The Ultimate Pedicure in Hong Kong
Despite their sharp knives and sure hands, Shanghainese pedicurists are a dying breed. JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN suggests you submit to this oh-so-premier podiatric pampering.
Published on Dec 8, 2015
MEET BEN CHEUNG, BLADE RUNNER. A second-generation Shanghainese pedicurist from a village famed for the tools of his trade ("Yangzhou's Three Knives" refers to its tradition of forging kitchen, barber and pedicure blades), Cheung followed his uncle into the job, apprenticing for two years in Shanghai to earn his scalpels. That was 21 years ago, and the resident technician at The Mandarin Barber is now part of an endangered species, one of a handful in Hong Kong devoted to the subtle shaving of the foot for podiatric health and beauty. "Shanghainese pedicure," says the man who's perambulated through 35,000 of them, "is about craftsmanship, experience, patience and attention to detail."
It also used to be solely about men; only in the past couple of decades have women in China become both practitioners and clients. I get biweekly pedicures (from beauticians, I might add, who tend to compliment my feet), but I wanted to see how much more I could improve my regimen. During a recent visit to Cheung's studio, I peppered him with queries. He was fairly reticent, explaining, "The blades that we use are very sharp." Ah, as you were, then. Gently cradling each foot, Cheung examined my soles, heels, nail beds and cuticles before selecting among his 10 knives and getting to work. Each has a different use: the big flat one shaves away hardened areas of the ankles and soles; the sharp thin one gets rid of ingrown nails; and the one with a square head files the nails. For a relaxing hour, I felt no pain, and for weeks after my feet were smoother than ever.
Ben Cheung finely files a foot. Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
Medicinal Shanghainese pedicures can remove corns, calluses and verrucas. "Our feet support the weight of our whole body," Cheung says from his perch in the Art Deco-luxe, old-school-masculine Mandarin Barber. "Foot problems affect our walking and sitting postures, which may cause back and other health problems." In fact, Cheung says his work is apiece with traditional Chinese reflexology: restoring the foot to its ideal state helps put its many acupressure points at equilibrium. His confidence in his treatment's health benefits is best evidenced in the fact that he once agreed to perform a pedicure on a long-term client who was laid up in the hospital.
Tips for good foot care, from this avid hiker who likes exploring Sai Kung Park and Tai O fishing village in his time off: "If you work in an office, take off your shoes whenever possible. It's crucial to keep feet dry." Unless, of course, they're having a pre-pedicure soak. Yes, Cheung will come at you with a glistening blade or 10, but just settle into your recliner and put your feet up. Letting him slice and dice them will be the best thing you ever did for those tootsies.