I often put my foot in my mouth, so my latest experience in China was a refreshing but surreal change of pace. At the end of a valuable but challenging business trip to a small, town on Hainan, the large island off the southern tip of China, I arranged for my wife and I to stay at a pleasant hotel on near the beach by the large and much more developed, more foreigner-friendly city of Haikou. Little did I know that the hotel I selected (the Tienyou Grand) based on location and its relatively low price (under $100 a night) would be one of the most delightful I’ve ever been to, featuring not just beautiful grands, English-speaking staff, perfect seafood and comfortable, beautiful rooms, a marvelous breakfast buffet, a gym, and a bowling alley(!), but also multiple pools of water from volcanic hot springs and featuring something I’ve heard of but never experienced, “fish therapy.” These spa-like facilities come at no extra charge.
As my wife and I went out to the hot springs pools lat night after a walk on one of China’s most beautiful beaches, I noticed a sign pointing to “fish therapy.” Curious, we went there and were surprised to see that it was simply a pool one could get into for free. We climbed in, joining four other jovial Chinese citizens (I think most were locals, not actually guests of the hotel, but don’t tell anybody!). Within seconds, a dark cloud of small fish encircled my calloused feet and began nibbling. It was such a strange feeling. Hundreds of small raspy mouths were eating away dead skin on my toes, my heel, the soles of my feet, and everywhere else with tasty dead skin. I couldn’t help but laugh with the intense tickling sensation. Some other women in the pool kept reminding me not to move because that would drive the fish away, but suppressing the instinct to kick and the reflexes to twitch was difficult. So surreal.
My feet have a number of problems often resulting in callouses and bunions, but the little critters did a remarkable job of taking a lot of the dead skin off. It really is a remarkable therapy. The great thing is that these fish know when to stop. They don’t eat the live skin. They don’t cause cuts and bleeding. They just nibble away at the dead stuff and make feet feel better and younger. You really should try this in a place with clean water and healthy fish. But it was hard not to think about their distant cousins, the piranha, during this experience, hoping that none were in the pool by mistake.
Those therapeutic fish, Garra Rufa, are sometimes called doctor fish. They are remarkable little cleaners that seem so perfectly designed to serve mankind by eating away dead skin from feet. They were discovered in pools in Turkey and have now become popular in several parts of the world. Unfortunately, bureaucrats in the US have made it difficult for those wishing to provide fish therapy. Regulations in some places call for disinfecting foot therapy tools after every use, and while frying is an effective way to sterilize the doctor fish, they don’t work as well afterward. All the things people do in the US to protect people from themselves can really hinder progress.
As I consider what a wonderful, therapeutic experience I had with these doctor fish, it’s hard not to think that they are one of the countless little miracles that God has placed here in this mortal world for our benefit, along with a few less enticing miracles like piranhas and flesh-eating bacteria. It’s mortality, but it has its treasures. So many of them! What dazzling fruits of the Creation I’ve experienced here in China and everywhere else. So much to be grateful for, even the little gift of being eaten alive.