Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian Sidewalk

54 comments

Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian Sidewalk

Sometimes, cotton swabs and pinkie fingers just aren’t enough. I’d noticed over the last month or so that my hearing was getting a bit weak. Tired of responding to everyone I met with “What?”, I decided it was time to seek professional help. I found it, at last, at a popular tourist gathering spot in Rishikesh, overlooking the Ganges River.

I knew this guy was a professional because he had a small wooden toolbox with the phrase “EAR CLEANER” emblazoned on its side — you don’t get more pro than that. He sat me down on a bench and pulled a long brass pick out of his pocket but before he started, I insisted that we agree on a price. He asked for 100 rupees but I knew that most personal services like this –shaving, shoeshines, and such– rarely cost more than twenty. We bantered back and forth for a moment before we settled on fifty ($1.25 US), with the agreement that I’d get to take a few photos after he was done.

Tugging on my ear and peering inside, his first words were “Oh my God… oh my God…”

Tugging on my left ear and peering inside, his first words were “Oh my God… oh my God…” Apparently, things weren’t very pretty in there. He poked about carefully with the pick, pulling out one chunk of dried ear wax after another. He’d show me each bit before wiping it on the back of his hand. By the end of the session, he would have enough material to wax a Buick. I’m just glad he didn’t charge by the pound.

He continued muttering “oh my God” over and over as if it were a mantra, then changed to “Very dry. Very bad…” and the sales pitch began. He’d found a large nugget that –he claimed– wouldn’t come loose without ‘medicine’. Opening his box, he pulled out a small screw-top vial of golden oil and wafted it under my nose — it smelled like eucalyptus.

“Very good medicine,” he explained. “From Germany. Only 500 rupees.”

Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian SidewalkI made sure the pick was far from my ear before allowing myself to laugh. “Not gonna happen, my friend.” The haggling began in earnest then and we went back and forth for several minutes before he agreed to another fifty for the ‘medicine’. Just as he went to pour the oil, my travel instincts kicked in: “Fifty total. Both ears.”

This, of course, was not what he had in mind and led to yet more haggling before he finally relented and agreed to a total of 100 rupees for the whole job — 50 for the cleaning and 50 for the oil. By now a large crowd had gathered to watch the show, standing around discussing, I suppose, what the inside of a foreigner’s ear looks like. They’re pretty hard-up for entertainment in these parts.

He carefully placed a few drops in my ear, placed his thumb over my ear canal and then shook my head like a maraca. Reaching in with a pair of long-handled tweezers, he pulled out a sticky glob the size of a gumball — if it had been any larger, it would have been a roadside attraction, like those balls of twine you find in the Midwest. Now it was my turn: “Oh my God…”

After probing around a bit more, he tore a small piece of cotton from a wad he had stuffed under his hat and wiped the oil from my ear canal. The right ear got the same treatment, though thankfully there was no more haggling. I hung around a bit afterward to take photos and see what he charged the locals: forty rupees total, including ‘medicine’. So I paid over double, as usual, but ended up with some decent photos and a fun story.

Best of all, I can hear again. Well enough, at least, to hear him muttering in the ear of his next patient: “Oh my God, oh my God…”

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalka December 21, 2010 at 11:17 am

OMG you are so funny Wes!

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wes December 21, 2010 at 11:39 am

Awww… thank you, ma’am!

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Nick December 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

Wes, I actually want to have this done. I think it would be sweet haha. Always thought q-tips didnt reach far enough back.
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wes December 21, 2010 at 11:37 am

Do it, man! I recommend Vietnam — the barbers there use about a half dozen different tools, complete with little brushes they spin in your ear. Much more of a show ;)

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Olga December 21, 2010 at 11:47 am

Ewww. What a strange way to make money. I must say though…that I would have done the same thing. That seems like too good of an opportunity for a good story…and it was! :)

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wes December 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

And I really couldn’t hear well, so it was a win-win :)

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Nick Laborde December 21, 2010 at 11:50 am

I don’t think I’ll get into the ear cleaning business.
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wes December 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I think he’s offering franchise opportunies :)

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Audrey December 21, 2010 at 11:58 am

I’ve always been fascinated by this, but still afraid of the size of the picks. Glad to hear you survived and I’m amused by the ear cleaner’s sales pitch.

In Chengdu, China the ear cleaning happened in a tea garden. It was a bit of a challenge to enjoy your tea in the peacefulness of the garden with the ear cleaner following you around clicking his tools together.
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wes December 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Wow…. ear cleaning and tea? That is an odd mix…

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Natalie - Turkish Travel Blog December 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

OMG. What a strange job to have. Some people can make money out of nothing. Ew. I could not do the job though.
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Fran December 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm

This is so great! Having been to India and seeing this action… so on-point (and I’m a bit jealous I wasn’t brave – or deaf – enough to try it myself!)

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wes December 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm

That’s my job, Fran — I do all the stupid stuff so you don’t have to ;)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler December 22, 2010 at 2:40 am

I think I’m in serious need of an ear cleaner. I’m going deaf, myself. I use Q-tips to clean my ears even though I’ve been told it actually pushes the wax into your ear, and is not good for your hearing. But it’s been a bad habit to break for some reason. :/

Have you ever tried ear wax candles? I’ve used them a few times. You put one end in your ear and light the other one on fire. It’s supposed to suck out the wax and debris, but who knows if that’s really the case.
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wes December 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I tried ear candles years ago. They seemed to help but it’s hard to say. I burned one by itself and saw that all the wax you find inside after is actually just wax from the candle itself :/

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Bonzaibrandy December 22, 2010 at 3:49 am

Thanks for having the guts to take on this experience ! Its so enjoyable to hear your perspective! Im shocked by the amount of wax he got out of there… Did it improve your hearing at all? Have you seen the eye cleaners? they roll a small metal rod up your eye!

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wes December 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Yeah, it was a noticeable improvement! As for eye-cleaning, I’m gonna pass on that :)

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Andi December 22, 2010 at 11:51 am

This post should have come with a warning LOL!
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wes December 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

My bad :)

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Wade | VagabondJourney.com December 23, 2010 at 6:42 am

I think you got a good deal for your money — you bought a story haha.

Good thing he didn’t try to pull the old scam where the ear cleaner walks away and his accomplice approaches you and tells you that he put poison in your ear, and if you don’t go to “that pharmacy over there” in 10 minutes you are go deaf. Then you go to the pharmacy and pay 5000 rupees for medicine to reverse the medicine the ear guy put in your ear haha.

As always, good story.
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Wow, I hadn’t heard of that scam. That’s genius.

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craig | travelvice.com December 23, 2010 at 8:12 am

Folks should also remember that cerumen protects the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water.

Fear, stress and anxiety result in increased production of earwax from the ceruminous glands…. so perhaps more wax then for the comfort zone straying traveler.
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craig | travelvice.com December 23, 2010 at 8:43 am

…and now that I think of it, exactly how clean was the back of his hands? Not very, I imagine.

Wikipedia: Apart from the danger of punctured ear drum, there is also the possibility of ear infection from the usage of unsterilized ear picks, especially when ear picks are shared among different individuals.
:P

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wes December 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Yeah, this was definitely an unsterilized pick, so there is some risk involved.

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het December 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm

My reactions to this post ranged from eww to lol… You dont find too many of these guys in the larger cities and metros. Whenever i’ve seen them in smaller places have always wondered who on earth still gets their ears cleaned on the sidewalk. Now i know :)
Enjoy reading abt all the stuff I know am never ever gonna be able to do. Looking forward to the next post.

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Desiree December 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm

One thing I noticed about the ear cleaner’s tool is that it is way to scary! Looks unprofessional.

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wes December 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm

But… he has a box that says “EAR CLEANER”!

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joshywashington December 24, 2010 at 4:21 am

best blog post I have read all week! You are your gumball ears are hilarious!
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thanks, man!

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1Dad1Kid December 24, 2010 at 12:46 pm

LOL Thanks for the great laugh! And an interesting article. Never had any idea someone would fill that particular . . . niche.
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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

It’s a very enterprising country, to say the least. Thanks for the comment.

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Marsha December 24, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Getting your ears cleaned is one of the best experiences ever! The only difference between my experience and yours is that I knew exactly where the pick had been. You’re a brave man, Wes!
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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:54 am

Thanks, Marsha. Not so brave — just not very smart ;)

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Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World December 26, 2010 at 7:37 am

What an interesting job. But I guess being a dentist is worse in terms things you get to pull out of people’s orifices. How does he clean his picks in-between ‘clients’?
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wes December 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

Heh… he wipes it on a towel :)

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Chris - The Aussie Nomad December 27, 2010 at 4:18 am

Ah wes your a brave man. I’ve seen videos of these guys at work and yeah no bloody way.

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wes December 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

C’mon. Live a little ;)

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Chris (Amateur Traveler) December 30, 2010 at 6:09 am

I come from the school of thought not to put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. I use a syringe with warm water.

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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:27 am

Heh. That’s good advice.

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LeslieTravel December 31, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Love this post! You’re a brave man…

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Shannon December 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

actually I would love to have my ears cleaned on a regular basis IF I could be sure the person doing it is using sterilized tools so for 50 rupees ($1.25) you get what you pay for IMHO, sorry but I’ve seen this (not ear cleaning) but the mentality I don’t know how much of that holds true outside the US but I”ve seen it enough I’d rather pay higher for the chance their tools will be sterile and I’ll tell you why:

I was born with a hearing loss, I have to wear hearing aids for most of my natural waking hours so an ear cleaning is much desirable not at the expense of taking a chance his tools are not clean because once I put those hearing aids back on the lack of air flow to the ear will wreak havoc with anything that is infectious or potentially so.

So I’d be curious as to how to find out if they are sterile or not?

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wes December 31, 2010 at 4:57 pm

No, they are in no way sterile — I suspect the best you can hope for is that he wipes it off on a rag between patients…

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Raji January 4, 2011 at 6:02 pm

you have the art of story telling.
makes your travel interesting for others! :)
will have to follow you now…
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Kimberly January 17, 2011 at 1:42 am

Looking at the picture, he does look like a professional:) Very funny post, this is good enough reason to take my bag and head to India:)

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Dr. Pretzel January 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

Where are the pics of the wax? Come on, man…I was looking for something highly disgusting! ;o)
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wes January 17, 2011 at 9:53 am

Hey, man… I *do* have some standards ;)

They’re pretty low, I admit, but still….

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Globetrottergirls January 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Great story, Wes! What a bizarre experience! You have a real talent of making such a kinda gross experience into a really entertaining story – We are still giggling…
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wes January 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Why thank you :)

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Shubh February 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I enjoyed reading and also the art of your story telling. In the small villages, there are not good docs since most of them are either in Metropolitan cities or abroad to make decent money. So, people have to trust on these people. It’s sometimes like spirituality in any part of the world where when you have no other option left to trust on you have to leave it on God.

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Aaron Schubert February 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Again, another post worth reading :D

Aaron
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Mel Fernandes November 19, 2012 at 2:36 am

been to India a few times & thought this was a scam ? I’m going for 7 weeks @ the end of November so will defo give this a go!!

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shoaib February 21, 2013 at 2:30 am

wasnt so lucky like you..my right ear is totaly screwed..the guy agreed for 20 rs to clean up my ear..then job was done he said it needs to be cleaned more ..and he would charge 200rs..which i didnt agree. now i have my right ear bocked ..had to rush hospital where i was given eardrops and antibiotic tablets..its been two days now i still have my ear blocked! im shit scared!hope that asshole earcleaner didnot put any thing in my ear!!

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Wax Vac October 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

Good post. No matter where you live, there seems to be the same basic problems. Thanks for sharing your views on ear care in India. This story is amusing.

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Tina February 27, 2014 at 8:28 am

Had nearly the identical experience with the same guy. My right ear had a glob the size of a jellybean, yet conveniently my left one didn’t.

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