I cursed myself for thinking with my fashion brain and not my functional brain on my recent trip to San Francisco. The cute black boots had taken their toll on my feet, what with the rolling steep hills and the rain and all.

So when I saw the Foot Massage sign across the street, it was like a beacon in the night.

It wasn’t just the fact that my feet were aching that drew me closer to the massage spot located on the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. It might have also been the poster with Princess Diana on the door, claiming that she and other members of the Royal Family had indulged in foot reflexology. Or maybe it was the cheery Christmas lights and fake flowers that beckoned me there. Whatever the reason, it was kismet that I decided to visit Best Foot Reflexology & Acupuncture that day.

san francisco, fisherman's wharf, foot massage

I expected there to be a handful of women giving foot massages inside, but instead I was greeted by the sole employee (and owner): a jovial Chinese man with a smile as big as the ocean. He sat me down in a chair and when he noted that I was left-handed as I filled out a form, he said, “You’re left-handed. You know what you want.”

Could this man be a soothsayer as well? In general I did know what I wanted, and at the moment, I wanted some relief for my tootsies.

But what I got was even better.

Foot Massage + Art Gallery?

2016-11-21-14-17-37

This was no darkened foot spa with quiet Zen music in the background. As Nick got ready to start rubbing, I took in my surroundings. On every wall, just inches apart, were dozens — hundreds maybe — of paintings and drawings. No two styles were the same. I wondered aloud whose art adorned the walls.

His 19-year-old daughter’s, he replied. She’d been drawing or painting every day since she was four. Or was it seven? Either way, that’s an impressive amount of art. And it was good. I mean really good. He placed a photo album in my hands, which was filled with images of his daughter’s art as well as her with her venerated art teacher from China. This kid was the real deal.

Meet Nick Chong

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, it seemed. Nick Chong — yes, before long we were on a first-name basis — told me he didn’t like to have his picture taken when I pulled out my camera. Why?

“I’ve been famous before, and I know how it is.”

Okay, you can’t say something like that and leave me hanging, Nick.

2016-11-21-14-39-32

Back in the ’60s or ’70s, playing guitar was forbidden in China. But did that stop Nick and his rock-and-roll lovin’ friends? Not at all. They would secretly play behind closed doors, competing to win the attention of swooning females who watched them play guitar. And when Chairman Mao died in 1976, China relaxed a little and decided a little guitar-playing wouldn’t destroy the country.

And guess who was the first person to play guitar publicly in China?

You guessed it: my good friend Nick Chong.

Apparently being a Chinese rocker in the ’70s gave him a little notoriety. Now he’s happy to massage feet and tell fascinating stories. Just don’t ask to take his picture.