Tuesday, February 28, 2012

snake oil salesmen

Nothing seems to turn children of the Enlightenment into children of the corn pone as quickly as medical home remedies.

And if you slap on a patina of 5000 years of Chinese wisdom, westerners will go all weak at the knees.  Like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

We all know the image.  We’ve seen it in John Ford movies, The Wizard of Oz, and Sweeney Todd

The snake oil salesman drives into town with his wagon filled with bottles of elixir.  With claims of miraculous cures, townspeople trade their hard-earned cash for a bottle of piss and ink, and still feel ill -- a bit poorer, if not wiser.

We saw that little morality play reenacted in Beijing.  The spiel was a wonder to behold.

We were herded into a government-run cultural center where we were offered a foot soaking and massage (with the deceptively scientific-sounding name of reflexology).  While listening to  a silver-tongued huckster in a lab coat tell us all about the miraculous curing powers of Chinese medicine.  Prostate cancer cured by weed seeds.  That sort of thing.

He then summoned a small troop of elderly Chinese men, who he introduced as doctors (but who easily could have been the janitorial staff).  If we chose to accept a consultation, the doctor would look at our eyes, check our skin color and pulse, and smell our breath to determine if our internal organs were out of alignment.

Considering the average age of our group and our obvious corpulence, I could have whipped out my own diagnoses without being subject to a barrage of post-luncheon breath.  Organs out of alignment were probably the least of our worries.

The bottom line, of course, was a sales pitch for Chinese medicine.  And more than a few of our group walked away with a bag of seeds and weeds, leaving hundreds of dollars in their wake.

This little bit of medical performance art gave me an idea.  I wonder if I could hire a few of my neighbors to dress up as Aztec medicine men?  They could then extoll the virtues of various Mexican plants.  There certainly are enough tourists in Melaque to make up a credible market base.

I may have found my second career.

Note:  It turns out that the term “snake oil” has Chinese roots.  Chinese railway laborers used a liquid made from the Chinese Water Snake to treat joint pain.


Felipe Zapata said...

I take it you purchased no seeds and weeds. O Ye Of Faint Faith.

Darvin/Marilyn Dolyniuk said...

Used by any good huckster/entertainer, humour can give a point of view more weight than it deserves among the general public.
An alternate view gives some value to traditional methods of healing from which much of modern medecine is derived. I don't use them now but I respect them.Marilyn

Andean said...

You might be late with the second career idea. I have seen seeds/weeds at the weekly market in Barra or maybe in Melaque. And many extranjeros were buying. Some things looked like tree bark to me, when I asked purchasers did not know but were excited to go home and make a drink from it anyway for their many ailments. Reflexology I will stick with, it feels great to me.

Steve Cotton said...

The only thing missing with the local vendors is a bit of cultural color. We NOBers are suckers for fancy costumes.

Steve Cotton said...

Our little visit reminded me that Ponce de León was not alone in his boat.

Steve Cotton said...

 Nor did I let complete strangers fondle my feet.

sparks said...

I just want to know how and why you know who Justin Bieber is