Ex Heavy Smoker Peter Yu Bought His Wife A Rolex With The Money He Saved From Not Buying Cigarettes For 2 Years
8days.sg met the 54-year-old actor earlier this month at the Fix My Life press conference, where he talked to us about the value of saving up, and finding his purpose in life.
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By now, most of us would be used to reading about Peter Yu, 54, in the news, and more times than not, his troubled past would be brought up.
However, as we sat opposite the veteran actor, who stars in new Mediacorp drama Fix My Life, one afternoon in early February, Peter was all chipper as he reflected on how good life has been for him of late.
We soon found out that it had plenty to do with how he came to realise the importance of saving money, having good habits, and maintaining good relationships with those around him, including his wife, and his two sons, Christian, 10, and Israel, six.
But first about his role in the drama.
Peter plays fuddy-duddy antique shop owner, Rong Shu (荣叔), or Uncle Rong, who is also the landlord of the drama’s leading man, Fan She De, played by James Seah.
The actor, however, admits he couldn’t be more different from Rong Shu in real life.
“You know a lao gu dong ('old antique' in English) is someone who is very stubborn, doesn’t like to talk and thinks he’s very wise? Yeah, my character in the show is someone like that. But I don’t know about antiques at all!” he chuckled.
He went on to tell us about the time he received a “very beautiful” antique typewriter from his brother.
“One day, I went to shoot a short film at a house that has a lot of antique things. I was like ‘Wow, the house looks so nice’ and I felt like it was right to give it to them, so I did."
"I felt like they needed it more than me 'cos they can appreciate it, and there’s no use in me keeping it because everything else in my house is “modern”,” he explained, setting the tone for the rest of our conversation, which involved the letting go of things.
8DAYS.SG: Lately, you’ve been appearing in more shows, including the new movie, Circle Line. Will we be seeing you in more drama serials as well?
PETER YU: Hmm, I don’t know. I mean I’m open [to the idea]. In fact, I have a lot of projects that I’m working on, I film a lot of movies. I’m going to start work on another movie later this month. I think I have shot almost seven movies already.
It feels like I’ve been filming at least two movies every year for a while now. [The pace] is actually quite relaxed when filming movies, because they have a budget, and so we have a lot of time to film a bit every day. It’s not as rushed as filming a drama.
Do you prefer acting in a drama series or a movie?
Of course I like to act in movies lah. You get paid better for movies, and movies give me plenty of time [to prepare].
As an artiste, we need a lot of emotions to act, so they give us a lot of time to portray that character. It’s more fast-paced when I act in dramas and sometimes, it affects my emotions and I can’t properly portray what I want. It gets a bit disappointing sometimes.
How different are the younger stars now compared to when you were their age?
(Pauses to think) Um, modern ah. Sorry I don’t really watch dramas these days so I don’t know how they act now (laughs).
But okay lah, if you’re talking about the differences between the actors now and then… last time, in SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) and TCS (Television Corporation of Singapore), everyone knew everyone when we were working. Our relationship with each other was really good. We all managed to develop [friendships] with each other before filming.
But of late, everyone is quiet, and they don’t really develop relationships first, or chat with each other. There’s a chance they don’t speak to me because there’s a generation gap, or maybe they don’t dare to come over and speak to me, so I understand.
But filming with them, when they are doing their lines, everything is okay. They are all good at what they do, and they are quite pro also lah. But the way we were last time, it’s easy to act with anyone.
You mentioned that the stars used to be very close in the past, what did you guys do together?
We went out together to eat and all. Last time, there was really the feeling of love. Everybody was very close. Like Aileen [Tan] (who also appears in Fix My Life), every time I see her she will say ‘Hello’ loudly and give me a hug. It’s like meeting an old friend.
Last time, we didn’t have smart phones so we just kept chatting with each other. Eating and chatting in between scenes. We developed good rapport with our co-stars, and we felt comfortable acting with each other. We felt very at ease because we knew each other well.
Fix My Life is about people making space in their lives for other things. What do you do when you feel like you’re facing a messy situation that you need to ‘clean up’ in your life?
I pray (smiles). [Ed: Peter is a devout Christian] I have peace and joy in my heart. When there’s turbulence I will pray, and I don’t feel worried, because I know problems are inevitable, unlike in the past.
Since you mentioned your past — everyone knows that you’ve been through a lot. What would you consider to be the toughest thing you went through?
Toughest thing ah… (Pauses) The toughest thing was not knowing what I wanted. I didn't know what life is about.
That’s the toughest thing 'cos if you don’t have direction, you don’t know what you’re here for. It’s the worst thing. As a human being, you come to this world then you have three meals and work [and then you repeat]. What’s the point? There’s no meaning at all.
That’s why relationships are very important to me now. Love and relationships are very important. It’s what you share with your friends, your parents, your wife, your kids. If life is good and you enjoy life, that means you have love.
How old were you when you struggled with figuring out what you wanted?
In my twenties, when I was with Mediacorp. I thought I had everything at that point, but I was wrong.
It wasn’t until one day that I felt like I was missing something, but I didn’t know what it was. After finding my faith, I realised that the world is actually beautiful. I know what I wanted to do, and that’s very important.
I used to smoke. I would spend S$12 to S$13 a day to enjoy the smoke. We all know smoking is no good, yet we still do it.
You know, smoking a packet of cigarettes costs about $10, and I used to smoke one packet a day. So I tried to keep $10 each day [in a box]. You don’t feel the pinch mah, and I did that for two years. When I looked at [my savings], I had accumulated S$7K plus leh. It was like winning the lottery.
So I took the money and bought a Rolex for my wife. I didn’t feel the ‘pain’ [of having to spend that amount] because I accumulated it over time.
Last time, I never knew how to manage my money because I was working and I had a salary coming in every month. I didn’t know what it meant to have savings.
Now when I save money, I realise that I can put it aside for the kids’ insurance and for red packets during Chinese New Year. I don’t have to worry about money because I have a lump sum of savings instead of needing to find it when the bills come.
When I was younger I always had money to spend and life was good. I never lacked money until things happened lah. I don’t want to repeat my old story again lah. I was in debt. I had no money. Now, everything is fulfilling. I have a family, I cleared all my debts, and I can bring my family on holiday every year.
In fact, my wife and I are going to Japan. [Ed: Peter has already gone on the trip by the time this story is online] This is our second honeymoon. The first time we went to Bangkok 'cos I didn’t have as much money then. This time, I’m taking her to Japan (smiles).
Photos: Mediacorp/ Photo Unit, Peter Yu/ Instagram
Catch Fix My Life on Channel 8, weekdays at 9pm. All episodes are available on meWATCH here.