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Snake Eyes

Understanding a Culture through Food - Snake Eyes

HONG KONG | Thursday, 18 April 2013 | Views [1845] | Comments [2] | Scholarship Entry

I skilfully picked up the shiny, black skin of the snake with my wooden chopsticks, dislodging a few droplets of cooking oil and hoisin sauce as I raised it to my lips. Playfully ignoring the wide-eyed stare of my companion Marc, I proceeded to chew, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“So I heard the locals don’t like to shower on the first day of Chinese New Year,” I said, savouring the salty morsel. It tasted like chicken, if chickens had no feet and slithered on their stomachs. “Apparently, they think it will wash away the good luck.”

“And the smell perhaps,” he teased, recovering slightly. His pleasant voice had a slight accent which revealed his French origins. Reaching across the crowded table, he grabbed the canister of dried cilantro, slowly scraping a small spoonful to add to his snake soup. He was trying to buy himself more time. Chicken.

Over his shoulder, I could see a snake gaping at us through the dull metal bars of its cage. Its fangs had been removed. As if to avoid my gaze it uncoiled abruptly and slithered out of sight behind a crumpled page of the South China Morning Post.

“So are you going to eat your snake soup or pay me the $20 dollars?” He glanced longingly at his wallet. It was tempting - a way out. I was the serpent with the apple.

With only a little hesitation and a dash of national pride, he took a cautious slurp and reflexively gagged. A cheer erupted from the rowdy drinkers at the next table who had been throwing surreptitious glances at the Gweilo hovering over his meal. Trying to look dignified, Marc opened his wallet and slammed down a crumpled $20 note on the table.

His eyes searched the room for payback. Grimy jars containing all manner of oddities littered every surface of the tiny shop, forming an odd contrast to the shiny assortment of handbags, shoes and belts which hung off sharp hooks over the entrance – all snake skin of course.

His eyes settled on a spot to my left. “Okay, double or nothing you won’t drink that.”

My eyes followed his gaze. It was an enormous jar of cloudy amber liquid containing two unlikely bedmates: a perfectly preserved gecko and a yellow snake with blood red spots. Their eyeballs were empty and staring.

It could have been any bar back home in Australia. Or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Two expats competing in a contest of national honour. Both brimming with confidence, cockiness and Tsingtao beer.

I looked him straight in the eye.

“You’re on, mate.”

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

Comments

1

Congrats on making the shortlist, Ann. I liked this story a lot: it's funny, the structure and pacing are elegant, and I enjoyed the sly inversion of the theme (understanding Aussie culture via Hong Kong food) which brings a fresh take to an old subject.

  antonia-mitchell May 14, 2013 4:47 PM

2

Thanks Antonia, I really appreciate your lovely comments. I hope you have many opportunities to travel in the coming months and I look forward to reading your blog.

  Ann May 15, 2013 1:26 AM

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