Legacy of Ting Ung Kee
by Chang Yi. Posted on February 17, 2013, Sunday
“JUST take a whole bottle of Sing Kong Chui and the stomach will be okay in a minute,” my mother would often say over the phone.
That was for me when I was a student in Kuala Lumpur. And later, she would say the same whenever my children got sick. I believe I’m going to say that to my daughter one day if her child has an upset stomach.
What is this miracle cure that we Foochows have been using so happily? To find the answer, there is a sinseh to know and a legacy to study.
One of the best legacies the Foochow pioneers left for the benefit of Sibu (in particular) and Sarawak (in general) can be the simple herbal cures bottled by Ting Ung Kee.
Kutien-born Ting who married into a Chinese Physician’s family in the 1930’s in China, impressed his father-in-law with his hard-working nature and ability to memorise the Chinese classics so much so that his father-in-law took him under his wings and taught him all he knew about traditional Chinese medicine.
When Ting was in his 20’s, he decided to seek his fortune in the New Foochow, bringing along his young wife and their son. He started small but progressed enough in 1942 to set up a stop – Poh Guan Hong – at No. 2 Old Street, Sibu. His business was moved to Channel Street in 1973.
According to Wong, a Sibu elder, Ting Ung Kee was an exceptional sinseh.
“His hard-working nature and far-sightedness helped him see beyond being a sedentary ordinary Chinese sinseh. He did not just stay put behind his desk but promoted his own brands of concoctions all over Sarawak and Sabah.
He paddled a small boat along small rivers into the ulu and made himself the best known Chinese sinseh amongst the Melanaus in Oya.
He often boarded a wooden motor launch to help the Ibans in Kapit – and even further up to the Balleh. He was a fearless TCM practitioner who believed in herbal cures to diminish pains and illnesses.
His grandson DK Ting said his grandfather was well known for his habit of cycling to his patients’ homes, bringing along helpful herbs and his own brands. Indeed, he was well-loved by the Chinese of Sibu and people of other races for his compassion and humility.
According to his son, Ting Ka Hua, the pioneer even spent time in the ulu, taking his herbal concoctions into the deep jungles to help the indigenous people. His kindness and warm enthusiasm helped the ulu people understand his medicine, and his popularity soared from Kapit to Kundasan, and Sarikei to Simunjan, especially his Sing Kong Chui or Ubat Sakit Perut
Poh Guan Hong, under Ting Ung Kee and his descendants, have been having several “firsts” under their belts since 1942.
The best selling product, an innovation of Ting Ung Kee, is the Deer Brand, Sing Kong Chui, a medication which helps those with stomach upsets and headaches, especially.
This key TCM over-the-counter medicine has been on the shelves of many homes since 1950. Almost every Chinese household knows the effectiveness of this medicine.
Foochow children who go overseas or West Malaysia to study would bring back a whole box of it.
In fact, Sibu Chinese emigrants would make it a point to stock up upon return to their foreign homes. The Foochows would call this the “first medicine” to bring along anywhere.
Bottled herbal cures
Ting Ung Kee was also the first Chinese sinseh in Sibu to produce his own bottled herbal cures. Most sinsehs would prescribe different kinds of herbs to patients who then brew the package for a long time.
But Ting had the idea of turning his herbs into liquid form and putting it into a small bottle. Thus, Sing Kong Chui was born. That was really innovative. And for half a century, the small bottle was a respected brand to cure stomach upset for the people of Sobu
With modernisation catching up, the Ting family started an ultra-modern factory in Sibu to manage the manufacturing of Ting Ung Kee’s innovative cures. This brought them another first in Sibu.
In 1998, Poh Guan Hong was accorded the Good Manufacturing Practice Certification – the first for an East Malaysian TCM company. Their manufacturing arm, a two-storey factory, is run by Ting’s second son, Ting Ka Hua, and grandsons.
Poh Guan Hong is also the pride of Sibu, being the first medical entreprise to receive government certification for its special but affordable products.
To name 10 of them: Sing Gong Chui products; Deer brand herbal rub; Deer brand balm; Deer brand muscle pain solution; Deer brand peppermint cough syrup; Deer brand solution for wounds and cuts; Deer brand baby herbal bath; Deer brand powder for sore throat; almond syrup; special wind expelling herbal cure and special herbal tea for kidney stones.
All these products have been very sellable because they are easy and reliable to use.
Ting Ung Kee, at first, prepared these products personally, by hand, from his home. He wanted to ensure his medications were easy to use and cheap to obtain so that patients and customers could benefit most from their goodness.
Expert herbs combiner
Another first for Ting Ung Kee was his skill in combining different kinds of herbs for effective cures.
His ability to remember all the possible curative herbal combinations stood him in good stead when he started his business in Sibu.
Today his grandson, Ting Dor Hor, is carrying on his vision and mission.
The younger Ting is a graduate of Nanking Chinese Medical University and Singapore Chinese Medical College.
He is now having a consultation room in Poh Guan Hong, providing acupuncture service, kua sha, tui na, internal medicine and blood sugar and blood pressure tests. It’s really a good mix of traditional and western medicine at very affordable prices.
Dor Hor also uses modern lab equipment like the microscope for his tests. His grandfather would have approved of all these improvements.
Another first for Poh Guan Hong was the legendary few hundred drawers of medicinal chests, made in Singapore and shipped to Sibu. Today, the new shop still uses the beautiful antique chests (with the drawers) which do not humidify because of the special selected wood.
“Many old people who come by, feel the older Ting is still around, especially when they see the familiar chests and drawers containing more than 1,000 herbs and medicines,” exclaimed one customer who dropped by.
According to his grandson, Dor Kang, when Ting setup Poh Guan Hong in 1942, it was the whole shop selling medicines and offering TCM treatment. He got the drawers custom-made locally.
He also got most of his medicines from Hong Kong and some from Singapore. This was not entirely easy due to the lack of transportation, and it took a long time for the shipment to reach Sibu. He did also ask some new Chinese migrants to bring some herbs to Malaysia for him.
In keeping with tradition, Poh Guan Hong continues to mix the different herbs, stored in the different drawers, for patients after consultation with Dor Hor, and wrap the herbal prescriptions in square brown papers.
In the past, a string would be used to tie the packet but today, a piece of cellotape would close the package and a small plastic bag given to the patient.
It would be like Ting Ung Kee was still serving his patients in those long gone days.
The aroma of herbs and the fragrance of freshly ground pepper filter in through the separating door at the back of the shop whenever someone comes in or goes out.
Poh Guan Hong is also the first “one-stop”Chinese medicine store supplying adequate “over the counter medications.”
According to one elderly relative in Sibu, since the 1950’s, she would just pop into the shop and the friendly customer assistant or Ung Kee Sin Seh himself, would help her know all the ‘over the counter’ medicines and herbal cures she needed.
After purchasing the balms and solutions like Sing Kong Chui, she would return to her village very happy as her herbal medicine suppy could last a month or two. This had saved her a lot of time.
Ting Ung Kee’s second son, Ting Ka Hua, is now the managing director of Poh Guan Hong. He is the first Sarawakian to be president of the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia. That is really a feather in the cap for any Foochow born in Sibu. He was educated as an economist at the Hong Kong Cultural University and a banking investor by a Canadian university. He was an counsultant for Hock Hua Bank in the 80’s. He also worked as an investement banker for Sabah Development Bank.
A very complete and well designed website can be found @ http://pohguanhong.com.my/contacts.html
Do you believe in a magical cure? If you come to love Sing Kong Chui, then the magic is real.