Mr. Chong ministers to the well being of an assorted clientele from the Modern Foot Reflexology Centre (fourth floor, Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Road, tel: 6836 2640; 10.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. everyday) promising a health boost through ‘improved blood circulation and the alleviation, prevention and treatment of pain and illnesses.’
The ancient science of reflexology believes that parts of the feet (and hands and ears) mirror the energies of various glands, organs and bodily systems. By examining muscle, bone, tone, structure and skin, an experienced practitioner uses his thumbs and fingers to massage, stretch and move the feet, applying pressure to the reflex zones and breaking up the patterns of stress in corresponding parts of the body.
And homeostasis (the body’s equilibrium) is retuned, restored.
My lifeline, said a dear friend, one of those Wonder Women who have-it-all, do-it-all: high flying career, serial business travel, serial visitors, small children, many dogs, a PhD, an expansive table, limitless energy.
Mr. Chong is a busy man; appointments have to be confirmed in advance. On my first visit, he nods by way of greeting while talking to his customer. Too much beejee (busy) ah ? Canno breefe (breathe) ? You come much time, good for you health. Got acupuncture point here, after pain can feel better.
He is a small man, neatly dressed with jet black gelled hair and Popeye arms. Headache, girry (giddy), feel not well ? he asks me by way of introduction. I got magic hands. After I finish, you fly. Today can give you cure.
Perched on a low stool, he drapes a little towel over my right foot, firmly grips the left one and applies generous daubs of Nivea cream. His muscles flex and ripple as he probes and presses the sole of my foot with a little plastic stick. I involuntarily push his hand away, perhaps a tad rudely.
What ? he glares, You take my hand ? Throw it away ? Very ow ow ?
Very ow, ow, I nod.
Lelac (relax) lelac. Must lelac. You very stiff. After pain comfortable. You shout can. Cry also can. Here got pain ? Ah, many block already. See, got crisstal (crystal), got block. Can make you headache. No blood to brain. Not enough.
Reflexology, initially, can be painful. (Wonder Woman sleeps through her sessions). A practitioner is guided by his patient’s level of tolerance. No pain, no gain, mutters Mr. Chong. More pain, more gain.
He darts quick, hooded looks at my face, gauging the extent of my endurance. He segues into amiable, distracting conversation.
You Anita. India name ? Also American ? I like America names – Anita, Diana, Mona Lisa …
Grease (Greek) girl come yesterday, whole body pain. Why ? Eat lemon. Always sour tings (things) no good.
Got client. He try many fishertherapy (physiotherapy). Four year. No help. I massage three time. Pain gone. He say amajing. Callo me Dr. Chong.
Oh my God. Block, all block. Now see ? Much better. Before you like flog (frog), now after massa (massage) you like fish.
He motions to a curtained cubicle with the injunction to remove my clothes for a back and shoulder massage. I refuse. He clicks his tongue in irritation. Wah, you so sigh (shy) wha ? Ok, Ok no nee take off clothe, he mutters. Have pain there ah ? Massa massa pain go already. Here can less pain.
His fingers probe and knead, find sore spots, work on the tension. That night I sleep like a baby and awake the next morning lighter, refreshed and nimble.
The word ‘lithe’ comes to mind.
Mr. Chong becomes a weekly fixture.
I take my eighty five year old father-in-law. This your father in law ? Can spik English ? he asks with some anxiety.
I take my mother. After massa, anything can cure, he informs her, amajing (amazing) eh ? I take visitors; I take friends, I even take my husband.
You very good to me, bring many people here to suffer. Bring many friend many customers. But I also good ? he asks anxiously. Do good ?
Yes, I assure him, you do good.
I recommend him to my personal trainer. Your teacher she trust you, he remarks, that why she come here. I also trust you. You face, very straight. Not this way that way, like snake.
Regular sessions of reflexology promote well-being through relaxation, improved circulation, reduced pain and the soothing of tired feet. The bonus, with Mr. Chong, is the lightness he brings to your soul with his homespun philosophy, stern injunctions and absolute belief that he can cure any problem you might have.
We become friends; discuss many things.
I everyday essercy (exercise). You do ? I only 60. Can do anything. What young people do, I can do.
You ah, you own job ? Wah, then can go late what ? You is you boss. You canno’ complain you, you canno’ discipline you, you canno’ scolds you yourself, he chuckles.
He proffers advice. Do early morning walk ? Now got sweat ? Very sweat ? Can lose weight.
He remonstrates. Now, after massa, your eyes very shining. Too much computer you, also hand phone, I see you messay messay (message) all the time, sitting, sitting, do, do, do !
He admires his work. Wah, you beauty girl ah ?
He chivvies, encourages, comments, elucidates.
My customer ? Got diabetes. Her I give scare. Don’ give scare diabetes, she every day tink (think) ne’er min (never mind) ne’er min, go eat sweet, eat sweet.
Suffer ? he asks, hopefully. He whacks my spine at the conclusion of a back massage. Ah, I hit you, you got pain, you got problem. Now more comfortable ?
Hah ! Good pain ? You like ? Now can stand pain, no catch hand. I also like good pain, good pain I very like.
Alternative medicine is a reaching out with hope and faith and practitioners like Mr. Chong, who work from their heart, enjoy a lucidity of focus – and belief – that simplifies life into clear absolutes. It evidently works, given the roster of his rather dissimilar clients – an elderly Chinese grandmother accompanied by help and chauffeur, Caucasian tourists, expatriate mothers, professionals on their lunch break, office temps, students, the vendor across the corridor.
The telephone rings.
Who you ? he barks. Today, now cannot. Got customer already. No free. Call tomorrow.
Photographs by Anita Thomas.