Kopitiam time with Chelsia Ng

Ng would like to see Malaysian filmmakers make more honest stories that reflect how Malaysians really are and not how we want the world to perceive us

by AZALEA AZUAR

CHELSIA Ng rose to fame in the 1990s as an actress, singer and songwriter.

Fans of the hit Malaysian-English sitcom Kopitiam would remember its catchy theme song “Empty Decorations”, which she performed with Douglas Lim.

In Kopitiam, Ng played Rain, a cute hair salon assistant, which happened to be her favourite role to play.

The 37-year-old is not only cute on-screen, but in real life as well, accompanied by her funny and humble personality.

Her role in Kopitiam led her to other critically acclaimed local films such as Papadom (directed by Afdlin Shauki) and Setem (directed by Kabir Bhatia).

Ng’s co-star in Papadom, Liyana Jasmay won the Best Actress Award, while the film itself won Best Film at the 22nd Malaysian Film Festival a decade ago.

That was not the last of high-quality Malaysian films, as the nation now has a growing number of highly praised films such as The Journey, Ola Bola, Paskal and, most recently, Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal.

These productions have left Ng feeling hopeful about Malaysia’s film industry.

“Avenues are opening, and the world is getting ‘smaller’ that people are now looking to the East to produce their movies and tell their stories,” she said.

Ng would like to see Malaysian filmmakers make more honest stories that reflect how Malaysians really are and not how we want the world to perceive us.

“In Malaysia, we are restricted by a lot of censorship and regulations, so there are many untold stories. Not all are ugly; behind those restrictions we can see that Malaysians are actually beautiful people.”

Having faith in the country’s local talents, Ng hopes that the Malaysian film industry would give them a chance by becoming more open to new and honest stories.

After finishing secondary school, Ng worked as a flight stewardess for a very short time and later studied at the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia.

My family would be my greatest inspiration because without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now

Biggest Inspirations

SpiderMan had Tony Stark, Luke Skywalker had Master Yoda, while Ng had Deanna Yusoff.

It all started at age 14 when she joined Asia Bagus, a talent programme which promoted young and aspiring singers in Asia. It aired from 1991 to 2000 on TV3.

“I entered Asia Bagus and Deanna was one of the judges. She had a talent agency at that time and took me under her wing. That was how my career started.”

English-born Deanna is a local veteran actress who joined an international cast in the Hollywood film Anna and the King in 1999.

Besides world-renowned names like Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-fat and Tom Felton, the film also featured an ensemble of Malaysian actors including Harith Iskander, Sean Ghazi and Afdlin.

Although Ng had never shared screen time with Deanna before, she is thankful to have the latter as a mentor.

“Without her, I wouldn’t be here right now; literally here right now!” To this day, Ng keeps in touch with her former mentor both on social media and in person.

Apart from having a caring mentor in Deanna, Ng’s biggest inspiration came from her family.

In fact, it was her grandfather and mother who encouraged her to join Asia Bagus.

“I have many inspirations, but one that really comes to mind is my grandfather. He’s not here anymore, but growing up, I’d always see him sitting in front of the television. I saw how excited he got when his favourite programme came on. He also loved music,” Ng reminisced.

Although Ng was hesitant about joining Asia Bagus, her mother, Rose Oon, urged her on especially as it was her grandfather’s favourite show.

“My family would be my greatest inspiration because without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now.”

Ng is not the only one in the family with a flair for the arts. Oon quit her full-time job to pursue her passion as an artist when she was 62 years old.

Back in 2016, Oon and Ng published their colouring book titled “Colour My Wings” which was illustrated by Oon, while it features a selection of Ng’s poems.

“A lot of people do not see acting performing arts as a career. It’s more of a side income. But I’m just grateful that my parents, my grandfather, they don’t see it that way. And they see it as an opportunity for me, because that’s what I love. That’s what I do best.”

The 37-year-old is not only cute on-screen, but in real life as well, accompanied by her funny and humble personality

Financial Woes as an Entertainer

As supportive as Ng’s parents were, she understands why many other parents would not be.

“Being in the entertainment industry, you work as a freelancer all your life. Sometimes, I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from and when,” she said.

Unfortunately, entertainers do not have a proper guild to assist with their finances, such as employees’ insurance and the Social Security Organisation.

“We don’t even have proper laws to help us get paid from clients. We can’t even sue these people. You don’t have the backing or the money to hire a lawyer.”

Just like any child, Ng was very naive when she was younger and of course, she never thought of these things when she had an ambition of becoming an entertainer.

A Nature and Animal Lover

Although Ng could not imagine doing anything else other than acting and singing, she imagined working closely with animals and nature if she were not in the show business.

“I would love to work in the jungle, camping, taking photos of wildlife, getting bitten by mosquitoes — that would be great!” she joked.

Ng adopted a rescued Telomian dog called Lara which stands for “Love a Rescued Animal”.

“I got her when she was a puppy. She has severe anxiety issues and is constantly on the edge.”

Unlike her other dogs, Lara would run and hide under the chair if Ng felt anxious and needed comfort.

The Proud Penangite and Foodie

Currently residing and working in Kuala Lumpur (KL), the Penang-born Ng makes a point to travel to her hometown at least once a month.

“I miss being on the streets of Penang where the air is different from that of KL,” she said.

Being away from family, Ng understands the sorrow of those who live alone. What she misses most about Penang is her parents’ homecooked meals.

“It doesn’t matter where or whose food you eat, your parents’ homecooked meals are always the best in the world.”

Her favourite dish is chai boey, which is a mustard green stew cooked with leftover vegetables.

“Chai means vegetables and boey means leftovers. The soup can only be cooked with leftover vegetables which are salty and fermented, like preserved cabbage.”

These leftover vegetables are cooked with asam pieces and then boiled into a stew.

When Ng left Penang to pursue her career in the entertainment world, she had a culture shock when laksa did not specifically refer to the dish of her childhood.

“I love Penang asam laksa. In Penang, when you say laksa, it’s just asam laksa and not curry mee. It was a shocker for me when I came out of my island and discovered that laksa actually means curry mee.”

Despite having studied overseas, Ng admitted that she could not live abroad because she would miss Malaysian food.

“We are the proudest of our food because our food is simply awesome. I love travelling, but I don’t think I can ever live abroad because I need to have my nasi lemak every week, at least once.”

Ng noted that although she loved various versions of nasi lemak, her favourite comes from Ali Nasi Lemak, which is located at Sri Weld Food Court in Georgetown, Penang.

The nasi lemak stall is known for its long queues and was established in 2001 by Wasnita Idris, who is from Pekanbaru, Indonesia.

Customers can choose a side of cuttlefish, salted fish, chicken, fried fish or shrimp.

The other version of nasi lemak in her favourites list is a Nyonya- style one in Pulau Tikus.

The POMPuan Show offers comedy skits, stand-up comedy, music performances and dance (Source: proticket.com.my)

Check Her Out In…

Ng’s latest performance was held on June 7 and 8 at Bobo KL where she performed her own songs, as well as covers accompanied by pianist, Loh Ui Li and bassist Wafi. They will be returning to Bobo KL on Nov 8 and 9.

Ng was also in the POMPuan Show, an all-female comedy variety show, on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

“The show was written and performed by women. It had comedy skits, stand-up comedy, music performances and dance.

“It did very well, and we sold out the show, so we will be doing another one on Aug 31 to celebrate Merdeka Day by empowering women.”

“I will be in a comedy parody of a famous pop song, but I won’t give out too many details. You have to come and watch it.”

The show will be at Menara KEN in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.

The day after, Ng will be heading to Shah Alam to perform at RIUH in the City.

RIUH in the City is a monthly creative platform with live performances, showcases, workshops, food and beverage stalls and pop-up stalls to help local creative entrepreneurs.