Monday, February 04, 2008

What do you do when you have sore throat or a cough?

What do you do when you have sore throat or a cough? Why, take some medical hornets and olives of course. Yes, that what my mother would get for us from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shop or Yok Choy Poe (药材铺). In Cantonese, this medicine is called chook fong yok lam (竹蜂药榄). “Chook fong” is bamboo wasp or hornet, and “lam” is olive (橄榄). Yes, it’s really ugly looking. She would boil it in hot water and make us drink the water.

chook fong (1)

Nowadays it’s difficult to buy such products. Maybe the bamboo hornet or wasp is an endangered species. Anyway, for the worthy cause of educating my younger readers, I bought a small packet to show you what it looks like. Hope my friend Siva and his fellow wildlife conservationists will not condemn me.

By the way, does anyone know why TCM shops always wrap their products in pink paper? That’s a genuine question, not a quiz question.

When we lived in the kampong, we had a TCM shop just a stone’s throw from our house. Guess what we called the shop owner? Yok Choy Poe lou (药材铺佬) of course! He was a Khek (Hakka). You may recall that our kampong was a Hokkien kampong. Practically everyone was Hokkien until when I was older. As far as I could remember, we were the only Cantonese family, and this TCM shop owner’s family was the only Hakka family. Across the road to the right, was a Hock Chew guy who ran a small coffee shop (with attap roof). Guess what we called him? Fook Chow lou of course!

In our kampong we had a lot of ‘lous’; e.g. fei fatt lou (barber), kopi char pou lou (coffee shop owner), mai yu loe (fish monger), mai arp lou (duck seller) etc. Good thing no koon choy lou (undertaker)

While I am at it, let me show you some photos of other equipment that the TCM practitioner uses. My father-in-law used to run such a shop in his younger days in Ipoh; which explains why my wife knows quite a bit about traditional Chinese herbs. When she was little, being one of the oldest children, she had to help out in the shop. Life was tough for her.

After my father-in-law passed away, a couple of years ago, we found these gadgets among his things. I will just show you the photos and you try to figure out what they are used for. That way, I don’t have to embarrass myself by giving the wrong ‘education’.

Chinese medicine cutter (1)

Chinese medicine daching (1)

Chinese medicine pounder


pinto said...

The first one is used to slice the herbal medication into thin slices. The second one is a daching, for weighing the medication.
The third one is a mortar and pistil (not sure if the spelling is right) for grinding/pounding the medication.

Anonymous said...

Your kampung got no "Hup Sup Lou" or "Chee Yoke Lou? How can there not be one?

Now for the identificaiton of the TCM working tools.

1. The cutter is for "yong sam"

2. Daching - for expenmsive items like crocodile meat an maybe "sim buay"?

3. Mortar - to pound the pearls?

Anonymous said...

Hakkas seem to dominate the pawnshop + TCM business. I am not sure why - even my ILs like to keep this dark secret from me.

Yah I was about to ask you that quesiton - why pink paper? My favorite "Kam Cho Shin Mui" also packed that way. I always consume this to accompany me when I drink that horrible dark liquid which removes heatiness from the body. No wonder I now become a kana addict (an addict who eats 1kg every 2 weeks)

Anonymous said...

Peter-you are correct. Certain retail trades like TCM and pawnshops are dominated by the Hakkas. In the past Hakkas also dominated the wholesale trade of selling shoes in Middle Road.

Unk Dicko said...

Hi Chun See!
The bitter stuff reminds me of another equally horrible concoction my late mother often forced us kids to drink.In Cantonese it is called " Wong Lo Kat". It was supposed to bring down the body's heat. As a lure, she would hold out a sweet as a reward if we consume it without protesting too much. Did the properties work? Guess they must have as most of us are still hale and hearty today.

Anonymous said...

I also heard Hakkas dominate the wholesale textile trade. I observe that Hakkas are very secretive people, not open to ppl from other dialect groups, the ingredients they use to cook food. Anybody care to shed some light?

Lam Chun See said...

The 'Wong Lo Kat' Dick mentioned rings a bell but not too sure what it looked like. But reminds me of another tea call hup chai char. The tea leaves came in compact cubes form. What is it good for? Can't remember. Probably heatiness.

But for heatiness, my mum usually cooked chi cho yong (herbal tea). Nowadays, you can buy them in satchets form and simply brew. But somehow they don't look so impressive compared to the traditional ones, and certain cost more. My mum ususally cooked her chi cho young with tong tung kua - those sugary sticks of (?) pumpkin which we liked to chew.

Anonymous said...

How come no one mention about the pink paper used in TCM? To differentiate that it's herb inside??

thiram said...

The Chook Fong Yok Lam can be bought at most modern TCM shops, such as Hock Hua Ginseng. Just got two 'sets' of throat-relief-herbal-mix for less than $10 each. Think it was $5 per set if I'm not wrong. Yes the bees are included.

As for the black olives, easier & cheaper to get them from Hockhua too. I was surprised that they sold them cheaper than those old-fashioned TCM stores.

Sivasothi said...

The insect looks like a carpenter bee (Xylocopa latipes; there are a few species in Singapore). They are reasonably common.

I remember getting a concoction of herbs for sore throat medicine from the TCM shop in Serangoon Gardens. I never added the insect but the herbs were awfully bitter.

Then someone suggested the bee accompanying the concoction was to provide honey.

Tall story?

There was stories of a similar vein suggesting ants in the sugar were good for our eyes. Presumably arising from the resignation at just too many ants in the sugar. You know, in the days when we still had insects to plague us.

Anonymous said...

Not only are certain ingredients hard to get but many TCM things are getting very expensive. For example, I read that chrysanthemum flowers (easy to make 'cooling' tea; may also work for sore throat but probably you will have to drink a lot of it first, and by then you may become too 'cooling'...) cost twice what they used to a year ago.

Lam Chun See said...

So I suppose my 'bee' concoction is difficult to buy not nowadays becos the insect is endangered but becos demand is low.

Although my wife came from TCM shop background, she doesn't trust these shops nowadays. She says that good quality ingredients are had to get, and since there is no proper QC, you never know what you are buying esp. when it is very cheap.

Aiyah Nonya said...

My Mother makes that same concotion for us too. But she adds ham kut, kam cho and mutt toong. Sorry don't know what they are known as in English. I know the ham kut is salted lime. I know this because she makes them for us.

Happy Lunar New Year.

Victor said...

My wife still believes that the "black hornet and black prune" stuff will cure a sore throat. She calls it "Orh Pang Orh Buay" in Hokkien. (So could your "olive" really be a prune?)

A few weeks ago, I bought one packet for her from my neighbourhood TCM shop. I think it was $2 for a small packet with 3 hornets in it. And yes, it was wrapped in pink paper. (I am only guessing here - could pink signify a wish for a speedy recovery? Certainly better than using black paper, doesn't it?

No problem buying it from the Yeok Choy Poe Lou and also no problem for him to understand my half-past-six Hokkien.

Yesterday, my wife got a sore throat again but this time, she asked me to buy her a packet of starfruit juice instead. You just can't understand a woman completely.

BTW, haven't you noticed that the Cantonese calls everyone else lou (佬) (="uncouth fellow") as in gwai lou (="devil fellow" or Westerner - my sincere apologies to your British friends but I think they are already aware of this term). However, he calls himself yan (人) or person, as in 广东人 (Cantonese person).

Lam Chun See said...

Aiyah nonya has posted her mother's version for this cure for sore throat here.

Anonymous said...

We should of course be careful to dismiss the possible effectiveness of these traditional cures - just today in the UK there is news that the juice of the vegatable we call beetroot will bring down high blood pressure very effectively. There is often an active ingredient in these old herbs (and insects - which is a new one on me!) that remains to be identified but which is effective.

And I am going to learn that cantonese term gwai lou and keep my ears open for it when I visit!

Anonymous said...

My wife tells me that" Wong Lo Kat" is still available in most TCM shops. My late mom used to put the whole packet in a clay pot and brew it for hours. Nothing was added to it. The resulting brew is as black as coffee but very thick. It is bitter to taste but is effective for its purpose.
BTW, Victor's interesting remarks about" Gwei Lo" carried my mind back to the days of Rediffusion when most homes and coffee-shops used to install one...including ours.That was when I love to listen to that popular and famous storyteller"Lee Tai Soh"
who not only regaled the oldtimers with captivating tales from" Romance of the 3 Kingdoms" but occasionaly he told some most truly humourous and absorbing stories.
One was about why the Chinese call themselves " Tong Yan"[ Sugarman!] while they refer to others as "devils" [ gwei] eg: Hung Moh Gwei or Red-haired devil, Yup Poon Gwei or Japanese devil,Kek Ling Gwei or Indian devil etc..
I wonder if any remember Lee Tai Soh and his stories still?

Victor said...

Uncle Dick - Yes, I remember Rediffusion and Lei Dai Soh and have blogged about it here. (Please excuse my shameless advertising.)

Talking about miracle cures and potions made from plant extracts, I remember this greenish cold drink which was sold at drink stalls when I was a kid in the 1960s. I believe it is made from the raw juice of a plant's or vegetable's leaves. In Cantonese, it is called Punk Dai Woon (=chipped big bowl). It tasted quite bitter and was supposed to have a cooling effect on the body. Does anybody remember this drink?

Anonymous said...

I read a very interesting book sometime back which is based on research made on the hakka race. It seems that hakka possesses blood lineage with the shon-nu (a mongolian tribe) which has DNA connection to the Koreans and Japanese. The book explains that some of the left behind shon-nu soldiers inter-married to Chinese women and that resulted in the emergence of the hakka race. This could explain why only the hakka has no permanent province of their own. I must emphazise that this comment is not my own view but that of the book.

Anonymous said...

The first time I heard in Cantonese a term 'mah lat lou' spoken by the late uncle Wong Chim when he hosted the Hongkong pak fa yau show. I was scatching my head what this phrase meant? Later my friend explained that when a person (especially a lady) calls you 'ma lat lou' it is not complimentary, but it means that you are a lewd man. So watch out!

Anonymous said...

Hi victor - thanks for that wonderful post about the days of Rediffusion. Your pics and clear description transported me back to those good old days of the 50's and 60's.
Some of Lee Dai Soh's humourous stories were available in the days of the cassette recorder. I had 2 such tapes...but sadly, never saw them again.
The " Orh Pang, Orh Buay" potion which you mentioned.....I thought I never heard of. Not until just...when my dear wife revealed that she had made me drink the stuff many times in the past...but never once told me what it was!
The curative properties?
Seems to work well.

Anonymous said...

Victor, the greenish cold drink - is it pegaga? (Indian Pennywort).It has this mossy, underground, longkang, after the rain taste to it, right?

I loved drinking it when I was a kid - it's nasty. I had no idea whether it was cooling or not but I felt like a mythical warrior drinking a magical brew / potion that would give me magical powers/wisdom.

Victor said...

Hi Anon, I don't know whether its name was pegaga but what you have described certainly matches my memory of the drink. There's a picture of the drink here.

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