Looking on the bright side of life, this week has provided many opportunities to learn about unusual, or at least unexpected, things.

As an example, I went to the local Dollar General a few days back, on a mission to buy one of every over-the-counter pain relief products on the shelf. A minor slip and fall in my own kitchen resulted in a shoulder injury and for a while there I was sure it would require amputation, or at least surgery.

I had a Saturday morning photo assignment, however, and just needed to dull it down a little in order to get the job done. There were a dozen different “pain relief patch” products to choose from and I almost blindly chose the Tiger Balm brand. I had never used a Tiger Balm product but had heard good things, and it was clearly priced at $1. That product also had an extra ingredient (capsicum extract) which was not in the other available patches.

I slapped one on my aching shoulder and was astounded at at how much it helped, so I made a social media post praising the product. That’s when the education kicked in.

Professor Gerald Dyson commented on behalf of his wife, Aurelia, that Tiger Balm is a company based in Singapore, where she is originally from. As an added point of trivia, she had him note the Tiger Balm company once built one of the world’s most unusual theme parks, a place called Haw Par Villa. Knowing I enjoy unusual things, Dyson suggested I look it up.

I did, and it immediately became a place I want to visit. If you do an image search, you’ll understand when I say it is difficult to describe. The Wikipedia entry for Haw Par Villa says, “The park contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, history, and illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism.”

That seems simple enough, but is a far cry from the imagery preserved in the park to this day. Built in 1937 and abandoned to Japanese forces during World War II, highlights include depictions of the Ten Courts of Hell from Chinese mythology, including different punishments for different sins.

If you also enjoy “the unusual,” I suggest you investigate Haw Par Villa for yourself.

Anyway, a few days later and it looks as if I will get to keep my arm. I have purchased every last Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Patch from both Dollar General locations in Grayson, and plan to hit the Hitchins and Olive Hill stores for more.

Oh, another lesson learned the hard way.

If you apply such a patch, immediately wash your hands. Otherwise you will soon realize what happens when you swipe your eye with capsicum extract, camphor and menthol. Not recommended.

Dustin and Willow

I did not want it to go without mention that Carter County musician Dustin Burchett was recently joined onstage by his daughter, Willow, as well as local musician Phillip Green for the annual “A Whitley Country Christmas” show in Sandy Hook.

A Whitley Country Christmas is put on every year by Friends of Keith Whitley, a non-profit group created to recognize and remember the Sandy Hook's native's remarkable career.

Anyone who was at this year’s Hitchins Christmas Parade had a chance to see Burchett and Green in a less traditional venue earlier that day. The duo plugged their guitars and couple of microphones into the back of a box truck and put on a show just upwind from where the kettle of soup beans was bubbling over an open fire.

Green said it was his first “box truck gig,” but Burchett seemed just as “right at home” as anywhere. It was an excellent addition to the annual community Christmas Parade.

Pikachu vs Santa Claus

I was mostly just amused when I was first asked to portray Santa for an event at The Ashland Daily Independent, although the experience was certainly worth the effort. I’m not an experienced character actor. I learned this when I put on the big yellow costume and played Pikachu last year. I didn’t do much more than kind of hop around and wave my arms, but kids still loved it.

When Heaven Leigh took over and added all of the right phrases (“Pika!Pika!”), however, the kids really responded.

That hit me as I put on the borrowed Santa suit and I realized I had not even practiced my “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

I faked it as best I could, and apparently that was good enough for most of my new friends that evening. Even though the very first in line pointed at me and loudly proclaimed, “You’re not the real Santa,” several others gently stroked my white beard to make sure it was real, then let me know they believe.

I learned several things that evening, including the fact that all kids seem to love the idea of getting Lego blocks and kits for Christmas. At the end of the night, I also had to look up “LOL Dollhouse,” as that seemed to be the top request of the evening.

Tim Preston can be reached at tpreston@journaltimes. com, or by telephone at (606) 474-5101.

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