TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The last snake eatery in Taipei's Snake Alley, also known as the Huaxi Street Night Market (華西街觀光夜市), is set to close its doors for the last time today (May 21), marking the end of an colorful era in Taiwan's history, reported CNA.
As the Asia Snake Meat Store (亞洲蛇肉店) prepares to close its doors for the last time, second generation owner Kuo Yi-chien (郭懿堅) sat down with CNA for an interview. Kuo inherited the business from his father, Kuo Lai-kung (郭來貢), who opened the shop many decades ago when he was in his 20s and used live shows in which he slaughtered live serpents to entice customers to try his snake soup and snake wine.
Second generation snake restaurant owner Kuo Yi-chien. (CNA image)
Kuo said that in its heyday, there were eight restaurants that had snake on the menu on Huaxi Street, but even at that time he said that his father's shop was the only eatery that specialized exclusively in snake meat. Nestled in Taipei's historic Wanhua District, Kuo said that the street was part of city's red light district, a gathering place for corrupt cops and gangsters and a spot for street performers.
With a wistful smile, Kuo said because his father believed that he was Taiwan's foremost expert on snakes, he called the shop the "Monga (Wanhua) Supreme Institution," and the "Asia Venomous Snake Research Institute." As a child, Kuo recalled serving as a model to pose with snakes and a pet Orangutan named A-bao (阿寶), which was believed to be the only ape trained to capture snakes in Taiwan.
Snake show in 1990. (CNA image)
Kuo said that he was actually born on Huaxi Street and he's witnessed many changes over the years, including the thriving snake sale business fade out of favor due to growing public awareness of animal protection. He said that many snakes could no longer be slaughtered in public as they became protected species.
Gradually, the vibrant culture of Huaxi Street started to fade, and this was worsened by in a decrease in sources of snakes, said Kuo. Kuo added that occupational injuries also took their toll on snake handlers.
A-bao (阿寶), the snake capturing Orangutan (left) in 1990. (CNA image)
CNA also interviewed the restaurant's snake handler Hung Ting-fu (洪丁福) about his experiences in the trade. Hung, who is now nearly 70, said he journeyed from southern Taiwan to Taipei in response to a want ad for a snake handler, as he was looking for work after having recently retired from the military.
He believed that he was not afraid of snakes and after apprenticing with the elder Kuo for two months, he became a snake handler. Hung said the best era for Snake Alley was from the 1970s to the 1990s, when he said the snake shops would open around 4 p.m. and he would run his snake slaughtering shows from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Snake handler Hung stands in front of Asia Snake Meat Store. (CNA image)
Hung said that customers would flood in until the early hours of the morning and the restaurant was always packed every day. He said that in the blink of an eye, 40 years had passed.
During the interview, it became apparent that Hung was missing the index fingers on both his left and right hands. He said that the fingers had to be amputated after being bitten by a cobra and a brown spotted pit viper.
Snake handler Hung shows his mangled fingers. (CNA image)
Hung said that over the course of his 40 year career, he had captured countless cobras and hundred pacers for his live shows which lured huge crowds, and he is proud of his work.
When asked about his take on retiring from snake handling as he sat next to metal platform where he once performed his many snake shows, Hung gazed at his mangled fingers, and said that he was taking the opportunity to retire and take care of his body.
Customers get last glimpse as Kuo watches (second from right). (CNA image)