Where: Health-Wise, Suite 1801, Lane Crawford House, 70 Queen's Road Central (tel: 2526-7908). A traditional Chinese medicine clinic offering acupuncture, Chinese herbs and neuromuscular massage.
Why: Chinese herbal treatment aims to facilitate the unimpeded flow of chi (energy) through the body. Impediments to this flow apparently cause excessive 'heat' or 'cold', ailments as diverse as sleeplessness and infertility, and can lead to disease if untreated. The first known clinical tests of herbal medicine were conducted in the first Han dynasty (23-220 AD).
Who: Troy Sing is from Sydney. He trained at a Chinese medicine school in Melbourne and did his internship in Beijing. His parents took him to a Chinese herbalist when he was suffering from glandular fever at the age of 14. His condition cleared up in a few weeks and he's been a believer in Chinese medicine ever since. He set up his Hong Kong practice in 1991.
What: Sing asked me to stick out my tongue, which he checked for irregular shape, colour and coating. Then he took my pulse using three fingers and described it as 'bounding', which initially seemed to be a compliment until Sing said other tests were needed to make a proper assessment. The next step was to measure the activity in the meridian points in my hands and feet, which correspond to different parts of the body. Sing pressed each meridian point with a short, pen-like metal cylinder connected to a dial on a small metal box. Most of my meridian points gave uncomfortably hyperactive readings, which he said were probably a result of poor liver function. Using a small set of scales, he measured various quantities of 10 powdered herbs into a plastic container.
These apparently work in a tidy, pre-democratic manner: the 'emperor' herb gives the overall direction (in my case to 'clear heat'), while the 'ministers' and 'adjuncts' do most of the work. Sing then gave me liver cleansing diet which suggested avoiding red meat, fatty foods, coffee and alcohol, and eating plenty of leafy vegetables.
The result: The herbal powder, which I took morning and night mixed with warm water, was a foul-tasting brew. Social obligations the following weekend made Sing's diet difficult to stick to. He suggested another visit to learn how to conduct a 'liver flush', which involved drinking Epsom salts, olive oil and grapefruit juice and staying near a toilet for most of the weekend. I've yet to take him up on his offer.
The bottom line: A 45-minute consultation and the herbal concoction cost $550.
The verdict: You can become accustomed to the taste of the herbs, but Sing's dietary advice requires stronger will-power.