Sunday, August 12, 2007

Anyone for tea?

It looked like a Hobbit’s sweetshop. Floor to ceiling with red-topped jars containing what appeared to be bits of twig, bark, bone, fungus, leaves, dried squirrel poo, pork scratchings and other unfathomable oddments alien to my Western eyes. Each jar had a label with neatly squashed daddy longlegs on it. Or it might have been Chinese handwriting. Either way it didn’t help identify the jar’s contents. With a swish the shopkeeper appeared through a beaded curtain. “Hello? How can help?” She was about Hobbit size, with a warm smiling, shiny face that immediately filled me with trust. “I was just wondering if there’s anything you can do for ulcerative colitis?” “What that? You write down what that.” She handed me a pen and pushed a scrap of paper across the counter. A little bit of my trust turned to dust. I scribbled ULCERATIVE COLITIS in shouty letters. “I see what is in Chinese. My English no good.” I filled the silence with a noncommittal smile, quite unsure as to what to say or do next. Luckily, she wasn’t at all inhibited by her threadbare vocabulary and started asking me lots of seemingly random questions. “Where you work?” “Where you live?” “What your name?” Clearly and concisely and in a tone normally reserved for Customs officials I replied. Satisfied, she instructed me to return later that day. As I left the Chinese medicine shop she called out, “See you later, Martin!” On hearing her use my name the needle on my internal Trustometer twitched, taking it back to ‘Full’.


The little Chinese chemist rushed out to greet me, smiling and pointing at her tummy “I know! I know!” (How come you never see traditional doctors this enthusiastic?) “I make tea for you. You drink tea, okay?” “If you think it’ll help?” I asked. “It help, it stop you go to toilet, take away pain.” Now the only thing I know about Chinese medicine is the shops are nearly always next door to the key cutting place in shopping centres. That’s it, that’s all I know; ‘Chinese medicine from 5000BC to the present day’, it’s fair to say, would not be my chosen specialist subject on Mastermind. So am I going to put my faith in this Oriental Getafix? Am I going to drink her magic potion that she ever-so-innocently calls tea? Am I going to listen to someone who knows approximately 47 English words, 48 if you include ‘Martin’? Of course I am, I’m desperate. “Okay, I’ll take the tea.” I say. “Good, good, I make tea for you. You come back tomorrow, yes? £25, 5 days tea.” I handed the money over quickly before common sense prevailed. This time she didn’t use my name when she said goodbye. She had my 25 quid, no need for further niceties, I grumbled unkindly to myself.

To be continued...