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readers' submissions


My 7-Foot Snake

by Joel LaFollette

In Hanoi, myself and my friend James, a well-traveled bloke from West London met this guy, one of the many booksellers on the street and he became our guide. He showed us anything and everything we wanted to see. From the local tourist sights to the popular nightclubs and even a good place to get a professional ear cleaning. It’s amazing just how much treasure they can find in there. Finally I told him I wanted a traditional Vietnamese snake dinner. He was more than grateful to take us just outside of Hanoi City to a little dingy restaurant with only 2 tables.

We were a little off the tourist track, which was more than appreciated after the many organized tours we had been on. Approaching the restaurant we were swarmed by aggressive motorbike touts, each fighting for their commission, they were like a pack off wolves coming in for the kill. Thank-goodness for our guide 'Hung', he would take care of us. We got inside the restaurant and shook hands with the owner who was very nice. He directed us to the Snake pen and showed us what was available. There were about 10 different breeds including a massive cobra, which would cost us about 40usd each. James and myself were splitting the cost of dinner and for our guide of course. We settled on a cheaper snake that was only about 7 feet long but still looked pretty meaty. We were then lead to the dining room upstairs, had a seat and ordered some beers. We got our bearings together, as we were still fairly overwhelmed about the situation we were in. It would only get more intense.

The chef came up through the stairs holding the bag with our dinner. One of the waiters came and put down a tray with a bottle which was 1/2 full of some clear liquid...we're pretty sure it was just normal vodka. The tray also consisted of 3 drinking glasses and 1 smaller glass, which we did not yet know its use. The snake was then taken out of the bag. We could see it slithering in his hands for a moment, its forked tongue smelling imminent danger. Before we could blink. BANG!! The chef smacks its head on the hard cement floor ceasing its life in this world. My eyes were wide open with astonishment.

The chef then produced a knife and sliced the body of the snake about 1/4 the way down from the head where he then removed the heart and placed it in the 4th glass. THE HEART WAS STILL BEATING. Next he took his knife and continued the trail down the body and proceeded to drain the snake blood into the carafe full of mystery alcohol. The bottle was now full: 1/2 vodka, 1/2 snakes blood. The tray was brought to our table and the snake was then taken to the kitchen. We were speechless for the moment until Hung called for a toast. He picked up one of the glasses of blood and then put the other two in front of us. We called a cheer to good friends and good luck. "Choke Mon" was the Vietnamese cheer we spoke. Then we drained the snake blood and felt its warm sensation run through us. We returned back to the cold beer for a few minutes when Hung gave attention to the 4th glass. THE HEART WAS STILL BEATING.

He told us that now we will eat the heart. My travel friend James and I watched as Hung would finish either the Right or Left half (it really doesn’t matter) without any remorse or discomfort. James would not take the other, he said that this is just to hardcore. Hung looked at me and I said. Well, when in Nam. I looked into the 4th glass at the remaining half of the heart....IT WAS STILL BEATING. I was having many second thoughts and just stared at it for about a minute thinking, what the hell am I doing here. Hung would then pick it up with his fingers and hold it up for me....I opened my mouth and he placed it inside. Without waiting a second more I finished it in a single gulp. I took a moment to reflect on what I had just done. Tonight I would be sleeping with 2 hearts inside me. My own good heart and another, that of a snake. What nightmares would I have that night when I went to bed I could not imagine.

We were able to watch the cooks prepare the food in the kitchen which was quite entertaining. Chopping dicing and prepared perfectly. Soon we would begin dinner and were brought out the first of 7 dishes. 2 snake soups, 3 or 4 various hot meat dishes and my favorite...Snake skin chips!! YUMMMY! The food really was truly excellent. Fine Traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Honestly, I could not ask for a more interesting experience. We feasted well that evening and spent the rest of the night in a Vietnamese karaoke bar. Crazy city this Hanoi, maybe not for everyone, but if you let it happen, you can have the time of your life.

Joel can be reached at joellafollette@hotmail.com


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