“You want me to put my toes where?!”
That was my reaction to the idea of dipping my feet into a pond full of epidermis-munching vertebrates. Fish therapy held the same appeal for me as jumping off a bridge. Since I took the plunge, however, my opinion has changed.
Garra rufa – or “doctor fish” – originate from Turkey and are commonly found in that country’s river basins. Such is their ability to remove dead skin from living flesh that the form of pampering known as fish therapy has become popular the world over.
My Happy Feet has about a thousand doctor fish to service its customers.
The brochure said I was welcome to put my hands, legs or entire body into the pool, and grateful as I was for this offer, I wasn’t willing to expose anything more than my feet on this occasion.
I’ve had a complex about my feet since my older brother told me that I would need an industrial sander instead of an emery board to file my toenails – and I’m not keen on showing them in public. What if the fish took one look at my tootsies, passed out cold, and found themselves on a one-way trip down the toilet?
I eyed the little blighters suspiciously. They looked hungry, and they were on me the second I dipped my toes into the warm pool – they didn’t even say grace. I don’t think they would have reached me any faster if I had a sign on my big toe announcing, “Lunch is served”!
My inner wimp wanted to run away screaming, but after a few minutes I acknowledged that I wasn’t being eaten alive, and, as the fish tucked in, I found myself wondering: Who discovered fish therapy? Were they out swimming one day in fish-infested waters, and returned with unexpectedly baby-soft feet?
While I wasn’t looking, someone had slipped a pair of fish-boots on my feet. My skin was no longer visible through the seething mass of blackness. The fish had curled their small bodies around each curvature and some of the smaller ones had discovered excellent snacking between my toes.
The tickling sensation wasn’t unpleasant – the feeling was somewhat like a bubbling spa bath.
The experience went beyond weird, but my feet did feel tingly and fresh afterwards. They were much smoother for the nibbling, denuded of all calloused, dead skin.
There was however, one thing missing from the picture: my girlfriends. If there is a next time, I will gleefully bring them along, not just to see them squirm, but also because dipping one’s feet into a teeming pool of fish is a bloody good laugh.
A Fishy Tale
There may be those who think the exploitation of fish for aesthetic reasons is cruel, but they seemed pretty happy to me. And let’s face it, if they weren’t swimming around in a spa, they would probably be on somebody’s plate covered in salt and vinegar.
They are not human fodder; we are theirs! Not a bad life for a fish.
Linda Ee, business development manager of My Happy Feet, kindly talked me through my fish therapy treatment and put my mind at ease. She also answered some burning questions.
EL: Do you feed the fish anything other than dead skin?
LE:Yes, we give them regular fish food. Skin is just a snack
EL: Can fish therapy be used as a replacement for filing the bottom of your feet?
LE:Some of our clients do use it as a replacement for pedicures. A 15-minute session won’t remove as much dead skin as a typical filing, but in the long run it can be more effective.
EL: Have the fish ever bitten off more than they should chew?
LE:No, not our fish. They don’t have teeth so there’s no chance of breaking the skin.
EL: How big do the fish get?
LE:They can grow up to six-centimetres in length, and they live for around six years.
EL: Has anyone ever run out of the spa screaming?
LE:Yes, two Austrian tourists who came here dipped their feet in briefly, screamed and refused to carry on. Most people really enjoy it though, including the children who accompany their parents
They are located at 29C Lorong Liput, Holland Village. Call (+65) 6462 0525
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