Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The house that mint built

Ever since I was a kid, any time I got any kind of little burn, bug bite, or bee sting, my parents would give me some ointment out of a little metal jar that has a picture of a baby dressed up as a nurse on it. Judging by the label, the stuff was called Mentholatum, but I could never conclusively confirm nor deny this. It looks and feels more or less like thick Vaseline, and as you might expect from the (hypothetical) name it reeks of menthol and burns like it too.

Then, a few years back, my grandma got some of that deep heating cream for her feet. I was amazed to find that it too was made by Mentholatum, which I now understood to be a brand name. With a name like Mentholatum, though, it couldn't just be any brand name; no, it must be some kind of menthol monopoly.

Growing up in a Chinese family, I always thought that there were only two paths to a career in which you make money: accounting/business and computers. Of course, this might have to do with both of my parents working in computers, but I don't think this was an isolated case. Some of our family friends were recently very obviously proud of themselves for getting over their own reservations and finally accepting that their youngest daughter liked to draw and wanted to go to (and eventually got into) the Emily Carr Institute. Note that they didn't sound proud of their daughter, but proud of themselves, because it appears to be a real feat for old-school Chinese to accept things like that.

But as I grew up and became interested in computers again, the dot-com bubble burst. More than that, I started to see that a good portion of arts students don't starve after they graduate. Some of them actually make more than the not-so-sweet cash made by underappreciated code monkeys living with their parents. And they don't all become teachers. No, they find weird jobs not directly related to English/sociology/economics/political science, like rating porn flicks for the Film Board, or supervising sanitation of Safeways all over the province. I was aghast.

Consider Mentholatum. Three generations ago, someone in Wichita wanted to open a business. I bet (s)he grew up being told to invest in gold, or oil, or... no, probably oil. And yet somewhere down the line, this person decided that no, the family fortune would be built on mint. Does it sound crazy? (Maybe, I don't know what the state of medical science was at the time, but for the purposes of this argument, let's say) Yes. And yet they've grown into the (probable) world leader in menthol related ointments.

(What would it be like to grow up in that family? I imagine they have a very green-themed house. They don't settle for any crappy after-dinner mints, instead importing their own -- or even making their own! They drive their neighbours and visitors crazy talking about the soothing powers of menthol. Their kids rebel by dressing entirely in red and extolling the wonders of cinnamon.)

The moral of the story? People pay money for things other than accounting and computers, which is something new generations of Chinese should remember. Just ask Mentholatum: the house that mint built*.

* This title may actually belong to the makers of YORK Peppermint Patties, I don't know.

Current Music: Spoon - Gimme Fiction

12 comments:

GOC said...

awesome post. My parents are social works who shyed away from traditional Chinese money-making careers. I was fortunate, not having my parents plan any part of my life, but I understand this phenomenon of which you blog because I've seen it all too often.

Deng Xiaoping said...

To get rich is glorious.

Dickolas Wang said...

To be minty-fresh is divine.

The Fed Ex of Funk said...

To build a house out of mint? Priceless.

Cameron said...

That's a good post.

I'm entertained.

rachel said...

I see you now list your links to other blogs alphabetially. LAME.

rachel said...

Before you made a comment about my spelling is lame, I would like to point out that I realize my error.

Dickolas Wang said...

Your grammar is lame.

M Rexin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
M Rexin said...

If youre wondering, the previous comment had to do with your Mario Kart fanaticism

Dickolas Wang said...

Shut up, Rexin.

rachel said...

Aw, crap. I gotta learn to preview these blogspot comments.