“Mr. Lu, some problem with my hands. I’m in pain. I need to see you today.” “Sure, come to see me at 5 o’clock.”
Giok Lu hangs up the phone and writes down the appointment he just took from a customer. It isn’t a busy day for him. When it gets busy, “I let them wait for hours,” says Lu, a massage therapist who runs a Chinese pressure point therapy store in Jackson Heights, New York. The busy man, however, barely charges any fees for treatment from his customers.
“I don’t need to make that much money,” says Lu. Instead, all the 68-year-old inherited is a belief in helping the poor keep healthy and guide them to a better quality life. “What most people haven’t realized is that they always want more than what they really need,” he said.
Lu has been serving the neighborhood since 2009. Over this past five years, he only sells his hand-made pain relief that is formulated by Chinese herbal medicine so that he can pay the rent for his store. The therapy business is located two blocks away from Roosevelt Avenue, the main road of an area full of restaurants and commercial shops. Lu has never named his store. Rather, a flag that has Asian style patterns on, waving in front of the door. Pedestrians pass by, and then walk away, barely linger. Yet Lu says “being unnoticeable” was his intention.
“I’m not trying to do a big thing or to promote my therapy. I enjoyed the quietness of my life,” Lu said. As an acupressure expert, he diagnoses his patients by asking them what and how they eat; rubs the acupoints that live inside their body to improve their blood flow. Yet, the only motivation behind the smiling wrinkled face was to “offer the residents (here) some good advice and means to help them keep healthy.”
The acupuncturist moved to New York in 2009. He decided to settle his therapy business in Jackson Heights, home to a large number of Latin Americans who “relatively have lower income but have curiosity about Chinese medicine and are willing to believe it,” says Lu. Gradually, Lu’s “hidden spot” has become a magnet of the Hispanic community which are interested in that absorbs inquiries and consultation. Thus, more and more people came in and asked for help, and Lu, due to his no-charge free-charged massage, has become known as “Doctor Lu,” “Mr. Lu,” or “Papa Lu” in the community. "People here love me," Lu said, "Sometimes they bring me cakes or cookies to thank me."
Most of Lu’s customers are laborers who that have heavy workload in their daily lives. “The guy who just phoned me, his name is Luis; he works in the food chain,” Lu introduced. “I also have people (customers) who are bus drivers, gym trainers, body guards, you name it.” Those people, according to Lu, are most likely to suffer from muscle soreness and muscle injuries due to their job nature. “Every time they came to me, (when I gave them the treatment) they are like, screaming,” Lu said, “Can you imagine a six-feet-tall dude with muscles yelling in pain like that?”
Another reason Mr. Lu believes increases their contributor that would increase the likelihood of “being in pain” is “they don’t eat right.” As he observed, most Hispanics have been consuming too much junk food, even worse, “When they cook, they include too much fat, and they like drinking soda rather than water,” says Lu. All of these messy daily behaviors concern the therapist, who is also the parent of two, quite a lot.
There was once, Lu heard from a customer who spent hours curling up on the couch watching TV. Because he had constantly remained in a position like that without stretching arms or legs, the customer felt hopelessly painful on his back and injured his spine. “You certainly can’t do that every single day,” says Lu, who has been strongly influenced by traditional Chinese health philosophy, in which requires slight physical exercises routinely on a daily base, so that the blood tunnels inside of the body wouldn’t be jammed. Otherwise, as the customer did, “He wasn’t able to improve blood circulation and metabolism, remove body toxin, so he can’t smooth and relieve his body, he feels hurt.” Lu explained.
To deal with case like this, Lu would give his patient therapy with multiple sessions, depending on how soon the patient’s metabolism would get back to normal. The therapy consists of a certain amount of oral drugs that made by him, “If they are still in pain, I’d give them acupressure treatment to relieve the tense among their joints,” Lu said.
Born and raised in Malaysia, Lu moved in United States when he was in his early 30s. “At the time, I was doing acupressure massage and living with my wife and two sons in Los Angeles,” Lu recalled. As a parent, he always wanted to create a special way to educate his children.
One day, an idea of buying a motorhome popped into his head. “I was thinking traveling would be the best way to let my kids know better about the world.” As a result, Papa Lu started his journey with his entire family and three dogs. Since then, they have had road trips across the country through west coast to northeast; from north to the south.
The family usually spent at least three years in various cities. Papa Lu would be the major source of income to support the entire family by giving massage therapy.
"I was in charge of making money, my wife was responsible for making good meals, and my boys went to local schools,” Lu said. Then, the time when Lu’s children graduated, that means, the motorhome would start its engine heading to the next destination.
Time flies. In the blink of an eye, Papa Lu began to worry about where his sons should go for college. After going back and forth among choices like Atlanta, Chicago and New Jersey, Lu, the driver and navigator of his family-over-the-wheels, stepped on the brake. He decided to sail , and sailed in New York City, in search of good schools, diversity and opportunity.
Since then, Papa Lu has paused his “here today, gone tomorrow” mode, but he has never been this fulfilled with his life. “At my age, I neither demand anything material, nor have to support my children anymore, since they are both having a really good life now,” says Lu. His older son has married and has just become a pharmacist who practices in Florida. His younger son, who just finished college at Pratt Institution in Brooklyn and, recently started his career as an architect based in New York City.
Apart from providing benefit to the residents, Lu, the health guide of the Latin community, enjoys his simple healthy life with his wife and his dogs. “I have seven dogs now; I named them ‘Monday,’ ‘Tuesday,’ till ‘Sunday,’” Papa Lu laughed, “My wife and I walk them every morning to the park, rain or shine.”