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Traditional Chinese Medicine Primer

In recent years Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has caused a lot of holistic hype in the West. Around here, though, it's been going strong for a while—more than 2,000 years, to be precise. Although modern Hong Kongers may see western doctors for serious illnesses, for minor complaints and everyday pick-me-ups they still turn to traditional remedies.

To get to the root of your body's disequilibrium, a TCM practitioner takes your pulse in different places, examines your tongue, eyes, and ears, and talks to you. Your prescription could include herbal tonics, teas, massage, dietary recommendations, and acupuncture.

Key Concepts Taoists believe that the world is made up of two opposing but interdependent forces: negative yin, representing darkness and the female, and positive yang, standing for light and masculinity. Both are essential for good health: when one becomes stronger than the other in the body, we get sick.

Another concept is qi, the energy or life force behind most bodily functions. It flows through channels or meridians: if these are blocked, ill health can ensue. Acupuncture along these meridians is a way of putting your qi in order.

It's not all inner peace—to be healthy you need to be in harmony with your environment, too. The Five Elements theory divides up both the universe and the body into different "elemental" categories: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Practitioners seek to keep all five elements in balance.

Learning and Consultations

Eu Yan Sang Integrated Medical Centre. If you don't know your qi from your chin, and you're not sure if you need a dried seahorse or a live snake, head to the Eu Yan Sang Integrated Medical Centre. Glass cases at this reputable store display reindeer antlers, dried fungi, ginseng, and other medicinal mainstays. Grave but helpful clerks behind hefty wooden counters will happily sell you purported cures for anything from the common cold to impotence (the cure for the latter is usually slices of reindeer antler boiled into tea). There are other smaller branches all over Hong Kong, which offer over-the-counter consultations in English. 152–156 Queen's Rd. Central, Central, Hong Kong. 3521–1233; 3521–1236 hotline. www.euyansang.com. Mon.–Sat. 10–2, 3–7. Sheung Wan, Exit E2.

Chinese medicines aren't regulated by the Hong Kong government. Anything that sounds dubious or dangerous might be just that.

Brush up on traditional treatments at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, in Central. The least morbid and most enlightening exhibits compare Chinese and western medical practices, and show Chinese medicines of both animal and plant origin. Elsewhere, dusty displays of old medical equipment send macabre thrills up your spine. Reaching this museum is a healthy experience in itself: you pant up several blocks' worth of stairs to the Edwardian building in which it's located. Get here on the Mid-Levels Escalators: alight at Caine Road and walk west a few blocks to Ladder Street. The museum is just down the first flight of stairs, on the left. (See the full listing for details).

Hong Kong University Chinese Medicine Clinic and Pharmacy. The Hong Kong University Chinese Medicine Clinic and Pharmacy is a training clinic run by the most respected medical school in town. It also has master practitioners of acupuncture and orthopedics on hand. Consultations start at HK$200, visits to the masters at HK$500 (not including medicine). Unit 50–53, 2nd fl., Admiralty Centre, Harcourt Rd., Admiralty, Central, Hong Kong. 3761–1188. Mon.–Sat. 10–2, 3–8, Sun. 9:30–1:30. Admiralty, Exit A.

Acupuncture and Massage

Charlie's Acupressure and Massage Centre of the Blind. Therapeutic massages are the specialty at Charlie's Acupressure and Massage Centre of the Blind. Ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was one celebrity who relaxed his overworked muscles here. An hour-long massage costs around HK$250. Room 1103, 11th fl., Chung Sheung Building, 9–10 Queen Victoria St., Central, Hong Kong. 2877–9999. www.acupressuremassage.hk. Closed Sun. Central.

Happy Foot. At the root of Chinese acupressure and acupuncture is reflexology, which is based on the theory that there are reflex points on the feet, hands, and head linked to every part of the body. Thus a good foot, hand, or head massage is believed to effectively relieve tension or even treat illness. Foot massage need not be torture in the gentle hands of Happy Foot, where the goal is to make your whole body feel relaxed, from the feet up. Massages start at HK$198 for 50 minutes. 11th fl., Jade Centre, 98 Wellington St., Central, Hong Kong. 2544–1010. www.happyfoot.hk. Daily 10–midnight. Central.

Quality Chinese Medical Centre. Acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal medicine are just some of the offerings at the Quality Chinese Medical Centre. Consultations start at HK$80; expect to pay around HK$290 for acupuncture. Unit A, 5th fl., Jade Centre, 98 Wellington St., Central, Hong Kong. 2881–8267 English hotline. www.qualitytcm.com. Central.

Medicine and Remedies

Good Spring Company Limited. Downing a bittersweet glass of herbal health tonic is a normal part of many a Hong Konger's day. Good Spring Company Limited offers blends for flu, headaches, colds, and coughs. A small paper cup usually starts at HK$6. Don't be put off by the black gui ling gao (turtle jelly): these wobbly puddings are commonly consumed for their medicinal properties. 8 Cochrane St., Central, Hong Kong. 2544–3518.

Hung Fook Tong. You'll find Hung Fook Tong outlets in most MTR stations. The store offers TCM remedies for the cosmopolitan consumer with convenient, bottled herbal teas and additive-free soups packaged for easy reheating. Each product comes with a different list of medicinal benefits so ask the staff to recommend the best brew for you. Shop 58, Hong Kong Station, Central, Hong Kong. 2526–6036. www.hungfooktong.com.

Tong Ren Tang. Established in 1669, Tong Ren Tang has long been one of mainland China's most respected traditional medicine companies. There are stores all across the city stocking packaged pills, health foods (including bird's nest) and specialty wines designed to be good for what ails you. 163 Des Voeux Rd. Central, Central, Hong Kong. 3105–0016. www.tongrentang.com.

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