Writing about snakes on a train
Writing from the bullet train to Kaohsiung, which is actually very nice. It’s not your typical New York subway experience, that’s for sure. Everything is very clean and they reserved a couple cars of the train for our traveling party, which is about 100 people when you include all the players, coaches, staff, media and MLB International crew. The meal they served left a tad to be desired – a rather strange combination of egg and turkey sandwich and a banana, but hardly a complaint on this end. The group of Latin players on this trip are playing some Dominican music at the back end of our car while everyone else either naps or reads. Josh Suchon is in the rail car in front of us attempting to call into DodgerTalk so that those of you back home can hear the bi-continental show. Indeed, technology never ceases to amaze.
Anyway, after yesterday’s game was eventually rained out (we waited about four hours total to try and get the game in, to no avail), most people came back to the hotel to try and see a few other things around Taipei. Joe Torre had invited a group of us to dinner at 8 p.m., so we figured we might be able to get a little bit of sightseeing in during the two free hours.
Scott Akasaki and I decided to check out a Buddhist temple called Longshan Temple and it was a pretty cool experience. Apparently the temple is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist representation of compassion, and while we thought it would be touristy, it was entirely locals who were there for prayer. Each would bring various offerings (food, drinks, etc.) to the shrines around the temple and they each held about five sticks of incense, which they would toss into an urn. We could have stayed much longer but frankly, with people actually praying it didn’t seem right to hang out.
But, as it turned out, the temple was right next to “Snake Alley,” which many of us had planned to visit but few actually got to. Of course, we had no clue where we were going and had just the words “Snake Alley” in Chinese written on a piece of paper. But everyone was nice enough to point us in the right direction and eventually we got to an area that had a slight resemblance to downtown Las Vegas – a flashing neon roof over a marketplace with shops and restaurants.
Mixed among the various stores selling goods or food were about five shops that looked almost like pet shops, with enormous snakes in glass cages. One of them had to be 30 feet long and as think as Michael Restovich’s arms (if you haven’t seen him, he’s a big boy). As we walked by one store, the owner grabbed a microphone and started talking to the crowd in Chinese…and suddenly he grabbed a snake by the neck. Warning, this next description is rather graphic.
From there, the guy took the snake and with all of his might, wacked it head against the ground twice, leaving a sound in my memory that will last a long time. I suppose this basically kills the snake or at least knocks out its memory of what is about to happen. He then wrapped a little noose around the snake’s head and hung it from the ceiling. While its body continued to writhe in an attempt to get out, he busted out a knife, sliced straight along it’s belly, and proceeded to drain the blood out of it into a shot glass. All the while, the snake was squirming and at one point, latched on to the snake hanging next to it until the shopkeeper broke them apart.
He repeated the same thing with the second snake with tons of people looking on in shock, including what appeared to be many locals. Then, he nonchalantly wandered over with the two shots of blood (mixed with alcohol) and put it down on a table in front of two people having dinner. Suffice to say, it was one of the more wild things I’ve seen in my life and Scott and I both left there somewhat stunned.
The whole thing was eerily similar to the opening scene of “The Beach,” with Leonardo Dicaprio, where he lands in Thailand and ends up in a private room, doing a shot of snake blood. Meanwhile, his voice comes on in the background with a really interesting monologue.
“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe in search of something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it. You hope and you dream, but you never believe that something is going to happen for you. not like it does in the movies. And when it actually does, you expect it to feel different, more visceral, more real. I was waiting for it to hit me.”
It’s one of my favorite travel quotes and there’s no doubt that while this trip certainly hasn’t been without hiccups and sacrifice, it has been well worth it. The players and staff who have come on this adventure will remember it for the rest of their lives and hopefully the goodwill that we’re spreading will last for generations to come, like those who made this trips before us in the 1950s, 60s and 70s that resulted in guys like Nomo, Ishii, Kuo and Hu eventually becoming Dodgers.
Team has arrived at Kaohsiung County Stadium…here’s the lineup for the series finale: