Despite growing up with Mum’s nutritious soups I am still a firm believer in the powers of Western Medicine. When you go and see the Family Doctor you know they have had the pre-requisite training at university plus putting in the hours at hospitals. As far as I know anybody can set up shop as a Chinese Doctor. Correct me if I am wrong. How can I tell who’s a quack? My mum almost died being given the wrong medicine in China. In spite of that my sister swears by it and claims it saved her life. I’m not convinced.
However I am slowly coming round. Shops offering herbal drinks lined most street corners aimed at easing sore throats, reducing humidity and/or heat in your body, aiding digestion and general health. Plagued with a sore throat which wouldn’t go away, I gave in. I had to hold my breath to get the really bitter tea down and was offered a sweet to take away the taste. The only thing the smiling lady didn’t do was pat my head. I hate to admit this but it did work and I dutifully bought a bottle to take home. An instant convert, I now visit her ‘surgery’ weekly presenting different symptoms.
As you know Tai Po Market has become my second home. On my way to the minibus I always pass a shop full of the walking wounded. They all have hot packs of herbal medicine stuck to various parts of their body. Yesterday on impulse I dropped in to see if they could sort out my sore neck and back. The former a recent injury due to lugging heavy shopping home in my ever faithful rucksack. The latter has been a cross to bear for over 20 years. I had seen an osteopath briefly in London but that was donkeys’ years ago. Now I was finally fed up with keeping the stiff upper lip.
The treatment doesn’t come cheap but if I don’t try I’ll never know. The fact it was filled with locals inspired confidence. After being told the damage with a $20 discount for neck and back I was handed a form. As my Chinese was a bit rusty I had to resort to writing the address in English.
Then I was whisked to the back through a curtain into Aladdin’s Cave, passing first a man with thin needles poking out of his head. Involuntarily I made a face; sadly a remnant of too many surgeries and blood tests. The rather plump and bearded acupunturist picked up on this and reprimanded me. ‘What’s wrong with needles? If you don’t like it look away!’ He reminded me of the God of Prosperity, you know those three statues of Health, Prosperity and Long Life sometimes displayed in Chinese restaurants or takeaways.
Thankfully the receptionist hurried me along to another room equipped with a bed and black plastic stools. On the way was a kitchen where an old sprightly lady was cooking lunch for the staff. How surreal. The delicious waft reminded me how hungry I was having only had a banana.
Goody goody I was to get my very own herbal medicine pack. One was placed in the microwave and after a minute and a half was placed in a custom made fabric bag to avoid scalding. I was instructed to roll it forwards and backwards like an egg on my sore bits. Meanwhile the lady on the bed was having her shoulders rubbed and manipulated. Looked painful to me.
Then before I knew it I was ushered into a side room and made to lie on my front with my face in a foam with a big hole. I was told to put my hands underneath so I would not suffocate. Don’t die on my watch was the clear message and if you must do it elsewhere. All said with a smile. That was the lull before the storm. Without knowing it I was in training to become a contortionist and future champion of Twist. This was the diagnostic part. Every bit hurt. He kept asking are your hands numb now or your feet? Ah no. Something to do with trapped nerves. After shouting the house down and the ‘Sze Fu’ (Master) coaxing me to be quieter, I was dispatched back to the stool and more egg rolling.
I was just getting into the rhythm the Acupunturist metamorphosed into Sze Fu No.2. Not sure why I had to be tortured by not one pair of hands but two. Slightly different technique and expertise? Who knows? If anything this one was more sadistic. He twisted my neck one way and then the other causing a loud click each time. But phew, my head and shoulders weren’t cursing me from the floor. Then for the bear lift with my back on his and being told off again, this time for resisting him. Well I’m not accustomed to being airborne on some stranger’s back. He shook his head and sighed, ‘Foreigners!’
Now for the final stage ring a bell and a lady miraculously materialises like fairy godmother, with two flat pads. Yep you’ve guessed it more herbs. Some thick cream was lathered on my neck and back like superglue. I looked like I’d just gone ten bouts with Tyson. Then I was unceremoniously dismissed from the dungeon to pay for my torture.
I was told to take the packs off if any itching occured and not to have it on for more than 24 hours. To be on the safe side I was to go buy this anti-inflammatory cream next door. I was handed a thin strip with the name and a larger one with the foods I couldn’t eat for two weeks after treatment. Of course it included all my favourites; roast duck and pork and hot and spicy food. What killjoys! They gave me the idiot proof treatment and provided a bilingual version. By the way the translation is terrible and I intend to return with an impoved version.
Looking like a crash dummy or a zombie extra out of central casting, I was despatched back into the heat and pouring rain. They had assured me it was very normal to walk around like this . They lied; everyone was giving me the evil eye, like I had some contagious disease. To be honest I was in too much pain to care, stoically marching on as if this was my latest look.
Tomorrow I have to return for more of the same. The Sze Fu from Hell informed me that my shoulders had been neglected for at least half a year. As if I didnt know! When he rubbed hard I think the whole place knew. How much discount for working on three bits of my decrepit anatomy, I wonder. More to the point would I make it out alive?
My knees need seeing to as well and soon I’ll have to declare bankrupcy. No more facials and makeovers. What with the herbal teas to take away and body parts to manipulate. Thank goodness I am needle phobic.