The ancient Chinese medical text Huangdi Neijing (黃帝內經) is the fundamental document of Chinese medicine and recommends massage as a treatment for medical ailments. Thus reflexology was born, a branch of alternative medicine based on the application of pressure to a series of zones and reflex areas on the hands and feet to treat issues in the correlating parts of the body. Potential health benefits aside, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without having at least one reflexology foot massage, preferably at the end of a long day pounding the pavement, or on the way home from a delicious dinner.

Image courtesy of Forgemind ArchiMedia @ Flickr

Massage parlours are ubiquitous and everyone has their favourite. Mine is Gao’s Foot Massage who have branches at 77  and 99 Caine Road and 17/F, 1 Wellington Street in Central. The parlour is relatively peaceful as signs on the wall prohibit phone calls or loud talking stating: ‘Please use a 10-inch voice!’  While birdsong twitters over the sound system, customers sink back into the cushion laden armchairs, resting their heads on pillows shaped like pandas. Customers are draped with towels and hot packs placed around their necks while they soak their feet in hot sudsy water. Rose red tea is served in ceramic cups complete with lids. Customers choose the duration of their foot massage (prices start from HKD$218 for 50 minutes) and the skillful masseuses kneed up the knees. You can add on a 15 minute head, neck and shoulder massage which includes the arms and hands. Between the two it’s practically a full body massage, although that is also available if you prefer to lie down.

The amount of pressure applied varies from masseuse to masseuse. Some tend to be of the ‘no pain, no gain’ school of thought. I learnt how to say ‘less force please’ (mm goi, sai lik dee) specifically for this circumstance, and it worked so well I learned how to say ‘very good’ (fei sueng ho).

Another option is the Shanghai pedicure (HKD$190).  Only men perform these pedicures, setting up a lamp to interrogate your soaked and dried feet and applying a little balm before setting to work using a selection of metal chisels to carve, whittle and shave all the dead skin from the feet and trim the toenails. A final buff with a foot file and the customer is implored to feel their smooth heels and approve the work (more fei seung ho-ing). No nail polish is applied.

For a more upmarket Shanghai pedicure, visit Samuel So at the Mandarin Oriental Salon, his family business since 1989. This pedicure includes nail polish, but for HKD$820 you should expect a splash of colour.