Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Professor Ungku Aziz

 I just heard the popular academician Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz Abdul Hamid has passed away a few hours ago. My condolence to his family.  I have the privilege to interview him years ago.  The article was published on Aug 8, 2011 in theSun. I am reproducing the article I have written. He talked about his childhood years, the Japanese occupation and his love for the Pantun. 

Suggested Headline : Waxing Poetry '

Royal Prof Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid’s love for poetry led him to learn how to use a computer in order to write a book on it. The 89-year- old former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor talks to Bissme S about the uniqueness of Malay poetry and the shortcomings of our education system.

*Your book Pantun and Kebijaksanaan Akal Budi Melayu – what led you to write it?

For the past 10 years I have been working on the idea of putting together something on pantun (poetry). I have collected newspaper and magazine cuttings and books on it. I hope to awaken Malaysians, especially Malays, to the fact that pantun is unique. I want them to rediscover its history and the evolution of the Malay language. I had to learn how to use the computer just to write this book! In the past, I always had secretaries to type out whatever I needed. (laughs). Now I have 16,000 pantun in my database. In this book, I chose to highlight mostly those that dealt with the Malay traders.

* Why?

I wanted to show that Malay traders existed long before Western imperialists came here and wiped out their trading centres, and created their own trading ports. The Malay traders went into the jungle and collected stuff they could barter with traders from China, India and other countries. They sailed around these waters and even had a compass they called pedoman. So the East was already civilised and we had Malay entrepreneurs long before Westerners came into the picture.

* Is pantun still popular with Malaysians?

It is not in the school syllabus. The younger generation come to know of pantun only during wedding ceremonies, and in these ceremonies, people always repeat the same clich├ęd pantun. I have arrogantly pointed out in my book that pantun and the Malay language had existed long before Old English (the Age of Chaucer). Pantun existed at least 400 years before Shakespeare was born. You can say it is a kind of nationalism on my part to point out these facts.  

* What is your view of the progress of the Malay language? 

 We have a lot of people challenging the whole idea of Malay as the national language. I have to admit that if Malaysia wants to progress, we need to be hooked up with the modern language, which is English. But the future of Malaysia depends on national unity and national unity means you need to have one common language that unites us, and that language has to be Malay.

* Do you find it strange that after more than 50 years of independence, some of us can’t speak the national language properly. Have we gone wrong somewhere?

We compromise a lot. We get into something and then half way through, we don’t complete it because it offends certain people. If you look at the education policy, we are not firm. Our education system has no focus. A good example is the Interlok issue. A certain group wanted to meet the deputy prime minister and they have said that if he refuses to meet with them, they would not vote for Barisan Nasional in the next election. In the end, it became a political issue. Interlok has gone through many changes and I have read all the versions. If you do not want to use the book, don’t use it. But don’t vandalise the text.

*Will you be coming out with another book on pantun?

Yes. My next book will be called Hikmah Dalam Pantun Melayu (wisdom in Malay poetry). If you read pantun, you will find beautiful advice on many issues such as love, marriage, peace and happiness. The values are universal and they can apply to any race. The book will be published next year.

*Do we tend to look down on our pantun?

We have not learned to look up. We are always looking down. We have this attitude that pantun is old fashioned. I remember once a bright lady asked me “why don’t we have modern pantun?”. I told her the values in (old) pantun are universal. Maybe some day, people will write pantun in the modern language that have more universal values. But for the time being, it will be great if we could just recover what we have before it is lost.

* Tell us about your childhood and teenage years?

My mother died when I was four. My dad was sick for most of his life and died when I was only 17. I had been a lone ranger most of my life. I was about to get a scholarship when everything stopped because the Japanese came in. Even though I come from a royal family, I wasn’t going to ask anyone for help. So I worked. My first job was to carry rocks. I had to walk to work – those days if you had a bicycle, the Japanese soldiers would take it away. You had no choice but walk to work. Then, one Japanese soldier asked me if I could write, and when I said yes, they asked me to keep records. So I became a mandur (foreman). I had carried rocks for a week when they made me a mandur, so it wasn’t so bad. I saved enough money to buy a book on the Japanese language and started to learn it. There were times when I became an interpreter for them. When the war ended, some people accused me of being a Japanese collaborator. But I was not.

* Did you get into trouble with the British authorities because of that? 

No. The British would have thought twice about arresting me because I had connections with the (Johor) royalty. 

*You come from a royal family. Why didn’t you ask for help?

I was not on good terms with one of my uncles. He said I talked too much, and I had too much of pride to ask for help. But towards the end of the war, I became close to another uncle (the late Umno founder Datuk Onn Jaffar). I remember at the time there was a huge clash between Malays and Chinese. It all began with the Chinese communists who wanted to collect taxes from Malays, but the Malays refused to pay. As a result the communists went to the nearest mosque and got hold of an imam who was praying. They hung him upside down and slaughtered him. They even slaughtered pigs in the mosque. That angered the Malays, who went to the nearest Chinese village and killed everyone there. The communists thought they could control the Malays with that incident. Instead the Malays went amok and a racial war began. So you would find the Chinese going to the Malay villages and wiping them out and vice versa. The Japanese didn’t want any fighting between the Malay and Chinese – they had enough on their plate battling the British. They wanted my uncle (Onn) to solve the problem and I was his interpreter then. That brought us close to each other. I began to stay in his house and we talked lot. He would go to the Malays and say to them that he could persuade the Chinese not to attack them, provided they didn’t attack the Chinese. Then, he would give them rice. The following day he would ride his motorcycle into the Chinese village and tell them that he had secured a promise from the Malays not to harm the Chinese, provided they did not provoke the Malays. He would give them rice too. Somehow his plan worked out brilliantly and the racial clashes stopped. He was a brave man to have put his life in danger in meeting both parties. Anything could have gone wrong.

* Speaking of unity, are we more united now?

We have tolerance but not unity. Malaysians are tolerant, till something goes wrong and then we go mad. The word is amok. It is the only Malay word in the English language. Every time we have an election, we bring outogres of disunity. For example, the same people who say they are Malaysian demand a Chinese education. They could have said we wanted a better Malaysian education system. If you want a Chinese education, please have it. Chinese is a beautiful language, it has lasted four thousand years, it united the people of China. I will give you absolute freedom to have your Chinese education. But don’t pretend to be other than what you are. I don’t think in the next 50 years to a 100, we will have a generation of Malaysians who are like the Caribbean people. Most of them are from Africa, but they do not say they are Africans. They would say we are Caribbean. I do not think we are necessarily violent people. Now we have got a political culture of having demos here and there.

* So you are not for demos. Why?

I think demos will be more interesting if they were more ideologically oriented.

*You have a fascination for visual art.

Yes. Pablo Picasso is my favourite artist. I have more than 40 books on him and his work. I spend a lot of money to attend any of his exhibitions around the world. I could spend hours just looking at his work. He survived a very important period in the change in western culture. His paintings were unique – almost every day of his life, he painted. Just like M.F. Husain (Indian artist who died in June). I bought two of his works when he was a nobody. He was just a poor artist in Calcutta then, so poor that he would draw on cardboard. When I met him again years later, he was a famous artist. He was putting up an exhibition on his mural paintings that were worth a million dollars each. He wanted to buy back his early paintings from me – he said he would in return give me any of his new mural painting that were worth one million each. But I didn’t want his mural paintings, I am not interested in money. Art is for my enjoyment, I have never collected art for money.

* Do you paint?

No. I don’t write pantun, I don’t play music, which is one of my biggest regrets. Somebody wanted to teach me the violin, but my father discouraged me. He said you cannot earn money being a violinist. I was 13 then.

* You once said our universities have become factories that produce graduates. Why?

We are not even producing good products in our Malaysian factories. When we started Universiti Malaya, we thought we would start two or three good universities. But now almost every state has a university. Some even have two or three. In Japan, they have an education policy where national universities have a high standard. It is very difficult to get in. Once you graduate, you are sure to get a good job because you are highly-trained. For the masses, they have state universities. They call these lunchbox universities. Today in Malaysia, we have open universities. Who supervises the students? When I lectured, I knew every student by name. Today, we have lecturers who don’t know the names of their students. We have students making notes and passing them to their course mates. We need to have some universities that pursue quality. Now we even have people who say “we have voted for you, now give us a university”! Of course the government has to comply. So they start opening up universities all over the place like mushrooms. Quantity destroys quality.

* Have you to come to a stage where people are afraid to criticize you and your suggestions?

Yes. I have heard one person say “If I am a lecturer and I criticise Ungku Aziz, my promotion will be lost and my contract will not renewed”. I have heard many times people saying only Ungku Aziz can say that and get away with it. I think that is ridiculous. What am I? The last man standing? I feel there are many who don’t like me and criticise me. You can say anything you like, why the hell should I care? Let the dogs bark. I am not hopeful of getting any promotion, any bonus or anything from anybody. I am not saying this out of arrogance; it is just a fact of my life. My life is very simple. I have had these trousers for probably 10 years. I am not into the latest fashion.

* You have been outspoken. Have you got into trouble for voicing your views?

Yes. Once, the police interviewed me for seven hours. But I won’t give you any of the details ......

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Hun Haqeem

 The handsome actor Hun Haqeeem speaks to me about penetrating Hollywood. We meet in cafe in Bangsar Village  The Hollywood Dream 

By Bissme S

RISING young actor Hun Haqeem wants to walk the same road that Malaysian actor, model and television host Henry Golding has travelled, and venture into Hollywood. The 22-year-old has been busy sending his resume to several production houses in Los Angeles.

“I want to experience what it is like working overseas,” says the Kuching-born actor who now lives in Kuala Lumpur.

“I want to learn from them, and be a better actor. We must dare to dream and we must dare to take risks.”

Interestingly, the actor – whose real name is Haqeem Hermy – never dreamt of becoming an actor when he was a young boy. He became an actor after deciding to try something new.

In fact, he previously worked in the corporate communications department of a well-known media company.

“I loved my job in the corporate department,” he says.

“But I felt something was missing from my life.”

Hun, who was also a part-time model at the time, decided to send his resume to a production house and try his luck at acting. He was called for an audition and landed his first role in his first tele- film called Tasbih Usang (2019).

The next production he was involved in was the TV series Cari Aku Di Syurga where he plays a husband who is mentally abused by his fierce and angry wife.

The role got him noticed and earned him much praise from critics and audiences.

Hun realised that acting was able to fulfil the missing element in his life. To date, he has appeared in four local TV drama series.

“Acting allows you to become someone else for some time, and I found that process to be fascinating,” he says.

“For several hours, you can take a break from who you are. Sometimes, you get tired of being yourself.”

He says that his favourite Malaysian actor is Shaheizy Sam, and his favourite Malaysian actress is Maya Karin.

“Shaheizy Sam is always believable in any role he plays,” he says.

“He can play funny and serious roles convincingly. And I love the way Maya has shaped her career. It is smooth sailing for her.”

From Hollywood, Hun says his favourite actor is Tobey Maguire.

“Everyone only knows him as Spider-Man,” he says.

“But he has played some great roles during his career. He is the most underrated actor in Hollywood.”

The next production that audiences can see Hun starring in will be the 13-episode television series called Dayang Senandung, which is based on the folk tale about a princess who is cursed with dark skin. Later, a prince falls in love with her, and slowly the cursed is lifted and she becomes fair.

Hun plays the prince in the series, while Dayang Senandung is played by Wani Kayrie.

“The production house has modernised the folk tale,” he says. “They set the story in the present time. I really admire their guts at [doing so].

“My character still comes from a royal family, and his mother wants him to run the family business. But he is more interested in music. He becomes a music producer instead.”

Recently, some quarters have criticised the adaptation of the folk tale, which is seen as promoting the message that fairer skin is more desirable than dark skin, and feel it should not be retold in any form.

There are even rumours that there will be a petition to stop the TV series from being aired.

However, Hun disagrees with that view.

“If you read the folk tale carefully, you will realise that the prince fell in love with her when she still had dark skin,” he says.

“He fell in love with her kind heart, not her skin colour. He even married her. The fair skin only came much later. The story actually teaches us that one should fall in love with someone’s character, not their appearance.”

He points out that the popular fairy tale Beauty and Beast also has a similar message, where a beautiful woman falls in love with an ugly beast who later transforms into a handsome prince.

“Nobody has protested against Beauty and the Beast,” he says.

“Nobody said that Beauty and the Beast is all about appearances. Just watch Dayang Senandung before you judge the show.”

Judging someone based on their skin colour does not run his blood. In fact, he revealed that his maternal grandmother is Chinese.

“Diversity was a big thing during my childhood years,” he says.

“I have been taught from very young to respect and be friendly to everyone, regardless of their race, religion, or skin colour.”

Incidentally, Hun is still very much single. When asked what kind of woman appeals to him, he says: “She must know how to cook, because I also know how to cook. I think a couple preparing a dinner together is super romantic.”


Bully

Content creator Arwin Kumar and film director cum actor Afdlin Shauki speaks to me about the bullying they faced in their schoold days. 

By Bissme S

ARWIND KUMAR had a miserable time while at secondary school. His seniors called him derogatory names. Slowly, the verbal abuse turned into physical abuse.
“I dreaded going to school every day,” says the 25-year-old content creator and mental health advocate.
“I was kicked. I was spat on. I did not cause any harm to them. I was simply clueless as to why they were mean to me. I kept asking myself what I had done to deserve this.”
He thought that life was not worth living and had suicidal thoughts. The bullying only stopped when he was 16.
“The seniors who bullied me graduated and left school,” said Arwind.
“I felt a sense of relief. Slowly, I was able to enjoy my remaining high school days.”
But the bullying haunted him later as an adult.
“I had no self-esteem left,” he said.
He was afraid to voice out his opinions, and suffered panic attacks when he was in public places. Slowly, he learned to overcome his fears.
He feels boys should be given the freedom to express their emotions.
“When a boy cries, you always find people will tell the boy to ‘stop crying like a girl’,” he says.
“By making these kinds of comments, you are giving a wrong picture to the young boy. You are telling him that he should be an alpha male ... he should be rough and tough ... He should not be soft by showing his emotions. Indirectly, you are creating a toxic masculinity atmosphere.
“No boys are aggressive naturally. It is how we raise them. There should be no gender [limitations] when it comes to expressing emotions.”
Like Arwind Kumar, comedian, actor and director Afdlin Shauki went through a similar experience. His bully called him many unkind names, from ‘fat’ to ‘slob’. But he decided to use his talent for comedy to protect himself.
“I was making my bullies laugh,” says 49-year-old Afdlin.
“So, my bullies found me funny and left me alone. They considered me the class clown whose main aim was to entertain them.
“My comedy skills saved me from getting bruises.”
But the vicious name calling was enough to scar him for life.
“I suffered from an inferiority complex,” he says.
“I thought I was never good enough. I believed that if any good thing happened to me, it was because I was lucky. That my hard work and talent did not play a role.”
He had to go through a cycle of self-analysis before he was able to gain some confidence.
He says: “When I became confident, I became aggressive, and became a bully myself. I was putting people down, emotionally. I was doing to other people what the bullies did to me.
“I had the wrong perception that to be powerful, you have to put people down. From an inferiority complex, I began to have a superiority complex.”
Luckily, he managed to overcome this negative stage of his life. In fact he directed two films, Buli (2004) and the sequel Buli Balik ( 2006) to emphasise that bullying can have dire consequences.
It upsets him tremendously whenever he sees a viral video where children are bullying other children. He believes schools should provide psychology services to students who have suffered through bullying.
“You do not want them growing up as destructive individuals,” he says.

Side bar : 
Headline What makes a person a bully

MATILDA XAVIER, the clinical psychologist who is the founder of Mentem Psychological Services, has said that bullying is all about powerplay.
She says: “People bully because there is a difference in power. The one who is doing the bullying feel he or she has a more powerful standing [in life].”
The reasons that someone resort to bullying may vary. The person could have seen this kind of behaviour in his or her own home, and accept it as normal, and eventually practised this behaviour with classmates.
“Others bully because they want to impress their classmates,” she says.
She does not rule out the possibility that bullies could also be victims themselves, and may want to unleash a similar pain upon their innocent classmates while at school, allowing the cycle of viciousness to continue.
She firmly believes one cannot minimise the act of bullying.
“You cannot say bullying is simple teasing between friends,“ she says.
“Teasing is where you and the other person are having fun, and both of you are laughing. Teasing is not about putting someone else down. The moment the other person feels attacked, it is no longer teasing. You cannot justify behaviour where people’s actions can lead to shame.
“What do you get when you shame the other person? There should be zero tolerance for bullying.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Joanne Goh

APPETITE FOR SUCCESS
By Bissme S 


MALAYSIAN producer Joanne Goh will be going to New York next month to promote her film Nina Wu.
THE film will have a gala premiere in New York on March 14, and subsequently, it will be shown in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles from March 20.
The film is a joint venture between Goh’s company Jazzy Pictures and production houses from Taiwan and Myanmar.
The film deals with the controversial subject of sexual harassment in the Taiwanese film industry.
Under the direction of award-winning Taiwanese director Midi Z, the film first premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last year.
The moment Goh, 44, returns from New York, she will not have a moment of rest. She has to immediately promote her latest film Takut Tak, a horror-comedy that will hit cinemas on April 2.
The story focuses on five film students who want to shoot a movie in a haunted house.
She explains: “We have hired a new up-and-coming director Muzzamer Rahman to direct this film. He knows what young cinemagoers are looking for. We also [added] some CG effects to enhance the level of horror for certain scenes.”
Takut Tak is Goh’s first attempt at producing a horror-comedy, and she is looking forward to seeing audience reactions to the film.
“As a young girl, I loved watching films and film award shows,” says Goh, who was born in Ipoh and raised in Kuala Lumpur.
“I never imagined I would ever get involved in the film industry.”
It’s an amazing achievement for someone who only became involved in film production three years ago.
Her career began in 1995 in an I.T. company in Singapore, where she handled surveillance for banks and private companies.
Just two years later, she set up her own company, Jazzy Groups.
Goh, who has a degree in marketing, says: “My dad had a hardware shop (he has since retired). I admire my dad for his entrepreneurship. I wanted to be like him, owning my own business. I did not want to stay in my comfort zone.”
Her company eventually diversified into the entertainment industry. She organised concerts and managed singers from Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
Some of the well-known names she has worked with include Wang Lee Hom, Aaron Kwok, Raymond Lam, Twins, and G.E.M.
In 2017 she set up Jazzy Pictures and co-produced her first film, the groundbreaking Crossroads: One Two Jaga (2018), which daringly dealt with the topics of illegal immigration and police corruption.
She says: “When I wanted to produce this film, everyone said I was crazy. The film could have easily gotten banned because it deals with corruption. But I loved the story very much, and I am a risk taker.”
Her gamble paid off handsomely. The film played at several international film festivals to rave reviews.
It also grabbed six awards at the 2019 Malaysian Film Festival for best film, best director, best actor, best screenplay, best original story and best poster.
Currently she is working on several film projects with production houses from Hong Kong, China and Thailand.
“We are also looking to work with Hollywood producers in the future, and we are slowly building networks in Hollywood,” she says.
Currently she is working with renowned Indian director Rajkumar Hirani on an adaptation of his hit Bollywood film 3 Idiots in Mandarin with a Chinese cast.
She says: “I love Rajkumar Hirani films. They have strong stories. Movies with strong stories always appeal to me.”
The new film was supposed to have been shot in China at the beginning of the year.
She says: “Everything has to be postponed because [of the Covid-19] outbreak. We did not want put our cast and crew at risk. We will only go to China when it is safe to shoot.”
Goh is also the founder of the Malaysia International Film Festival (MIFFest) and Malaysia Golden Global Awards (MGGA), which started in 2017.
Under the festivals’ banners, some prestigious names from the Southeast Asian film industry have been invited to Malaysia to give talks on their craft, including Rajkumar, Midi Z, Joko Anwar (Indonesia) and Brillante Mendoza (the Philippines).
Goh admits her ultimate dream is to invite her all-time favourite actress Meryl Streep to the festival to give a talk on acting.
“My team is currently talking to her team,” she says. “I love all her performances.”
Goh is hoping that negotiations will be successful, and I am sure she is not alone in keeping her fingers crossed.
I am sure many out there will be thrilled to have the three-time Oscar winning actress on our shores.

MIDI Z

CULLING FACT FROM FICTION 
By Bissme S


AWARD-WINNING Taiwanese director Chao Te-yin, 36, better known as Midi Z, boldly tackles the subject of sexual harassment within the film industry in his new film, Nina Wu.
This psychological thriller centres on aspiring actress Nina Wu (played by Wu Ke-xi), who gets her first plum role in a spy film after eight years of struggling to be noticed.
But her euphoria is soon dashed by the director who bullies and humiliates her, even slapping her on set, as well as forcing her to perform explicit sex scenes. She is also nearly killed when one of the special effects goes wrong.
All the abuse also triggers a terrible memory she has been trying to suppress.
All of this begins to take a horrible toll on Nina, and the line between reality and fiction begins to blur for her.
Lead actress Wu wrote the script last year and showed it to Midi. Impressed with the script, he decided to adapt it to film, as well as to direct and produce it.
Midi, who was recently in Kuala Lumpur for the 3rd Malaysia International Film Festival, explained: “There are a handful of films that show the struggle of male artistes in the film industry, but very few that show the struggle of female artistes.”
The idea of an actress being humiliated and abused until she begins to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) piqued his interest.
He decided to get into the soul of this character by interviewing two women with PTSD.
One woman survived being sexually abused over 20 years ago, but is still affected by her experience.
The other woman lost her entire family in an earthquake.
“Almost every night, she could ‘feel’ the tremors of the earthquakes,” said Midi. “She couldn’t tell when the tremors were real, and when they were not.”
When Nina Wu was screened at the recent Cannes Film Festival, it was well-received, and Midi even received offers from some Hollywood production houses to direct “women stories”.
He is seriously considering the offers, and believes the experience of working in Hollywood would make him a better filmmaker.
Surprisingly, Midi, who was born and raised in a small village in Myanmar, never wanted to be a filmmaker.
He recalled: “I came from a poor family. All I wanted to do was to end my poverty. I did not know what art was.”
He was the youngest of five children of a doctor father and a mother who was a cook. His village only had three cinemas, which were located far from his home, and he was not keen to travel just to watch a film.
“I was never a film buff,” he said. “Throughout my childhood, I went to the cinema only 10 times.”
“I never thought I would ever leave my village.”
Fortunately, life can be unpredictable and full of surprises.
At age 16, Midi moved to Taiwan after winning a scholarship to study art and design at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
There, he also did odd jobs, waiting tables and working in construction just to make money to send back home to his family “so we could build our own house”.
He got into filming quite by accident. A friend in Myanmar sent him money to buy an expensive video camera to record his wedding back home. Unfortunately, as Myanmar was under military rule at the time, no video cameras were allowed into the country.
Midi then decided to make use of the video camera to start a career as a wedding videographer. “Some of them paid me and some didn’t,” he recalled.
He began to plot stories for his wedding videos. Indirectly, he was learning the art of storytelling. This led to offers to make commercials.
In 2010, Myanmar had its first presidential election, and some of his Myanmar friends in Taiwan decided to return home to cast their votes.
Midi followed them to document the momentous election with his video camera, which resulted in the semi-autobiographical feature film, Return to Burma.
The film travelled to many international prestigious film festivals, earning rave reviews along the way. That spurred his interest to make more films.
To date, Midi has done five feature films, three documentaries, and one short film. Not bad for a man who once believed he would spend the rest of his life in a small village in Myanmar.


Baki Zainal


BREAKING BOUNDARIES 
By Bissme S 


ZAHAMIN BAKI ZAINAL is an ethnic Malay TV presenter and radio personality who has found fame in the local Chinese entertainment scene.
The colourful 39-year-old personality, better known to his audience as Baki Zainal, can speak fluent English, Malay and Mandarin.
He shot to stardom when he hosted the Chinese travel programme Step Forward in 2009. The show, which he hosted for 11 seasons, gave him the opportunity to travel all across Malaysia, and even outside the country as well.
Following this stint, he went on to host more adventure travel shows including Let Us Cycle and Taste of Memories.
In an exclusive interview with theSun, Baki candidly spoke about his family, his passion for travel, and his perception of the local entertainment industry.

*Describe your childhood.

“My father ran away from his home in Perak when he was a young man and went to London. He joined the British army and upon his early retirement, returned to Malaysia.
“He moved from one town to another before settling in Johor Baru. That is where he met my mother. She was his neighbour and 20 years younger than him. It was an arranged marriage.
“There was a story I heard that my mother tried to run away on her wedding day. But in the end, she married him [while wearing] her jeans! They learned to love each other over time.
“My childhood years were spent travelling between Johor Baru, Singapore and New Zealand. I have relatives in Singapore and New Zealand. I was [my parents’] only child. But I have seven step siblings.
“I was a daddy’s boy. I remember one incident where I fell from my bicycle when I was six years old.
“My father got rid of it and never allowed me to ride any more, for fear of me hurting myself again.
“When I was 15, my dad passed away after being in a coma for four days. He died from kidney and liver failure. It was a tough period in my life.
“My father’s last advice to me was: ‘Follow your heart.’”

* What kind of relationship do you have with your mother?

“I (used) to have a bad relationship with my mother. We were constantly arguing. I saw her as a heartless woman who did not care for her son.
“When I turned 30, I learned to understand her and formed a better relationship with her.
“I love her stubbornness. I always pray to God that he must never take away her spirit of stubbornness.
“I always nag her to take her medicine on time. She always tells me that ‘I have lost a husband who constantly nagged me, and I do not need a son who nags me, too.’
“I remember an incident that happened two years ago where she apologised to me for not being the perfect parent because she had not stopped me from making so many mistakes. I had tears in my eyes.
“I told my mother I am who I am today because of the mistakes that I have made.
“If I did not make mistakes, I would not have become compassionate.”

*Your job has taken you to many places in the world. Which is your favourite destination?

“Bhutan. I love the vibe, the energy and the calmness of the place. Their lifestyle teaches you to respect every living thing. My family thought I would become a Buddhist monk after returning from Bhutan!
“I remember coming upon a group of people whom I thought were singing. Later, I learned that they were actually chanting.
“They were praying for all the ants and worms because these animals have to sacrifice to give them, a home.
“They prayed that these animals would be reincarnated again to a better life. How great is that!”

*What advice would you give young talents out there?

“There are a lot of young people who come up to me and say: ‘I want to become like you’. The first question I always ask them is, why do you want to become like me?
“If your answer is because you want to walk the red carpet, travel to see the world and stay in beautiful resorts, then your motive is completely wrong. You could get another high paying job to travel and see the world and still stay in beautiful resorts.
“There is a lot of hard work in this job. You have to do plenty of research before visiting a country. You must have an understanding of the country. You need to absorb everything around you.
“When I started my career, I did not travel in business class. The transits can be extremely crazy and tiring. You will arrive at your destination during ungodly hours and you have to start shooting within a few hours of arriving in the country.
“Once I was staying in Beijing for four weeks and feeling tremendously homesick. I went down to the restaurant in the hotel and gave the waitress the recipe for ‘telur dadar’, and asked her to pass the recipe to the chef. The chef asked me to go back to my room and return in an hour’s time.
“When I returned after an hour, I was surprised to see that the chef had prepared a few dishes that reminded me of home. Later, I learned that the chef was from Ipoh and had been working in Beijing for 20 years, so he understood what it was like to be homesick.”

* What is your philosophy of life?

“We are always so gung ho about being right and wrong ... about being black and white. We have forgotten to be kind. I believe kindness is important.
“We must understand that at the end of the day, we are fragile creatures and we can easily break.”

Amber Chia

the beauty of grace 
By Bissme S


AMBER CHIA has graced over 200 magazine covers, walked on runways in six continents, starred in seven films, authored two books and has been the ambassador for over 30 brands.
She also runs a modelling agency that bears her name, the Amber Chia Academy, and even manages to balance her busy career and motherhood, raising her nine-year-old son Ashton together with her husband and business partner Adrian Wong.
Chia’s claim to fame came in 2005, when she became the first Asian model to be featured in the international campaign for Guess Watches.
Her star soared in 2009 when British singer and renowned fashion designer Victoria Beckham personally selected her to present the Victoria Beckham Autumn/Winter 2009 Ready to Wear Collection at that year’s New York Fashion Week.
The road to stardom was not a rosy one. Chia’s childhood in Tawau, Sabah was filled with poverty and hardship. At age eight, she was given away to foster parents, only returning to her birth parents four years later.
At 15, she dropped out of school to help her parents run their fish stall in the market. She even took up two other jobs. At 17, she left for Kuala Lumpur to become a model, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In this exclusive interview with theSun at her office in Petaling Jaya, Chia recalled the challenges she has faced, and the future that lies ahead.

*You started Amber Chia Academy in 2010. How has your academy grown over the last decade?

“When we first started the academy, we only offered modelling and makeup courses. Over the years I have added more courses to the academy, for example photography and grooming, and we even have child and teenage modelling courses [now].
“The child modelling courses are for [ages] eight to 12 years old, and the teenage modeling courses are for [ages] 13 to 16.
“I want to guide the new generation of models with the experiences I have gained. These courses [will help them] build a certain level of confidence.
“In the past, parents would not allow their children to be models. They always associate modelling with drugs, alcohol, late night clubbing and prostitution.
“Now they are saying to their children: ‘You can be like Amber Chia.’ I am glad to see the change in perceptions.”

*What kind of mother are you?

“My career kept me busy, and I felt very guilty for not spending time with my son. So, I spoilt him.
“I bought him things to make him happy. But slowly, I realised I was buying him things to make myself feel good because I was not spending time with him. That should not be the case. I should be spending quality time with him. I should be educating him to be grateful for the life he has.
“I remember when he was very young, I took him to visit an orphanage. He saw children who had less than what he had, and he appreciated his life more. I should be doing more of these activities with him.”

*Next year you will be turning 40. Are you afraid of getting older?

“I have so many friends who passed away at a young age. I am grateful to be alive every day, and [that] I am still healthy and can chase my dreams and spend time with my loved ones.
“I believe in growing old gracefully. I have seen some grandmothers in their 70s and 80s who still look beautiful. Some people look stunning with white hair, and I do not mind having [that].
“If I was in my 90s and someone wants me to [walk the runway], I will take my walking stick and walk. I will feel proud to be the oldest model on the catwalk.
“You can look good at any age. Looking good takes effort and energy. I believe there are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

*Have you any regrets about your childhood?

“Not at all. My difficult childhood gave me a stronger soul to face failures and rejection.
“For example, I was rejected more than 50 times before I became a successful model. Each time I was rejected, I learned to stand up and brush aside the [disapppointment] and started hunting for other modelling assignments.
“Once, I got a gig at a fashion show. But none of the clothes fit me. I was told to go [straight home], in front of so many other models. I felt humiliated. I cried my eyes out the whole night.
“The next morning, I learned to put the [emotions] behind me and went on a diet.
“Today, I find some youngsters are easily dejected when they get [turned down] after just three auditions. They want to quit modelling immediately.
“You have [to persevere] if you want to have a career in the industry. You need to accept [that failure] is going to be a part of your journey. You should not be afraid of failure. In fact, failure is supposed to make a better version of you.”

*Some claim eating disorders are a common thing in the modelling world. What is your view of this issue?

“An eating disorder is never healthy. It destroys your body. When you are not healthy, you will never look beautiful.
“Good health is an important key to looking beautiful. You need good health to shine from the inside. I believe you should adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“You have to be choosy over what you want to eat. For example, in the past I [hated] eating salads. Slowly, I added salads to my diet, and now I love eating salads.”