In Search of a Pot

Forget South Beach, Weight Watchers and SlimFast; try committing to Dr. Mun’s Chinese Medicine Every-Five-Days Diet. There are no shortcuts, no tantalizingly delicious meals to prepare; it’s all just brown guck and (apparently) you’ve got to go the distance for it to make any difference.

I was doing pretty well the first two tries in KL: first time, the herbalist prepared our potions, while I succeeded to whip up the second batch at Michelles (while she was miles away from The Big Stink). The third attempt, last week, went awry, when Debby and I tried to brew the stew in her kitchen: We overcooked the trees and weeds, only noticing too late, when the smell of burnt wood wafted into our nostrils.

An attempt at saving the batch warranted a re-boil with new water and hoping that l’essence du bois would not be lost. At least we hoped that the dilution would not lessen the kick (in my guts) of Dr. Mun’s carefully prescribed mixture. The pot itself looked done for, but after one hours’ worth of elbow grease (aha!), it gleamed with an almost-new shine. Amen to saving my meds!

But: Imagine trying to figure out where to boil my Chinese herbs while here in Penang. I figured it’d be best to do so right in my guesthouse; after all, I’ve been here nearly one week, I’ve befriended the staff and I know there’s a kitchen out back. Vanjie, a Filipino working at the front desk, had no qualms about it and gave me the green light. But, last night, as I was about to set fire to the wok, Jimmy (aka Uncle or Tigerman, due to his nightly Tiger-beer booze intakes) pranced in and, with a look of astonishment, nixed the idea there and then. What to do, what to do…

Fortunately, I could turn to Ang. Yesterday afternoon I met Ang, a local Tai Chi master and educator at a school for disabled children, and I had no doubt he’d be able to help me out. I texted him immediately and received the following response: WALK TOWARD 7 ELEVEN SHOP TURN LEFT TOWARD JETTY SIDE ON LEFT, SEE CORNER CHINESE MEDICAL “YEE YANG SANG” THEY DO BOILDING SERVICE. HAPPY BLESSING. I walked over and asked the security guards about the store’s opening hours for today.

At nine o’clock sharp this morning, bag ‘o herbs in hand, I marched right over to Eu Yan Sang, confident that I’d have my boiled concoction ready to drink in no time. Was I ever wrong! No, we don’t do service anymore, was the answer I got from the Chinese clerk behind the counter, whose ear-to-ear grin did nothing to lift my spirits. Now what?!

I texted Ang again, pleading for an alternative. His suggestion was the Chinese Medical Hall across from the Rainforest Bakery. Only when I reached its partly shuttered doors did I realize that I’d already asked them yesterday – to no avail.

I was on my own. I went into the Hotel Hong Ping at the corner, thinking I could ask for guidance. Go to Campbell St., the reception clerk advised me, there are many medical halls there.

Instead, I opted to return to the street I frequent every morning, to buy a papaya, where I knew also that there were a slew of Chinese shops. I picked one at random: Thean Hiang Lan.

I wasn’t sure the shopkeeper understood me until she pointed outside and said, over there, go see Ping Min.

I stepped back outside, walked a few steps along the street and there, sure enough, straining myself to read the faded letters printed onto the awning long ago, was the Ping Ming Medical Hall.


Dr. Beh Tock Heng agreed to boil my bag ‘o smelly bark, and asked that I return at 11 o’clock. Which I did, promptly. At which point, he came out from the back room, with pot and rice bowl in hand; poured out the whole batch and coaxed me to drink my first portion right then and there. Which I did. To the amazement and delight of Dr. Beh and his gathered cronies.

I left with the remainder in a plastic container emptied of tablets, grateful to Dr. B and relieved to be over today’s minor obstacle. All good – or even godawful bad-tasting – things must come to an end.

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