27 January 2007

Snack! Snack!

I spent the summer of 1968 in Taipei (Taiwan) studying Chinese at the Mandarin Language Center 國語中心 of Taiwan Normal University 台湾師範大學. In those days things were not so expensive there as they are today.
Taipei was a great city for Chinese food since there were many refugees fom all over China who had opened restaurants there. So one could make a trencherman's tour of all the great regional cusines of China in just one city. One of my favorite regional dishes was the southern-style huo guo hot pot with shacha sauce 火鍋沙茶醬.

Right across the alley from where I used to go to get this wonderful dish was a snake place. They had a variety of live snakes in cages. A customer would choose a snake and then the proprietor would grab the snake and with some sort of sharp instrument, while holding the snake near the head, make an incision and quickly skin the live snake in seconds. Then he'd chop it up, put it in a bowl with some sauce, and collect his price for this snake snack. I witnessed this only once and on subsequent visits averted my gaze elsewhere.

While in Taiwan, I met and married my first wife who was Taiwanese. When we were first dating, one day we went to a hotspring resort called Wulai which was famous for its aboriginal village. As we were walking down a long a path to an attraction, I was intent on looking at a map of the area to see what we might see, when she suddenly yelled, "Paper snake!" Thinking I was about to step on the possibly deadly poisonous 'paper snake,' I probably jumped about three feet straight up and only then saw a street vendor peddling paper snakes on a string with a stick for 'control'. I did get a brief thrill out of my encounter with this unfamiliar serpent, while she got a good laugh at my moment of panic.

Several years later when we were living in a small bungalow outside of Bloomington, Indiana, while I was teaching at Indiana University, one day my wife was mowing our big yard (something she liked to do) while I was working inside. Suddenly she appeared at the screen door literally bouncing up and down yelling, "Snack! Snack!" I wondered if she were hungry and thought that if she were, she was unusually animated. She led me outside and showed me a snake in the grass, a pine snake, I think. Then I understood. I started laughing and she got mad, because, not being familiar with North American serpents, she had been scared. This time, several years later, in her excitement, 'snake' had been transmogrified into 'snack.' The worm had turned.

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