Hoffman's Houston
a night at the 'wet market'

Ken Hoffman's vivid memories of a now-infamous visit to a 'wet-market'

Ken Hoffman's vivid memories of a now-infamous visit to a 'wet-market'

Chinese wet market
Hoffman's memories of a "wet market" are vivid. Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Pet of the week - Winston
Winston is CultureMap's pet of the week. Photo courtesy of Citizens for Animal Protection
Chinese wet market
Pet of the week - Winston

Many people, especially those with degrees in science and medicine, who actually know what they're talking about, believe that the worldwide COVID-19 crisis started in "wet markets" in China.

When I heard "wet markets," I wondered what that could mean. Rainy climates? Fish market? The gift shop at Sea World? No idea.

Until I read what "wet markets" are, outdoor marketplaces where live, sometimes diseased animals, including bats and other unusual creatures, are sold for human consumption. And I realized ... I have been to one.

Several years ago, I visited Taiwan as a guest of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which is located in Greenway Plaza in Houston and represents Taiwan's business interests in the southern United States.

At the time, Taiwan was shedding its reputation for making cheap products, the familiar "Made in China" stamped on the bottom of inexpensive radios and TVs, whoopie cushions and dribble glasses, and everything else.

Now, Taiwan was adopting a new slogan, "Well Made in China," to reflect its determination to become a leading manufacturer of quality products. And Taiwan has succeeded in that goal. Those computers and motor scooters ain’t cheap anymore.

One night during my visit, I wound up in Snake Alley, on the outskirts of Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. Snake Alley, also known as Huaxi Street Night Market, still is a tourist attraction, but now nowhere near as crazy and popular as when I visited in the early 2000s.

Much like Times Square in Manhattan, Snake Alley is but a shell of its former disgusting and "anything goes" self. A decade before I visited, the government banned prostitution, so most of the aggressive hookers were gone, especially the ones who practically tackled tourists and dragged them into their Red Light broom closets barely large enough for a cot and Costco-sized box of condoms. 

Other than the ban on prostitution, the Huaxi Street Night Market was in full swing when I dropped by, jammed with clattering tourists shoulder to shoulder, busy restaurants, street food, offbeat retail shops, a couple dirty magazine and X-rated video stores and …

They don't call it Snake Alley for nothing. I saw a street vendor hold up a live, 4-foot, wriggling snake, slice its belly, and fill shot glasses with the snake's blood, guts, bile and whatever else came spilling out. Most of it was red. Some green. A little blue. The consistency looked slimy and a little chunky, like a milk shake with chocolate chip cookie bits.

Customers hoisted the glasses ... cheers! None for me, I said, shaking my head horizontally. I'm trying to cut back on snake guts, but thank you.

The idea of drinking warm snake blood fresh straight from a still-alive (for the moment) reptile is to increase a man's virility, make him feel like King Kong in the bedroom. Over its long history, Snake Alley cuisine included turtle blood soup, turtle testicles, snake gallbladder, snake penis wine, and other goodies promising to increase a fella's libido.

Poor us in America, all we have are testosterone clinics on every corner and mail-order Viagra.

From what I’ve read, Snake Alley was and still is, tame compared to the wet markets deep in China. I didn’t see anybody eating live bats in Snake Alley. However, I didn’t ask for an English menu at the all-night, strung light bulbs buffet. If it's true that coronavirus started with people eating bats in China, comedian Norm Macdonald has the antidote. You know how plant-based meat substitutes are found in drive-throughs and supermarkets? Why not Impossible Bat Burgers? You listening Burger King?

I brought home a souvenir from Snake Alley: a package of "Strong Five Penis Wan," capsules containing ground penises of five different animals: fur seals, deer, horses, snakes and goats.

The package read, “Functions: nourishing blood, invigorating brain and strengthening the body, regulating the international functions of the body and promoting metabolism." The pack contained 10 capsules for $5.

While nobody is more interested in regulating his body’s international functions than I am, I never swallowed any Strong Five Penis Wan capsules. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t like the taste of fur seal penis, plus it would be hard to explain to West U cops why I was howling at the moon at 3 am in front of Tinys Milk & Cookies.

Pet of the week
Name: Winston, as in Winston Churchill and John Winston Lennon of the Beatles rock group.

Birthdate: October 31 (Halloween), 2018. I’m just entering my prime social years.

Ethnicity: I’m a terrier and American Staffordshire mixed up, kooky boy. Here’s the thing about me, I love baths! I’m affectionate and love to cuddle with human beings on the couch. I’m a little scared of exiting a car, but that’s the only thing I’m scared of. I’m know a bunch of commands, I’m neutered and quite the looker. Oh, and I’m a crackerjack watchdog. The staff at Citizens for Animal Protection is crazy about me.

Come and get me: Email adoptions@cap4pets.org and come get me outta here!

Wait, there’s more! From now until August 31, West Houston Subaru will pay half of all adoption fees at CAP. I adopted my dog Sally during one of the West Houston Subaru’s discount adoption events. Best $50 I ever spent.