KAJANG: Who doesn’t think of satay at the mere mention of Kajang? Those succulent skewers of char-grilled marinated meat dipped in spicy peanut sauce can get those gastric juices churning in a second.
But if you thought that was all Kajang was famous for, then count yourself lucky as you’ve probably never been sick enough to require a herbal remedy from Kwong Chai Tong, a traditional Chinese medicine shop that has operated there for 97 years.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an ordinary sundry shop because of the assortment of chocolates, sweets, drinks and even kid-friendly firecrackers sold at the entrance.
But if you’re observant, you’ll notice the worn-out signboard perched above the entrance saying “Kedai Ubat Kwong Chai Tong” above bold Chinese characters spelling out the name in a faded red.
Once inside, you’ll be greeted by Rony Ng, a friendly 63-year-old manning the counter.
Behind him are row upon row of ancient but beautiful wooden drawers with brass handles, each storing a multitude of the many healing herbs Ng sells for just about any ailment one might have.
Flanking this set of wooden drawers are glass cabinets containing more exclusive herbs stored in glass jars.
When asked about the contents of a small shiny box nearby, Ng reveals it to be a RM200 ginseng root, relatively cheap mind you, considering that some ginseng sold in the market can cost up to RM1,000.
Speaking to FMT, Ng says the business he now runs was established in 1923 and that he inherited it from his father, who in turn inherited it from his father.
“I was never the type to excel at school so my father passed down the shop to me,” joked Ng.
Taking pride of place on the walls of the shop are portraits of two elderly gentlemen that Ng explains are his father and grandfather.
According to Rony, there are over 120 drawers behind him, each holding a variety of six herbs. That chalks it up to 720 varieties of herbs that Ng can rattle off the names to since he has been working with them for years.
“I use my personal computer to remember all of them,” says Ng, pointing to his head with a smile.
On the counter is a wooden bowl that he explains is used to grind the herbs into a very fine powder.
“Most medicine shops nowadays have a machine to make the job of grinding easier. I have the machine too but I feel it doesn’t do as smooth a job as the pestle and mortar. It’s better to do it manually.
“You have to pound the herbs and then grind them. If the powder sticks to the bowl then you know it’s very smooth,” explains Ng.
Scattered all over the counter are thick “recipe” books on what herbal concoctions are required to treat a variety of illness, the collaborative effort of Ng’s father and grandfather through the years.
Ng says most of his customers boil the herbs they purchase from him. And although you’ll be forgiven for assuming that most of his clientele are Chinese, Ng says he has many Malay and Indian customers too, even the odd American who stops by for an herbal remedy.
“When it comes to soups, usually five to six types of herbs are needed to treat an ailment. My Malay customers usually boil the herbs in a chicken soup and the others consume it with pork. You only need to consume it once a week to reap the benefits.”
Ng says he will only offer herbal remedies to those who believe in its efficacy. If a customer harbours doubt that the herbs will help, he is more than happy to direct them to the nearest clinic – no hard feelings.
His regulars have been coming to him for years, and Ng has been successful in countering the effects of “heatiness” besides treating fevers, gastric and even infertility.
Some customers come to him looking for an alternative form of skincare and after a thorough consultation, he will recommend either bird’s nest, white fungus, ginseng or pearls according to the customer’s specific needs.
The shop is popular particularly among the older generation who come all the way from Seremban and Balakong for his herbal concoctions.
Ng admits that his biggest worry however is that without his elderly customers, his business may not survive for long.
“If there is business, then you can find me at the shop. Otherwise, I’ll be at home relaxing,” Ng says.
Will there be a fourth generation to pass the business to? Ng says no, citing the modest monthly earnings that may not be enticing enough for his son. Instead, Ng plans to rent the premises out to others when he retires.
It’s heart-breaking to know that one of Kajang’s heritage stores will one day disappear for good but for now, while it still stands, do make a trip down to “Satay Town” and see what herbal remedies Ng has in store for you.
Reena Sekaran @ FMT Lifestyle