Tiger Balm

Relationship: Im/migrant

For as long as I can remember, Tiger Balm was the go-to remedy. Whether I had a mosquito bite or a stuffed nose due to a cold, the Tiger Balm would be taken out with a flourish as if it would solve all my problems. I remember sitting on the veranda and cringing away from the distinctive smell. My mom and grandmother would try to coax me to use it. “Your mom used it back in Hong Kong too. It works every time,” my grandmother would say, coming closer. “It was one of the first things I put in my suitcase when I was coming to America,” my mom would add, reaching out. “All of us did,” my grandfather would add his two cents from inside the house. Without registering that my grandfather was talking about all of my grandparent’s and parent’s generation or that this balm was almost a tradition to my family, I would scoot away and announce “IT STINKS” and demand an American remedy. Over time, I came to understand that Tiger Balm has been present through my family’s sufferings and victories, Now I join my parents in asking “where’s the Tiger Balm” when I get stung. It has become a doorway to understanding my family’s past and continuing traditions.

Year: 1980

– Christina Lai

Relationship:  Im/migrant Im/migrant