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Hong Kong 'snake kings' stand the test of time

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

In a quiet corner of bustling Hong Kong, iron cages containing writhing serpents are stacked up at the entrance to an old shop that has been selling snake soup for more than a century.

Inside more than 100 wooden drawers store hundreds of snakes, with more than half of them labelled "poisonous". Customers enjoy the thick broth made from the reptile's lean meat which costs HK$45 ($6) a bowl.

The shop "She Wong Lam", which means "Snake King Lam" in the local Cantonese dialect, was started by a snake handler from mainland China and is one of the main outlets for snake soup in the southern Chinese city.

Snake soup, considered a delicacy in Hong Kong and mainland China, is a favourite winter warmer as it is believed to improve blood circulation and ward off illness.

The snake's gallbladder is said to contain the reptile's essence and is also used in a variety of Chinese medicines.

Mak Tai-kwong started working at "She Wong Lam" in 1948 and rose to become one of Hong Kong's best-known snake handlers. He continues to train younger colleagues in the trade today.

"Initially, I was very scared, but I was curious," Mak told AFP of his first attempts at handling snakes. "I was bitten by a non-poisonous snake... it was like an ant biting me, so afterwards I was no longer scared."

One of his tips on snake handling is not to hold the reptile too tightly.

"If you hold the snake tighter, it will bite you harder," Mak said.

But it could be a dying trade in Hong Kong, as some other handlers say they have no intention to pass on their businesses to the next generation.

"I don't want them to be in this line of work because first, it's harsh, second, it's difficult, and third it's dangerous," said 60-year-old Tam Kam-sun, a fourth generation snake catcher, from the "Se Wong Sun" shop.

"The next generation may not be willing to do this, they won't do this," he said as he drank a bowl of soup made from his snakes.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130314/hong-kong-snake-kings-stand-the-test-time