Okay, I had two problems last week. (Actually, I had more than two problems, but these two combined in an interesting way.)
The first problem was that my hair was getting sticky. I’m still not sure how this happened, but the shampoo I was using when I first arrived in China was leaving some sort of buildup in my hair, and no matter how many times I washed it and rinsed it thoroughly, I would get out of the shower and find it very, very sticky. It was getting hard to manage, so I looked online for solutions. The best answer I found was that some shampoos can react with very hard water, so I needed to switch brands. Beyond that, one way to get rid of the residual stickiness was to put a wash of equal parts vinegar and water on my hair and let it soak in, then rinse it out. I was determined to reclaim my hair, so I did this without hesitation.
The same day, however, I was a little clumsy getting together a cup of tea, and I dumped boiling hot water on my lap. Fortunately, I was wearing sort of thick pants; otherwise, I would have been racing to the hospital. As it was, I iced my thighs for about four hours. In the end, there was only one section of my left leg that was left with a large burn (not too large – only about two square inches). I then ran out to the local pharmacy to see if I could find some sort of burn ointment to stop the stinging.
The stuff the pharmacist sold me was this blood red liquid that you spray on your burn, and which then runs down your leg like you’re an extra in a horror movie. Well, no matter – it helped with the pain. Recognizing that it would be messy, though, the pharmacist also sold me some gauze. I was picturing neat little gauze pads that I could tape to my leg, but when I opened the package at home, I found a giant piece of woven cloth the size of a bath towel. Lacking a scissors, I used a kitchen knife to hack off a strip which I could then fold down and tape to my leg with medical tape – also sold to me by the pharmacist, and also far, far too narrow to do the job efficiently. In the end, my leg sort of resembled an abstract rendition of the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.
The next afternoon I went to meet a student in my office. I noticed my student punctuating her sentences with odd little sniffs, like she was trying to figure out where the smell was coming from. Well, once in that reasonably small, confined space, I noticed that my hair was still radiating vinegar and the smell of the lemon shampoo I used to try to get the vinegar out. Meanwhile the ointment on my leg was giving off a very strong smell – which closely resembled sesame oil. All you needed to do was add some soy sauce and I’d have been ready to stir-fry.
I got ready to pretend I had my lunch in a desk drawer, but she didn’t ask. Though now I wonder what kind of a reputation I might be developing among the students. My office still smells from that afternoon, even if my leg and hair have returned, more or less, to normal. (Though in the words of Tommy Boy, my burn will definitely leave a mark.)