“Hong you (medicated oil in Hokkien) is good for everything. Bruises, mosquito bites, everything! People think hong you is just hong you, but there are so many different types and scents,” Sheila Sim told us when we caught up with her on set of her upcoming Channel 8 drama Daybreak last month.
No, this was not a multi-level marketing sales pitch, nor has the model-actress turned to selling, erm, koyok on the side, but Sheila brandishing her medicated oil collection consisting of balms and ointments, as she extolled the benefits and unique properties of each one.
This might seem utterly incongruous with the cool girl image she’s portrayed over the years, but deep down, she’s quite auntie, or “an old lady at heart” as she calls herself. She even has a pre-sleep routine that involves medicated oil - we kid you not.
Her penchant for medicated oil started from childhood. She would help massage her grandmother when she had arthritis pain, and over time, ointments became a source of comfort for her.
“When I smell it, it is relaxing and brings back some kind of childhood memory. Every time I travel, if I hear of a good ointment, I will buy it for my grandma. My friends all know [about my obsession] so when we travel, we will make it a point to, erm, explore,” she laughed.
“I like to try new ones but I find that I always go back to the same ones. I have them in different sizes stashed in different places.”
There’s even one special one just for flights.
“My friend knows I really like hong you so she made it into like a vial necklace so that I can wear it on the plane ‘cos there was a period where they were very strict about the amount of liquids that you can carry on board,” she said.
Despite her fetish, the 35-year-old is quite the snob when it comes to medicated oil. Only the “herbal kind” tickles her fancy. And don’t even bother recommending floral or “fusion” ones that are infused with essential oils to her – because, in her words, “I’m a purist, okay?”
So, is she embarrassed by her obsession?
“Sometimes,” she chuckled. “I am not embarrassed to be seen using the atas lemongrass one, but this is another level,” she said, pointing to a little bottle with a stoic-looking bearded old man’s mug on the label. “I mean, hello, I am a model after all!”
“I am an auntie for using hong you, I admit that, but I am proud of it!”
So proud that it appears, to us at least, that she is making it her personal mission to “spread the love” and convert her celeb pals.
One artiste who has fallen victim to her hong you evangelism is uncle Desmond Tan, while her Daybreak co-star Bryan Wong, who kept shooting Sheila judgmental looks during our chat as she waxed lyrical about a Hulk green lemongrass-scented balm’s almost-elixir capabilities, is still a work in progress.
“This smells like a Thai massage parlour,” he retorted, wrinkling his nose as Sheila shoved the tub in his face.
This “Thai massage-in-a-tub” also happens to be Sheila’s hong you sista on set, Ya Hui’s favourite.
“Ever since Sheila bought this for me when we were filming 118, I’ve been using it every day. I threw all my other bottles of hong you away ‘cos I am hooked on the lemongrass scent. I use it like perfume," she said, while inhaling deeply from the tub. “Shiok!”
Like Sheila, Ya Hui, who has different potions for different ailments, has no qualms about being associated with medicated oil. In fact, feel free to call her ah mah (grandmother) Ya Hui.
So, on the scale of one to 10, how obsessed is she with medicated oil?
“Nine,” shouted Ya Hui, while Sheila gave herself an eight. Honestly, we don’t know why she even bothered to play down her obsession.
Read on to find out how obsessed Sheila is about medicated oil.
How big is your medicated oil collection?
Not very big, I just brought those that I could find ‘cos I have small bottles that are stashed in different bags. In all, I have about 20 bottles.
We hear you have a pre-sleep routine that involves medicated oil.
(Laughs) Yes, I apply it at specific spots on my body: temples, behind the ears, throat, collarbone, and then the nose. I’m not sure know why I chose those spots, but later I realised these are spots that help you to clear your mind and relax. If you use essential oils, these are also the spots that you should apply it to.
Do you feel uneasy if you forget to apply hong you before you sleep?
I am trying to not make it a habit. I am slowly trying to [wean off the habit] and do it on alternate days. It used to be an everyday thing, and it is an everyday thing for my husband now. Yes, he is a convert. (Laughs) But he only uses the lemongrass one.
What was your husband's reaction when he first witnessed your pre-sleep routine?
Yes, he was a bit judgmental, but I just continued with it ‘cos my pillow and bed smell like hong you anyway. Guys must accept [my love for hong you and] this habit of mine before we can date. So now it’s even better ‘cos he’s on board!
And you’re now trying to convert Desmond Tan?
He said so himself on Instagram.
(Guffaws) He kept laughing at me, saying I am very auntie. He used to think of me as the top model of Singapore, but after he got to know me, he finds that I am damn auntie. So I told him the lemongrass balm is very relaxing and that I would buy one for him to try. Now he says ‘because of you I also become uncle’. Yay, join the club!
Chen Hanwei mentioned in Away With My BFF he can smell you before he sees you.
He’s exaggerating! It is not true. I am not showered in hong you.
He said he doesn’t understand why a youngster like you would like this sort of thing.
But it’s true you know, I feel it is the old soul in me that needs this sort of comfort.
Has any other artiste commented that you smell of hong you?
I don’t apply it when I am at work especially when I am doing modelling work because those clothes are samples and they have to be returned. And I am not the kind who will apply it regularly through the day. I only apply it when I am very tired and need a perk-me-up, but mostly before I sleep. Sometimes a few times before I sleep.
What do your friends think about your quirk?
With acceptance, they love me for it.
Would you endorse medicated oil?
(Sighs) It’s a struggle because I cannot endorse anything that I don’t like or cannot agree with. [Some medicated oils] make me want to gag, so it really depends.