“The Awakening”. How these words aptly describe my feelings as I strode into MediaCorp with the enticing prospect of speaking to my childhood idol, and how apt the words to introduce the lovely lady who so amicably accommodated to my request for an interview. Despite her unforgiving busy schedule, Xiang Yun arranged some time off to speak to me. I was so excited that I am finally going to have a real “heart-to-heart conversation” with Xiang Yun!
I remembered when Xiang Yun’s whole family moved to my parents’ neighbourhood when I was a youthful adolescent. Although I was too young to appreciate the essence of the Chinese drama series then, I was captivated by Xiang Yun’s persona and I was always trying to garner courage to go up to Xiang Yun and say “Hi, how are you doing today and can I have an autograph?”
Embarking on my current book project, it was imperative for me to include Xiang Yun, one of Singapore’s most iconic actresses whose acting career spans more than three decades, as one of my interviewees.
My first impression of Xiang Yun was that she looked the same as she was when I saw her in my teens, not a day older! In her smart casual attire, she greeted me with such warmth and friendliness that it felt like she was my best friend in school but lost long (since Facebook was not invented then).
Although I was frantically writing down the interview notes, Xiang Yun made me feel like I was having a tea-time conversation and not a serious interview. With all her accomplishment, she was very down-to-earth, friendly and certainly likeable, just like on television. No doubt why she was one of the “Top 10 Most Popular Artistes” in the annual Star Awards for a decade no less. After winning the coveted “Top 10 Most Popular Artistes” Award, Xiang Yun went on to win the “All-Time Favourite Artiste” Award in 2011.
Xiang Yun started off her career with Rediffusion at the tender age of 12 years. It was at Redifussion that she learned her Mandarin and cultivated her interest towards the Chinese Language. When Xiang Yun graduated from secondary school, she joined Singapore Broadcasting Station’s Drama Class and began her exciting career in acting. Xiang Yun mentioned that she owed part of her success to her father, a taxi-driver who dedicated his time ferrying his daughter to and from Reddifusion.
In the 1980s, Xiang Yun propelled to fame for a character as “Ah Mei” where she acted as the love interest Huang Wenyong’s character as “Ah Shui” in the epic drama The Awakening. When I asked Xiang Yun how she handled the stress that came with fame and popularity at a young age, she answered that the only thing different was that she was getting more acting roles, audience and much busier than before. Xiang Yun commented that the pioneer generation of actors and actresses rarely thought of themselves as celebrities. Mostly felt that acting was a passion and a job.
Not long after Xiang Yun shot to fame, she fell in love with SBC’s charismatic actor, Edmund Chen. After a whirlwind courtship, they registered for marriage. Their immense love and respect for each other was real and true. Their courtship and subsequent marriage became a hot topic for all media at that time. True to their vows, after two decades of marriage, Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun are still in love and happily married with two beautiful children.
When Xiang Yun became pregnant with her first child, she was unable to take up any acting roles. Hence, MediaCorp posted her to work as a voice-over artist. Xiang Yun commented that she was worried that the transfer would be permanent and she would not be able to pursue her favourite vocation as an actress.
As a first-time mother, Xiang Yun had her own anxieties. Her husband, Edmund Chen, was not around most of the time as he was busy recording his music albums in China. To date, Edmund had recorded and released 5 music albums. With so much on his own plate, Edmund was not always able to help out with the caring of their first child. Xiang Yun mentioned that there was an incident which caused her to be terribly exhausted and upset. She related she was fraught and fatigued when both Edmund and her baby son had chickenpox at the same time. This is a stark example of the trials and tribulations of motherhood.
Although Xiang Yun was under an absolute amount of stress as a new mother, her son brought her immense happiness. In good time, Xiang Yun left her voice-over artist position and returned to acting full-time. Nearly a decade later, Xiang Yun gave birth to her beautiful daughter at the age of 40 years old. This time, she was well-prepared for child-birth and was thus more confident in the caring of her daughter.
As a parent, Xiang Yun gives her children the freedom to do what they want, but she stressed that they must take their education seriously. Xiang Yun and Edmund Chen also share their life experiences with their children and by doing so, they are able to build a very strong bond with their children. Their son, Yixi, is now in Nanyang Technological University finishing his degree and their daughter, Yixin, is in secondary school.
As a mother of a grown-up university student and a teenager, Xiang Yun chooses her work projects thoughtfully so that she is able to manage her time carefully between work projects and her family. Xiang Yun wants to focus and give it all when she is working on a drama, film or stage project. Furthermore, Xiang Yun also has her hands full with her endorsement projects and thus she is extremely meticulous when it comes to time management. Upon completion of her work projects, Xiang Yun wants to be able to spend quality time with her husband, Edmund Chen and their 2 children. Therefore, no matter how difficult the situation is, Xiang Yun always manages to engage attentively and put her best foot forward with her work projects and when she is with her family, she is also able to dedicate her full attention and spend quality time with her family. This is an explicit and true account of how a working mom conscientiously tries to balance her limited amount of time between her career and family life and Xiang Yun makes it seem so easy!
When we discussed about Edmund Chen, Xiang Yun reveals that Edmund is an introvert. He loves to travel and paint. He often rallies the whole family to plan for travel trips. Everyone in the family has to get involved with the planning of the trip, which is great for family bonding!
Beyond shadow of doubt, Xiang Yun is one of the most easy-going, delightful and warm celebrities that I have met. She is not only an award-winning actress, but a wonderful wife and a remarkable mother to her children. To have a career and a good family comes only with setting your priorities right. I believe Xiang Yun has every right to be proud of herself for managing and balancing both her career and family life so well. She sets an admirable example for women who are struggling with work-life balance in our competitive and dynamic society.