For balance in your life, go to Viet-Hoa
• Photo gallery: Herbal remedies, acupunture at Viet-Hoa in Chinatown
Most people go to Viet-Hoa to buy Chinese herbal teas or other remedies and for the acupuncture clinic in the 20-year-old Chinatown store.
Jars full of herbs line the walls, metal drawers labeled with Chinese characters contain more roots, seeds, dates, dried flowers and other more exotic ingredients. And the shelves display a wide variety of products, some imported from China, but many manufactured in the United States.
Warren Wong and his wife, Joanne Huang, have been helping to promote more preventive health care with traditional Chinese products for two decades, relying on word-of-mouth referrals.
He said he enjoys the chance to talk with his customers and patients so that he can help them find the way to the yin-yang balance of good health.
Once he determines what may help the customer, Huang pulls together the ingredients, often sending the customer home with a packet of herbs that she has pulled together from the wide array, then wrapped up with instructions on brewing a tea or soup.
"I am more happy when my patient is getting better," Wong said. "My patient's feeling is my feeling."
He said about half his patients buy herbs and the other half come for acupuncture, many seeking pain management, for back aches, headaches and stress.
Kaimuki resident Lynn Arimoto has been a regular customer since 2008 at the clinic that operates above a watch-repair store. She said she has come to rely on an herbal remedy called yin chiao that she takes at the first sign of a cold to help stay healthy.
She favors another herbal remedy to prevent nausea and gastric upset when she travels.
And she relies on a cream that helps to heal burns and prevent scarring called ching wan hung and costs $2.50 for a tube.
Arimoto said she sees Wong's herbal remedies as a way to help stay healthy, not as a substitute for Western medicine.
"This gives people a very viable option for wellness," she said."He's helped all my family and my friends."
She likes the idea of using a natural product rather than only relying on conventional Western medications. "That's what piqued my interest," she said.
She also exercises and takes vitamins.
Wong said Arimoto is a good example of someone looking to find balance in life.
He worries that many Americans — especially in Hawai'i — lead busy and stressful lives where they lose the balance. Wong suggests one basic way to be healthier is for people to get eight hours sleep each night, preferably at about the same time.
Arimoto first went to Viet-Hoa when her veterinarian recommended herbs to treat her dog, an aging beagle. One vet had told her to take her dog home to die, while the other recommended two food recipes and the herbs.
After three days of the herbs and diet, Arimoto said the dog revived and lived a healthy, happy life for six more months. The experience spiked her curiosity and she kept asking Wong questions in her visits.
"Warren is very generous in sharing his knowledge and educating people," she said. And after various food scares from China, Arimoto asked Wong about safety standards. And she learned he also carries an entire line of herbal products manufactured in the United States.
Wong, 47, is originally from Vietnam. He left as
a refugee on a boat to Malaysia and immigrated to Hawai'i with an auntie. He had learned the trade of herbalist from his father but realized when he came to the United States that he needed to become licensed to practice.
Wong started by learning English in classes at Farrington High school. He went to school to be licensed in both. And his father eventually moved to Hawai'i to help him get established.
Customers Alvin Huynh and Trang Nguyen — who are originally from Vietnam — drove from Kalihi last week to buy an ointment for baby rash.
"I come here all the time," Huynh said, because he finds Wong helpful and inexpensive.
He has bought the steam packets of herbs wrapped in newspaper to help clear up respiratory issues. Wong takes times to explain what's weighed and wrapped into packets, telling customers how much water to use, showing them the cinnamon, menthol and other herbs.
If Wong struggles for a Western name for something he recommends, he pulls out a book to show customers.
Like Arimoto, Huynh finds Western medicine good for some things and Chinese medicine useful for others. "The price is right — much cheaper," he said.
And Wong and his customers agree that talking — about the symptoms, about life and work and family — can be a big part of finding out solutions.
"We need to talk a little bit more so I find out the cause," Wong said.