The Male Consultation Room – Prologue

It’s not that I do not want to write or have nothing to write about when I am in Hong Kong. I had started writing an issue which is probably still sitting on my desktop, but somehow that’s what it seems. I would leave it to someone capable to formulate a thesis proposal on why my writing behavior has been such.

I signed off after telling you that my right arm became slightly stiff after being hit and knocked down on the slope by a skier, but that I was otherwise okay. I had wanted to share with you what transpired afterwards, which could easily be turned into a full length novel or a script for a movie worth being nominated an Oscar for best original screenplay, but that would presume that I had the story telling talents of Nobel laureate Mo Yan. I wish I had, but let me try.

Now, Su met a fellow traveler some ten years ago on her trip to India. Let’s call him Mr. Zhou. He was and still is a Chinese orthopedic herbalist or bone setter, whom Su said has a heart of gold, for he had his practitioner kit with him in his travels and would attend to any fellow traveler for free consultation during downtime in the hotels. Among them was someone who had a chronic neck problem which was occupation related. Anyway, he cured him. Somehow they became good friends. Su said we had met a couple of times at dinners since. She also said that he was a good cook and that he owed her a good meal of crabs. Su suggested – and that means it would happen – I consulted Mr. Zhou.

Through the niece of Mrs. Zhou, Su made an appointment the evening after we touched down. Mr. Zhou’s clinic is in Tai Po Market, which is not exactly anywhere close to Mei Foo. It took us more than an hour to get there by public transport. Through the pre-arranged protocol, I got to be treated by Mr. Zhou shortly after we arrived. From his body language and from what he said to Su afterwards, he couldn’t recognize me, but that won’t inhibit him making snide remarks about me and what I said to him during the consultation sessions. In any case, what can one do when one is meat on another’s chop board? I could be prejudiced, for the environment and protocol were not exactly in tune with what I had in mind. To be blunt, I was neither familiar nor comfortable with what I saw at first sight. Let me be brief.

The shop fronts a major thoroughfare in Tai Po Market, accessible by many bus routes. We later notice that the shop is actually a tourist spot in the area. We took a bus on our first visit from Tai Po Market Train Station and the bus driver knew the shop. Typically, the place is jam packed with patients of every description. No booking is entertained; and consultation is strictly on a first come first served basis. One takes a number as soon as one enters the shop, and waits for his turn patiently. New patients go through a registration process involving form filling and production of identity cards. Patients then go to the Consultation Room – there are two, one male one female – but not before passing through a kitchen which also doubles as a medicine preparation area. The Male Consultation Room measures about ten by six square feet and is fitted with three beds, with one bed on each of the shorter sides of the room end to end and the third in between, all lining the walls. There are six or seven stools stacked up in the centre of the room for patients to sit on, while waiting or being treated. Underneath the beds are all sorts of junk stores, bottles, linen and equipment, while the walls are plastered with mirrors with congratulatory or complimentary messages and some notices and notice boards. There are also hooks for hanging clothes. I have not mentioned the door of the room because there is none. There is a draper at the entrance which is permanently lifted open. The entrance opens to the left with a small cupboard with open drawers and on which is placed a rather tatty but operational microwave oven, a device which I later found out to be indispensable during the cold weather.

Still on protocol, Mr. Zhou keeps quite a few assistants, some of whom are reading bachelors of medicine degrees in universities in China and who would attend to the clinic when they are on school holidays for practical experience. Typically, one of the assistants would diagnose a new patient before seeking confirmation from Mr. Zhou. The assistant would then offer initial treatment, usually through rubbing with medicated oil; the patients will then wait until Mr. Zhou is available for the expert treatment, consisting of more rubbing and bending and twisting of the arms and limbs as the case would merit. A patient will then wait for the concluding treatment which involves having heated herbal medicine plastered on the wounded body parts and then covered in bandages. The patient is then told to put back his clothes and in my case, wear an arm sling before checking out. By virtue of my age, I received a $10 discount for each consultation. The entire process takes a good part of an hour, which means that I need to budget three hours at least for each consultation if I am to resort to public transport.

I was given a checklist of food not to take while under treatment and two weeks following, including, shrimps, crabs, peppery or sour food, glutinous rice products, ham, bacon, BBQ pork or processed meat and so on and so on. It’s such a long list. I noticed alcohol was not on it, so I indulged on that a bit, but was told off by Mr. Zhou later that poisons were not on the list either. Yes, I was told to come back the next day, and the day after and so on, and to wear the arm sling all the time if I want to be free of the arm sling by Chinese New Year Day. In the end, I went to the clinic for 14 continuous days until the last day of the Year of the Goat. It was a rather long and memorable journey. Su and I, Su in particular, learnt a lot about Tai Po Market and the transport systems to and from the township. We had meals there often during the fortnight, visited the wet markets, queued up for food at hot spots, and did things we had never dreamt of doing. The weather was not at its best on many of these days. It was cold, wet and often rainy. I was quietly happy that Su was with me throughout, rain or shine, living up to her marriage vow, for better or for worse, keeping me company or making sure that I would go through the ordeal.

I would sign off here, and I would go into the would-be novel next time if I have the inspiration. In any case, I hope to talk to you again shortly.

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