A free day in Hong Kong. We were shopped out, had seen the sights and wanted to do something different.....something the locals might do. And since Yvette wasn't feeling up to par, we headed for.........

It looked like a standard upscale spa ... mirrored walls, pleasant folk in well tailored white jackets, soft music in the background, faint herbal smell in the air. Except...this was traditional Chinese medicine, 21st Century Hong Kong style. Not so long ago, a day of traditional medicine meant visiting a smoky backshop that looked like some Kung Fu movie set. Those days are long gone.

Instead, what you get is a place like On Wo Tong (Harmony) Clinic with its crisp fluorescent lights and fountains bubbling over decorative rocks. It is an increasingly popular visit for westerners.

In a small examination room, Master Shen Shih Mou, a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) consultant, took Yvette's wrist and felt for three pulses. "Your pulse is quite high," Shen said, shaking his head. "You have a severe cold and nasal allergies." How true! Yvette had fallen ill two days before and was running an impressive fever. It made for a nice test.

Shen prescribed an herbal mix of mulberry leaves, chrysanthemum flower, honeysuckle flower, forsythia seeds and licorice root. It sounded like garden salad, but make no mistake, Chinese herbs can have a medicinal effect as strong as any western chemical. This is why you come to a clinic for a consultation.

Some prescriptions take a bit of preparation. A typical tea might contain half a dozen herbs which would be stirred into three cups of water, soaked for 20 minutes, then boiled down to about a cup.

The consultation was free since we had also booked a foot reflexology session (which runs $197 HK - $25 U.S.). A three day supply of prescribed herbal tea was another $123 HK - $16 U.S.

And so, we went in for our foot rub. As is true in acupuncture, spots on your feet (64 of them) relate to specific organs of your body. Master Edmond Chan has 15 years of experience plus knuckles strong enough to turn your feet into bread dough.

We got the general massage but, Chan explained, there are specific massages for specific problems.

"Ouch. OUCH!!"

"Oh, that is normal," Chan said. "Everybody hurts the first time. A good master should be able to adjust the strength of his massage."

And he did.

Foot reflexology treatment

Bill "relaxes" during foot reflexology

What followed was 45 minutes of assorted pressures ... hard knuckles to the arch, gentle strokings to the toes, occasional vigorous shaking to relax the foot. Then our feet were wrapped in hot towels and left to bake a while.

"After a foot massage, you walk lighter. Your foot is more free. So shopping is easier," Chan grinned. "And you will sleep much better."

On feet light as clouds, we went out a back door to a vest pocket cafe that specializes in herbal home cooking, Chinese style. Each dish contained medicinal herbs. We had clear broth with fruit and nuts, eggplant with herbed pork, sweet and sour chicken and a smoky rice topped with tiny, herb spiked spare ribs. Lunch for three came to $152 HK - $20 U.S.

Back in our hotel room that night, we brewed a pot of bitter San She Tan tea, as ordered by Master Shen, took our assorted herbal pills and turned in early. A few hours later, Yvette's fever broke.

Though you could find a health clinic and the various herbal pharmacies by yourself, it's a lot easier (and more fun) if you have a local guide. A guide can be arranged through your hotel or by calling the Hong Kong Association of Registered Tour Coordinators, HK telephone 2807-6512.

For general information on Hong Kong, contact the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong telephone (852) 2807-6543, or, in the U.S., telephone 1-800-282-4582.. Website: www.discoverhongkong.com

In the Seattle area, for help with all your Asian travel needs: tickets, passports, visas, tours, etc., contact Asssociate Travel, Inc., conveniently located in the heart of Chinatown, at 416 8th Avenue South, Seattle WA 98104, (206) 621-9200.

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