Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Snake oil, most especially in the States, is commonly equated with fake miraculous medicines. It is also used as a metaphor to succinctly describe any aggressive marketing campaign that's fueled with insidious intent.

However, according to Wikipedia, snake oil originally came from China, where it is called shéyóu, and to date, remains popular as remedy for alleviating inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and other joint pain.

Supposedly, fats and oils from snakes are higher in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which is considered to have inflammation-reducing properties when rubbed on the painful area of the body. However, such claims were ridiculed by rival medicine salesmen from established pharmaceutical companies.

The Chinese laborers who came to America to help build its coast-to-coast railroad system introduced snake oil in the West. Today, it is still sold in traditional Chinese pharmacy stores and, as I've discovered one Saturday, along the Avenida Rizal as well. Hard to believe, indeed, although I've read about this somewhat infamous product a day or two before at Christina's World.

Chris is a photojournalism student who chanced upon a snake oil merchant when she spontaneously decided to get off at the LRT station one day to explore and take some pictures of the Santa Cruz district of Manila.

I invite you all to read her entry to know more about this snake oil from Davao.


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posted by Señor Enrique at 8:59 AM


Blogger carlotta1924 said...

china seems to have a lot of unusual remedies for ailments. is there a specific snake where they the oil?

July 31, 2007 10:13 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is unusual. I've never heard of snake oil before but I know that during the yesteryears, Chinese people will soak snakes, chicks, insects in a jar of alcohol and it'll be made into medicine. And sometimes, they will also swallow newborn white mice (live ones) to cure some ailments that I am unsure of. My mom told me that one of her cousins swallowed a few before.


July 31, 2007 3:43 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There could just be some therapeutic effect by snake oils, otherwise their use won't go on till this day.

My wife has this favorite cough medicine from the chinese store and I tried it and I felt a little better. Maybe chinese medicines ain't as phony as regarded generally.

July 31, 2007 4:07 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Snake oil? Iba talaga ang mga chinese medicines. I can't say that they're effective or not but if this oil can cure some of people's ailments, why not? Galing ng shot. Hindi ko pa natatry kumuha ng pictures sa streets dahil baka hindi sila pumayag. :( But I would love to take pictures of everyday Filipino life.

July 31, 2007 6:36 PM  

Blogger Iggy and Cris Bilbao said...

thanks eric! :) have you featured oarhouse, by the way? It's on mabini street. since you're documenting manila, you might want to go to oarhouse because there are always photojournalism and documentary photographs on exhibit. more importantly, the photojourn legends have been hanging out there for decades. you'll regularly see the likes of jose enrique (derek) soriano, ben razon, alex baluyot, romy gacad, gil nartea. i especially like it when they have shouting matches about photography, philosophy and ethics. try their sisig. :)

July 31, 2007 10:33 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

We need to remember that eastern medicine (termed alternative medicine in Western milieus) is typically associated with Chinese medicine. Thus, as pointed out by Eric, here in the US any Chinatown will yield these alternative resources.

Authorities here almost have to tiptoe around them trying to enforce regulations since they have been around since the Chinese came to the new world.

Of course, in the old homeland regulations are quite lax. But several weeks (?) ago saw on a Filipino TV channel a segment of Imbistigador (?) which dealt with the scams associated with certain claims (both curative and events coming true) made by certain purveyors around the Quiapo area.

July 31, 2007 11:35 PM  

Blogger Photo Cache said...

i have never heard of snake oil before either. these chinese homeopathic remedies have persisted because they work.

July 31, 2007 11:41 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats what should happen to those slithery creatures. nice shots.

August 01, 2007 5:30 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

From the looks of the skin they are also selling, Carla, the oil that these Manila vendors sell may jave come from pythons.

When I was a kid, the arrays of various root crops and animals in large glass jars displayed inside the Chinese medicine shops in Ongpin fascinated me to no end. There were times upon seeing one up ahead, I'd run ahead of my father so I'd have extra time to stand and stare at those intriguing displays.

August 01, 2007 6:56 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That was rather exotic way of curing whatever was ailing your mom's cousin, Kyels. However, I am not one to dispute the curative powers from these herbal and animal elements. In fact, I am fascinated by such :)

August 01, 2007 6:59 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It was either Discovery Channel or NatGeo, Major Tom that ran a series on the Chinese healing arts which was incredibly fascinating.

This has been going on for hundreds of years in China and has been curing many of its peoples' ailments. To date, Chinese doctors often prescribe traditional Chinese medicine alongside Western-inspired pharmaceutical products.

August 01, 2007 7:02 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It takes practice, LAR. At this point, I'm quite comfortable in the streets of Manila to take pictures of practically anything; but nonetheless, I use common sense in my approach. I would never take a picture of a situation that might be deemed of an illegal activity. Also, when doing street photography, especially by myself, I often use my point & shoot digicam so as not to inditmidate my subjects.

We'll have to ask Cris what she thinks of this snake oil she bought a bottle of.

August 01, 2007 7:06 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I am yet to step inside the Oarhouse, Cris, but now you made it even more intriguing for me.

I might visit one of these days and blog the experience :)

Wow! you must know these local photojournalism giants, huh?

August 01, 2007 7:08 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You're right, Amadeo. In almost anything of endeavor, there will be scam artists offering a quick fix for a quick buck.

Incidentally, acupuncture is one Chinese healing method that has gained worldwide acceptance.

August 01, 2007 7:11 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Like I also said, Photo Cache, that TV series I saw on cable clearly depicted the healing powers of these Chinese medicine.

August 01, 2007 7:13 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Those slithery creatures, Luke, do have a purpose in this planet; among which is controlling the rodent population :)

By the way, I saw on CNN what looked like a million rats ravaging the countryside after the floods. Bring out the snakes! Hehehe!


August 01, 2007 7:15 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, because of the hectic past weeks, I forgot all about my experiment with snake oil. Will try it on a bit of my skin and document it for you guys. Hope I don't get rashes. :)

lar, most pinoys love to be shot...unless they're mourning or doing something illegal. the difficulty is actually to capture them unposed, because they tend to stop and smile at the camera, ruining the moment. but most of the time, you just have to ask if its okay to shoot them. just don't go to an ultra dangerous place without an inside contact. two weeks ago i shot the people living in the graves of north cemetery and i was alone. they threatened to take my car and all that. luckily, my subject, an old woman, defended me. but that was pure luck on my part. don't make the mistake of doing something as dumb as what i did. if its street photography, ask permission from your subjects--whether verbally or through a polite smile and a nod. if its a deeper documentary, be sure to have an insider subject or an NGO youre working with. and don't bring your best equipment. like eric who brings a point and shoot for street photography, i only bring the oldest and partly damaged film camera that i have. be sure what you bring is something you are ready to part with...just in case. :)

there's kind of two factions of the photojournalism giants, eric. the ones who hang out in qc (at newsdesk and fuji sto. domingo) like jimmy domingo, alex baluyot, gil nartea, sonny yabao. and then there are the manila (oarhouse) boys ben razon, derek soriano. the groups merge but mostly hang out in their own areas. i get to hang out more with the qc guys. but i've met ben razon and derek soriano. i just pointed out oarhouse to you because you seem to be from manila and hang out there more. will drop you a line the next time i meet up with the photojourns at oarhouse. :)

August 01, 2007 5:31 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

chinese medicine has been around for ages and some does work wonders. tried that "pei pa kua" (not sure if i have the right spelling) and it sure did clear my throat. felt better after taking it.

but the snake oil, that gives me the creeps. maybe because i feel bad for the the snakes that had to be killed for a remedy. (sigh)

August 02, 2007 1:14 AM  

Blogger -= dave =- said...

The ancient Chinese healing methods indeed have sound philosophy behind them, and now being reconciled with modern science.

The recent global crackdown on Chinese products though involve modern export goods. I think China is learning the lesson on quality control.

August 02, 2007 1:26 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

pucha kakatakot naman nyan parang http://canz.net

November 17, 2007 11:59 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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