Singapore Heritage Fest

Rebranding traditional Chinese medicine as a lifestyle

Mr Lee Chin Siong of Heng Foh Tong Medical Hall and his mother, Madam Chye Nyuk Lian. Mr Lee's clinic in Bukit Batok is a participant in the Singapore HeritageFest, which is showcasing the history of hospitals and featuring traditional Eastern medici
Mr Lee Chin Siong of Heng Foh Tong Medical Hall and his mother, Madam Chye Nyuk Lian. Mr Lee's clinic in Bukit Batok is a participant in the Singapore HeritageFest, which is showcasing the history of hospitals and featuring traditional Eastern medicine.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Mr Lee Chin Siong, vice-president of Heng Foh Tong Medical Hall, has been rebranding his family's business in the last three years based on a simple belief: For traditional Chinese medicine to stay relevant, it has to be integrated into people's lifestyles and not just be seen as medicine.

The 52-year-old created a 28-day herb package for women who have just given birth. He is also looking to roll out an herbal tea that is sweeter, has a longer shelf life and contains bird's nest, in order to attract young people drawn to desserts like bubble tea.

His clinic in Bukit Batok is one of the participants in this year's Singapore HeritageFest, which is showcasing the history of hospitals as well as featuring traditional Eastern medicine.

Among its programmes is a virtual tour of its premises, containing so many precious furniture and jars rare in Singapore that Mr Lee called it a "mini-museum".

His four children will also talk about how herbs have been used in their meals by their grandparents.

Mr Lee said: "More than half of the young people have not stepped into a traditional Chinese medicine establishment, partly because of the language barrier and because there is more belief in Western medicine. But our herbs... can be integrated into people's daily diet. Everyone has had herbal soup."

The engineering-trained Mr Lee left his corporate job three years ago to take over the business, which has been profitable but only through his parents' frugal lifestyle.

He used his market research expertise to target groups like new mothers and those recovering from surgery to sell his herbs. "The new mother package is quite popular. Each day is different and nutritious, and the soup is easy to make, taking just three steps," Mr Lee said.

He added that he has six years to "break out of the mould" before the clinic's lease expires.

Malayala Ayurveda Vaidyasala, Singapore's longest-established Ayurveda clinic, is also invited to the festival. The Indian healing practice which it employs involves massages, medicated oils and herbs. Being non-invasive, it is sought out by young people with sports injuries and elderly patients with arthritis alike.

Mr Manesh Appoo, 53, whose family is the clinic's proprietor, acknowledges there has not been much scientific research done for the practice. "Unlike modern medicine, you don't have scientific evidence to prove that this actually works. We get our customers mostly through word of mouth but this is a commitment to keep our family practice alive."

Clement Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2021, with the headline 'Rebranding traditional Chinese medicine as a lifestyle'. Subscribe