At bogus TCM clinics, it's illicit business as usual

Two of 7 fake establishments exposed earlier by The Sunday Times still offer sexual services

This “TCM centre” in Chinatown did not openly admit providing sexual services, but the manager said that perhaps the reporter could negotiate with the massage therapist, when asked if the place provided “special” massages.
This “TCM centre” in Chinatown did not openly admit providing sexual services, but the manager said that perhaps the reporter could negotiate with the massage therapist, when asked if the place provided “special” massages.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

Despite headline-hogging raids all over Singapore and a government leader noting the problem, pseudo-therapists are still offering sexual services at several places claiming to be traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics.

The Sunday Times learnt they are still being offered at two of the seven "clinics" exposed by this paper in January.

The authorities have been cracking down on massage parlours and TCM centres recently. Late last month, police arrested nine women following raids over three days at 15 establishments in Little India, Bukit Batok, Clementi, MacPherson, Sennett Estate and Upper Paya Lebar.

A day after the last raid, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat called on industry players and the authorities to take more action, in an April 30 Facebook post.

"TCM practitioners who allow their clinics to be used in this manner are tarnishing the reputation of the TCM industry, and damaging the standing of other TCM practitioners and institutions," Mr Chee wrote.

  • 81 Number of women arrested in raids at unlicensed massage parlours and public entertainment outlets in Thomson, Bukit Timah,Paya Lebar, Selegie and Outram in November last year.

    75 Number of people nabbed in a four- day anti-vice enforcement blitz on such centres in June last year.

Message received?

Not so at two of the seven TCM "clinics" exposed, which The Sunday Times revisited last Thursday .

The signboards outside the premises promoting treatments like tui na, cupping and acupuncture were still there. At one "clinic" in North Bridge Road, the signboard placed on the walkway was edited with the initials "TCM" removed.

But the so-called therapists with their tight and often revealing dresses remained. The only difference appeared to be the apparent urgency in offering sexual services.

Tucked away on the second storey of a shophouse, far from prying eyes, a woman behind the counter greeted the reporter in a business-like manner as she explained the prices for the different massages. Prices were still the same at $35 for a 30-minute massage and $50 for 45-minute rub-down.

After paying for a 30-minute massage, the reporter was led up another flight of stairs into a smaller room where a female "therapist", who appeared to be in her 20s, was waiting.

Without hesitation, she said in Mandarin: "Is it your first time here? We are not a proper massage parlour. We do sexy things."

As she continued with her massage, she began to explain the different types of "special" massages she was willing to provide, including sexual intercourse.

At another unlicensed massage parlour masquerading as a TCM clinic in Chinatown, the female manager told our reporter that "if you want a (special) massage, you can choose the masseur and have a talk with her".

The other two massage establishments offering TCM services which The Sunday Times revisited were cautious, but still operating.

One in Jalan Besar declined to open its doors despite the reporter ringing the doorbell several times, preferring to screen customers with a closed-circuit television camera at the front door. The other TCM "clinic" in Chinatown denied offering sexual services when asked before booking a therapist.

Therapists from the same two "clinics" were secretly filmed offering sexual services in the earlier report.

The four TCM "clinics" were registered to the same man according to an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) search. He has 30 establishments with the initials "TCM" registered with Acra.

Those in the industry said TCM "clinics" mushroomed all over the island after the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department made it more difficult for companies to register spas and massage outlets.

The authorities had raided several unlicensed massage parlours and public entertainment outlets last year. In November, a series of raids in Thomson, Bukit Timah, Paya Lebar, Selegie and Outram led to the arrest of 81 women. Last June, 75 people were nabbed in a four-day anti-vice enforcement blitz on such centres.

TCM practitioners are not happy that unlicensed massage parlours are passing themselves off as TCM clinics.

One practitioner who has a clinic near Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 called for tighter regulations. To register a TCM business with Acra, firms need to first register with the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board, a statutory board under the Ministry of Health .

Wanting to be known only as Mr Pang, the practitioner said in Mandarin: "I hope there can be more regulations in the way shops are allowed to use the term 'TCM' to advertise their service.

"For example, shops merely offering tui na (massage) for relaxation should not mislead the public into thinking it is TCM."

Another physician in Woodlands who works for a TCM chain said that he feels the clampdown by the authorities was a "good move" which sends a signal to those running dodgy massage parlours pretending to be TCM clinics.

Said the physician: "Our tui na session involves providing the patient with a diagnosis. It's a healing treatment performed by qualified massage therapists who are dressed appropriately."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'At bogus TCM clinics, it's illicit business as usual'. Print Edition | Subscribe