At 15, Tang Jak Hao would watch his sinseh (Chinese physician) father Tang Yoon Teck at work. Without fail, he would be by his dad’s side after school, learning all about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
As Jak Hao watched his father like a hawk, he was soaking up knowledge and observing how the senior Tang interacted with his patients. Sometimes, under Yoon Teck’s supervision, Jak Hao got to treat patients as well.
But Yoon Teck wanted the best for his son and sent him to proper “schools” – locally and abroad – to study TCM.
Now, at 24, Jak Hao is the second-generation sinseh in his family, and belongs to a new breed of physicians well-versed in TCM. He is the eldest son in the family and has a brother and two sisters.
Sister Win Yen, 22, is learning acupuncture while youngest brother, Jak Siang, 18, is also studying TCM.
Their father, 50, now runs a medical hall in Puchong Jaya, Selangor and hopes that all his children would take over the business one day.
When attending to patients, Jak Hao puts on a doctor’s white coat and stethoscope. Humble in his approach and a good listener, the soft-spoken young man is liked by his patients.
“Generally, my father thinks the new generation of youngsters are uninterested in this field and deplores that the TCM practice may eventually be lost,” said Jak Hao. Obviously, he’s proving that notion wrong.
In 2010, Jak Hao completed his secondary school education in Sri Sedaya (now Sri UCSI), a private school in Subang Jaya. He then enrolled to study traditional Chinese medicine for four years at the Malaysian Chinese Medical Association in Kuala Lumpur and a year at Shandong University Of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Jinan, Shandong, China.
In China, Jak Hao said that he saw patients with “rare ailments” (such as skin diseases and cysts) which proved to be an eye-opening experience for him.
His interest in TCM has obviously paid off as he now gets to treat patients first hand. When more customers turn up, his father steps in to treat them.
The most common health problems among patients are skin diseases, high blood pressure, stroke and sweaty palms.
On average, Jak Hao sees 10 to 15 patients on week days and 20 to 25 patients on Saturdays and public holidays. Consultation time for each patient is about 15 to 20 minutes depending on their ailments.
His youngest patients who are aged three to eight usually have coughs and loss of appetite. “Many of these children are skinny because they do not eat much,” he explained.
On the day of this interview, Maggie Yee brought her daughter Sarah Lim, four, to see Jak Hao.
“She has been coughing for on and off for four months now. I took her to see a specialist but her cough still persisted. Hence, I decided to take her to a Chinese physician. This is her third visit and she is coughing less now,” said Yee.
According to Jak Hao, common complaints from patients aged 20 to 40 years are insomnia and shoulder and back pain. Female patients would consult him about their menstrual problems.
Broadcasting student Lok Li Win, 24, was diagnosed with back and stomach problems due to irregular eating patterns. Jak Hao advised him to eat proper meals at regular hours. He did a neck, shoulder and body massage for Lok and also acupuncture on his stomach.
“It’s incredible that he could diagnose my back and digestive problems from just talking to me and taking my pulse,” he said.
Kevin Yong, 35, an IT manager, came to see Jak Hao on recommendation from a friend. He had been suffering from right shoulder pain for two weeks. He usually works on the computer for long hours on end.
Yong was given a neck, shoulder and body massage to alleviate body aches and prescribed a course of Chinese medicine (ginseng powder mixed with assorted herbs).
According to Jak Hao, older women would suffer from perimenopausal syndrome and hypertension. He explained that with ageing, people usually “have low energy and feel weak”.
Jak Hao once treated a 65-year-old retired policeman with thromboangiitis obliterans, a rare disease in which blood vessels of the hands and feet become blocked. The former cop had “blackened” legs, as well as heart and kidney problems. He wanted to avoid surgery or any kind, and he came to seek TCM as an option.
After four months of treatment which included herbal medication, the man began to respond well.
When he was understudying with his father, Jak Hao noticed that many patients only trusted elderly Chinese physicians. However, he was not dishearted.
“I gave them assurance that nowadays, the younger generation who practise TCM are getting better and more professional. Students of TCM also study Western medicine,” he said.
When he first started, he felt down as many patients lacked confidence that he could heal them.
“After they see results, they begin to have confidence in me and even recommended their friends,” he enthused.
He wants to be a Chinese physician out of noble intention. “I hope to cure as many people as I can,” mused Jak Hao.
After work, Jak Hao – who likes to read, play badminton, jog, work out in the gym and travel – feels good when meeting up with friends.
“My friends are curious to learn more about TCM. They are always asking me questions (about their health),” said Jak Hao with a smile.