The next time you’re at the hawker centre and feeling hungrier than usual, try Jae Liew’s virtually foolproof - well, for her at least - way of nabbing herself a slightly larger portion (without the added cost).
“I’ve got the perfect trick for getting more food at the nasi padang stall,” the 29-year-old actress grinned. Basically, her modus operandi consists of bouncing up to the stand, cooing “Kaaaaak” (short for “kakak”, which means “big sister”) in the most syrupy way possible, and placing her order in Malay before casually requesting for extra grub - while keeping the saccharine tone, of course.
In Korean, this would be known as aegyo; in Malay, it would be called manja. “Okay lah, I don’t know if it would work for other people, but it has almost always works for me,” she chuckled. Time to practice acting cute, we guess?
The reason for our hawker-themed chat is simple: Jae’s latest drama, Channel 5’s 128 Circle, takes place in the fictional 128 Circle Food Centre (P.S. did you notice that “128” sounds like “want to eat”?), where her character Sherry runs a hotdog stall with her brother Dominic (played by Daren Tan). The multilingual 15-episode drama features a multiracial cast communicating in a mix of English and their mother tongues (Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil).
Joining us for our interview with Jae was Chase Tan, whose character Yi Kai runs the dessert stall. It was during the course of our conversation that we learned that the 29-year-old basketball player and former Hey Gorgeous finalist is the son of real-life hawker stall owners (well, his mum has since retired while his dad only goes to help out every now and then these days).
According to Chase, he used to help out at his parents’ bak chor mee stall from Primary 2 or 3 until he entered university, slowly getting “promoted” from serving the noodles to taking orders to whipping up simpler dishes for customers a few times.
In a way, he was also the unofficial “ambassador”. “I used to have the nickname ‘bak chor mee xiao wang zi’ (‘little bak chor mee prince’)!” he chuckled. “Aunties told me that business would go up whenever I was there, so that’s why my dad kept asking me to go and help. (Laughs)”
Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, 128 Circle has gotten the stamp of approval by Chase’s folks for its realistic depiction of hawker centre life. “We were watching this scene where a customer kicks up a fuss and walks away after not receiving the right order, and my mum was like, ‘Wah! This sort of thing really happens! Very authentic.’”
Adding to the genuineness is that fact that 128 Circle was shot in a real and functioning hawker centre, Ci Yuan Hawker Centre at Hougang Avenue 9. “Have you ever been there? It’s super hot!” Jae exclaimed.
To make matters worse, they filmed during what Jae claimed was Singapore’s hottest period on record. “It was exceedingly tough,” she recalled. “Imagine yourself in this room [referring to the tiny meeting space we’re in] with no aircon, no ventilation, plus heat from the cooking. And we had to switch off the fans because of the sound. I kid you not: I nearly passed out a couple of times.”
The experience left her with a newfound respect for those working in hawker centres, and Chase took the opportunity to remind everyone not to misunderstand when they encounter rude hawker centre workers. “Because it’s so hot, it’s easy to get frustrated,” he explained, saying he often witnessed his father endure a face full of steaming smoke every time he cooked.
Watch the first episode of '128 Circle':
Temperature woes aside, shooting in an uncontrolled environment meant having to deal with a lot of unwanted noise disruptions from all around, which meant needing retakes. This was especially challenging for emotional scenes, such as the one where Sherry, who has high-functioning autism, was having a meltdown.
“We had to reshoot that over and over again because of the sound disturbances, but after five times we had to stop because it was just not working,” Jae recalled. “And we couldn’t possibly just shut the whole place down.”
On that note of playing a special needs character, Jae shared that she spent a lot of time doing intensive research on autism, and discovered that girls tend to display less obvious symptoms than boys. “So that’s what I wanted to do with Sherry, but it’s not something we focus on because we want people to realise that she’s just like any other regular person.”
For Chase, who is more fluent in Mandarin, he admitted that acting in his first English drama was “tough”, and that he needed to consult his co-star and onscreen love interest Constance Lau on how to pronounce a lot of words. “I once had an entire paragraph that needed correction because I wanted to deliver it in my own way, but they said I couldn’t go too overboard with the Singlish,” he laughed. “Now my English has improved a bit!”
128 Circle premieres on October 7 and airs every Monday, 9.30pm on Channel 5.
You can also watch episodes of 128 Circle in advance on Toggle.
Photos: Tammi Tan, Mediacorp Channel 5, Instagram/Jae Liew, Instagram/Chase Tan