My cousin is full of revelations. It’s like having a free candy dispenser follow you around: you never know when it’s going to drop a perfect pearl of sugary sweetness, and you end up chewing on it much longer than you thought you would. Some of her divine pearls of wisdom include,
“Jeepneys are the only form of transportation where you’ll see a half-naked woman painted next to European Jesus.”
“Idris Elba always looks like he smells good. Yes, even when he’s just been through a screen fight!”
“Eating out is very important.”
The following is a result of one such revelation.
“You should really visit the drugstore while you’re here,” Tippy told me casually while lounging to Lauryn Hill one evening, "Just because they'll have different things you might be interested in". I nearly choked on my pan de sal. I was shocked. I thought I was alone in my strange preoccupation with foreign drugstore experiences. The different branding, the knick-knacky packaging of that one cultishly popular product, the marketing copy that sometimes has you in stitches—it feels like a super-sleuthy anthropological experiment, and one I had invented all by myself. I was proven wrong (it’s fine, my ego isn’t bruised at all!) and we proceeded to bond over the oddly satisfying feeling of inspecting a foreign drugstore.
Don’t believe us? You should really try it out for yourself some time, and here’s why.
1. You will find things you never knew you needed
I don’t know why I need Lucas Pawpaw’s Ointment but it’s suddenly become a permanent resident in the bowels of my purse. I use it for everything. I’ve been using this for treating bug bites, shoe rub, and the occasional pimple. I can’t say it’s got any anti-acne properties, but it’s a pleasant salve to keep me from scratching the welts on my arms to the point of scarring. You can find Dr. Pawpaw’s in drugstores and beauty counters alike here in Manila and all over Australia and Southeast Asia. This particular tube was brought to me care of my Tita Ella from Hong Kong (apparently it's cheaper, and who am I to question a strong Filipina woman?)
2. You will find things you really DO need
Psyllium fiber is the travel companion that you really, really do need. If you’re anything like I am, meaning your, erm, digestion gets all thrown out of whack from jetlag, dietary changes, and what travel experts have deemed “unfamiliar bathroom syndrome,” psyllium husk is your best friend. I take one packet (roughly two tablespoons) before bed every couple of days to smooth out any of the digestive kinks. Pro-tip: it’s literally fiber, so best take it with your favorite juice to mask the texture.
2.5 Bonus: Himalaya PartySmart.
Found in drugstores all over India, this magic pill is essentially contraception for hangovers. I can’t profess to have witnessed it’s magic, however, according to anecdote, many a wedding morning has been saved from the dreaded stag party hangover due to this magical little herb egg. Actually, it’s not magic, it’s Ayurvedic medicine: the herbal formula aides the liver in breaking down acetaldehyde, the chemical compound derived from ingested alcohol primarily responsible for inducing hangovers. Simply pop one in with your first drink and you’re all set for a headache-free morning. And you didn’t think a hangover pill existed, did you? Oh but here’s the best part: it’s available on Amazon!
3. You will find products from your favorite brands that you can’t find in your home country
This one might not be as obvious to folks from the States—because we think we have everything, duh—but it’s a phenomenon has happened to me at numerous Starbuckses (Starbucks’? Starbucksi?) ‘round the world. California, why don’t you have that Toffee and Hazelnut Hot Chocolate that I found in London? Or, more importantly, why can’t we Americans have those coveted Kinder Eggs?
And so it is with La Pharmacie. During my first drugstore experience here my mom pulled a key chain off of a stand at the counter and nonchalantly said, “Here, try this.” This was a Vicks inhaler. Yes, that’s right: you can snort your Vicks, just in case any of you were spooning Vicks into your candle warmer (no, because of course you weren't)!
4. Some things you buy purely for the packaging
Admittedly, I was delighted to find White Flower, a Chinese menthol oil that people all over Asia—including my grandmother—have sworn by for nearly a century. I have a lovely bottle in size No. 1 at home, a relic taken from my late grandmother’s perfume collection. It’s stronger than any menthol ointment that I’ve come across and includes eucalyptus and lavender oils for optimal aromatics. I confess to buying the tiniest size possible so I could use it up quickly and buy the next smallest size. A collection is in order.
5. It provides an interesting way into understanding a culture
It’s like that highly overused phrase, “if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” If you want to understand what goes into making a Filipino woman (or a French or Swedish or Indian woman), go to the drugstore and stare at the shelves for a hot sec. In my current location of Metro Manila, the drug stores are chock-full of Korean beauty products, skin whitening cream, and lots and lots of Vicks. The implications are as depressing as they hilarious: Filipinos are obsessed with snow-white skin and love to self-medicate—despite their insistence on their children becoming doctors. Currently my counter is littered with snail eye cream masks, a tightening facemask, and pore strips. Whether these will actually prove useful or not is a different question, but hey, at least I’m immersing myself.
Who knows, next week maybe I’ll go back for the Australian red clay.
6. It makes you feel like you’re at home
If we’re going to take that hashtag #athomeintheworld seriously, we should all be making drugstores a routine stop in our city travels. Nothing says, “I’m home!” than a trip to your hometown’s Target, and I firmly believe this logic applies to your “home away from home.” Real travel should be about immersing ourselves in a culture; learning how a people eats, drinks, sleeps, and takes care of themselves are all important points of entry. A drugstore run is just that: purchasing the same products that any other local would. In all likelihood you’re going to run out of ibuprofen or travel conditioner anyway, so you might as well slow down and indulge your curiosity in what is usually a harried, unsexy hassle.
All handbags courtesy of Ella and Tippy Kintanar.