Ted Chiang, zero at the bone

As I’ve been asking people about memorable animal encounters, I’m noticing that snakes come up a lot. This is a particularly vivid memory from Ted Chiang, brilliant writer and Friend of the Blog.

When I was about six, my family spent a summer in Taiwan, and one evening we went to a night market. There was a stand where they sold snake bile for its curative properties, and they harvested it fresh. A guy would pull a snake from a cage and then tie a noose arounds its neck, so it’d be hanging from the top of the stand. With an assistant grabbing the snake by the tail so it was fully extended, he’d use a knife to cut the snake’s skin at its neck, all the way around. This allowed him to peel the skin off the snake’s body, like he was unrolling a stocking, until the snake hung there skinless, a glistening pink tube of meat. Finally, he’d use a pair of scissors to snip the now exposed gall bladder, and catch the bile in a little cup. There was a row of little cups of bile on the counter, as well as a row of skinless snakes hanging off to the side, wriggling more and more slowly as they died.

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