Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I’ve had worse days than yesterday—but for a while there in the morning it was looking pretty grim. Riddled with mosquito bites, I woke up with a stiff and swollen ankle and memories of yesterday’s missed soccer game, product of one misstep and two decades of competitive soccer weakening said joint. Pouting, I had skipped my freezing shower the night before and thus had to endure it in the morning instead. That’s when I found out I had head lice.

Once you find a bug in your hair and are inclined to look twice at the “mosquito” bites running up from your knees to settle in blotches at your hips. The red swelling around your wrists and elbows no longer appear to be the work of two or three nefarious mosquitoes that slipped under the mosquito net.

By 7:00, I knew I not only had a twisted ankle, head lice, and a mysterious rash, but I had quite possibly infected the other intern. Said intern, Victoria, who is quite awesome and enjoys watching Korean dramas with me bless her soul, took the news calmly.

“Really? Good gravy. First we need to wash those sheets.”

Auntie Nim’s and P’Bry’s reactions were similarly helpful.
“Good morning! I have lice.”
“Lice?” P’Bry asked. “Arraina?”[1]
P’Ton, walking by in his bilingual state, explained in Thai.
They burst out laughing. Then they pointed to my hair.
“Laaw?” Really.
“Jingjing.” Really.
They laughed some more.
P’Ton suggested I put mayonnaise in my hair.
I suggested he put ketchup in his.

Turns out he wasn’t joking. To get rid of lice, you can put mayonnaise in your hair and tie a plastic bag over your head while you sleep—for three nights in a row. (Nana is currently and unhappily undergoing this procedure, but with Vaseline instead of mayonnaise.) Fortunately I escaped Nana’s fate since Auntie Nim, besides having one of the healthiest laughing lives around, is also very knowledgeable about the house’s medicine cabinet.

No fewer than six girls picked through my hair that day, combing out (and then squishing to death with their fingernails) nits and lice. If it weren’t so disgusting, it would have been cute. The rash brought back poison ivy flashbacks from this summer in vivid detail. But this time around I had a weapon that would send poison ivy and itch-related insomnia into shrieking terror: TIGER BALM.

Here, where mosquito bites and accompanying itching are as common as cornfields in Indiana, TIGER BALM works like a charm. Within minutes of smearing the cinnamon-scented goodness on it, the rash had visibly decreased and a couple hours later, only the hardiest had endured the scourge that is TIGER BALM. The house-parents laugh at the title and say, “No tiger! Just plants!” but it’s a lot better than Calamine.

My apologies for my ever-lengthening blog-posts; blessings to you if you bother reading more than a paragraph. The following paragraphs can be summed up by saying, “laughter really is the best medicine!” and “a true friend is a priceless treasure,” but I hate enthusiastic clichés almost more than watching bad soccer. In my opinion, they are Calamine lotion to the TIGER BALM of real description.

If you have a more reasonable temperament, feel free to skip to the end. For the rest of us, the following wordiness is my substitute:

P’Bank asked about my ankle and said, “Next Sunday you play football?” and smiled when I said “I hope so.”[2] Auntie Nim laughed with (at) me all day. P’Bry took me for a walk and worked hard during her lesson. P’Jiab massaged my ankle—more painful than the Cruciatus Curse, but instrumental in keeping the swelling down. P’Ton awkwardly handed me a plastic bag and a told me to open it (when I did, he snatched it back so he could remove the forgotten price tag). Inside was a Barcelona jersey. A nice one.

“P’Ton! For real?”
“Your team. So you can remember me and Mam when you infect all of Korea with the lice.”

Meanwhile Victoria returned with a bag with de-lousing shampoo, cookies, and a violin keychain with my name carved into it. That evening she combed my lice-infested hair, made my bed (with her own sheets—cute ones with Dumbo on them), and joined me in watching the two penultimate episodes of our current Korean drama. If that’s not Tiger Balm, I don’t know what is.

Like Auntie Nim, she both laughed with me and reminded me to take some Benadryl when we discovered around midnight that my bottom lip had swollen to Angelina Jolie proportions and I’d grown a hunchback on my right eye, possibly the compliments of an allergic reaction to delousing shampoo.

The following is an actual excerpt from my journal yesterday—before the ankle, before the lice, before my wrists, stomach, knees and elbows were covered with itchy red patches of unknown origin, when the sun was shining:

“I know that there truly is a season for all things and right now the season is so easy, beautiful, healthy. When does the wheel turn—King Lear—[3] leaving me on the bottom again?”

Not yet, Shakespeare, that’s for sure. Because of I have TIGER BALM.

[1] “What does it mean?” or as I sometimes mentally translate it: “huh?” I get this one a lot.
[2] Like Nana’s hugs, P’Bank’s smile can cure cancer.
[3] Worse I may be yet. The worst is not—so long as we can say, ‘this is the worst’.”


  1. Tiger Balm is great. Tiger Balm is awesome. And it works for everything--rashes, sore muscles, bug bites. And I am sorry that everything seemed to go wrong at once. But at least you got a good blog entry out of it, am I right? You are the epitome of the suffering writer.

  2. tiger balm is the bomb! (see the restraint I showed not writing that in the original post?

  3. In Kosrae, I would always see the woman picking lice out of children's hair and eating it.

    1. that, my friend, is disgusting. i can't imagine there's that much nutritional content either...

  4. Everyone in the Hapkido group down at IU has been crazy about Tiger Balm for ages--but for aches and pains--not rashes! V. cool.

    "when you infect all Korea with the lice" AHAHAHAHAHA. Siriusly laughed out loud. I LOVE that you write these.

    I had lice probably for about a full quarter of my childhood compliments of all of my siblings. I understand your pain.

    Love you.

    1. when i twisted my ankle, one of the housemoms handed me tiger balm and I looked at her like she was crazy. always trust the thais...

  5. oh my gosh. the poison ivy. just had a sudden memory of calamine smell and the sounds of Elaine grunting and scratching and cat-flinging every night for a month.

    also, nice KL reference. poor edgar.

    1. also, for the record, I don't know why it calls me Laura the Magnificent. I didn't tell it to.

    2. i sincerely hope that's not the case because I absolutely love the bold, accurate statement. Also, tell pevs and puddle I'm sorry about a couple of those evenings. they're real champs

    3. well, it is the name of my poor, very neglected blog. but I thought I was signed in through google. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Google is fairly omniscient.

      Pevs and Puddle probably don't even remember when they had the privilege of being in the room at night to be obnoxious. Pevs' hair-pulling tendencies got bad enough that I moved the litter box to the other room, removed the....whatever you call it - the sproingy thing that they always pulled on, shut them out and close a blanket in the door so that when they bang up against it it doesn't rattle so much. They would be thrilled to experience a midnight fling across the bedroom.

      p.s. you're great and I miss you.

    4. hahahaha. did i ever tell you that's what i did when you were gone for a week or so? immediate exile to the living room. they took it pretty well, with only a little mewling. and i should have been smart enough to remove the...sproingy thing. brilliance, laura the magnificent, brilliance.