A Massage That's Good For The Sole
Ching Lau is already the "sole man" of SoCal, but he won't be satisfied until every American has beaten a path to the door of a foot massage parlor.
For Lau isn't just a businessman, he's a man on a mission. His quest: to spread the ancient Chinese art of having one's feet dunked in steaming hot tubs of water, then pinched, poked and prodded, all in the name of good health.
"I think foot massage can be for, how many American people are there? Three hundred million? I want to do it for all of them," Lau says with a grin as he sits on a footrest inside his Oriental Natural Treatment spa, one of two dozen he runs.
He's made a significant dent already; before he arrived in San Gabriel, CA (a city of 27,000 people) there was one foot massage parlor. Now there are 27, city officials say. More than 100 others operate in several nearby suburban cities, making this sprawling suburban area just east of Los Angeles the foot-massage capital of the country.
The area has a large Asian population, but Asians aren't the only ones hotfooting it here for a massage.
"When we first started we had just a little bit, but now we have a lot of American customers," says Lau.
Later that night, Michelle Monroe comes hurriedly through the door of the Natural Herbal Treatment Spa and, in an anxious voice, announces: "We've got eight people in our party."
Outside, restaurants and stores are closing up for the night, disgorging hordes of people with tired feet. Soon, all the little storefront businesses with the distinctive neon signs shaped like feet will be filling up.
But Monroe and friends have beaten the rush, and a few minutes later they are plunking their feet into wooden tubs of herb-laden water that is just hot enough to be mildly uncomfortable.
As it cools, though, the sounds of blissful ohhhing and ahhhing can be heard as men and women dressed in martial-arts-looking outfits begin poking and prodding feet, pushing and pulling on toes.
"I wish I could get one of these every night," a now-laid-back Monroe whispers softly as she relaxes in a soft, oversized leather chair. In the background is the steady "slap-slap-slap" of hands on feet.
Meanwhile, just down the street, Yi Hang is standing near the door of her BCT Foot and Body Massage business, inviting passers-by to kick back.
"It's very healthy," she says of the practice that experts on Asian medicine say dates to at least the 12th century. "So many people spend so many hours on the computer these days that they have a lot of neck and shoulder pain and headaches, and the massage really helps."
According to Chinese legend, the nerves in the feet are connected to every part of the body and, as a result, massages can cure headaches and kidney ailments, prevent ulcers, even let you live longer.
Western medical experts discount that, although several do acknowledge that a good massage can leave a person feeling like they are walking on air.
Photos: Getty Images
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