Recently I went to the dentist. She was nice and wore a white coat, so I trusted her to poke my teeth with sharp things. She agreed to poke and scrape and gouge my teeth until they were clean, for an escalating fee. If my teeth didn’t take too long to clean, the visit would be quite cheap.
About an hour later, scarcely able to contain her glee, the dentist informed me that she was finished. There was a small pile of petrified coffee remains on the paper bib. “Very, very dirty,” she said, chuckling like she’d just bought new shoes. “Do you brush?”
I felt mortified. I brush obsessively — at least six times a day.
And that’s when I stopped buying toothpaste at the convenience store down the street. Because who knows what is real here, and what is not?
Locals Shopping Abroad
Pham Van Thoai knows what I mean. He’s the Vietnamese tourist who made headlines by breaking down in tears after a Singaporean shopkeeper cheated him. Mr. Thoai had travelled to Singapore to purchase an iPhone 6 for his girlfriend, which qualifies him for Boyfriend of the Year.
Mr. Thoai, a factory worker, drew some criticism from online commenters who questioned why he would travel to a foreign country to purchase such an expensive item. This is quite unfair — Mr. Thoai should be free to spend his hard earned money as he sees fit, and his desire to purchase a guaranteed authentic product is admirable.
Mr. Thoai wanted a genuine iPhone 6, and so he went to Singapore. There is nothing wrong with an iPhone 6; it has many excellent features, including a clock. While clocks and iPhones are useful, however, there are many other products just as essential to our health and well-being. Such as toothpaste.
I would love to purchase my toothpaste in Singapore. It seems like a nation with trustworthy dental products. I contacted Gabriel Kang, who organised an online fundraiser for Mr. Thoai after he was scammed. I asked Mr. Kang some questions about his charitable work, but my real motivation was to start a dialogue that could eventually lead to the topic of 100 percent pure toothpaste, and how I could acquire some.
Sadly, Mr. Kang’s response only directed me to a link titled: ‘We need to make this right, send him an iphone6!’ He informed me that he did not know Mr. Thoai and had no contact information for him, so I could not ask Mr. Thoai about Singaporean toothpaste either. As a fellow authenticity-enthusiast, his insight would have been appreciated.
Toothpaste was only the start. If we cannot have faith in the ooze we use to soothe a tooth, what can we really believe in? After I realised that I’d been brushing my teeth with a lie, I began to question all the other seemingly benign products on our shelves.
Who’s to say that shampoo is real? What if instead of building luscious volume, you’re actually coating your scalp with industrial runoff? It might smell like lavender, but then again my toothpaste tasted minty fresh. The box was sparkly, too. Appearances are often misleading.
Take these cotton swabs, for example. They look perfectly ordinary — thin little sticks, tiny white poofs at each end. Harmless, right? Certainly, until one is lodged halfway up your ear canal and snaps in half, a common design flaw of cheap, Chinese-made cotton swabs. A knockoff cotton swab could literally kill you, possibly.
I contacted a friend who lives in Singapore and asked her about cotton swabs. She assured me that cotton swabs, in her country at least, were absolutely safe and posed little risk of injury when used correctly. She also recommended wetting the cotton swab slightly before inserting it into the ear, to reduce the sensation that you’re about to stab your own brain.
A more adventurous person might’ve tried, yet who knows what lurks inside that box of local off-brand Q-tips? Normally I would’ve calmed my nerves with a tall glass of milk, but it occurred to me that the milk I’d just bought had been sitting in the store on an unrefrigerated pallet for an indeterminate amount of time. You cannot trust unrefrigerated milk, no matter what pseudoscientific explanation is given.
My friend in Singapore said that the milk there is always kept cold.
Trusting Your Retailers
Losing your confidence as a consumer is challenging. Once you begin to question the authenticity of the products you buy, the world becomes a dark and ominous place. Even your Nike Àir Jordan's lose their shine. Every trip to the market is fraught with peril; every afternoon at the mall ends in tears and broken sunglasses.
A man offers you what might be a perfectly good Rolex for US$25 (VND525,000), and you turn him down. Who are you to say if it is genuine or not? The sock in which he keeps it looks thick and well-kept, the perfect kind of sock for holding luxury timepieces. His sales pitch is flawless, yet you cannot bring yourself to buy the watch.
Even in the most fashionable designer boutiques, doubt and paranoia are hiding behind the mannequins. What looks like an expensive leather handbag might really be a pile of cleverly arranged scorpions, ready to inject you with blood-curdling poison the instant you pick it up. A silk tie? Perhaps… either that or radioactive barnacles from a Mekong trawler pressed flat and painted silver.
I wish that, like Mr. Thoai, I could take a shopping trip to Singapore, where the only things buyers must fear are unscrupulous store owners and their vaguely worded warranty agreements. But writing pays far less than factory work, and while he needed only an iPhone (he even declined to accept most of the cash and gifts collected on his behalf, saying he didn’t want to take too much), I need everything.
If anybody in Singapore is reading this, please send toothpaste.
Authentic Rolexes, non-scorpion-made leather handbags and lots and lots of toothpaste can be sent to Niko Savvas, c/o Word offices