From TV host to sinseh: Pornsak will see you now at the TCM clinic
From being a newly-minted TCM physician to live-streaming products on Facebook, he's been keeping busy out of the limelight. CNA Lifestyle schedules an appointment with “Dr Porn”.
There’s no mistake that Pornsak Prajakwit, better known to many as simply Pornsak, is over the moon about the latest development in his life.
“Yes, finally! Oh my god, finally!” the 39-year-old TV personality interjected, before we could even finish our question during a phone interview from his car.
“I think I’ll just stay in the car. My laughter is too boisterous and I may scare the patients,” he quipped.
And by patients, he meant that literally. In April, he finally got his traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) certification, announcing his newly minted sinseh status on Instagram.
“Hashtag: Dr Porn! Hashtag: Licence to practise!” he declared, while flashing his licence from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine.
Yes, "Dr Porn" – which means “blessing” in Thai, silly – is now in the house. Or the Ever Spring Medical Group clinic, to be precise, where he’s practising as a full-time TCM physician, along with his long-time mentor Tan Bee Gawh.
“People come into the clinic and ask: Which day is Pornsak going to be here?” said the Thailand-born, Singapore-based artiste. (For the record, he tries to come in every day.)
“I do realise that they may be curious to see not Pornsak the host, but Pornsak the sinseh. I guess this excitement will wear off after the first time they have a selfie with me.”
I have to make sure I can cure them. They are not going to come back to me for future ailments if after the first or second time, they’re still not okay.
Sure, patients may be eager for the novel experience of having their pulse taken by a familiar face on TV, but Pornsak emphasised that his celebrity status actually makes him work even harder.
“I have to make sure I can cure them. They are not going to come back to me for future ailments if after the first or second time, they’re still not okay. It’s not going to work that way,” he said matter-of-factly.
So has he swapped the microphone for acupuncture needles for good? Pornsak shared that he would want to be Tan's apprentice "for the next five to eight years because there are just so many things to learn", if she allows it.
“Most of what I learned in school is theory-based, so this is a chance for me to experience the life of a sinseh.”
ENTERING A NEW WORLD OF LIVE-STREAMING
Pornsak hasn’t been on TV for a while (the Left Profile artiste's contract with Mediacorp ended in January) but that doesn’t mean you’ve seen the last of him outside the clinic.
In fact, he is putting his hosting skills and multilingualism to good use as his mentor, Tan, has always advocated giving back to society. "The minute I received my licence to practise, she asked me, why don’t we do something online together?” he said.
So they decided to live-stream free TCM consultations – no doubt calling on his experience as a live-streamer on MDADA, the platform started by Pornsak, fellow artiste Michelle Chia and celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee, to sell products on Facebook Live. In fact, the trio has been live-streaming four times a week since the platform took off in September last year.
"Just last Sunday, we live-streamed past midnight and there were still people asking us about certain products. I had to tell them, eh guys, it’s 3am. I think we should all go home to sleep,” he quipped.
You may also have caught his live-streams for clients such as Lazada and Giant. “It could be two or three sessions of live-streaming a day. It’s a brand-new world of live-streaming. It’s very exciting.”
TCM GOES LIVE
At the time of our interview, the physician duo has done two live-streaming sessions on tcmlivesg via Facebook Live. Each hourly session kicks off with a topical discussion for the first 15 to 20 minutes, and is followed by a “free-for-all Q&A session” for 40 minutes.
The questions from users run the whole gamut, from paediatric massages to menstrual cramps, migraine, ankle sprains and even lung cancer.
This is where Pornsak’s hosting background helps to make esoteric topics such as “chi” relatable to the users. With him switching effortlessly and fluently between Mandarin and English, even non-Chinese audiences such as those from Indonesia and Korea have been able to tune in every Thursday at 9pm.
Pornsak admitted that it hasn’t been easy prepping for the online consultations. “That is the part that really tests the physician on his or her knowledge because you don’t know what’s going to be asked next. I have to do a lot of preparation, whereas Dr Tan has been preparing for this for the past four decades,” he said.
But he has been relishing the experience. “Being online has made everything borderless. I’m literally a doctor without borders now!” he laughed.
He is also keen to correct the misconception that TCM remedies often involve spending “hundreds and thousands of dollars” on cordyceps and ginseng. “But if you watch our live sessions, you’ll realise that the exercises and massages that we teach are free of charge. What we’re doing is providing pre-emptive measures. We are helping people who may be troubled by minor ailments to treat themselves at home.”
THE SINSEH JOURNEY
Pornsak met his mentor when he began his career as a radio DJ back in the early 2000s. “She would go on air every Thursday for half an hour,” he recalled. “My slot was right after her show and we would chat.”
When Pornsak’s father developed a swollen left hand that specialists in Thailand and Singapore could not treat, he took him to Tan as the last resort. The incident was a game-changer for the 20-something host as after just one session with a few needles, his father's hand "reverted to normal".
"Two days later, he could play the erhu. What is this magic? Teach me!”
That was 15 years ago. Armed with a quest for knowledge – and also as an option for a back-up career – Pornsak decided to explore the TCM path.
“From her, I found out about the TCM degree from Guangzhou University. So I signed up for it and, surprise, surprise, I actually lasted the course,” said Pornsak, hinting at the gruelling journey he undertook to earn his certification via distance learning.
The first three “very dry and boring” years of the course were trying. And early starts and late ends to his working days didn’t help either.
“It’s a seven-year course but it took me about nine years to graduate because during the fifth year, I got a call from a Channel 8 executive producer. She told me there was a travelogue that she would really like me to host,” said Pornsak. That would be the award-winning TV show Food Source, which required him to put off his studies for a year.
In fact, he ended up disrupting his TCM course twice – the second time to shoot two more seasons of Food Source.
It all worked out in the end. The TV show won him an award and several nominations – and he even managed to obtain a master’s degree in early childhood education from Monash University.
“I am constantly reminding myself that I have to keep learning, especially in this day and age, where everything is evolving so fast,” he said.
PRACTISING ACUPUNCTURE ON COLLEAGUES
But he hadn’t forgotten about his TCM studies, of course, and went back to finish the final two years.
So, did friends and colleagues flock to him for TCM tips and remedies while he was studying? Well, not quite.
In fact, he would try to persuade fellow artistes to let him practise acupuncture on them. “You don’t have to come to me only when you’re sick. I can help to boost your chi and immunity so you won’t fall sick!” he remembered telling them, only to be jokingly told they might do so once he received his licence.
“The measure of the friendship, right?” he laughed.
He did succeed on a few occasions – Pornsak convinced one celebrity colleague dealing with hair loss (who shall forever remain unnamed, he quipped) to let him stick eight needles on his scalp.
READ: 'I feared losing myself': How Priscelia Chan found hope after 'torturous' two-year health ordeal
“I wasn’t very good then so the first few times, he could feel pain,” said Pornsak. “After doing it continuously, he told me, eh there’s baby hair! It took three to four months, one or two sessions a week. But the first few times were honestly just trial and error!”
Despite this promising new detour into the world of TCM, Pornsak isn’t completely shutting the doors on his showbiz career.
“It’s not goodbye forever,” he said. “My main focus now is to do my part as a TCM physician. Also, I want to work harder to increase my online presence. I’m not sure what the future plans of Mediacorp lie. But I know what my own future plans are. I can work towards my own plans first.”