What Is Internet Sensation Chuando Like In Real Life?
We hang out with Instagram’s hottest 51-year-old and find out his secrets to looking two decades younger. PHOTOS: FREY OW (A version of this cover story first appeared in Issue 1404, Sept 4, 2017.)
“Let me get that girl’s attention,” says Chuando. We are sitting at a tucked-away table in The Coffee Academics café at Scotts Square, and we’re in need of a water refill. He waves his hand hopefully, but the waitress is busy.
“Let’s both try and see who gets her attention first, just to test if it’s true that strangers always notice you,” we suggest. “Of course it’ll be me lah — you're sitting in a blind spot and I'm taller,” he ribs, keeping his hand raised.
Nevertheless, we give it our best shot and wave enthusiastically. A waiter shoots up — to Chuando! — and reverently pours water into his glass. For the record, he is 1.85m-tall. And people, both men and women, are drawn to him like fast food junkies to McDonald’s nasi lemak burger.
It is a proven fact: tapping on the Insights function on his verified Instagram account reveals a statistical pie chart dividing his 452,000 followers equally across both genders. Guys want to be like him, girls want to be with him.
He dresses youthfully, in a chambray button-down shirt, Adidas athleisure sweatpants, and those black-rimmed Ray-Bans that he slips on and off when he squints at his iPhone. “For my lao hua yan (Mandarin for presbyopia, or long-sightedness),” he explains. “50 degrees only.”
Aha! Finally — a giveaway sign that he had indeed turned 51 in March this year. Despite his Greek god bod, he’s not immune to the slight grey creeping into his sideburns and stubble.
“I dye my hair every two months. But I haven't dyed it in a month — can you see the white hair now?” he asks, tilting his lush crowning glory towards us to examine.
No sign of balding that, according to God’s laws, should already be present on a quinquagenarian like him. What is this guy on?
Interestingly, meeting CD in the flesh, with his Clark Kent-esque glasses and all, didn't make us feel tempted to ask him to rip off his shirt like Superman and show us those legendary abs. Maybe it's ’cos he gives the impression that he is so much more than a fantasy comic book character.
CD at an 8 DAYS shoot in 1992. “Gosh I was so young in this photo,” he laughs. “All I can remember about this was that it was a very quick and easy shoot.”
After all, three decades before this viral media storm knocked on his door and made him China’s new darling, he was already famous — both in front of the camera and behind it. He started out in the ’80s as a top male model who stormed Milan’s runways. In 1993, he released a Mandopop album, and in 2005, he set up local modelling agency Ave Management.
CD's 1992 8 DAYS cover with veteran singer Tracy Huang.
“Some Chinese [netizens] dug out my old interviews as a singer and thought my name was Chen Yufei. That was my stage name. My real name is Chen Chuan Duo,” he tells us, enunciating each Chinese word.
We ask him if he stills sings (karaoke, maybe?) these days and what his repertoire is. “The last time I sang karaoke was like three years ago. I always sing U2’s songs ’cos I love U2, but don’t imagine me singing in perfect key lah. My friends and I just scream and shout,” he laughs.
These days, he’s mostly on the other side of the camera, as one of the most in-demand fashion photographers in the business, with his longtime collaborator Frey Ow, who shot these abs-olutely im-pec-cable pics for 8 DAYS. Together, CD and Frey are a photography team called chuando&frey who has shot stars like Shu Qi, Angelababy, Eddie Peng and Janet Jackson.
Chuando shot this 8 DAYS cover of Wong Li-Lin and former national swimmer Leslie Kwok in 2001.
Unlike with a regular cover shoot, we weren’t there for Chuando’s shoot — after some discussion and input from us, CD and his team did their own thang, as per their preference. We apologise that we can’t describe to you how he peeled off his shirt, oiled his pecs and smouldered into the camera — you’re just going to have to use your imagination, like we did.
This Hainanese boy from Toa Payoh lives “around the town area” now. But he’s still very down-to-earth. The café we are at serves fancy beverages like pepper agave latte, and we wonder if CD, who had picked this place to meet, would order anything elaborate.
Instead, he orders a simple “cappuccino, skinny” even though he says he usually avoids coffee and tea unless he's “on holiday, or feeling very relaxed”. When his cuppa arrives, he utters, “Thank you very much” to the waitstaff, and leaps up to get the bill when we call it a day.
He speaks softly, but when he laughs, it is a booming, ab-sculpting laugh. He doesn't really cook, he says, but tapows his lunch from food courts around Orchard Road. “Whatever stall that has fish soup, chicken breast... Doesn't matter if it tastes good as long as the food is fresh. But I do marinate chicken in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and throw it inside a toaster oven, though I don’t consider that cooking,” he says self-deprecatingly.
This is a man one might expect to go on and on about himself. But he relishes playing interviewer with us too. “Would you say your job is interesting?” he asks curiously. “Do you have pets? You love durians too? How come you never drink your coffee?”
At the end of our kopi sesh, CD asks us where we are heading. Friday night drinks with the squad, we reply. Where is he off to? “The gym,” he says. “I’m just an old man who exercises and takes care of himself.”
8 DAYS: What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
CHUANDO TAN: Drink water. It cleanses your body. I always have a water bottle beside my bed, and throughout the night I just drink from it. I don't care how many times I have to wake up to go to the bathroom.
Legend has it that you don't bathe early in the morning or late at night.
I think I said that in an interview 20 years ago (laughs). When I was a singer, I had very bad sinus problems, and I was seeing a specialist for it. The sinseh told me I couldn’t shower early in the morning or late at night ’cos I’d catch a cold. So that’s the full story lah.
When you look into the mirror, what do you see?
(Guffaws) Somebody who’s so tired, I wondered how I was going to meet you. What would you say about me? Most of the time I’m rushing work till late, so by the time I go to bed, it’s already daytime. If I have nothing much on the next week, I’d try to sleep more to compensate. Anything from six to eight hours, I’d be very happy.