Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Face the face
In the fearless (and some might say, foolish) journalistic pursuit of the public’s right to know, I have:
Skittered like a spastic hamster on a mammoth “Wheel of Death’’ for a circus expose;
Pulled 6.4 G’s, blacked out and then blown chow aboard a US Navy F-18 jet;
Cracked my tailbone after being thrown by a rodeo bull on a 2.8 second ride;
Shopped for Navajo rugs and sex toys on a date with a Japanese porn star;
And interviewed Lemmy of Motorhead during Thanksgiving dinner with my grandmother.
But until this week, I had never had a strange woman shove burning cones in my ears.
It was all part and parcel of a story assignment to investigate the mysteries of a male makeover at a Hong Kong skincare spa called Ziz. My assignment, which I chose to accept, came from the top and a HK$1,000 advance to cover the cost of a 2 hour, 15 minute “Complete Rejuvenation Treatment’’ which, in addition to deep cleansing, anti-aging treatment, lymphatic massage, freeze dried collagen mask and popping blackheads, included something called “ear candling therapy.’’
I am originally from Boulder, Colorado, an idyllic community that is also second to none when it comes to New Age hokum, so I was already vaguely familiar with ear candling, or “ear coning’’ as it’s also called. Always described as “ancient’’ with obscure origins in exotic civilizations such as Egypt, China, Tibet, the pre-Columbian Americas or Atlantis, it purports to gently suck wax and toxins from your ear canal and – defying basic anatomy and physics – also from areas such as your sinuses and brain using a burning hollow cone-shaped device, usually made of candle or bee’s wax and “organic’’ linen or cotton. Hardcore flaming cone-heads also claim candling can do everything from relieving vertigo and migraines, to purifying blood and sharpening your sense of smell, taste, hearing and color perception.
The “proof’’ adherents point to is the residue left after the candle burns. Believers say the goop is the toxins. But naysayers, who also warn of perforated eardrums, ear canals clogged with melted wax and external burns, say it’s like the Filipino psychic surgeon trick that turns chicken livers into tumors. In this case the toxins are melted wax, not burned off bad karma.
Me? I had a mild hangover, and wasn’t beyond hoping ear candling might help. Though I’d abandoned my usual outfit of faded cargo shorts, frayed Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops for attire more metrosexually suitable to Ziz’s posh Central locale, I wasn’t feeling as spiffy as I might have appeared. The bags under my eyes – something else that Ziz ‘s promotional material said it could address – didn’t help. But I stuffed my subway card and wallet in one and my cell phone in the other and set out.
I arrived at the Wyndham Street address and buzzed into the fifth floor office where a receptionist-cum-diagnostician/consultant had me diagnose myself on a printed form.
Cancer? No. Heart condition? Broken. Medications? None of your business. Skin problems? I pondered and checked the “Wrinkles”, “Sun damage”, “Dehydrated” and “Very oily” boxes while wondering why there wasn’t a box for “Gin blossoms’’. She studied my answers and then hooked me up to a device that resembled an “E-meter’’ that a Scientologist had used on me for a failed recruiting session back in the ‘70s.
“Hmm,’’ she said, studying a tiny meter as she ran a small wand on my sweaty cheek. “Your skin is dry, but not dehydrated. Not very oily, either.’’ She made some cryptic notes on my form and then asked about my current “skin care regimen’’.
“I wash my face every three or four days with collected air conditioner water drippings and detergent residue that I scrape from under the washer lid,’’ I replied with a straight face. “Then I shave with a potato peeler.’’ She nodded gravely, made a note gave me a short pitch for a skin care line I’d never heard of and then introduced me to the therapist who would rejuvenate me.
Prone on a long, comfortable and electronically adjustable lounger and listening to Enya and other New Age noodlers, I submitted like a stun-gunned sack of protoplasm to her tender ministrations, which included lovingly kneading my distressed lymph glands and gently extracting blackheads I never knew I had.
Suddenly, I yearned to be an acne-inflamed teen once again, simply so she’d have more to work with.
“Your skin of very dehydrated, and very oily’,’ she murmured soothingly, directly contradicting the E-meter reading while confirming my self-diagnosis.
I didn’t ponder the mixed signals too long, though, because it was time to play with fire.
Under questioning, she admitted to having an unspecified “certificate’’ that allowed her to stick flaming sticks in people’s ears. Sounded good to me, as by now I was so comfortably numb that she could’ve given me Napalm therapy and I wouldn’t have flinched.
She showed me the instruments, two light yellow 18-centimetre long bee’s wax and linen cones and told me to lie on my right side to insert the first one.
“Mmm, your ears are very small,’’ she observed as she struggled to fit it in.
As I didn’t know if ear size – like hands and feet – is also alleged to correspond the size of any other part of a guy’s anatomy, I muttered an agreement. After all, she controlled the fire.
The cone was lit and what followed was … anti-climatic. A very slight hum, not unlike the “ocean’’ one hears with a shell held to an ear, but no heat, no whoosh, no sense of poisons fleeing my cranium.
After about 5-minutes she blew out the flame, plucked out the smoking stub and showed me the “toxins’’ inside the cone. There was lots of yellow dust that more resembled pollen than pollution, but I feigned amazement and did so again after the second ear was flamed.
Electro-shock therapy of sorts followed, with two tiny electrically charged wands moved around my upper face and under my sagging bags for more tightening and cleansing. The rejuvenation wrapped up with 25-minutes under a white “freeze-dried collagen mask’’ stuck to my face with gentle spritzes of “pure spring water’’. The therapist peeled it off and I looked in the mirror.
My face felt refreshed, a tad tighter but what stared out at me still looked startlingly like my elderly father, complete with baggy eyes – nothing like the trim bare-chested Adonis on the Ziz brochure. Though I noted he was casually gripping the top of his left ear with his buff right arm thrown behind his head, as if he was trying to conceal a misadventure involving ear candling.

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