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Traditional health care center puts on a more modern face

Traditional Chinese medicine may be recognized all over the world for its healing properties but it also has a major problem: to the layman, it actually makes very little sense.

Enter a traditional medicine shop in Bangkok’s Chinatown and you’re completely lost amidst piles of aromatic seeds, strange-looking roots and some dead wood. You might be more confused, amused or perhaps even frightened when discovering that pungent dead scorpions, worms or centipedes are part of the recommended remedy.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for more than 2,000 years but does it really have a place in the high-tech 21st century?

Isn’t it far easier for woman to pop a painkiller from the pharmacy than to wait for an herbalist to mix up a Chinese remedy for curing menstrual cramps? Surprisingly, the answer is yes: for many people, “natural” wins out over “manufactured”.

Responding to the calls for alternative medicine and tapping a healthy market share in Chinatown is Beijing Tong Ren Tang, a TCM store and health care center.

Nestled on bustling Yaowarat Road, Beijing Tong Ren Tang (Thailand) is a partnership between the Thai pharmaceutical company, Vejpongosot, and the original Tong Ren Tang ― China’s largest producer of traditional Chinese medicine. Founded in 1669, Tong Ren Tang earned its reputation by supplying Chinese medicine to the royal court for almost 200 years. A few years ago, the two pharmaceutical companies combined to offer user-friendly and hassle-free traditional Chinese health care.

“Taking a traditional Chinese medicine can be a lot of hassle and involves a good deal of time and patience,” says Yuttadech Vejongsa, deputy managing director of Beijing Tong Ren Tang (Thailand), who’s a modern medicine pharmacist by training as well as an expert in herbal medicine.
Yuttadech Vejpongsa of Beijing Tong Ren Tang
Yuttadech Vejpongsa of Beijing Tong Ren Tang

“First you arrange a meeting with the Chinese medicine practitioner, who will trace your problem through your symptoms, before giving an herbal prescription. Then you have to make a trip to the herbal medicine shop before going home with a bag full of dried plants and some animal parts. And it’s not over yet: next you have to prepare the ingredients, which can often mean boiling 10 cups of water for every cup of medicinal water.”

Preparing traditional Chinese medicine, then, is out of the question for many city-dwellers who lack the facilities to cook for themselves.

That’s where Beijing Tong Ren Tang steps in, saving time and money for the herbal medicine consumer.

“We offer hassle-free treatment,” says Yuttadech, holding up an herbal prescription written in Chinese. “You can fax or e-mail us a prescription and leave the boiling and cooking process to us.”

Beijing Tong Ren Tang operates on the founding theories of Chinese medicine practice, many of which date back several hundred years.

The treatments, which are very much based on Chinese cosmological concepts like yin-yang and the five elements, include various forms of herbal medicine and acupuncture.

But what makes Beijing Tong Ren Tang distinctive from other herbal shops on Yaowarat Road is its strong sense of professionalism. To win the young generation’s trust in herbal medicine, the Chinese health center is run on a modern and systematic clinic model with different wings, wards and rooms for diagnosis and treatment. Six well-trained and educated herbal medicine practitioners, with experience in clinical treatment, work daily to diagnose and trace health problems by palpating the pulse and inspecting the tongue.

“Once the client gets an herbal prescription from the practitioner, they can purchase the medicinal herbs at Beijing Tong Ren Tang,” says Yuttadech. “They can of course buy them from other herbal medicine shops but I have to say that our herbs are second to none in Yaowarat.”

Dong Chong Cao, Tu Si Zi, Huang Qi, Bai Zhu and 100 other varieties of herbal plants are well kept in the temperature-controlled store room before finding their way to the medicine cupboard in the front store.

“90 percent of traditional Chinese medicine is made from plants, and we import them from Tong Ren Tang in China,” adds Yuttadech. “We ensure our customers get only premium herbs.”

The front store is the domain of several well-trained traditional pharmacists, some of whom hail from China. Working in front of the large, multi-layered Chinese medicine cupboard, they take the herbal prescriptions, examine the recipes then pick the herbs for their next destination ― the boiling pot. Just as in modern medical centers, the pharmacist double-checks the prescription.

“The pharmacists know their trade very well. If the practitioner prescribes an herbal medicine that doesn’t appear right, for example, giving an unusually high dose of some particular variety of herbs, the pharmacists will consult the practitioner for more detail,” adds Yuttadech.

In many ways Beijing Tong Ren Tang is a traditional health care center with a modern face, offering those who prefer to eschew Western treatments health and healing. It provides a one-stop service, from diagnosis to prescription to traditional pharmacy, for people who want to try the healing power of herbs.

“In the way of traditional Chinese medicine, we don’t really focus on curing the disease. With a weaker dose of herbal medication, it will take longer than the modern medicine to heal,” says Yuttadech, who earned his pharmacology degree at a Thai university.

“On the other side of the coin, traditional Chinese medicine works to keep people healthy ― physically and spiritually ― and keep the disease at the bay.”

By Phoowadon Duangmee

(The Nation )