Language Problems

In Guangzhou in 1983, toward the end of spring, I discovered the most incorrigible mosquito bite on my left forearm. Not only did it NOT go away, but it seemed to grow. We’d recently emerged from an El Niño winter — rain for four months — into a torrid spring. It wasn’t torrid in the sense of suddenly exposed bosoms and spread legs, but torrid in the sense of, “Holy fuck! Is my sweat EVER going to dry?”

After a couple of months trying to deal with this mosquito bite, and seeing it grow into an odd circle, I asked my friend, Lia. “What’s up with this?”

“Xien (癣),” she said. Pronounced she-en. “We can get medicine in Shi Pai. It’s very common. There are two kinds of medicine. One works quickly, but it burns. The other, well, men might use it when they get xien down there,” she nodded toward the ground, signifying the pubic area. We walked over to the pharmacy in the village and I came home with a little bottle of burning stuff. Soon the xien was cleared up.

Fast forward, I dunno, maybe four years? A wet winter in San Diego, another El Niño. I noticed that xien had returned. But what the hell was it in ENGLISH???? I had no idea. Luckily, I lived in the neighborhood where “world migrations end” and, at that period, were thousands of Asian immigrants in the Section 8 housing in my little barrio of the world. There were Chinese pharmacies all up and down University Boulevard.

One afternoon, on my way home from school (I walked the four miles) I stopped into one of these pharmacies. I felt as if the doorway was a magic portal to my Chinese home village of Shipai. All around me were the familiar jars of raw materials — desiccated lizards, snakes, spiders, herbs, dried ginseng, mysterious roots I couldn’t identify, slices of nutmeg, star anise… In the case in front of the the man were boxes and bottles of common Chinese remedies — even the famous hepatitis crystals from which my ex had had to make tea were there. I saw my favorite cold remedy — Gan Mao Ling. An abacus rested on the counter. I had to look around a few times to understand where I was. Outside the open door was University Boulevard. Inside this dim room was China. The smell! Wow. I closed my eyes and savored the transport of nostalgia.

“Can I help you?” He looked at me very bewildered.

I put my arm on the counter and said, “I have xien and I need some medicine.”

“Why you come here and not grocery store?”

“I don’t know what it’s called in English.”

How completely insane I must have seemed to him.

“Why you not know?”

“I lived in Guangzhou for a year and got it there. I never had it in America and I don’t know…”

He reached under the counter and brought out a black light. He turned it on and pointed it at my arm. The xien glowed. “You can use this,” he put a tube of Tinactin on the counter, “Or this Chinese medicine,” He set the familiar bottle of burning stuff next to the Tinactin.

That’s how I learned that I had ringworm and that ringworm is a fungus. I also learned that the word xien means “glow.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/26/rdp-thursday-fungus/

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