My first real experience with this magic goo came on a train ride from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I was riding with an art teacher I had met in Koh Tao. We were in desperate need for a change of scenery (she was sick of her travel companions, I had burnt myself to a crisp) so we left the sparkling beaches for the mountains of northern Thailand.
The train snaked around mountainsides, often stopping for long periods of time. While we made conversation to pass the time, I noticed that my friend was vigorously applying Tiger Balm all over her mosquito bites. This ended up being one of those odd moments that is kind of inconsequential, but came up pretty frequently while reminiscing.
Fast forward to less than a year later. I was wandering around Bali by myself. As they are wont to do, the Balinese mosquitoes quickly began feasting on my skin. I popped into a small store carrying household items (I think I had also forgotten a comb? I usually do that). Browsing small stores that normal people shop in is one of the best things about traveling, to me. It’s endlessly fascinating, seeing what constitutes household items in different cultures. I found my comb, I picked up some sticky peanut candy that I had loved in Thailand, and then by the checkout counter, I spotted the Tiger Balm.
I thought about it for awhile, and I decided that it would be in my best interest to purchase some. It couldn’t have been more than $2 or $3. I plopped my purchases on the counter and the skeevy men working at the store started laughing at me! Now I’m used to getting laughed at, but I didn’t really understood.
And then I thought about it. Tiger Balm is mostly for old people to rub into their sore joints. Like an Asian Ben-Gay. (I read the wikipedia article just now to verify this – it does mention Tiger Balm as a means to relieve itchiness for bug bites). They were laughing at me because they thought I was a stupid white girl buying this sepia-colored muck to rub on her aching joints. I think I ended up laughing and shurgging and bought the Tiger Balm anyway, bringing it with me around East Timor for when I was in the districts and in mosquito-y areas.
Now I’m in Providence, enjoying the sweet time I have left here. These past few days, I’ve been sorting out all of the crap I’ve accumulated during the past four years. And I’ve also been picnicking and walking around at night with friends. This has led to two things (well, more than two things, really, but for the purpose of this blog post, two things): 1. Mosquito bites like I’ve never experienced this summer. 2. Rediscovery of my Tiger Balm.
I’ve been fairly judicious about tossing things out, but it’s a good thing I decided to keep this.