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TCM is just what the doctor ordered

Updated: 2013-12-27 18:23
By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei (

On a tropical day in June, Haji Julaihi bin Haji Tahir, 49, drove to a provisional field hospital about 5 kilometers away in Bangar, capital of Temburong district, to have acupuncture on his nose.

He was heading to a facility where visiting Chinese military doctors were providing traditional Chinese medicine — for free.

The day before, in the same place, Julaihi had received his first-ever traditional Chinese medical treatment for his back. It was a success.

“I’ve seen traditional Chinese medicine on TV, so for two days in a row, I went to queue at the clinic before it opened at 8am,” he said.

Julaihi is one of an increasing number of Bruneians, or rather local Malays, who have become interested in TCM, whose popularity was once confined to ethnic Chinese in the Southeast Asian country.

Since it opened four years ago, Beijing Tong Ren Tang, the first and only large-scale Chinese herbal pharmacy in Brunei, has been looking for ways to increase people’s recognition of TCM and Chinese culture.

Wen Zhongqing, branch manager, said: “We are here not just to serve Chinese Bruneians — although they are still our top customers in a small market. We are here to encourage more local people to accept traditional Chinese medicine.”

Goal realized

Brunei has a population of 412,200, the majority of whom are Malays. About 15 percent are Chinese.

Before the establishment of the pharmacy, unlicensed doctors from Singapore and Taiwan were the only ones who practiced TCM in Brunei, and the broad range of treatments was obtained almost only by Chinese.

Wen said the goal of attracting some Malays has been realized.

The branch, located in a neat business street in the capital, looks like other Tongrentang pharmacies in China: Dozens of wooden drawers contain herbal medicines, along with well-known medicines such as White Phoenix Bolus of Black-Bone Chicken. There is a lingering scent of herbs.

But a closer inspection reveals the Malay language alongside the Chinese characters for “Tongrentang” on the sign. There are several consulting rooms, and a Chinese doctor is usually present in one, a rare circumstance in a pharmacy. Medicines that cannot be found in China are available, too.

“We made some herbal tea for flu and weight gain resulting from high living standards and the traditional diet in this affluent country,” said Wen.

There are five members of staff, including two doctors from China, working in the branch. In addition to attending a daily clinic, they offer free medical consultations. The presence of the Chinese doctors makes the pharmacy feel more like a hospital, he said.

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