Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chinese Health Food

We spent Christmas of 1971 touring Taiwan with the Guam Science Teachers. That's how we happened to be at the Lungshan Night Market, just a half mile or so from Chiang Kai Shek's presidential palace.

The Chinese have a theory of health consonant with their theory of the universe. The universe is composed of contesting opposites, yin and yang. Don’t ask me which is which; I never could keep them straight. Sicknesses come in two varieties, hot and cold. When one is afflicted with a cold disease, a head cold, for example, one eats a hot food. Dog, for example. When one is afflicted with a hot disease, a fever, for example, one eats a cold food. Snake bile, for instance. Poisonous snake bile. The more poisonous the snake, the better the bile. They import poisonous snakes into Taiwan for bile harvesting.

So here we are wandering around the Lungshan Night Market with our mouths gaping as if we had just come into town on a wagon load of pumpkins. We saw a dentist lugging his chair on his back. When he got to his assigned place, he set up shop. We saw an acupuncturist at work. (I won't vouch for how sanitary his needles were.) There were fabrics and foods and it was like an Arabian Nights scene. Only everybody spoke Chinese.

We stopped by a smallish man who stood by stacks of wire cages. He bowed to us. We bowed to him. Then we bowed to each other some more. After demonstrating how flexible our spinal columns were, the Chinese vendor grabbed a piece of stiff wire about a foot long with a hook bent into the end of it. He opened one of the cages and poked around for a few seconds. Finally he brought his hook out with a black snake hooked over it.

The snake looked at us for a few seconds and decided he didn’t like what he saw. So he spread his hood. Joanne and I were in front, of course. We all of us suddenly realized that this Chinese guy was poking a cobra in our faces and instantly retreated three giant steps. If there were any children or pets behind us, they died. Two dozen people running backwards can cause a lot of havoc. Sorry about that.

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

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