Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Found In Translation

Pranee took the four of us (Judy, Joyce, Patty and me) into the Chinese herbal shop as one of the stops on our International District/Little Saigon market tour. This was one of the neatest kept herbal shops I’ve wandered into. Pranee is from Thailand. The dialect is different than the Chinese spoken in this shop, but she manages to communicate that she wants him to “check her health” and concoct a special tea to address her current medical state, which she describes as “tired but can’t sleep.” Understandable. She’s a mom to a teenage son, a wife, and a business entrepreneur, writing a cookbook, teaching classes, consulting menus and organizing things like this market tour we are on. The four of us poke around some of the display cases of neatly arranged roots and herbs and dried animal parts, some quite prehistoric looking. The patriarch of the shop, in his starched white physician’s coat takes Pranee to a counter in the back, and clears away the surface. For a moment it looks like he is about to draw blood and I am concerned. But he merely takes out his stethoscope and listens quite intently to the blood moving through the veins in her wrist. Meanwhile we are looking around for something to purchase, some little memento, more to patronize the shop than to get a meaningful souvenir. It is hard to find something not too frightening to walk out the door with. After a surprisingly long consultation Pranee, with a big grin, says “He says I am good. I don’t need anything special.” She tells him though she wants to buy a mixture for energy and he goes to a large basket with several small baggies loaded with different mixes of barks and berries, twigs and dried organic material. They are like archaic multi-vitamin packs.

A certain silliness takes me over and I ask what he has in there to treat menopause. The ladies laugh and he looks confused and repeats back to me “Menopause?” with a cute little lilt. So I repeat it back to him and he looks confused but wanting to understand. So I pantomime a hot flash with a fluttering wave of my hand, and, as if on queue, I become flushed and embarrassed and wanting to strip off my outer layers right there on the spot. By now the women are laughing at me. I, however, want to drop the line of inquiry but Papa Shop has grabbed my elbow and pulled me with him towards that back table where Pranee’s diagnosis took place. I’m thinking I’ve signed up for my own “blood work” but instead he pulls out a small electronic pocket translator device. He thrusts it into my hands saying “you make what is men-oh-paws please” gesturing a little typing motion. I’m starting to giggle pretty good here, not helped by my friends who are finding this highly entertaining. I’m realizing he might be a bit embarrassed once he gets the translation…I have no idea how the ancient Chinese feel about this time of life. I figure it must be something like my son’s embarrassment who looks like he wants to die on the spot if I so much as hint at the words “hot flash.” But I plow forward as I see there is no way to get gracefully out of this now. So I begin to spell the word and the translator gadget starts to offer words with the same start and when it flashes out “menopausal” I take it. I say yes, yes. I see there are a few lines below what I have typed that are in Chinese letter characters. He pulls the machine from me and peers at it through his reading glasses. And then he laughs. Giggles. Shouts out to his wife who is minding the cash register something apparently hilarious who finds this funny too. He goes back to the “multi-vitamin” basket and rummages through the pre-packaged herbs and finally hands me a baggy full of the right combination of bark and twigs and moss and red berries. He says “Here. You take for the menopausal.” Pranee asks him some questions and he says it is good for the broth to make chicken soup or with tea, which makes me think he doesn’t really understand this hot flash thing. But I plop down $3.50 for my menopausal bag of herbs. It is sitting on my counter now. I’ve picked it up several times to fondle and consider but have yet to brew up the concoction. Maybe I’ll brew it up for the next gathering of Thursday Night Dinner Club since so many of us are needing something “for the menopausal.” Or maybe I’ll just keep it in the baggy to pick up and fondle, eliciting a little giggle when I recall this adventure with my friends and need to consider the lighter side of being menopausal.

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