Friday, January 18, 2008

Taiwanese Health Food

Lungshan Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan, December 30, 1971. -- Joanne, my son Eric and I were touring Taiwan with the Guam Science Teachers' Association as our 1971 Christmas gift to ourselves. On the night of December 30 we visited the Lungshan Night Market after a stupendous seven-course dinner.

Large office buildings loomed within a mile of the Chiang's presidential palace in Taipei, but after the main businesses closed and the power brokers in their three-piece suits repaired to their wives or mistresses, less formally attired capitalists appeared on the streets. They took over the center lanes of an eight-lane thoroughfare and set up their modest businesses. Strange people in strange attire with strange business enterprises set up their shops and hawked their wares.

A dentist showed up carrying his chair on his back, held in place by a strap around his forehead. An acupuncturist displayed a large chart showing the human body decorated with x's and dotted, curved lines. But the most amazing sight of all was the health food guy.

The Chinese have a theory of health consonent with their theory of the universe. The universe is composed of contesting opposites, yin and yang. Don't ask me which is which because I never could keep them sorted. Illnesses come in two varieties, hot and cold. If you're afflicted with a cold disease, a head cold, for example, you should eat a hot food. Dog, for example. On the other hand, if you have a hot disease, you need a cold food. Snake bile is a popular restorative. The bile of a venomous snake, the more venomous, the better. Taiwan doesn't have any native venemous serpents, so they have to import them. Here in the States we import ginseng. There they import bushmasters and mambas.

So, anyway, here we were, a group of 24 sophisticated teachers, wandering around the market with our mouths wide open. You'd have thought we'd just come into town on a wagon load of pumpkins. We stopped by a Chinese gentleman standing by stacks of wire cages. He bowed to us. We bowed to him. Then we bowed to each other some more. After sufficiently demonstrating our spinal flexibility he proceeded to show us some of his wares.

He picked a length of wire about a foot long with a hook bent into the end of it, opened up one of his cages, and fished around for a few seconds. Finally he brought out his wire with a blackish snake hooked over the end of it. We looked at each other, the snake and us, and finally the snake decided he didn't like what he saw. So he spread his hood.

Joanne and I were in front, of course. We all of a sudden realized that this guy was poking a cobra into our faces and instantly retreated three giant steps. If there were any children or pets behind us, they died. Two dozen people stampeding in reverse can create a lot of havoc. Sorry about that.

The vendor offered to kill the snake for us and let us sample a sip of cobra bile, but we none of us saw the need to kill a perfectly good snake just so we could decorate the streets of Taipei with our dinner.

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