On the way home I called my mom and asked her what she wanted for New Year’s. She didn’t want anything to eat or anything to wear, only a certain brand of anti-inflammatory oil from Hong Kong. “It’s the best. I’ve had knee trouble for years, but I just use half a bottle of this anti-inflammatory and it’s completely fine.” So I got on a train bound for Hong Kong.
None of the drugstores I visited had the brand I was looking for, but finally upon entering the fifth drugstore, I met a very warmhearted salesperson who helped me by calling a few of the attached chain-stores and who then enthusiastically went to pick it up. While waiting for him to go and get the product, several puthonghua-speaking customers came in. Some were buying anti-inflammatory oil, some were buying health products, and some others were buying powdered milk. It seems like the putonghua of our Hong Kong compatriots has gotten much smoother over the years. After about ten minutes, the guy came back with several bottles of the anti-inflammatory oil I wanted to buy and cheerfully said to me, “just what you asked for.” Elated, I grabbed two of the 49-yuan bottles, paid, and then thanked the warmhearted young man. I left the drug store filled with appreciation.
After a few steps I suddenly remembered that last year I spent less than 30 yuan a bottle. Why was it so much more expensive nearly one year later? Can it be that inflation in Hong Kong is really that severe? So I went to the next-door drugstore to take a look and actually found the exact same oil for 29 yuan a bottle. I bought one. Around the corner, a friend and I earnestly analyzed the bottles. Was it really the salesman from the first store who cheated me, or is the owner of the second store selling fake medicine? After studying the two bottles for a while, I couldn’t see any difference. I suddenly got the feeling that I couldn’t tell the difference between real and fake.
After thinking about it, I took the three bottles back to the first store and set them out in front of the warmhearted salesperson. I asked him how there could be such a big difference of price between bottles of oil that are exactly the same. He explained to me that the ones he sold me had recently been manufactured and so were a bit more expensive.
“But the bottle I bought afterwards expires in June 2016, and the two you sold me are good until February 2016. How can they be newer merchandise?”
“Ours are 49 yuan a bottle. We can’t sell them at 29. If you don’t want them, I can give you your money back.” Intuition tells me he raised the price. I was genuinely appreciative of this warmhearted young man who helped me, but nevertheless, I was furious. His behavior destroyed my fine impression of him and in the end I returned the anti-inflammatory oils. Really, I can’t stand this kind of behavior.
While leaving the drugstore, I was at a loss. I always thought Hong Kong was a place with fixed prices, but my own experience was different. Was it my own misconception? I was curious so I cancelled plans with my friend to go shopping and took the medicine’s box around to various drugstores. I was surprised to see that the same anti-inflammatory oil at different drugstores had different prices. The lowest was 29 yuan, the highest was 68 yuan and the middle price was 40. I realized that these drugstores were either selling fake medicine or painstakingly raising the prices.
Then I remembered what a friend once told me, customers are taking great efforts to avoid Mong Kok (旺角) and other places with a lot of tourists, and along with the arrival of more and more tourists from the mainland, some business owners are taking the risk of selling fake products. I suddenly was at a loss and very afraid because my impression of Hong Kong was as a place with quality-guaranteed merchandise and fixed prices. It also has standardized markets and a quality control board that people can trust. Even if inland it’s normal to buy fake goods, even if inland it’s normal to come across a business with exorbitant prices, this won’t happen in Hong Kong. I also thought that medicine from Hong Kong was the last line of defense in putting myself at ease and making my mother happy. However, this time I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake. Is it that our arrival has changed Hong Kong, or is it just its original appearance?
Getting back to Guangzhou, I called my mom to tell her I bought the anti-inflammatory oil. She seemed elated. “This anti-inflammatory oil is the best.” After thinking it over she unfortunately said, “Ai, I forgot to tell you to buy a few more bottles. We could have given them to your aunt.” In fact, although the oil looked like the real thing and was bought in Hong Kong, I didn’t know if it still retained its original efficacy.
Two days later, a coworker was complaining that someone in her family was having arthritis pain and urged her to go back and stay with them. So, I exercised my old habit of meddling and suggested she go to Hong Kong to buy ointments and anti-inflammatory oil. I went straight home to get the box for her to see. Thus, I lured her into taking a train to Hong Kong on the weekend.
With the world in cacophony, I myopically am only concerned about how a person in need can conveniently find genuine and effective medicine at a reasonable price.
Translated by: Kelly Kniha
Editor’s Note: The anit-inflammatory oil that the author writes about is 活络油. According to Chinese message boards, it can be used for a lot of things, like bug bites or sea-seasickness/car-sickness, but mostly it’s used to relieve muscle and joint pain.
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