Meeting the Famous Dr. Ho

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We had first learned about Dr. Ho from our Lonely Planet. Apparently he was a “world famous” Taoist doctor and herbalist, who was said to have cured illnesses from patients around the world. Curious to learn more and somewhat skeptical if this was one of those tourist attractions, we set out to find Dr. Ho in Baisha, a small town about 10km from Lijiang in the Yunnan province in Southwest China.

Upon finding Dr. Ho’s ‘clinic’ we were hit by a wall of Chinese and international newspaper articles. The articles were framed in glass and plastered all over the outside wall of the house. Somewhat more convinced that there might be something to this story we ventured into the building.

We found ourselves in a dark room with glass cabinets and sales counters that were covered in yet more newspaper clippings. Most of them were faded and yellowish but still readable. A middle-aged man called Ho Shu-Long, who introduced himself as Dr. Ho’s son, greeted us immediately and gestured us to sit down on a wooden bench. His English was fairly good and he could even speak a few words of German. His father had learned some German from Joseph Rock, an Austrian-born botanist who spent about 30 years in the Naxi region to study plants and herbs. Barely having sat down, Ho Shu-Long brought us yet more newspaper articles, in both English and German, neatly arranged in plastic covers.

An old woman, that has been sweeping the outside area of the house when we arrived, slowly walked into the room. We were told that this was Dr. Ho’s wife, who was a respectable 91 years of age. She seemed unfazed by our presence, going about her daily business. We asked if we could meet Ho Shu-Long’s father but he said that wasn’t possible. I felt disappointed. Having found the clinic I had gotten curious to learn more. Two minutes later however an old men slowly walked in from the backdoor. It was Dr. Ho! He looked exactly like one would imagine a wise old Chinese man with his white wispy beard, a grey, head-hugging hat, and a white somewhat dirty doctor’s coat. He moved around with slow but intentional movements. For his 92 years he looked in great shape! We introduced ourselves and he seemed excited that I’m Austrian, probably evoking old memories from his friendship with Joseph Rock. Similarly, he was excited about Christian’s Australian origins as his doings had been covered by Australian TV and radio shows as well. He pointed us to books by Bruce Chatwin, an English travel writer. It was Chatwin’s 1986 New York Times article “In the little-known Kingdom of Joseph Rock” that shot Dr. Ho to fame. Many journalists and camera crews followed thereafter.

Dr. Ho investigated if we had any problems after he had positively remarked that we seemed to be in good shape (many of his patients seem to have weight problems). Well, that was a good start! Christian told him about his high cholesterol levels. That’s where it got interesting. The two set down at the corner of one of the sales counters. The consultation started. It was surprisingly short. Dr. Ho basically just asked Christian a few simple questions before taking off into the adjacent room. The room was overflowing with plastic jars and containers of all sizes. He took a brownish looking powdery mix out of a couple of containers and went outside to the back terrace where he mixed the dusty combination together. Back in the consultation room the instructions followed: drink the powder three times a day (for one month) mixed with hot water and some honey. Seems almost too easy. I was somewhat skeptical that this tea blend would mysteriously lower Christian’s cholesterol levels. But I was too quick to judge.

Dr. Ho gave us another flyer (this one in German) laying out his holistic philosophy for a happy and healthy life. While his medicine will help, he tells his patients that “Optimism is the best medicine” and urges them to: “Live a simple life. Eat simple. Don’t smoke or drink.” He also advocates that both Western and Chinese medicine in the right combination can have a very positive impact. That seemed very open-minded. His son elaborated on their philosophy: “Live with compassion as for a loving heart will be happy. Live your life in balance. It’s good to experience all emotions but not to the extreme”.

He continued: “My mother (remember she is 91) is completely self-sufficient. To this date she washes her own clothes, prepares and cooks food and cleans the house.” Truly stunning! “While some people would call me a bad son, my philosophy is that those chores give my mother’s life meaning and make her more happy.” He believes that for the same reasons his 92-year old father still runs the clinic

Besides getting Christian’s cholesterol-curing tea (we’ll report back on its effectiveness), this turned out to be a very inspirational visit. Good food for thought on what really matters to live a happy life.

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