Agent Getz and I down our beers at Lighthouse Beer Bistro and exit back into the street. It’s dusk now and all of the trees are lit up under the now glowing Taipei 101. Things have chilled off a smidge and the night types are beginning to gather.
We hit the subway on course to the area Getz remembers as being in the general vicinity of Snake Alley. A short metro ride, zsssssht go the doors, mind the gap, up the steps, and out into… absolute chaos?
The din of music crescendos as we come up the subway steps. Exit to the street and it is deafening, coming from every direction. A colliding cacophony of noise like being between 5 stages at a music festival and they’re all pointed at you. Directly in front of us is an incredible old temple that I’m assuming is Longshan Temple. It’s magnificent. Above it are fireworks going off. Fireworks on the ground, exploding on the street. Fireworks left and right, blowing up right beside apartment windows, popping loudly in the mix of the ancient music festival. There are people everywhere, marching down the street beside floats, playing weird drums and other instruments, chanting and singing. Everyone is dressed in traditional garb or multiple people in those Chinese dragons costumes, smiling and laughing, betel nutting, and dancing. These giant warrior looking figures loom above the crowds, swaying back and forth as they slowly walk through the mayhem. It’s a Thursday. What the hell is going on here? It’s like we came out of the subway into a totally different city.
The place was so alive with something. The energy was contagious. We stood in place, spinning and staring, taking it in and trying to comprehend what we just stumbled upon. Totally unexpected and totally amazing. We head to the street to check things out. Well, first we head to the 7/11 for The Beer.
The traffic is blocked off in the road, there is a parade coming straight towards us. Fireworks pop off in the street, shrapnel sending people scattering to the sides giggling, letting the procession pass. The whole area is littered with what Getz describes as ‘Lucky Money’. Fake bills splayed out like confetti, wishes catching fire with the street level fireworks. People are rushing over to sweep them into piles to let them burn out.
We walk up to the next street and there is another parade waiting for this parade to pass so they can go down the cross street. Fireworks are going off like crazy in the distance down the street. Behind the parade, yet another parade is crossing the street over by the explosions. It’s so random, off the cuff uncoordinated, throwing all semblance of caution and safety aside, and its most likely breaking all public safety laws that Canada and the US may have. It’s just chaos. And it’s just so fun!
(Unfortunately all my pictures are terrible and can’t possibly do the scene any justice. Somehow didn’t catch a single firework even though they were going off every other minute. I’ll have to check in with Getz and his superior picture device to see what photo documentation he’s made.)
I pull my phone out to video some of the madness. There is this little old guy watching me as I hold my phone up. I look down and smile. He smiles back, just a few teeth missing. Awww cute little old guy. I’m easily twice his size. I finish up and put my phone away, the old guy pulls at my elbow. He wants to tell me something. I bend down so I can hear him over the street’s insanity. “You are strong”. Haha, wow. I wasn’t expecting that. “Oh, thank you. You are kind.” He smiles and bows a bit, nodding at me. “Thank you, thank you that’s so nice”, I don’t really know what to say. Agent Getz is laughing his ass off.
Ok, back on the case! Where is this damn Snake Alley and how do we find a sketchy little alley in all this chaos? We need to drink snake blood pronto. We flip on the Bloodar and head out in a general direction towards Getz’s dependable memories. We’ve got the phone out checking the map, looking for anything that’s remotely familiar to Getz or resembling a sketchy alley thing. A girl sees us, tourists clearly lost amongst the throng, and comes right over to us. “Are you looking for the Night Market?” she asks in perfect English. Wow. Getz gives me the ‘that’s incredible’ look. “Ahh yeah we are actually”, “Huaxi market?”, “Oh yeah, that’s what it’s called”, “You’re going the wrong way, it’s back that way”. Of course we are. “Thank you so much”, “Yeah no problem. Have a nice night”, “Wait, what’s going on here tonight?”, “Oh it’s a Day of Worship here. There will be parades and music all night around Longshan Temple”, “It’s crazy”, “You like it? Are you having fun?”, “Oh yeah, Taipei is so fantastic”, “Oh that’s nice. Have a great night”, “Thanks, you too”.
Ok, I know I’ve probably said this already, but Taiwanese people are soooooo so incredibly nice. And helpful. And hospitable. And generally awesome in all categories. And while the scenery and random events are incredible, the trip is seriously augmented by the fact that everyone here is just so amazingly great.
We spin around and head back down the street against the flow of the parade. Back into the fireworks and the pwan pwahn pwang! of old drums. We dodge a few more processions, make a couple wrong turns, grab a couple more The Beers, and finally we spot it: Snake Alley!
Apparently it’s been cleaned up quiet a bit since the sketchy snake charming days when Drisdelle was last here. Its also covered now and way more touristy. We head in to check it out. Oh look there’s a parade in here too.
This random girl with a microphone spots us and heads straight over. She describes that she is doing a school project. She’s an exchange student that is going to school in Denver and she’s here on a field trip. She wants to know if we’ve tried snake soup. Having had it before, Drisdelle takes the lead and does a whole interview with her while her friend phone vids the whole thing. They get pushed to the side as yet another parade squeezes down the alley.
Meanwhile this totally blasted older guy comes right up to me and shakes my hand vigorously. His mouth is flaming red, he must have eaten all the betel nut in Taipei, there are betel nut leaves smattered around his mouth, stuck to his face, and wow is he animated. He’s just wired. Drisdelle cracks up mid interview response. This guy grabs my hand and is shaking it profusely and grabbing me by the shoulder and yelling something at me. I’ve got no idea what he’s saying, but I’m sure he just wants to welcome me and show me a good time and… I dunno, but its hilarious and I’m just trying to communicate something positive in response. I just keep agreeing and smiling. He’s so laughably messed up. I’m wiping betel nut flecks off of my face as he spit talks his appreciation right into my dome.
Another lady in a trench coat grabs my attention behind him and while he’s blasting betel nut into my ear she motions with her eyes to look down. I look down to where her hands are holding the two front legs of a chihuahua sticking out of her trench coat pocket. She makes the dog do a little dance to the parade music, thrusting his mini legs in time with the old drums, and then she cackles in a witchy, toothless, yet amicable laugh. I direct betel nut dude to her and they start dancing in this bizarre chihuahua pwan pwahn pwang! Drisdelle face palms his forehead with the ‘what the hell is going on?’ face. So random.
Betel nut guy nabs a pic of us with one of these dudes!
We get the scoop on a good place for snake soup from Interview Girl. The spot is back towards the front of the alley. Apparently due to inhumane animal rights type BS they don’t just tease snakes, slice them open and kill them right in front of you and let you drink the blood and semen anymore. Geesh, booooooring! Anyways, we dodge past the parade on our snake blood mission and walk in to what we assume is the place she was talking about.
This kind of gave it away:
We walk in and grab a table. There isn’t really anyone inside. This nice older lady hands us some menus that we can’t read. She doesn’t really speak English but there are pictures. One item has a pic of soup with what looks like snake meat in it and several shots of colorful liquids beside it. “This one”, Getz is pointing at it. We order two. We ask about beers and gather from her response that we can bring our own in. I’m on it. Excited about the snake soup I dash passed the parades and fireworks to the nearest corner store and nab The Beers. I’m pumped! I can tell by Drisdelle’s hesitations that this is going to be awesome…