Extra day off for working through last week’s, so we played tourists: hiked a local mountain, experienced the infamous “Snake Alley,” and visited one of Taiwan’s oldest and most famous temples.
Huaxi St. a.k.a. “Snake Alley” a.k.a. Hua Hiss St.
We ate snake; it tastes and feels like canned tuna without the the fishy taste and with a whole lot more bones. There was a scary moment when the lady almost served us shots of snake blood instead of snake soup – “No no! Ròu! Ròu!” (meat! meat! – reason #583 way we need to learn this language!) The snake blood drinks are supposed to increase virility, hence the presence of sex shops and the number of prostitutes in the surrounding area.
Snake Alley is one street over two blocks that’s been converted into a nightmarket type venue specializing in seafood and snake restaurants, with a few hard-to-miss sex shops thrown in. It’s seen a fair share of controversy in recent years: from animal rights protesters lobbying for the snakes to feminists lobbying for the (scores of thousands of) local prostitutes to social activists protesting the government’s removal of a shantytown to make way for a park. This sign from said park hints at the character of some of the area’s population, and how the government feels about it.
Our friends here were never very enthusiastic about us checking out this (in)famous tourist attraction: this used to be a really scuzzy part of town, and it some ways it still is. Huaxi St. is now paved, well lit, and more toned down than it was ten years ago. They still have the snake shows at night where they play with the snakes and draw a crowd. But they don’t kill them, skin them, drain the blood and body fluids into mixed drinks right there as a public attraction and sell them to the crowds. Though they do have large flatscreen T.V.’s playing recent footage of the good ol’ days (1990’s), and you can still get fresh meat and blood drinks everyday. They wouldn’t let us take pictures of any live snakes (there were lots), but we did get some of the dead one who became our lunch. Snake Alley photos here.
Up another local mountain this morning for a hike, some fresher air, and scenery. Smaller temples and graves often dot these mountains, and you expect to find some on every hike. This hike was a little different than last because up one overgrown, slippery stone path there was an unattended grave with a big cross on it. Christian grave? We don’t know but we’ll get Mingdaw to translate the inscriptions. We managed to get some interesting photo detail at one of the temples. It had a nice but cloudy view of the Taipei basin and guy playing some soothing recorder music while we were up there. That gave it a kind of surreal atmosphere, but it was much appreciated. Photos and music are here.
Longshan Temple is big, busy, has some great artwork and architecture, and was first built in 1738. The outer court boasts waterfall fountains full of big colourful fish. The detail in the wood and ironwork was quite impressive to an architecturally-illiterate person like me. Some of the main supporting columns are covered with single giant spiralling dragons and countless smaller characters. Since it was so busy and a popular spot for local tourism, we were able to score some great photos (click here) of common religious activity: incense and food offerings, casting lots, etc.