Smells like Sarsi

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What’s the common link? (l-r) Sarsi, Kui Fah Yau and Darlie toothpaste

What could a can of soft drink, a Chinese ointment and a toothpaste possibly have in common? They smell like each other. Let me introduce them.

Sarsi is an F&N sarsaparilla-based drink popular in South East Asia. It is a dark coloured, rootbeer-like soft drink, commonly served in weddings, alongside the F&N orange with a bucket of ice.

Kui Fah Yau, on the other hand, is a Chinese ointment purchased in Malaysia for a meagre RM8 (£1.50). However, it smells just like Sarsi. It is prescribed for healing bruises, rheumatism, muscle cramp, toothache and body ache.

Kui Fah Yau is effective because after rubbing it on my legs, it completely eased me of any muscle cramps after a hike to the Peak District. Usually, I would suffer muscle cramps the morning after a hike (due to lack of exercise), but Kui Fah Yau did the magic.

Highly recommended, although it might be difficult to find in this part of the world.

Another sarsi-smelling product is the Darlie toothpaste. It is produced by a Taiwanese company called Hawley & Hazel, and is popular in South East Asia too.

Darlie used to be known as Darkie, until it was bought over by Colgate-Palmolive. It finally changed its name and logo in 1989 after receiving pressure from religious groups and blacks for more than three years.

The Darkie name and logotype were conceived in the 1920’s after Hawley & Hazel’s chief executive visited the United States and saw Al Jolson, who performed in the musical The Jazz Singer (1927) in blackface makeup. Jolson’s wide smile and bright teeth, the executive thought, would make an excellent toothpaste logotype.

In Mandarin, Darlie remains to be called hei ren ya gao, Black Man’s Toothpaste, as many argue that hei ren, which literally means ‘black person’ is not a derogatory term. Darlie has been spotted in a few grocery stores in Chinatown, Manchester.

I have previously discussed the use of race in market advertising, in my article on soap imperialism here. Darlie and Pears’ Soap are both hygiene products, and the depiction of black skin as unclean is an unfounded stereotype perpetuated through such logo branding.

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