GEORGE TOWN: At Carnarvon Street, a family has been engaged in a “cleaning” business that had its beginnings more than 100 years ago.
Hwang I Care is said to be the only traditional Chinese eye-cleaning parlour in Penang, and it does just that – eye cleaning or eye washing.
The uninitiated may be wondering what it is all about.
Proprietor Ooi Poh Mei says it literally involves the cleaning of the inside of the eyelids with a cotton bud soaked with ointment and black ink and attached to one end of a metal wire.
“We use our own brewed ointment and the black ink is traditional Chinese medicine we get from the medical halls,” she explains to FMT.
The black ink washes off and all the dust and other particles – white rheum and even little insects – removed from the eyes, float as black debris in a glass of water where they are discarded, says Poh Mei, 33, who learned the art from her grandfather, Ooi Ah Joo.
“My grandfather taught me the technique when I was 16,” she says, adding that he picked up the practice from his father – her great-grandfather – who had migrated from China.
Ah Joo was the face of the family business for years as he was Penang’s master eye cleaner until he passed away in 2006 at 74.
Poh Mei was just 18 then but she was determined to keep the business going and ran it part-time while studying. After completing her STPM examination, she manned the shop by herself, and continues to do so till today.
She first came to know about the eye-cleaning procedure when she was 13, and her grandfather cleaned her eyes in what she recalls as an intimidating experience, especially when he did not advise her to close her eyes.
She advises her clients to close their eyes before the procedure, and opens up the customers’ eyelids as she does the cleaning.
Poh Mei says the entire cleaning process is painless and gets done in 10 to 15 minutes, with the customer sitting comfortably in an antique reclining chair.
“As long as customers are relaxed and trusting, the process is quite relaxing and has the sensation similar to an eyeliner being drawn,” she explains.
Each eye is generously cleaned four times and, before every eyelid flip, customers are made to feel relaxed with a soothing head massage and a warm towel placed on their eyes.
Poh Mei’s mother, Koay Ah Sim, 52, says all sorts of people come to get their eyes cleaned, from children as young as three to adults as old as 90.
“Some kids get sand in their eyes after playing by the beach and want to get their eyes washed,” she says, adding that the children bravely climb onto the chair without any fuss or persuasion.
Over the years, Hwang I Care has built up a loyal group of customers who swear by the treatment.
“This aunty has been washing her eyes for around 20 years,” says Poh Mei as she tends to a regular customer.
“She sells nasi lemak and does a lot of frying so oil gets into her eyes,” she says, revealing that the customer comes monthly.
Another regular customer is electrician Kong Thean Siang, 29, who has been getting his eyes cleaned since 2016.
“My friends recommended it to me as we get a lot of dust in our eyes when we work,” he explains, revealing that as an electrician he does a lot of wiring work and much drilling of walls that produces dust,” he says, expressing relief after the procedure.
Kong, his friends and others aren’t the only ones who’ve gotten their eyes cleaned as even a well-known local politician as well as visitors from Thailand, the US and Europe have sought the Ooi family’s traditional eye-washing service.
In a matter of minutes, Hwang I Care will give you your most “eye-opening” experience and a fresher pair of eyes.
More information on the Hwang I Care service is available on Facebook.
Hwang I Care
83, Lebuh Carnarvon
10100 George Town
12pm to 6pm (Monday to Saturday)
2pm to 5pm (Sunday)
FMT does not endorse the efficacy of this service and encourages readers to visit an optometrist for routine eye care or an ophthalmologist for medical and surgical treatment of serious eye conditions.
You can also visit the FMT Photo Gallery for more pictures of this century-old eye cleaning business.