If you've never had the chance to sample the herbal medicine shops along Ko Shing Street in Hong Kong, two stores within a few blocks of one another in Monterey Park can show you what you're missing. Mini-chain PCT Ginseng & Herbs and family-run KCC Chinese Herbs offer traditional medicines with different approaches to customer service. At PCT, walk past the inexpensive bags of garlic peanuts and seaweed stocked by the front door and you're in a small world of herbs and roots, parts and pieces of things formerly alive. Whole dried shark fin rests in a glass jar and can be had for $40. A whole sea cucumber, used in Chinese medicine to treat everything from impotence to joint pain, costs about the same. There's a big variety of sexual enhancement medications although, for some reason, all of them are for men. Price tags and other labels are written in Chinese, though the staff speaks English well enough to guide you through the basics. Blocks away, KCC Chinese Herbs is the more doctrinaire, and more expensive, employing an expert in traditional medicine. Individualized cocktails for specific ailments can run into the hundreds of dollars, so bring a fluent Mandarin speaker. KCC has an impressive variety of affordable mushrooms and insect parts. Be sure to do your homework, and remember that with all herbal remedies, a healthy dose of skepticism may be the best remedy. PCT Ginseng & Herbs, 114 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 280-1088. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. KCC Chinese Herbs, 315 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 572-9317.

—Todd Krainin

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