And here I was thinking the weekend would be spent watching the FA Cup and chilling out at home. Susan and my girlfriend Sarah organised a surprise “belated birthday party” for me at this specialty snake restaurant in Go Vap Disrict (the address was 418 Nguyen Phan Tri or something like that). I thought Sarah was dragging me along to meet Bich and Minh, some of her friends from Hanoi, but instead I was met by some of our friends who supposedly all had other plans that evening, bloody scoundrels the lot of them, and madame Bich and monsieur Minh were nowhere to be found.
This place was a bit leftfield. They have these large aquariums filled with dead snakes being bitten by dead birds, being chowed by dead lice all submerged in a reddish, gooey rice wine. Another box displayed a wine-immersed dead seal surrounded by pickled seal’s penises and one with armadillos surrounded by giant lizards. It reminded me of my grade 10 Biology class excursion to Tygerberg Hospital where they took us on a tour of the pathology unit…shudder. Think hermaphrodites, cyclops babies, charred lungs and alcohol-swollen, grotesque livers, all wonderfully preserved in pungent formaldehyde-filled glass jars.
Back to the story. The snakeman chose a cobra, made it grovel and crawl around on the floor for a while, ritualistically washed it and peristaltically worked the heart up its body. Sweat dripping off his nose, he then whipped out his scalpel, cut open the cobra and removed the still-beating heart with surgical precision, severed the arteries and put it in a shot glass. He then drained the blood, as well as the bile, mixed it with some rice wine and voila! We had two bottles of instant snakeblood wine. Not for the tree-hugging type.
I sunk the cardiac shot, which had the consistency and texture of an oyster and, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t an aphrodisiac (boo!), didn't give me hallucinogenic visions or even endow me with super serpent-like senses. In fact, I couldn’t even remember what happened about an hour afterwards. I feared the worse though, thinking I’d flip out and die a horrible death like the Greek philosophers Aeschylus or Chrysippus (Aeschylus died when an eagle dropped a live tortoise on his head and Chrysippus supposedly died of laughter after watching his inebriated donkey try to munch on some figs). Actually, it might have had a strange effect as I ended up at a karaoke bar, something which I would never condone whilst in the motherly clutches of sobriety or even the slightly clawed talons of simple inebriation.
Nevertheless, I am happy I am still here and in one piece, not grown a sudden liking for mouse-meat, rolling my “s’s” and that my tongue hasn’t forked. I’m also eternally grateful to Suzie and Sarah for organising it. I still don't have a clue who the hell Bich or Minh are though...