When I was growing up in the suburbs east of San Francisco, our teachers used to say, “Don’t put anything in your ear except for your elbow.” No matter how much our ears itched, we were told, we shouldn’t poke in a pen cap, the pink eraser on a No. 2 pencil or a cotton swab; doing so risked puncturing our eardrums.
小时候在旧金山东郊,老师们常说:“不要往你的耳朵里放任何东西(除非是你的手肘)。”不管耳朵有多痒,我们都被告知不可以用钢笔帽、2号铅笔上的粉色橡皮擦或是棉签去捅;这样做可能会刺破我们的耳膜。
True enough — and yet what our teachers said didn’t reflect the practices of my Chinese grandmother, who had immigrated to the United States and moved into our house to help care for me and my siblings while my parents worked. Waipo, as we called her, would cozily tuck our heads into her capacious lap to clean our ears. Her grooming introduced me to the ear spoon — a long-handled curette, also known as an ear pick, ear picker or ear scoop, that is a common implement in Asian households.
确实有这个可能——但我们老师说的却跟我的中国外祖母做的不一样。她移民到美国,搬进我家,在我父母工作的时候帮忙照看我和我的兄弟姐妹。我们叫她外婆,而她会把我们的脑袋舒舒服服地摆在宽宽的大腿之间,然后清理我们的耳朵。她的打理让我认识了耳勺——这种又叫耳挖、耳挖器或耳刮的长柄刮勺,是亚洲家庭的常用工具。
Traditional ear spoons can be made of silver, brass, plastic, bamboo or another smooth, sturdy material; the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco owns an ornate jade hair ornament from the Qing dynasty that doubles as an ear spoon. I don’t recall what Waipo’s looked like, only that sitting in her bedroom — where I remember the glow of the lamp, with the crinkly clear plastic left on the shade, and her bottle of Oil of Olay on the dresser — she made us feel cherished.
传统耳勺可以由银、铜、塑料、竹子或其他光滑坚硬的材料制成;旧金山亚洲艺术博物馆(Asian Art Museum of San Francisco)就藏有一件精美的清代翡翠发饰,可兼做耳勺。我已经记不清外婆的长相,只记得她坐在自己卧室里的样子——我记得那里的灯光,灯罩上皱巴巴的透明塑料,以及梳妆台上她那瓶玉兰油(Oil of Olay)护肤品——她让我们感受到了珍爱。
Waipo had other rituals that I knew our white neighbors might find strange or unusual. She hung meat from the rafters of our garage to cure it and rolled whole walnuts in her hand to keep her fingers strong and nimble. But she also loved “The Price is Right,” and together with the host, Bob Barker, we’d shout “A new car!” — one of the phrases she could say in English. Eventually, when I was 8 or 9, she moved in with my aunt in Southern California.
我知道,外婆的其他习惯可能会让我们的白人邻居觉得奇怪或反常。她把肉挂在我家车库的房檐上风干,手里握着核桃以保持手指的强壮灵活。她还爱看《价格猜猜猜》(The Price is Right),我们会跟着主持人鲍勃·巴克尔(Bob Barker)一起喊“一辆新车!”——这是她能用英语说出的短语之一。最后,到我八九岁的时候,她就搬到南加州和我姨妈住在一起了。
广告
Sometime later in my girlhood, I picked up ear cleaning again, this time making do with a bobby pin. Though I knew it was forbidden, I couldn’t stop myself from easing out the pale flakes. What I excavated had the look of dried mushrooms, crumbling when I rubbed it between my fingers. It was as satisfying as a gigantic sneeze.
后来在我的少女时代,我又开始清理耳朵,这次是用发夹。虽然我知道这是被禁止的行为,但我还是忍不住要把那些浅色碎屑弄出来。我挖出来的东西看起来像是干蘑菇,手指一捏就会碎。那感觉就像打出一个巨大的喷嚏一样满足。
I kept the habit, on and off, if I happened to have a bobby pin. I always did it alone; I didn’t want to get distracted, and besides, the grooming felt private. I’d no sooner clip my toenails in my dorm lounge than clean my ears there. But I don’t want to suggest it was a chore. Over time I came to recognize the practice as something more profound: a form of meditation, of mindfulness. You have to be fully conscious, fully present in a world with ever spiraling demands.
我断断续续地保留了这个习惯,只要手边有发夹就挖一通。我总是一个人的时候这样做;不想被分心,而且清理耳朵感觉就是件很私密的事。在宿舍里,我一挖完耳朵就开始剪脚趾甲。但我不想说这是一件苦差事。随着时间推移,我开始把这一行为当作某种更深刻的东西:一种冥想的形式,一种专注的修行。你必须全神贯注,在这个欲望不断蒸腾的世界全身心地活在当下。
A few years ago, I realized I could get a proper tool, and I found one for sale online. It fits in the palm of my hand, its dull steel embodying a no-frills, old-country utility, and rests on top of my jewelry box. I use it on myself every week or so when an itch — or curiosity — strikes, and, less often, on one of my twin sons.
几年前,我意识到自己应该用上更合适的工具,就在网上买了一个。它有我的手掌大小,暗色钢材象征着简单而古老的实用,我把它放在了首饰盒的最上层。每隔一周左右,当痒感——或好奇——来袭,我就会用它挖耳朵,但对我的双胞胎儿子就没用得那么频繁了。
It’s an intimate trust exercise, because the ear canal is only about one inch long in adults; in children, it varies by age and head size. The movements must be slow and delicate against thin skin packed with nerve endings and blood vessels.
这是在培养一种亲密的信任,因为成年人的耳道只有一英寸长;而孩子的耳道则因年龄和头部大小而异。薄薄的皮肤布满神经末梢和血管,动作必须缓慢而细腻。
My younger son, born 26 minutes after his brother, would say that my touch has never been light enough. He used to tolerate having his ear cleaned, the both of us peering afterward at my finds, each flake as fragile as a moth’s wing. Now, at age 9, he refuses. He swats at me as if I’m a mosquito, irritated if I try to position his head in front of a lamp. He’d much rather watch a video on how to build nuclear weapons in Minecraft or work on a business plan for his lemonade-and-muffin stand.
我的小儿子比他哥哥晚出生26分钟,他会说我下手总是太重。曾经,在清洁耳朵的时候,他会忍耐,随后,我们两个人会观察我挖出来的东西,每一片都像飞蛾的翅膀一样脆弱。现在,九岁的他拒绝了我。他像拍一只蚊子一样把我拍走,如果我试图将他的头摆在台灯前,他会很生气。他更愿意看视频,看如何在“我的世界”(Minecraft)中制造核武器,或者为他的柠檬水和松饼摊制定商业计划。
He inherited my dry earwax, the sort that East Asians tend to produce. It’s strikingly different from the wet earwax, with the consistency of peanut butter, typically secreted by people of European and African descent. I never tried to groom his brother in this way; the ear spoon isn’t effective on the waxy film passed down from my husband, who is white.
他继承了我的干耳垢,东亚人通常会产生这种耳垢。它与湿耳垢截然不同,欧洲和非洲人后裔通常分泌一种像花生酱一样稠的耳垢。我从来没有试图用这种方式来为他哥哥挖耳朵;他遗传了我的白人丈夫的耳蜡膜,挖耳勺没有效果。
广告
All manner of earwax can be found on TikTok, where enthusiasts of BeBird — a high-tech “cleaning rod” with an app-enabled camera, LED lights and a gyroscope — have tallied more than 46 million voyeuristic views of videos titled “oddly satisfying” and “warning: may gross you out.” Not long ago, an ear spoon also appeared on the silver screen in a rare mainstream American depiction: I gasped when I saw my grandmother’s tender gestures replicated in “Minari,” the Oscar-winning film about a Korean immigrant family in rural Arkansas.
在TikTok上可以找到各种各样的耳垢,一些人热衷于BeBird——一种带有连接手机应用的摄像头、LED灯和陀螺仪的高科技“清洁棒”,他们已经观看了超过4600万次标题为“莫名满足”和“警告:可能会恶心到你”的视频。不久前,银幕上也出现了一个耳勺,十分罕见地进入了美国主流描绘:当我看到外婆温柔的手法在《米纳里》(Minari)中重现时,我深吸了一口气。这部奥斯卡获奖影片讲述了阿肯色州农村的一个韩国移民家庭。
Otolaryngologists strongly discourage people from scraping inside their ears. But knowing better, and doing it anyway, is part of what makes us human. Decades after I first began cleaning my ears, it still seems vaguely illicit, like smoking cigarettes. Yet it also feels virtuous and productive, akin to what I’ve experienced at Korean baths, where the ajummas scrub me hard enough to slough off rolls of dead skin. I view the detritus with disgust, fascination and pride: I made that.
耳鼻喉科医生强烈建议人们不要挖耳朵。但是即使很清楚这一点,还是要挖,这是人类本性的一部分。从我第一次开始清洁耳朵起,几十年后,它似乎仍然隐约像是违规行为,就像抽烟一样。然而,它也让人感觉良好且高效,类似于我在韩国澡堂的体验,在那里,澡堂大婶用力给我搓澡,搓出成卷的死皮。我以厌恶、痴迷和自豪的心情看待这些碎屑:它们是我生产的。