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A fish pedicure
A fish pedicure

I like fish. Baked is good, on the barbie even better. Grilled is best, though, with lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley. There are health benefits to eating fish - but fish eating us?

Lining up in their thousands to nibble the dead cells off your tootsies as you dangle them in a tank of tepid water? That doesn't sound healthy; it sounds sick. A foot fetish that's got out of hand, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor.

Well, if it doesn't tickle your fancy, join the club.

When it came to joining in the fun at the Morino Kaze Fish Therapy and Spa in Kuala Lumpur, I was the last to raise a pinkie and hop into the tank. Indeed, it took a bit of urging and mocking before I reluctantly agreed to join the craze which is supposedly sweeping the health and wellbeing world.

I shed my sandals, washed my feet and gingerly dipped them into the water where 7000 or so minnows were going berserk on my travel companions' toes and ankles. They were slow to notice my feet's attractions. Perhaps I hadn't washed them sufficiently or maybe the skin hadn't softened sufficiently to act as bait.

Maybe I was lacking in dead cells, for it is the dead skin which these fish are supposed to feast upon.

Fish pedicure is said to have originated in Turkey where Garra rufu fish are used to eat the skin of patients affected with psoriasis and other skin ailments. The idea is that the skin is softened by the warm water and becomes edible. The temperature of the water, on the other hand, means nutrients don't survive so the fish are starving.

Anyway, when the patient dangles his feet before their eyes, they go ballistic. Party time!

In Asia, the fish are often qingqing yu, a tropical toothless fish. Colloquially, they're also called Dr Fish or Spa Fish.

At Morino Kaze, the water temperature is between 25C and 40C, it's changed regularly and treated continuously by UV rays.

The idea is the fish merrily chomp away at the dead skin, exposing the new fresh skin to the surface. The exfoliating effects supposedly make you walk away feeling like you've got a pair of new feet. Well, if you pursue a course of treatment over the course of a few days, that is.

"The secretions from the mouths of qingqing yu forms a disinfectant function," the brochure calmly reassures.

"Suction by the fish is able to stimulate the epidermis nerve and have an exultant effect on health fitness . . . It removes dead skin, bacterium and pore excretion and will further discharge the trash and toxins inside the body."

Oh yes, it helps blood circulation, promotes metabolism and nourishes the skin, too.

The brochure adds that another benefit is "people will feel relaxing and easily get into sleep after the treatment".

Sounds good but what did it actually feel like?

Spooky. I admit I'm a sook when it comes to fish nibbling my flesh, dead or otherwise.

Because the fish have no teeth, you couldn't say it actually hurt. It tickled, sure, but my companions were right: after a while, you get inured to that sensation.

No, it was the _thought _ of what was taking place down there that was repugnant.

At the reflexology and fish spa in downtown KL, it cost 34 ringgit ($11) for 30 minutes, but I couldn't keep my feet in that long. Too squeamish.

Whether this novelty will last or be overtaken by a new beauty treatment, only time will tell.

But for me, the best place to encounter a fish is on the plate.

"It removes dead skin, bacterium and pore excretion and will further discharge trash and toxins." Spa brochure <div class="endnote">

Mark Irving travelled as a guest of Air Asia, mytravelshoppe, Tourism Malaysia and CHM. </div>