For BBC Travel, I wrote about a rather oddball pastime that’s popular in the tea houses of Chengdu, China: ear cleaning. In this unique local tradition dating back centuries, roving bands of ear specialists flick, pick and twirl their customers’ ears clean using scoops, feathers, and even a tuning fork.

In the name of journalism, I obviously had to try out the treatment myself. My ears may never be the same again.

I swallowed my nervousness as Master Shu, as his name tag read, adjusted his headlamp and reached toward my ear with a skinny metal prong.

“Will it hurt?” I asked pointlessly. It was already too late to flee.

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