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Published: January 7th 2011
Who'd have thought that in a backwater like Baisha we'd meet a world-famous personality? This small village, nestling amongst fields and mountains, seems untouched by the rest of the world, but it's the home of 'the Taoist physician in the Jade Dragon Mountains' more simply known as Dr. Ho. Bruce Chatwin set the ball rolling when he referred to Dr. Ho thus, in his "New York Times" article and from then on Dr. Ho's fame grew. Michael Palin interviewed him for his BBC "Himalya" programme and John Cleese, his Monty Python colleague, is said to have given the following verdict on his meeting with the revered doctor: 'interesting bloke, crap tea'. So who is Dr. Ho and just why is he so famous?
Dr. Ho's clinic wasn't hard to find. Giant pasteboards full of press clippings lean against the walls. His wife, small, bent almost double, brown face, blue Naxi dress, showed us into his consulting room. She pointed to a plastic chair for me, and a wooden bench for Jim. Papers were strewn on the long trestle-like tables. The walls were decorated with yet more press clippings, photos of the good Doctor, and Chinese diplomas. Dr. Ho, a spritely eighty-six year old, with a thin white beard and a twinkle in his eye, stepped into the room. Dr. Ho likes to talk about himself; when he'd established that we were English he selected various newspaper clippings, letters from patients and recommendations for us to peruse. All curling at the edges, slightly yellowing, but nontheless preserved in plastic - treasured possessions.
But his story is remarkable. Well educated, he graduated from Nanjing university in 1949. Dr. Ho was a top student, but illness forced him to return to his home village of Baisha. In order to cure himself he began a study of herbal medicine, learning about the many plants growing on nearby Jade Dragon Mountain. He now claims to have knowledge of over two thousand herbal remedies. He cured not only himself, but also began to cure other people. He never asked for payment - but people were free to give a donation. Perhaps Dr. Ho is famous because of his remarkable success rate? - he showed us medical reports of an American man that he'd cured of leukemia, and another that he'd helped with prostate cancer. During the Cultural Revolution, Dr. Ho - like so many others - suffered and was forced to work on Jade Dragon Mountain in harsh conditions, but he says that he has no regrets in life, because he turned every hardship to his advantage. During this time he was able to study the remarkable botany of the mountain at close quarters and for years afterwards he made regular trips to collect specimens. Not any more though. 'Now I only go for acting' he said with a chuckle, to accompany the various film crews that come to tell his story.
Maybe it's his philosophy that draws people to Dr. Ho? He advocates a simple life. 'No drinking, no smoking, only simple food'. But first and foremost he believes optimism is the best medicine. 'I don't have much money, but I'm happy', he told me.
I asked him about my allergy. He felt my pulse with surprisingly cold fingers. He asked no questions, and just made a general comment about my immune system being weak. He said he would mix a remedy for me. I followed him into the room next door, just as untidy as the first, but this one was full of bowls containing fine brown powder. He wrote instructions on the brown paper packaging with a long old-fashioned pen, dipping the nib cautiously into black ink. He also advised me to massage three acupressure points (LI4, LI20, and GB1) and as he pressed into the first of these I felt a jolt of pain down my right arm which made me gasp. Half an hour later I could still feel a dull ache.
I have yet to try the tea, but like John Cleese I believe Dr. Ho is an 'interesting bloke'.
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