A Legacy to Good Medicine

Noteworthy people and their contributions aren’t known until the stories are told. A new museum gets ‘clinical’ and sheds some light on Bangkok’s little known medicinal history.

Words: Sarita Urupongsa
Photos: Dolnapa Ram-Indra

Tong Yong may have settled happily with a local wife and their children in Siam, but memories of his motherland in China pulled at him. Once his second son, Chai Chainuvati, was independent enough, Tong Yong sent him to the Chinese side of the family to study in Shanghai. As a young man Chai saw his beloved brother pass away from typhoid, an event that deeply affected him and the decision to go to medical school.

In 1932, Dr. Chai graduated with a degree in western medicine from Tongji German Medical School, or Tongji University in present day Shanghai, and returned to Bangkok. He established Berlin Pharmacy, a general clinic where, apart from services like medical examinations and dispensing prescriptions, patients can also purchase medicines with Dr. Chai’s expert help. The Charoen Krung District served as the clinic’s location in Bangkok, then known as a vibrant commercial area.

Now, it’s only apt that Dr. Chai’s eldest son, Dr. Termchai Chainuvati, is making his father’s reputation known with a museum dedicated to the memories collected through the span of a century. Preserved within its walls are personal histories woven in with urban stories for a unique learning venue to benefit generations of people. As one of the pioneers and private clinic operator, Dr. Chai was truly admired for his medical ethics and superb medical diagnosis. His generosity also made him popular, if patients can’t pay – the doctor would treat them for free and even provide taxi fares home.

At the Berlin Pharmaceutical Museum, notable highlights include a model of Dr. Chai’s treatment room filled with medical equipment lined up in the exact position from the old days, with a dispensary room showing how people got diagnosed, including the original hoist used for sending up medicine compounds from the ground floor to the third and fourth floors. See an aesthetic display of medicine bottles, antique dispensary tools, and grinding and weighing machines of actual equipment preserved from the old tradition of making medicine.

From a humble, yet meritorious clinic came a budding business in pharmaceuticals. The reason behind this transformation came from Dr. Chai’s own commitment to continuing his passion to help the sick and his wish to safeguard his family’s future. Berlin Pharmaceutical Limited Partnership was established in 1954, with the second floor used for administrative purposes and the third and the fourth floors converted into production and storage areas. Despite continuing losses in the beginning, Dr. Chai was undeterred; he believed that one day quality medicine at reasonable prices would become possible. Berlin Pharmacy has stood through the times and has now expanded into Berlin Pharmaceutical Limited Partnership, with a manufacturing plant located on Romklao Road.

To visit Berlin Pharmaceutical Museum Bangkok, there is an entry fee of 40 baht.

359 Charoen Krung Road, Sua Pa Intersection.
Opens Wednesday to Monday 9am 5pm, facebook.com/BerlinPharmaceuticalMuseumBangkok

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