Recently, while entertaining the stomachache phase of my cold virus, and having exhausted all other means of cure or balm provided by modern medical science, I finally turned to the top cupboard in the kitchen where my wife keeps her Indonesian remedies.
These foreign pharmaceuticals are most often in the form of oils of varying color and acridity, though there are also some lozenges. But for the most part we're talking about syrups and lotions.
Here among other potions was a bottle still wrapped in tissue paper, just off the boat from Jakarta (my mother in law had brought it back from her most recent trip).
Minyak Kayu Putih.
That's what the label on the bottle read. Oil of white wood.
And then in diminutive lettering on the side:
Sakit perut, perut kembung, rasa mual, gatal-gatal akibat gigitan serangga.
For stomachache, flatulence, nausea, and skin rashes from bug bites.
My lucky stars! Here, except for the part about bug bites, was exactly the thing I had been looking for, no matter what the language.
Next question, though, was how this medicine was meant to be administered. Do I drink it? Do I mix it with water? Surely it is not another of these deadly injectables--those are found only in America, right?
I decided the most prudent thing to do would be to ask my wife.
I entered the bedroom, holding the bottle forth.
Oh my God, you didn't drink that, did you!
Though I had not tasted even so much as a sip (the smell of the stuff is enough to deter so rash an act), I was chilled nonetheless by the alarm in my wife's voice, the instant blanching that overtook her face. What if I had? Would I be lying on the floor now, seizing, foaming at the mouth? I felt that I had just narrowly escaped the most gruesome sort of accidental death. I felt like crossing myself before some sort of shrine, blurting out a prayer of thanksgiving.
However, as no shrine was readily available, I simply answered that no, I had not consumed the deadly oil nor yet applied it in any manner.
The oil, as it turns out, is to be rubbed directly upon whatever area is causing ones current discomfort--in my case, the stomach.
Oh come on. You mean to say that you just rub in some of this stuff and your stomachache goes away?
Yes. But just a drop, she warned.
And so I rubbed.
As for the smell of minyak kayu putih, I am pretty much at a loss for words of description. I guess the closest thing I could compare it to would be the smell of camphor oil, and yet the similarity even here lies only in the acrid quality, a sharp medicinal, pungent character. Ether might serve as another example along the same lines.
I finished rubbing. I returned the cap.
Wash your hands, the wife said. Use lots of soap. Now . . .
You all are not going to believe this, but minyak kayu putih works. I swear to it even as I live, though my disbelief be equal to that of the greatest skeptic on earth. It works!
Within minutes my stomachache had disappeared, just as if my magic. My flatulence went completely flat, as flat as a punctured bicycle tire. From here forth and forever after I will swear by the oil of the white wood, and turn my back to Tums and Pepcid, Pepto-Bismol and prilosec.
I wonder if they have anything for myelin damage . . . .