Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Hmmm," I wondered through my phlegm clogged haze. "Would tincture of dried turtle help ease my cough, congestion, headache and fever? Or perhaps some of what appears to be part of an unfortunate small mammal's paw combined with whatever is in this box that has a picture of a grimacing fat man with cartoon arrows shooting out of his head...So many choices and they all look so promising."
I had finally roused myself from sweat soacked sheets at about noon on Saturday and armed with my Lonely Planet phrasebook dragged myself across the street to a Chinese drugstore to try to gather together the equivalent of a bottle of Nyquil or Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu Medicine.
The employees were nothing if not helpful. I knew they were professionals, too, because the man wore a white lab coat and sported one of those headbands with a reflective metal disc that cartoon doctors wore in the 1950s and early 60s, and the two women were dressed in nurse costumes. They were either medical professoinals or professionally dressed for a doctor/nurse threesome porn shoot. In my sorry state it was hard to tell.
I began by pointing to my various symptoms in the book and doing a lot of grimacing in order to win sympathy. The choices were staggering and largely in Chinese and incomphrensible to me. They ranged from herbs, potions and powders to dried mammal, reptiles, and amphibians.
And because prescriptions apparently aren't necessary I was also offered a box of amoxicillian as well as one of the few English language labeled remedies: "Madame Pearl's Cough Syrup" in a box that bears a "1954" portrait persumably of the Mdm. herself that looks as if it came from a Sino-U.S. traveling medicine show circa 1901. While persuing it I also noticed it contained a hefty amount of codeine. In lieu of Nyquil, I immediately put it aside and kept searching.
Ah ha! Buried beneath several boxes under the "Liver and pure bile" category, I found a dusty package of Tylenol Cold that only expires 7 months from now.
It went next to Madame Pearl's potion, along with a box containing 10 small glass vials filled with a brown herbal liquid that the Chinglish instructions swore would "eliminate bad humors and upper reservoir infectionanaries."
Why not? methought. It's all in the interest of scientific research.
As I waited to make my purchase, ahead of me was an elderly stout man with his equally elderly and stout wife purchasing two red, gold and black small luggage sized boxes of "Magic Stag Love Vigor and Life Enhancer." In other words, he was buying Chinese Viagra and, unlike a counterpart in the U.S. who would probably be averting his eyes from the pharmacist, snatching the bag and bolting, he and his wife and the staff appeared to be openly and merrily discussing the merits of Magic Stag. I know the missus looked postively thrilled and the "nurses" appeared thrilled for her.
My next stop was the grocery to assemble fixings for chicken soup, despite dire warnings from a few Chinese pals that chicken soup only aggravates colds.
"Only bird flu," I told them. "Otherwise we call it Jewish penicillian."
My soup ingredient choices were more orthodox, except for the chicken. The cooler contained both white and "black" chickens. The black ones do indeed have dark flesh and I had also been told that they were considered tastier. In my altered state, I decided to take the plunge while murmuring loudly to myself, "Once you've had black, you'll never go back, once you've had black you'll..." A crowd was beginning to gather.
I double checked to make sure there was no feet or head attached, none appeared to be and I quickly retired to the Lucky Number where I swallowed twice the recommended dose of Madame Pearl, popped a Tylenol and chugged the bitter herb cleanser and began to make the soup.
Madame Pearl was beginning to work her magic, enveloping me with an artificial glow of well being and so it was that when I fully got around to opening the chicken package and discovered two severed claws and a head carefully tucked beneath the body, I didn't even wince. You could say I didn't chicken out. I just chucked them out without thinking. Thank you, Madame Pearl.

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