Whether the cause is a delicious (five-hour-old) packet of nasi lemak or just a nasty case of angin (gassiness), the person will be the only one not talking about dinner options while having lunch.
“You okay or not?” your friends ask.
“I don’t know lah. Stomach pain, medicine also no use,” you grimace.
If advice is cheap, then we’ve got the market cornered. With shining, shimmering, splendid pearls of wisdom from generations of aunties, uncles and ancestors who somehow managed to suffer from the exact same discomfort you’re experiencing.
The methods may differ, but some solutions have stayed the same through the years.
For pains of the abdominal sort, many will tell you to rub your stomach with a generous dollop of heat rub from red-and-gold tubs of Tiger Balm, or a splash of ointment from green-and-white papered bottles of minyak angin cap kapak (menthol oil).
There’s a science to it, too: “Rub firmly downwards to your belly button so the angin can come out. If you don’t listen and brush upwards, sure burp like nobody’s business!”. Makes you wonder why the same logic does not apply to the other direction, really.
To reduce rashes from infections such as chickenpox, worried mothers will go to nearby sinseh shops to get a medley of herbs. When boiled with water, the bouquet creates a foul-smelling bath for fidgety children to soak in, perhaps with the fervent hope that the stench will distract them from scratching themselves and leaving scars.
And here, the common cold is no match for the many uncommon ways to cure it. Bruise a garlic clove, and against all better judgement, inhale deeply - the pungent bulb packs quite a punch!
Other favourites include tying knots at the ends of handkerchiefs and dousing them liberally with minyak angin to sniff at while you sniffle, or dabbing fiery Vicks around nostril perimeters to get mucus moving out of nasal passages.
Body aches giving you the blues? Get hold of someone bound for Penang, and have them bring back an amber vial of sweet and spicy nutmeg oil from Chowrasta market. All the better to knead knots out with, my dear!
For relief of the immediate variety, you can also apply hearty helpings of mentholated salve from blue-green containers of Vicks to creaky joints.
Failing that, slap on some good old Salonpas strips for pain relief, or Tiger Balm patches, which proved so effective that a friend had to bring them back by the bucketload for her friends and family in Indonesia!
And if your throat is sore, copious and often gag-inducing gargling with heavily salted water is in order. The reward is considered most delicious: a comforting teaspoonful of Ubat Batuk Cap Ibu dan Anak (cough solution, known to some as Pei Pa Koa), which can savoured slowly or dissolved into a cup of hot water.
Running a fever after one too many durian buffets in SS2 Petaling Jaya? Only amateurs will be content with sipping cold water from the empty shells. Experts know that a follow-up mangosteen feast to “cool down” the body will “double confirm” against falling sick from heatiness.
Have an itch to scratch, but don’t want to further irritate the skin?
Here’s where it gets a little violent. Some swear by light, quick smacks to the affected area, such as the chafed crook of an arm, for some temporary respite. Sometimes, even their friends are roped in.
Thankfully, the rest resort to applying topical creams after finding the sight of people slapping themselves and each other much too silly.
And if you have a headache, here’s hoping you like being pinched in the right places!
Go straight to ground zero by using your thumb and index finger to stretch across the width of your brow. Then, pinch both digits together to meet in the middle, and tug at the little mound outwards to “draw out the wind” with a satisfying plop.
The above often leaves a telling red mark in the middle of your forehead, so some just pinch the thenar or fleshy part of the palm.
Another measure I’ve used to great effect is rubbing the thumb and index finger to warm them up, before lightly pinching one’s earlobes.
Of course, the above are usually just accompaniments to over-the-counter medication and prescription drugs.
But why do they make us feel so much better, when some effects aren’t exactly proven?
It could be that our trust in tradition and the memory of childhood cures have a certain placebo.
There is just something comforting, and perhaps even effective, about a home-brewed herbal bath that soothes irritated skin before the first cold touch of calamine lotion.
And chances are, no matter what your malady may be, a dizzying array of remedies will be suggested anyway.
If in doubt? A little friendly fire* might help!
*When asked to name a common cure-all in primary school, the columnist responded with “Tiger Balm”. Though “antibiotics” was the actual answer, the teacher agreed that most are likelier to have a tub of heat rub at home. Got your own trusted remedy to share for everyday ills? Comment below!
- The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.