Visiting her brother-in-law in Hong Kong, Jennie had an adverse reaction to all of the walking she's enduring. In an effort to help her heal, she undergoes a regimen of acupuncture, smudging and drinking a mysterious concoction whipped up by a Chinese Medicine Man.
Born in Kalispell MT, Jennie Pak has deep Montana roots. A love of history and theater lead to her current stint as a living history presenter for Humanities MT. Jennie travels the state performing her one-hour programs at libraries, schools, assisted living facilities and museums. In her day job, she is a senior care provider for Home Instead Senior Care, where the biggest perk is listening to stories from her clients. In her spare time, Jennie helps as a volunteer organizer for Stories and Stones, an annual historical storytelling event at Missoula Cemetery.
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on March 29th, 2016, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 9 storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?”.
Today’s podcast comes to us from Jennie Pak and is titled "Drink This, it’s Good for You". Thank you for listening.
Winter in Hong Kong is just a little bit different than winter in Montana. The daily temperature is about 75 or 80 degrees and the humidity is around 99.9999 percent. All the time it sticks to your face. It's like a thin film. You need to wash your face all the time.
And my husband had taken me to Hong Kong to see where he had spent the first 23 years of his life. Visit his family, and meet his friends. And I quickly learned that the three major pastimes in Hong Kong are shopping, walking, and eating. And we did those, every day, nine or ten hours a day.
Now, the evening of the third day I found myself hobbling from the train to the apartment on painfully swollen feet and ankles. This is something that it never happened to me before, and I'm going through things in my head what could be causing his condition. It’s not my shoes. And I don't think it's all the walking, but I bet the humidity has something to do with it. I felt a little bit like a raisin that had been dropped in a glass of water. I blew up.
So that night I slept with my feet elevated, and by morning they did resemble human feet again. But, partway through that next day, they swelled up again. And I told my husband that something was going on. It’s not quite right. And we needed to make a little adjustment to our routine. So he had a chat with his brother, Thomas, who happens to be a Chinese medicine doctor. Convenient, right? And Thomas decided that we should go for our outings in a private car, so we didn't have to run to the bus, run to the train. Run here, run there.
So the next day they came and took us out, and we drove all around and saw the sights. And then they took me to this beach at a place called Repulse Bay. But it was really nice. It was beautiful. And it was deserted because it was wintertime. It was actually March, but it was wintertime, in their minds, and nobody went to the beach in the wintertime.
And I don’t know if you’ve been to a big city. There’s nine million people in Hong Kong, and they all wanted to be where I was all the time. So. This beach was heavenly. And I took my shoes off, and I walked in the cool sand. And then I put my feet in the soothing waters of the South China Sea.
And my husband likes to say, “You know, it’s just the Pacific Ocean.” But “The South China Sea” sounds so much more exotic. And it was really nice. It was soothing on my swollen feet.
And then this big tour bus pulled up. And posited about three dozen mainland Chinese tourists who were all bundled up in parkas to ward off the balmy breezes of the winter in Repulse Bay.
And I didn’t pay it a whole lot of attention, to them, but I, I became quite a curiosity as I waded around in the water. And my husband came over, and he put his arm around me and he said, “Nobody goes in the water in the wintertime. Come away and stop making a spectacle of yourself.”
That night at dinner, my brother-in-law, the Chinese medicine doctor made a big deal about sitting next to me. We get along fine but he doesn’t speak much English. And, there's not a lot of chatting going on. And his napkin fell onto the floor and he went under the table to retrieve it. And then it happened again. And then it happened again. And I looked down there and he was trying to sneak a peek at my swollen ankles. I said, “Can I help you with something?
He started eating.
And then I felt this light touch on my wrist, And I could hear him counting. He’s taking my pulse. And I said, “Thomas, is there something you want to tell me?”
He didn’t want to tell me anything.
So, the next day, he comes to the apartment and he has a huge thermos. And he plunks it on the table and he takes the lid off and the stench that wafted out?
It out it was a Chinese medicine of some botanicals and desiccated bugs or something.
And he said I had to drink a cup of it after every meal. And the food was really good. But a sewer water chaser will put you off your appetite. Just like? And I said what's in that stuff? And he just shook his head. And my husband said, “You don't want to know.” And my brother-in-law, who doesn't speak much English looked right at me, and said, in very clear English, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”
That night, when we got back to the apartment, after another day out on the town, he set up this traveling medicine show, and proceeded to do acupuncture on me. In the middle of the living room. In front of all of the relatives. And they’re standing and watching.
And they see my ankles, “ooooh,”
And he puts a needle in my leg. And on the end of it is this little wad of incense or something, I don’t know what it was. And he lit it on fire. It’s wafting up into the air.
And he tells my husband to tell me to, “Relax. Close your eyes. It's going to take about 20 minutes for this to burn off. Yes, of course, with everyone watching. It's very relaxing.”
We proceeded on in this fashion. The sewer water chaser after every meal. For two weeks. You get this little fruity flavored lozenge, though. After you drink the sewer water, you pop the lozenge in your mouth and suck on it. The, the fruity flavor doesn't quite cut the sewer water flavor, though. It did make me pee. I had to pee a lot. So, that was the benefit of it.
At the end of our trip, we took a bus to the airport. And my brother-in-law came along. And he and my husband sat in the bus and murmured seriously in Cantonese so that I wouldn't overhear, because, I speak no Cantonese. But nobody told me what they were talking about.
And we got on the plane, and my husband never said anything. And we took off into the air and it’s sixteen hours from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. You do Tuesday twice. You arrive home an hour before you leave Hong Kong.
And somewhere over the coast of Japan, my husband finally turned to me and he said, “Thomas would like you to see a doctor when we get home.”
And I said, “What else did Thomas say?”
“Well, you might be going into renal failure. Or, heart failure. But don’t think about it now, just try to get some sleep.”
Now, I’m happy to say that the minute my feet touched the tarmac at Missoula International Airport, all the moisture was sucked out of my body, and I returned to my normal size. And it never happened again, so I didn't go to the doctor. Now everytime I ask my husband, “What's in that stuff?” he just looks at me with this look-- dreaded look on his face. “You. Do. Not. Want. To. Know.” Thank you.