When I grew up in the eastern suburbs of San Francisco, our teacher said, “Don’t listen to anything but your elbows.” I was told that no matter how itchy my ears, I shouldn’t poke the pen cap, the pink eraser of the second pencil, or the cotton swab. Doing so risked puncturing the eardrum.
Truthful enough, yet what our teacher said was that my China moved to our home to take care of me and my siblings while my parents were working. It did not reflect the customs of a person’s grandmother. Waipo comfortably pushed our head into her wide knees to clean her ears, as we called her. Her care introduced me to earpicks — long-handled curettes, also known as earpicks, earpicks, or earpicks, are a common tool in Asian homes.
Traditional ear spoons can be made of silver, brass, plastic, bamboo, or other smooth and sturdy material. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco owns the gorgeous jade hair ornaments of the Qing dynasty and doubles as an earpick. I don’t remember what the wiper looked like. I don’t remember sitting in the bedroom. I remember the glow of the lamp. There was crumpled clear plastic left in the shade, and the dresser had a bottle of Olay oil. She made us. I feel it is important.
I knew there were other rituals in Waipo that white neighbors might find strange or unusual. She hung meat on the rafters in our garage to heal it, wrapped the whole walnut in her hand and kept her fingers strong and nimble. But she also loved “The Price is Right” and shouted “new car” with her host Bob Barker. — One of the phrases she can say in English. After all, when I was eight or nine, she moved to Southern California with my aunt.
After a while as a girl, I started cleaning my ears again. This time I did it with a bobby pin. I knew it was banned, but I couldn’t stop softening the pale flakes. What I excavated was like a dry mushroom, which crumbled when rubbed with my fingers. I was as happy as a huge sneeze.
If I had a bobby pin, I kept my habits on and off. I always did it alone. I didn’t want to be distracted, and besides, grooming felt private. Clipping your toenails in the dorm lounge is like cleaning your ears. But I don’t want to suggest that it was a chore. Over time, I have come to recognize the practice as something more profound: a form of meditation, mindfulness. You must be fully conscious and fully present in a constantly swirling and demanding world.
A few years ago, I realized that I had the right tools available and found one that was sold online. It fits in the palm of my hand, and its dull steel embodies the practicability of a plain, old country, placed on top of my jewelry box. When itching, or curiosity strikes, I use it for myself every week or so, and rarely for one of my twin sons.
Decades after I first started cleaning my ears, it still looks vaguely illegal, like smoking a cigarette. Still, it also feels noble and productive.
This is an intimate practice of trust, as the ear canal of an adult is only about 1 inch long. For children, it depends on age and head size. For thin skin with clogged nerve endings and blood vessels, it must be slow and delicate.
My son, born 26 minutes after his brother, would say my touch wasn’t light enough. He once tolerated cleaning his ears. The two of us later stared at my discovery, and each flake was as fragile as a moth’s feather. Currently at the age of nine he refuses. He was frustrated when I hit me like a mosquito and I tried to put his head in front of the lamp. Rather, he wants to watch a video on how to make nuclear weapons in Minecraft and how to work on a business plan for lemonade and muffin stands.
He inherited my dry earwax. This is the kind that East Asians tend to produce. It is significantly different from moist earwax and is consistent with peanut butter, usually secreted by people of European and African offspring. I have never tried to care for his brother this way. Earpicks have no effect on the waxy film inherited from her white husband.
All kinds of earwax can be found on TikTok. BeBird lovers — A high-tech “cleaning rod” with an app-enabled camera, LED lights and a gyroscope — recorded over 46 million voyeur views of the title video. “Strangely satisfied” And “Warning: May offend you.” Not long ago, earpicks also appeared on the silver screen in a rare mainstream American depiction: I was breathtaking when I saw my grandmother’s gentle gestures duplicated. “Minari” An Oscar-winning film about a family of Korean immigrants living in the countryside of Arkansas.
Otorhinolaryngologists strongly discourage people from rubbing the inside of their ears. But knowing better, and doing it anyway, is part of what makes us human. Decades after I first started cleaning my ears, it still looks vaguely illegal, like smoking a cigarette. Still, it feels virtue and productivity, just as I experienced in a Korean bath. Ajamma Rub me hard enough to peel off the roll of dead skin. I look at Detritus with disgust, charm and pride. I made it.
Vanessa Hua is the author of “Scams and Other Possibility”, “The River of the Stars”, and the next novel, The Forbidden City.
Best way to clean your ears: with a spoon
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