for a wrong step and a peanut M&M or a food pellet for a correct turn.
Anyway, my group and I were cloistered together in a stuffy hotel conference room for three days discussing all things moving industry related. When we finally escaped, we were looking to paint the town red. It was all that pent up frustration that led us to Taipei’s notorious “Snake Alley.”
Snake Alley is a five or six block stretch of road that has been converted into an outdoor pedestrian mall. It comprises one tacky booth after another, each selling an array of shoddy, useless junk. I walked up and down Snake Alley twice looking in vain for something, anything at all, worth buying. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. That is unless your tastes extend to the serpentine. In which case, step right up and take a closer look.
In the midst of this cluster of dingy, depressing booths and their pirated DVDs, cheap knock off designer clothes and the like, are a number of little shops selling any and all kinds of snakes. Big ones, small ones, feisty ones, tame ones, vipers, constrictors, live, dead – you name it. They are all available for close examination.
Generally, there are a couple of fates that await these captives. The first would be to be held up by the head, tail down, and having the belly sliced open in order to expose the gall bladder. Said gall bladder is carefully opened with the deft touch of a surgeon releasing a stream of ‘blood.’ This ‘blood’ streams out of the pierced organ, runs down the snake and drips off the tail where it collects into a shot glass. For a tidy sum (I think it was about US$45, but it depends on the quality of the snake) you can drink the snake blood (actually bile but that doesn’t sound as alluring so let’s stick with ‘blood’.)
Chinese men believe that drinking snake’s blood makes them, ‘virile, more of a man. You know, one who can really satisfy a woman.’ ‘Oh, you mean one that will buy her $500 dollar Bruno Maglis?’ I asked innocently. No, no my companion scoffed and then proceeded to explain in hushed tones the more challenging but also more rewarding way to satisfy the fairer sex.
Now it seems to me that if the Chinese were so darned smart that they wouldn’t be drinking snake’s blood in order to attain and maintain that most manly of conditions. I mean, our Western civilization didn’t invent gunpowder or paper, but then we haven’t been around for 5,000 years either. No, we have not, but we did invent Viagra. We have concocted Cialis. And we do not generally subscribe to the notion that you must drink something as disgusting as the bile of a poisonous snake in order to put lead in your pencil.
The second fate that can behold the poor snake is to be skinned, de-boned, thrown into a pot and eaten as a main course. It’s actually not bad. Snake soup is quite tasty and there is nothing particularly exotic or strange about it. It tastes like a thick Chinese soup – think sweet and sour soup – but it has a taste of herbs and spices. Unless someone told you were eating snake soup, you would be none the wiser.
I think back on my trek through Snake Alley as a kind of warped version of the American reality TV series ‘Fear Factor’. I just don’t know who to fear more, the snakes or the humans.
Author: Rob Chipman – CEO of Asian Tigers Hong Kong