8 DAYS: Since it’s the Year of the Rooster, let’s kick off with chicken-related questions. When was the last time someone called you a chicken?
TAY PING HUI: Never.
Are you saying that nothing scares you?
Well, I can’t put my bag on public floors — I think they’re extremely dirty. Let’s say you put your bag down on the floor at a restaurant. All the s***, viruses and bacteria from the floor are now on the bottom of your bag. Then later on, you put it on your lap or the car seat. And all of the s*** gets on you or the car seat. Then you reach home, and you put the bag on the floor, or worse still, the bed, and everything is now dirty. So, yes, it’s not exactly something I’m afraid of — it’s just something I don’t think we should do.
What’s something that’s damn chicken feed to you?
A lot of people in Singapore these days have problems with driving fast — everyone seems to drive at 60km/h on the highway. I have no problem [driving at a regular speed on the highway]. And some people may puke or faint at the sight of blood, but I don’t get easily grossed out by blood and gore. I’ve watched autopsies on documentaries while eating spaghetti bolognese. Recently, I sliced off the tip of my finger during a cooking show. To me, I just wanted to deal with it and stop the bleeding, but I wasn’t grossed out. But some of my friends who saw it wanted to faint or puke. I wouldn’t say it’s chicken feed to me, but I can handle it quite well.
Who’s someone you can talk c*** with?
I can pretty much talk c*** with anyone. I think I’m quite an easy-going person and I can talk about anything and everything to anyone. But if I don’t like you, I won’t speak about anything of significance — it’ll just be superficial small talk. It’s something that I’ve learnt to do.
Let’s see how good you are at talking c*** then. Why did the chicken cross the road?
’Cos it wants to get to the other side. Eh, this is a primary school question lah!
Here’s an adult question. What should a man say if his wife or girlfriend asks if she looks fat?
There is only one answer to this question — any other answer will mean certain death, a few nights of sleeping on the couch, or other horrible things. If your wife or girlfriend asks you if she’s fat, you say: “Of course not, dear!”
Is the glass half empty or half full?
Depends on how thirsty you are. If you’re very thirsty, then it’s half empty. If you’re very full, then it’s half full.
Are we living in a matrix?
My definition of the matrix is that we are living in a world that we think is very real but it’s absolutely not. A lot of things are just superficial and there’s a great conspiracy bigger than us going on. So my answer is, yes we are. A lot of individuals, especially in Singapore, create their own little world that they are comfortable in. Unfortunately, they’re not seeing the bigger picture and beyond their own lives. We are contented with our blue pill. More people need to eat the red pill — which is a very bitter pill — and to understand the reality of what’s happening in the bigger picture: the society, the country, regional dynamics, global economics and political development. So are we in a matrix? A lot of us are. There are only a few willing to take the red pill ’cos the realisation that comes when you take the red pill is quite painful. Does that make sense to you?
Yes, and we’re going to think about life after this. But first, Chinese New Year. What’s a typical CNY like for you?
I’m quite traditional, so every CNY is the same thing. On the eve, there’s a big reunion dinner with my dad’s side of the family where there are about 40 or 50 people. It’s a huge family — my dad has six brothers. It’s a potluck dinner. I’d cook for my family at normal family gatherings, but for Chinese New Year, I leave it to my mum. It’s her turf. She rarely gets to cook and she does a mean mushroom and fa cai dish, kinda like a pen cai. In the past few years, I’ve had to perform at the live countdown show. So everyone has kinda accommodated me, and we have dinner earlier, then I leave for the show. On the first day of Chinese New Year, I go to my parents’ place. Until this day, we all still kneel to bai nian, which I insist on doing. Even new additions to the family, like my sister’s husband who is Eurasian, have to do it too. It’s out of respect for tradition. If I ever have children, they’d have to do it too. Then we go to the temple where my grandparents’ niches are, and the whole family gathers there. After the prayers, we go visiting relatives on my dad’s side of the family; and later in the afternoon, my mum’s side of the family. Her family is big too — she has six siblings. So that’s a lot of visiting to do over Chinese New Year.
And that’s a lot of ang pows to pack. Who does it: you or the missus?
I do it. And it doesn’t help that, besides family, I have this core group of friends of about nine that I’ve known since secondary school. There are 21 kids in that group. That, plus ang pows for my cousins and their kids, it always adds up to quite a substantial amount [of money] every year. In fact, Chinese New Year is one of the few times you’ll catch me carrying my man bag around. (Laughs) I normally colour code the ang pows or use different ones so I know which one has how much money, and which is for whom. First, there are your closest relatives and friends, then there are your friend’s kids, and then there is what I call the riff raff. These are the people I don’t know [but who are around] and since it’s Chinese New Year, I will give them an ang pow.
Do you ever consider that you can’t give too little because you’re Tay Ping Hui and people might talk if you do that?
I don’t give a s*** if I’m Tay Ping Hui or not. I still have a life to lead, right? And, I got a lot of money meh? I believe in being relatively generous during Chinese New Year, with the exception of the riff raff. I remember when I was younger, I received an ang pow with just a $1 coin. I was quite traumatised, like, what does this mean? Am I so meaningless or insignificant? So now, I try to give at least paper currency. The minimum is $4 to $8 nowadays for the riff raff. When I go visit my Malaysian relatives in Malacca, it’s in ringgit, so it’s a bit more economical.
What was CNY like for you during your childhood?
I’ve always been a pig, so it was about the food. And like most kids, it was about collecting ang pows. For me, it was about building a little pot of money to budget and invest.
Invest? At such a young age?
It’s not exactly investing, but I’d buy things and sell them at a higher price. Like, erasers and small stationery items. And I’d use the money to save up for, say, a pair of Bata or Adidas shoes, or a bag.
How’s your luck at the gambling table during CNY?
I only gamble during CNY. We play Blackjack. In general, I don’t win money. With my cousins, I sometimes win. But when I play with my friends’ kids, I’m always the zheng gei (house) and I always lose. It’s not right for me to win their money ’cos some of them are very young, about six years old. There was once I had quite good luck, and I kept getting Blackjack time and time again. Then one of the kids went, “How can you win little children’s money?” After that, even when my cards add up to 18, 19 or 20, I’d still take another card and end up losing.
How do you handle questions from kaypoh relatives?
I only answer questions that I want to answer.
Such as, when are you having kids?
I’ll say I don’t want kids, or I’ll ask them “How do you know I don’t already have?” I just say what I wanna say. As to whether I really want kids or not, it’s a mystery. I’m an enigmatic person.
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Watch Ping Hui's answer here.