Sometimes I find things on TripAdvisor that lead us in a completely different direction.
While looking for a place to stay in Lijiang last week, I came across a reviewer who mentioned a 91-year-old holistic doctor named Dr Ho Shixiu who’s known as one of the leading lights of Chinese traditional medicine and runs the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Chinese Herbal Medical Clinic.
After searching online, I discovered Dr. Ho has been featured in National Geographic, the New York Times and the BBC. He’s been the subject of books about the Himalayas and has provided herbal cures for every illness under the sun (with medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic consulting with him about his successful treatment of leukemia using medicinal herbs).
He’s even been named “The Most Admired Man” by a British woman who made a film about him.
Since we were in the neighbourhood, a visit to the esteemed Dr. Ho was too good to pass up.
And that’s how we found ourselves sitting in a musty cavernous room on the main cobbled road of the tiny village of Baisha earlier this week. Our taxi from Lijiang didn’t know the way but everyone else did. Dr. Ho is quite the celebrity in this tiny village and anyone we asked along the road pointed us toward his place.
Once you know where you’re going, it’s hard to miss since the wall around his building is plastered with signs, articles and newspaper write-ups and his door is open to the elements almost around the clock.
We walked inside and were greeted by a wizened, bearded Chinese man dressed in a white coat, a black woolen cap and pair of jeans. Wisps of white hair sprouted from his chin and eyebrows and his watery eyes twinkled behind his lined brow at the two strangers entering his room.
“Welcome. What country are you from?” he asked without hesitating, then seated us on a wooden bench at a nearby table while we waited for him to finish his consultation with a couple of Chinese women.
That’s the way it works at Dr. Ho’s. No appointment required. People show up from all over the world. No filling out forms, formalities or introductions. Just walk through the door.
He handed us sheets of paper so we could read more about him while we waited. Here’s some of what we learned:
Dr Ho studied at the University of Nanjing and, a few years after liberation, was afflicted by several diseases and “almost drew his last breath”. He was forced to do physical labour in the snowy mountains, his health was weak, he was “poor as a church mouse” and all political rights were denied him.
His “silver lining” was being in an area where he could study herbs and he developed potions and herbal mixtures which cured him. Today, he uses more than 2000 varieties of herbs which grow on the mountain and uses them to treat chronic ailments and diseases.
He’s treated more than 300,000 people from 40 countries so we were excited to meet the man.
When the Chinese ladies had left, he beckoned to us. We sat across from him – not in a private room or in any clinical setting – just on a wooden stool at a simple wooden table strewn with papers.
At no loss for words, he told us about his life – how he had a difficult youth, studied herbs, eats “simple food” and has a philosophy of being happy.
“You have to be optimistic at all times,” he said. “It is very important to be happy”.
He held my wrist and asked me if I sleep well. No problem. He asked me to stick out my tongue, looked into my eyes and said “Congratulations. All healthy”.
Skip was next. He told Dr. Ho he often got sick and wanted to know how to be more healthy.
“You have low chi,” said the doctor. “May I give you some of my medicines?”
Disappearing into a back room, he scooped bagfuls of powdery greenish herbs into a paper container for his chi. He then mixed another bag of herbs with instructions to mix it with alcohol and use it as a rub on painful joints or muscles. He handed it all to Skip and asked for 300 Yuan (about $50) for his remedies.
“One teaspoon in a cup of hot water three times a day for the internal herbs,” he said. “And keep a positive attitude. You must always be happy.”
The following day we returned. I’d neglected to tell him about a chronic neck problem I’d had for a while and thought he may have some ideas.
Walking through the door, I saw him pottering in the back room again.
“Hello, how are you?” I asked.
“Ï’m Dr. Ho,” he replied (not sure if it was a language challenge or the fact he’s 91 years old).
After I reminded him I’d been there the day before, he sat me down, listened for a couple of minutes then disappeared again into his back room.
“You need herbs for a tea,” he said.
“Can I take the same ones you gave to my husband?”
“No. These are herbs for lady,” he responded, and promptly wrote “LD” (lady) on a sliver of paper and popped the note in with the green powder.
Another 200 Yuan (about $32) and we were on our way.
At the hotel, we scooped out spoonfuls of herbs, mixed them with hot water and sipped the green brackish liquid. It’s not our favourite brew but we’re willing it give it a chance since Dr. Ho said it would work.
According to the experts, Dr. Ho knows all.
We’ll just have to wait and tea.