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The mother of all Elvin Ng covers

Mother’s Day has taken on a new meaning for Elvin Ng this year. (This story first appeared Issue 1334, May 12, 2016.)

It’s getting hot, hot, hot, out here. The sun beats down relentlessly, its rays blindingly blazing. It’s a beautiful day, don’t get us wrong. The skies are bluer than the entire Smurfs population, and the Muji-esque minimalism of boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn is totes Instagram-worthy. Coupled with lush greenery in the background, it almost looks like we’ve been teleported to Australia. But in this heatwave, it feels like we’re trapped in the oven cooking next to someone’s suckling pig dinner. Then again, who are we to whinge? The one who’s feeling the searing 36°C heat most is Elvin Ng, and there’s nary a complaint from the guy who’s stewing in three layers of clothes next to a pool he cannot cannonball into. The latest artiste to graduate to the All-Time Favourite Artiste ranks looks dapper, but we’re guessing he’s feeling about as cool as a flippin’ prata on the sizzling stove. Even the little portable fan that he famously totes around everywhere isn’t helping much. But that’s not what he needs to stress about. You see, we’ve given Elvin homework. The assignment: To write a letter to his 59-year-old mum. 

8 DAYS: You were hesitant when we first asked you to write a letter to your mum.

ELVIN NG: I wouldn’t normally write to her in the first place. But when I started, it just flowed. I didn’t know what I was going to write, but it just happened. As I went along, I just said whatever I wanted. It was a good chance for me to really tell her some things that we in the Asian culture wouldn’t normally do, things that we’re uncomfortable saying face-to-face. 

How long did you take to write this?

Just a little over an hour. I didn’t plan what to write. It’s all very spontaneous and raw. It’s different from other kinds of writing, like when I wrote my book [Our Epic Little Lives]. It’s like I was trying to speak to my mum directly. I’ve written birthday cards and all before, but it’s always been very simple and not so in-depth. It’s a bit funny to write a letter to your family, but at the same time, if you don’t do it, you lose the opportunity to express all these things to them.

And yet you wouldn’t say these things to her face.

(Laughs) My mum and I are very close and I share a lot of things with her. But I wouldn’t tell her mushy things like that. Actually, I’m quite scared she’ll actually read this letter. I hope that she reads it, but I also hope that she wouldn’t read it. I’ll get embarrassed! She’ll probably read this story, of course, but it’s okay as long as I don’t know about it or she doesn’t do it in front of me. But whatever she feels [about it] is whatever she feels.

Have you ever been called  mummy’s boy?

All the time. I used to be proud of it. I still am, but I’m a bit more shy about it since I’m already 35.

These awww-some childhood photos (featuring little Elvin who’d barely turned one) are the only snaps that the immensely media-shy Mrs Ng would allow. “She followed me on the tours I led to the US and Hokkaido, and didn’t want to take any photos with people who found out that she’s my mum,” says Elvin.

Growing up, what was your relationship with your mum like?

I’m like a mirror image of her — I take after her in terms of character. She’s quite detailed, quick-tempered, and it doesn’t help that both of us are very expressive and controlling. We clash and maybe have a bit of a cold war, but maybe that’s how we communicate. (Laughs) I always lose, though. She’ll be ignoring me or hiding in her room and I have to go to her room and cajole her.

Does she still nag at you these days?

Children always think that their mums are nagging, even when they are just mentioning something, or reminding you about something because they are concerned. But sometimes you’re so busy with stuff or faced with work stress — and your parents may not really realise it — and you just wanna have some peace when you go home. But they’ll be there saying stuff, and you’re like, ‘What’s that noise?’ (Chuckles)

What sort of stuff?

‘Why haven’t you filed your income tax?’ or ‘Go settle your banking statement’. I’ll tell her I’m busy and will do it later, or I’ll ask her to help me check. She’s like my secretary — I pass all my documents to her. Sometimes, if I need to mix two colours of my make-up powder together but am too lazy to do it, I’ll give it to her and ask her to help me. (Laughs)

Do you tell your mum everything?

Yes I tell her everything when I go home, from the biggest things to the smallest thing. Last time, I’d tell her about school, now I tell her about work-related stuff, like the signing of a contract. She and my dad were the first people I approached for advice when Mediacorp first offered me a contract. She was supportive, and said it’s a rare opportunity and asked me to give it a try. She’s a very balanced mum. She wasn’t exactly a housewife — while she always helped my dad out at his renovation company, she also took care of us. She hardly entered the kitchen, though, and she only makes pineapple tarts [during Chinese New Year] only because I like pineapple tarts. She hates cooking. My dad was the one who’d cook dishes like laksa for us.

So she knows everything, including work scandals.

My mum is very open.

What was the last time you spoke to her on the phone?

Recently. Sometimes when I have breaks in between filming, I’ll call her and go “Mummy, what are you doing?” and chat for a bit.

Most people go through a rebellious period with their parents. Did you go through that?

In primary school, I did my homework without being asked to. When I was younger, there was some caning here and there for fighting with my siblings. I only became a bit rebellious from army onwards. I was a late bloomer. I hated army and I’d call her and blame her, like, “Why do I have to go to army just because I’m a guy?”

Er, but she’s your mother, not the prime minister.

(Laughs) I’ve always been quite a good boy. But the first time I got drunk when I was around 20, I came home and she found me sleeping in the toilet, next to the toilet bowl. I vaguely remember that I was still trying to shower. I think she was more shocked and worried than anything, but she was probably a bit angry also.

 

This mother-son trip to Italy sounds like quite an adventure.

It was after my dad passed away. When he passed away, I was still filming for a while, but once filming was over, I realised that I couldn’t deal with his passing at all. So I took my mum to Italy. That was a very beautiful time with my mum, and it felt like something out of the movies. It was my first time travelling with my mum, just the two of us. It was almost too close for comfort. We shared a room and so we were together 24/7. (Laughs) She’d always say the opposite of what she really feels. After we came back, she would say things like, “We quarrelled every day. Next time, I don’t want to go already.” But I know she actually enjoyed it ’cos I took her to the US the following year and she recently came along to Hokkaido when I had to lead a tour there.

Still, it must sting a little when she says things like that.

The problem with the Italian trip was that she’s a bit auntie. She took her own snacks along to Italy. I’d wanted to buy some nice western food for us to eat on the train, but she whipped out her pineapple tarts to eat instead. I’m like, who does that? And when we were in the Tuscany countryside, I bought a two-litre bottle of very nice Chianti wine. I kept it in my luggage, but she suddenly took it out and tried to finish it ’cos she thought carrying a two-litre bottle of wine was too heavy, especially when we had two suitcases with us. I told her, “Mum, I want to take this back!” This is the kind of thing we quarrel over. From that one incident, she thinks “we were quarrelling the whole time”, but that’s not true.

So who’s the better drinker: you or your mum?

My mum. She can drink, like wine and all that.

If you were to write a book about you and your mum, what would the title be?

Don’t Argue With Your Mum, or Fight Fire With Fire, or maybe, I Always Lose. (Laughs) But I wouldn’t write a book about us —mothers are all noble and the mother-child relationship should be between the two people and remain intimate and unspoken.

What Mother’s Day plans do you have?

Usually, we get a cake and go out for a nice dinner with the whole family. This year, I was thinking of doing a staycation with the family. Recently, a relative went for a staycation and invited everyone over to play games and hang out and it was quite fun. Yes, I live with my whole family but a lot of Singaporeans are like that too and still go for staycations!

If you could write another letter to anyone, who would it be?

I’d write to my dad now. I’d tell him that we’re doing well, that he shouldn’t worry and enjoy life over wherever he is and that I’ll take care of my mum. Say the things that I never got to tell him. I’m the oldest child, so I used to feel he favoured my younger siblings. When I was a kid, I always thought he was prejudiced against me. For example, if we quarrelled and I got caned, I’d think, “Why did I get caned two more times than my sister?” Eight years before my dad passed away, he had a heart operation. We could have lost him then, but we didn’t. That made me realise something. I’ve always been close to my dad but we had a bit of bickering going on. After that operation, we ironed things out, and everything was good for those eight years before he passed away. We let go of a lot of things, and didn’t [disagree] that easily. We made it a point to go on family trips every year. My last holiday with my dad was to Perth with the whole family. We had a very good time. We rented a big car and drove to Margaret River. My dad never left Asia before, and liked going to places like Hongkong or Taiwan. My family is very close knit. Family is the most important.

 

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