June 1999 (a may 1997 rerun)
s m u g
by Leslie Harpold


Ancient Chinese Secret

Yes, this is a rerun from May of 1997. But I still love them just as much. And no, reruns will not become a common practice, we'll try to never rerun again.)

I have a firm rule about not putting things in my mouth unless I know what they are and I promise you it has served me well over the years. One night, though, a while back when my judgment was clouded, or to put it in its proper setting, my brain was an Absolut cloud, this very cute boy was love rapping me, and handed me a little silver ball and told me to put it in my mouth. I did, lest I break the mood, and I expected it to be a sugary treat. I was wrong.

Pic of 
a container of silver balls

It was a good wrong, though, and he went on to explain that they were Chinese something something, and his ex-girlfriend turned him on to them and a bunch of other stuff I forget. I forgot his name, and I lost his number before the night was over, and all I remembered was those things he gave me left me wanting more. He told me they were breath fresheners and they were good for you, and they were made of herbs. I poked around Chinatown in Manhattan, and described them as best I could but the shopkeepers did nothing but stare blankly at me. I couldn't tell if it was because I was crazy talking or they just didn't understand English, and eventually I gave up.


My friend Vicky, who was born in Hong Kong and speaks Chinese fluently (notice the clever way I avoided saying my Chinese friend here) was over at my house a couple weeks ago, and talking about how I should see a Chinese herbalist for some thing or other that was bugging me that day. It reminded me of the boy, and the little silver things, so I started describing them, and before I got ten words out of my mouth, she was saying "Ren Dan." Actually, she was repeating it over and over, because I kept on talking, making sure she knew exactly what I was talking about because I wanted to be sure, and she was. I asked her why I was unable to find them on my own if it was so easy for her to figure out what I wanted and she stated the obvious. "Leslie, you have no idea where the real places Chinese people shop in Chinatown are." This shut me up pronto.


They look like a tiny version of those evil tasting non-pareil things you wanted on your birthday cake as a kid. Pop one into your mouth, though, and you're in for another kind of experience altogether.

Pic of an
open container of silver balls

Use two or three for a total breath freshening mind blowing mouth experience, or, as I learned from reading the instructions they came with, use "for a headache and as a stimulant 30 pills; in acute cases of stomach and intestine disorders up to 60 pills at a time." The copy also said that Ren Dan is "digestive and refreshing" and prepared with "selected indigenous drugs of superior quality and absolutely free from Narcotics." Apparently, it's good for a bunch of things, including "dyspepsia, surfeit, nausea, crapulence, dizziness, vomiting, fetid breath, and a highly recommended household drug, and indispensable for traveling."

I noticed that when I suck about thirty down, I feel more relaxed and less stressed out, but still have energy. It has made heartburn go away. As for surfeit, I haven't been stricken with that one yet, but hey, I'll keep you posted.


Mostly it's just fun to put one in your mouth and then drink a beer. It makes the beer taste sweet, and kind of yummy, and you know your breath will not reek of that malty smell that's quite unbecoming to a lady. They also take up a lot less space in my purse than Altoids, and make less noise. That's a helpful factor - if you've never carried a purse, it leaves more room for lipstick.

Alone, the taste is herby and green, and there's a hint of the taste of dirt, with a slightly sweet edge. I can't compare it to anything else, because it tastes like Ren Dan, another primary flavor, in the same way that squant is the fourth primary color, there is just no way to label it.


If you have a Chinatown where you live, try to hunt some down. A whole case, which is 12 packs of the little discs shown here will cost you about 5 bucks, a small price to pay for total freshness (and reports have it that a Ren Dan-ed mouth is pleasant to smooch) and a kickass conversation piece to boot. I've never heard of any of the herbs listed in the ingredients, like kepala pening and batuk and dipakai-kan berapa, but I trust this ancient Chinese secret because so far, it works for me.

Pic of a 
box of Ren Dan



back to the junk drawer

and such
and such

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