[View in HD here.]
We’re sure that many of us still have vivid memories of the various bitter concoctions that our mothers would brew, for long hours, whenever we were sick. Despite our frantic attempts to brush off and rebuff their advances, we would eventually give in and be cajoled into downing that nasty-tasting mixture. More often than not, we would recover soon enough. Perhaps it’s the awful taste or the lack of scientific endorsement, but as we grew up, we started to drift further and further away from traditional Chinese medicine, preferring to put our trust in the “tastier” and seemingly more efficient Western medicine instead.
Chancing upon this traditional Chinese medicine hall in, you guessed it, Chinatown, the Rediscover crew could not resist dropping by to relive some of that nostalgia, that herby smell we all grew rather afraid of since childhood. The owners were kind enough to let us take some photos, get some footage, and answer some questions. Yue Shin Siang Medical Hall is located along Upper Cross Street, just opposite the Civil Court. The Ng family has been running the medical hall, and according to them, the family business has spanned over three generations!
During our time there, we observed that this traditional medical hall was still very much a busy hub of activity. The Ng family was constantly kept busy behind the counter, talking to us in snatches but primarily listening carefully to the symptoms each customer described. They would then proceed to pick out different herbs from the rows of seemingly infinite drawers and jars; measuring them with precision using scales that looked like relics and wrapping them in little pink packages. It was fascinating to watch as the whole process felt almost like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, wizards in an apothecary measuring out recipes for magic concoctions; except that this was real, and the concoctions really worked. A steady stream of customers flowed in and out of the busy hall, many of whom were regulars. Mr Ng explained that over the years, they had built a loyal customer base through a reliable, service-oriented approach.
Although Mr Ng noted that the medical hall indeed sees some younger customers, he was quick to add that their trade is one that is fast disappearing from westernized Singaporean society. Sadly, traditional Chinese medicine is something that the current generation of Singaporeans have lost touch with, as many of us would much rather not go through the tedious hassle of preparing and brewing these medicines, preferring instead the more easily available and convenient Western alternatives. He too mentioned that while Western medicine provided a ‘quick-fix’ and fairly immediate solution to visible symptoms, Chinese medicine took a slower but more thorough approach towards balancing out the entire body, and offers a long-term cure rather than a short-term solution.
The next time you find yourself still not recovering from that niggling sickness even after taking Western medication, why not head down to your neighborhood’s traditional Chinese medical hall for an alternative solution instead? The many secrets of this old trade, handed down through generations, may just offer you a solution that the science of Western medicine cannot.
More photos on our Flickr page here.
Yue Shin Siang Medical Hall
#01–154, 34 Up Cross St, Singapore 058340
Text by Song Lim. Photography by Lizzy Lee. Video edited by Derek Foo.