S’pore’s first non-Chinese acupuncturist had a hard time being accepted.
Race is something Justin Morais has always been very aware of. Years ago, as Singapore’s first non-Chinese acupuncturist, he had to jump through hoops to be accepted by the local acupuncture community. And by Singaporeans too.
Today, none of this is evident as he tends to clients of all races and walks of life at his second-floor unit in bustling Hougang Central. Among them, you can often see Catholic nuns, expatriates and football stars.
“I guess they have decided that an Indian acupuncturist can be just as effective as a Chinese one,” the sprightly 77-year-old says with a soft chuckle.
It wasn’t always that way. He obtained his qualifications in 1983 – after 10 years of part-time study in Singapore, China and Hong Kong, but Justin was then refused entry to the Singapore Acupuncture Association.
“They could not believe an Indian wanted to join,” he recalls.
He persisted and the association finally relented in 1985, but not before its then-president interviewed him – in Mandarin through interpreters.
“At the end of it all, he shook my hand, and told me I was accepted – in English,” says Justin who now sits on the association’s council.
Justin, who is also no stranger to modern medicine, was chief radiographer at Toa Payoh Hospital when he retired in 1985. Two years later, he opened a sports acupuncture centre. In the early days, sportsmen formed the majority of his patients.
A former St. Joseph’s institution student, Justin was a national footballer and hockey player himself. He is also a founder member of Tampines Rovers FC and has been a trainer and coach.
But going from being a sportsman to helping heal sportsmen – wasn’t smooth sailing too. “As an acupuncturist treating football and other sports injuries, Justin had to bear heavy criticism from sports medicine doctors,” said Dr. David Tio, and osteopath in Men for Others, a book published by St. Joseph’s Institution.
“He brought the benefits of acupuncture to the Indians, Malays and other non-Chinese – as well as anyone afraid of needles!” added Dr. Tio.
These days Justin also practices bio-resonance therapy or German acupuncture. Those who are needle-shy need only hold a metal rod connected to a device, which supposedly enables Justin to pinpoint any imbalance in a person’s yin and yang or where his energy flow might be blocked.
“It works on Einstein’s theory that all matter is energy … I can break up the energy block by having the machine send it to the correct electro-magnetic frequency …” he explains.
These days, Justin does not entertain walk-in customers anymore but recalls how in the early days, would-be patients drawn by his sign, reacted adversely when they saw him.
“They would knock on the door, and see me and walk out,” he recalls.
Now a grandfather of three, he was in Singapore’s first National Day parade in 1966. In the People’s Defence Force, he was a group commander of the Indian contingent.
“Then PM Lee Kuan Yew made sure the Chinese, Malay and Indians were represented. (Former Cabinet Minister) Othman Wok was in charge of the Malay contingent,” he says.
The subject of religion gets another soft chuckle. With an eye on semi-retirement he is training a Catholic nun to help run the practice on a semi-charitable basis. He has a Buddhist friend, a breast cancer survivor whom he calls on to counsel female clients. And members of the clergy, monks, and other religious laity get his services – gratis.
“You know, it is important to keep an open mind,” he says. And while it is complementary alternative medicine he is alluding to, perhaps Justin is hinting at something else …