Thong Chai Medical Institution in Singapore

20171017_162334Former Thong Chai Medical Institution at 50, Eu Tong Sen Street, Singapore

The former Thong Chai Medical Institution is a historic building constructed in 1892 and housed one of the best known Chinese charity medical centres in Singapore.  Traditional Chinese doctors or sinsehs used to dispense free treatment and medicine to patients of all races in Singapore.  Today, it is used as a commercial building for the Singapore office for Forever Living Products.

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The side photo of the Thong Chai Medical Institution.   Funama Hotel in the background.

History of the Thong Chai Medical Institution

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The plaques in English (above) and Chinese (below) are displayed on both sides of the Thong Chai Medical Institution entrance.

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In 1867,  two Chinese merchants got together to set up Singapore’s first traditional Chinese medical institution for the poor.  These compassionate men saw an urgent need for a charitable organisation that provided medical advice and assistance to those who could not afford to pay for it.

Thong Chai dispensed free medical consultation, treatment and herbal medicines to the poor, regardless of race or religion.  Its sincere efforts were appreciated and recognised and more benefactors joined its ranks.  They came from all Chinese communities: Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese and Hakka.

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Initially, Thong Chai operated out of a small rented shophouse on Upper Pickering Street, then know as Upper Macao Street.  It was then called Tong Chay Ee Say.  In 1892, it bought the building of 50 Eu Tong Sen Street, with which it has become most strongly associated, and changed its name to Thong Chai Medical Institution.

From this building, Thong Chai continued to serve the poor and sick but it also became a centre for business and political activities.  Several clan associations set up their headquarters there; the Chinese Chamber of Commerce was conceived in this building, and its first office operated there until 1906 when it moved to its own premises.  In the early years of the twentieth century, when political tensions between China and Japanese high, Chinese loyalists held public meetings at Thong Chai to garner support for their motherland.

Thong Chai Medical Institution is now located in a 10-storey building in Chin Swee Road, carrying on the Thong Chai tradition much in the way of its predecessors.  They celebrated 150 years of operations in 2017.

The former Thong Chai Medical Institution was gazetted as a national monument on 6 July, 1973.  [Source:  Boden-Kloss]

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at Thong Chai Medical Institution to officiate swearing-in ceremony of the Institution’s Management Committee members on 26 March, 1963.

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Favorite Teochew Heritage Food Stalls at Eu Tong Sen Street

With thanks to my blogger friend, Victor Yue, the “Chinatownboy”  who posted another blog about Thong Chai Medical Institution. He is also the creator of the Heritage Singapore Food group on Facebook.

He mentioned that the delicious food were found at the pushcart stalls located outside Thong Chai in the 1960s.

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The juxtaposed photo of the then Thong Chai hawker stalls located at Eu Tong Sen Street (above) with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore and the present photo (below) at the courtesy of Mr Lam Chun See of the Good Morning Yesterday blog.

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Most of the hawkers were Teochew who lived in the Eu Tong Sen Street, Merchant Road and Ellenborough Street.

My former secondary school classmate Steven Sim and his family lived in Merchant Road at the back of the Thong Chai hawker stall in 1962.   Whenever I visited him in the evening and passed the stalls to smell the aroma of mouth-watering food, it brought me a hunger pang.

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Unlike the food stalls at another famous place for foodies at the former Orchard Car Park Glutton Square which were only opened in the evening,  the Thong Chai food stalls were opened in the day and night.   The stalls were very crowded during lunch time patronised by office workers around the Chulia Street and Raffles Place areas.

Pioneer generation Teochew foodie friends will never forget their favorite Teochew food stalls at Thong Chai.

The Present Thong Chai Medical Institution at Chin Swee Road, Singapore

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Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution website here .

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