Chew on this: While the Latin term “carpe diem” or “seize the day” is often bandied around these days as an Instagram caption, few actually grasp the adage better than Chew Chor Meng. Back in 2008, life threw the actor a curveball when he was diagnosed with a rare muscle-wasting genetic disorder and was initially given only 18 months to live.
While most might see it as a death sentence, the go-getter saw it as a catalyst to live life to the fullest. It’s been a decade since his diagnosis, and the well-loved actor is still standing strong and YOLO-ing through life. Though there are physical signs that betray his condition, like how he walks with a limp, Chor Meng continues to enjoy a prolific presence on Ch 8. Like his beloved role as a coffee shop towkay in long-running Ch 8 drama 118. In real life, Chor Meng is also a successful F&B entrepreneur with three Mookata stalls (which he co-owns with fellow actor Dennis Chew) under his over-achieving belt. In fact, he recently told us that he plans to open a porridge store soon. In the midst of his packed schedule, he still finds time to play doting dad to his two teenage daughters whom he jokingly calls his “infantry” in his battle with the disease.
It is that seize-the-day optimism that the 50-year-old actor will bring on screen when he plays a JC teacher who gets diagnosed with an incurable disease in the current Ch 8 drama Fifty and Fabulous. Just like his character, the actor is determined to make the most out of life. And he sure isn’t about to let a little limp get in his way.
8 DAYS: You’re starring in Fifty and Fabulous. Coincidentally, you turned 50 last year. What’s the most fabulous thing about being 50?
CHEW CHOR MENG: I think age is just a number. If you’re young but your mental state is like that of a 50-year-old, then it’s also pointless. So what’s most important is to keep a happy mindset. Compared to when I was in my 30s or 40s, I’m now more mature and I tend to look on the bright side. I think you must experience different stages in life to grow up. And when you look back, you shouldn’t have any regrets. Time really flies. You don’t have time to think so much. You should live day by day. When I first entered showbiz, I was only 22. Now that I’m 50, I think it won’t be long before I turn 60! (Laughs)
What’s your greatest worry or concern right now?
If you really want to talk about worries, there are too many things to worry about, like for us, whether or not it’s going to rain as it may affect our outdoor filming schedule. But I’m still learning to let go. I try not to think too much ’cos I don’t even know what tomorrow brings.
Fifty revolves around the stories of individuals in the second half of their lives. How do you strive to live the second half of your life better?
As you know, right now, I’m facing physical challenges [after being diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy in 2008]. So I try my best to think on the bright side and to be happy. There are some things that I’m not able to do now [like walk fast, climb stairs or carry heavy things], and my current situation can be quite tough. But if I were to compare my situation to others, surely there’s someone out there who’s in a more dire state than me, right? I think being able to walk is already a blessing. So I try not to complain too much.
How’s your condition now?
It’s under control. I can eat, drink, poop and sleep — I think that’s good enough already. I really don’t go and think too much [about my condition] lah.
When you were diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy in 2008, you were initially given only 18 months to live. It’s been 10 years now and you’re still living life to the fullest.
The first two doctors my wife and I consulted gave me only 18 to 24 months to live. But when [my wife and I went to a third neurologist] for a third opinion, we got a miracle from God. The third doctor said that I could still live [many decades] longer [as my muscular dystrophy was progressive]. But he said that even then, I’d face a lot of challenges ahead. He said that I’d need to get around using a walking stick or a wheelchair. But thank God that I still can walk and drive, even though my movements are a bit slow, and I cannot climb stairs.
Do you live each day like it’s your last?
I can only say that after I became a Christian, I’ve learnt to let it go. There’s nothing I need to worry about. Even if I’m worried, I cannot cure my condition, right? So I might as well not fret about it. Every day to me is a bonus and I just strive to live each day happily. There’s no cure [for my condition]. But I’d still make an effort to exercise as a form of therapy to help myself lah.
Now that both your daughters have grown up, how do they take care of you, given your condition?
They are like my “infantry”. Sometimes, when we go out to eat or when we’re at a foreign place, they will help me recce the place first to find where the nearest toilet is, and if there are any steps or slopes [in the vicinity].
There has been a wave of second-generation stars debuting in local showbiz. Do you plan to groom your daughters for stardom too?
No, I won’t encourage or discourage them [from pursuing acting]. I’ll let them make their own decisions. Have they expressed interest in acting? No. Not at all. I did ask them once what they wanted to do in future. But they said that they didn’t know! (Laughs)
Fifty and Fabulous airs weekdays, on Ch 8, 9pm.
Photos: Ealbert Ho / Chew Chor Meng and Deon Tan's Instagram