As with all good things, so also did my supply of Western deodorant come to an end seven months after I arrived here with a small drugstore’s worth of Secret Invisible Baby Powder zip locked in the toiletries compartment of my suitcase. So, brimming with the usual joy of going in search for one more thing I had no clue how to ask for (and had been warned would be tricky to get my hands on), I entered my neighborhood supermarket. I was hopeful though, because I had vague recollections of spotting the wonder sticks in certain shops, specifically those targeted towards foreigners.
What I was in denial of: my neighborhood supermarket is not targeted towards foreigners.
A quick glance up and down the toiletries aisle. Result: nada. On a normal day I would have gone back to scraping the bottom of my last stick of Secret for all its’ worth. But the new school term had just started, none of my students had shown themselves to be psychopaths (yet, I know). So I was feeling perky, upbeat, risque. Why not, said I, go the extra mile, actually acknowledge the attendant perched on a stool at the far end of the aisle, beaming with a desire to ease your life (give her a story to tell her family over dinner, I know).
Smelling opportunity, she said this-that-and-god-knows-what to me in Chinese.
My response? Raising my left arm high above my head, rounding my right hand as if holding the desired object in its imaginary/invisible form and proceeding to move it in an up-and-down motion over my left armpit, applying said imaginary/invisible deodorant, all the while maintaining a flustered look on my face, to mean “Where is it? Where is this thing (deodorant) that I would put in this place (armpit)?”
My monkey-act got no love from her. She just hurled out some more Chinese, from which I recognized one word: “mei-o” = don’t have.
I smiled politely and resumed dumbly walking up and down the aisle, squinting (cutely, I hoped), willing the stuff to materialize. By then the first attendant had yammered some more Chinese to her colleague way at the other end of the supermarket – and small supermarket it was not – who marched over to my aisle.
Act two of Monkey-Fondles-Armpit followed.
Her response? Showing me perfume. “No.” said Monkey, and decided to improve on the act. Monkey pinched nose, scrunched face like there was a horrible funk somewhere, and then swiped hand up and down armpit – vigorously. This time she definitely understood. In no uncertain tone: “MEI-O”.
Just as Monkey walked away, finally defeated and in disbelief, she picked up and offered the consolation of a bottle of lotion. Monkey lingered a second over the yummy yellow of the bottle, but declined.