Escape from Pimps by
(33 Stories)

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Snake Alley. Taipei, Taiwan: 1967

A snaky escape from forbidden sites in old Taipei.

Today, Snake Alley is an entertainment night market in Taiwan’s capital. The corridor of shops are filled with fine restaurant stalls featuring Taiwanese, Chinese, foreign, and ethnic foods.  Fashionable clothing stores invite customers to inspect their wares.  Fortune tellers and musicians provide entertainment.  The market is a center for socializing, and exotic adventures.  Professional snake handlers serve venom into drinks specialized to cure various physical and mental problems.

Licensed  prostitutes respond to emotional needs.  Despite the noise and many loud responses to the snakes and women, the crowds walk and shop through an orderly atmosphere.


Decades ago this alley was the site of an untamed market place.  The sidewalk stalls hawked live snakes to pedestrians, and shoppers. To catch a customer’s attention, snake charmers supported claims to the sake’s power to enhance virility by waving it in front of caged monkeys who responded with fear and visible erections.  Taiwan, a haven for poisonous snakes, attracted shoppers for the serpent’s alleged medical and sexual powers.  Some snakes were sold alive, some sold as food, and some prepared as an aphrodisiac.

Other animal meat caught one’s eye: hanging skinned dog carcasses lined up with other dead or living animals for the butcher’s preparations. For instance, since cutting off a frog’s head resulted in the release of harmful hormones, the chef threw the amphibian against the wall knocking it out. Then he could serve fresh fried frog legs to the customers. (Incidentally, I took a girlfriend for such a meal.  A few feet after eating, she threw up in a side alley.)

Snake alley was a traditional blood market that existed outside health standards or government regulations.  For this reason it was avoided by many locals. Criminal gangs and pimps controlled the territory.

Being an iconoclast, I was attracted to the area.  Walking among the stalls was uncomfortable but not threatening.  An undisclosed alley revealed the services of prostitutes. Taking pictures of them was forbidden. Since I was not aware of any such photographic documentation, I decided to take pictures,

When I told my Chinese friends, they warned me that without permission,  the locals would assume I was a foreign spy or journalist whose purpose was to criticize Chinese culture.  The pimps would angrily attack me for such behavior.

Nonetheless, with my Kodak box camera, I walked slowly down the side alley waving to the prostitutes who offered their wares, while taking their pictures.  Many of the young women ran inside their small dilapidated brothels.  Gradually, I became aware that the pimps were threatening to attack me. .

In advance I had prepared an escape.  I owned a 75cc Honda motorcycle which I used as an emergency escape tactic. A Chinese friend sat on con the cycle at one end of the alley.  He became a watch dog, keeping a protective eye on me as I proceeded with my fugitive mission.

When he saw I was about to be surrounded by the mob, he gunned the Honda toward me, stopped just in time to let me mount  on the back seat, and sped off from threatening screams.

Soon after, we had a wonderful time at a formal restaurant dunking tea while laughing about my escape.


(  My 1965 pictures are faded, Except for the prostitutes, the pictures in this text were taken in 2021 by professional videographers.)


Profile photo of Richard C. Kagan Richard C. Kagan

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. pattyv says:

    Well Rich, you certainly liked living on the edge. Your marketplace sounded dreadful and certainly dangerous. So in a sick way, I totally admire you for your curiosity and grit . Eating frog legs next to hanging dog flesh would make me puke too. You really took a chance with the pimps. Thank God your buddy’s timed Honda escape succeeded. I like reading your stories. I enter places I never dreamed of.

    • Patty:
      I presume girl friend figured that the timing of the fog appetizer convinced her not to pursue our relationship. LOL

    • My “risky” side is partially professional. I am an advocate for human rights. I have a book on the topic and have testified in Congress and lectured in Japan. For many years I have included issues about minorities, gays, prostitutes, the underprivileged, etc. I have also been a reporter. I admire the journalists who investigate areas that are often dangerous–including war, corruption, and discriminatory problems. Many of them have lost their lives. Fortunately, I have not yet met the same fate.

  2. Thanx for your story Richard, you’ve had an adventurous globe-trotting life indeed!

    It reminds me of course of the song It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    You do indeed have an attraction to the risky side of life! The story was fascinating—a description of a place I did not know existed and now, in its tamed version, could be worth a tourist visit. Glad you escaped to tell the tale.

    • My risky side s related to my obsession with the other side. For instance, as a turista in Cancun I stayed along the highway to fancy seashore hotels. Across from the highway were economically poor Mayan villages. Armed with my poor Puerto Rican language skills I visited the markets and talked to the people. I never saw any foreigners. On the way home, despite private warning from my wife and public warnings from the police regarding gangsters and drug dealers I picked up three hitchhikers who were elderly women with large shopping bags. They were got to the market to sell their wars. Upon arrival they thanked us for the ride, opened one bag and offered me some home made jewelries in place of payment. Lesson: It is an educational experience one does not get as a turista.

      • Khati Hendry says:

        That resonated–we have also had some interesting experiences off the tourist route. In 1989 we were more-or-less backpacking through Africa and ended up renting a jeep in Nairobi, driving around Mount Kenya and out to some of the alkaline lakes. We picked up a Coptic priest in brilliant blue robes, and took a couple of kids (“Moses” and “Joseph”) to their home in the countryside, to the astonishment of their parents. Also picked up a Turkish woman in the middle of Turkey who passed her husband (who was ahead on a donkey) with the happiest grin you can imagine.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    This was a trip into an exotic world, but I somehow kept thinking about those “wet” markets in China from which they think COVID moved from bats to humans. You lived life on the edge here and your friend with the Honda was certainly in “the right place at the right time” for you to make your quick getaway. Lucky for you! Thanks for taking us along for this wild ride.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    What a tale, Richard. You were quite the adventurer, but one who planned for a safe exit. Thanks for introducing me to something I never knew existed.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    You definitely have a bit of Indiana Jones in your makeup!
    Your title snapped my mind to “Risky Business” and Guido the Killer Pimp.

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