Talk to the Chen siblings and you’ll realise that the nine-year age gap between the offspring of former Mediacorp actor Edmund Chen and Mediacorp actress Xiang Yun, both 56, is pretty apparent because of their contrasting characters.
Indeed, a child’s birth order can have an impact on their personalities. Older siblings are thought to be more responsible, mature and possess leadership qualities, while the youngest tend to be carefree and more charming.
Yi Xi, 27, notes that his sister, Yi Xin, is very outspoken as compared to him, while he describes himself as more of a宅男 (zhai nan) — Chinese for a quiet male geek. In fact, for 18-year-old Yi Xin says that the relationship she has with her older brother is a supportive one, thanks to their large age gap.
She elaborates, “My parents are naggers — they don’t scold, they nag and it’s like the worst thing ever. So, sometimes, I feel like my older brother understands me better. There are times when he’s like a third parent to me.”
The second-year Singapore Polytechnic student reckons that she’s also the more rebellious one. “My brother is such a nice kid — he’s quiet and demure compared to me. He’s super 乖 (guai, meaning well-behaved in Chinese)!”
Despite their differences, the siblings are in unison when they reckon that having famous parents isn’t as glamorous as it seems. In fact, they feel constant pressure to live up to other people’s expectations of them.
Yi Xin says that all her Secondary school mates and teachers knew who her parents are. “So, they have this expectation that I’ll have perfect grades and be a perfect person. But no. I’m still a normal teenager who’s still growing up.”
The part-time actress, who’s managed by 3X Media Productions, notes that she even prevented her parents from showing up in her school because she didn’t want to remind her classmates who her parents are.
“Some schoolmates even thought that I had special treatment by my teachers because of my parents.”
“So, they have this expectation that I’ll have perfect grades and be a perfect person. But no. I’m still a normal teenager who’s still growing up.”
Now that Yi Xi is also a Mediacorp artiste, he feels the pressure to perform well as an actor. “You’ll have an expectation of yourself subconsciously and you don’t want to disgrace your parents [as an actor].”
Incidentally, life with famous parents has its offbeat moments. Yi Xi jokes, “The thing that bothered me when I was younger was — why are [my parents] kissing another person on screen? And did my mum just die [on TV]?! That’s really traumatising, I remember crying so much.”
Yi Xin has a fond fan memory ― her dad’s fans turned up at the airport to welcome him home after the family returned from a holiday. “Some would even hold up signs for him ― social media wasn’t even around at that time ― I was just amazed!”
SmartParents gets an inside look at life in the Chen household and why the siblings are set on a career in the entertainment industry…
Hello, Yi Xin and Yi Xi! Were your parents strict about your studies?
Yi Xin: Yes, to a certain extent because they want me to do well. At the same time, they have always given me the freedom to choose what I want to do by encouraging me to see that having an interest is the most important and that if you have the passion for something, you will most definitely excel in it.
Yi Xi: I wanted to say that they were actually very lenient with me but they are even more lenient with my sister [laughs]. I think for me, I have failed my maths so many times and kena caned as many times. I’ve even scored single digits for it. I just have no affinity with maths. But, I am lucky to get through my studies from secondary school to junior college to university. I think my parents also pumped a lot of money into tuition, that’s when I realised tuition is big business!
So, tuition classes are/were a big feature in your schedules?
Yi Xin: Definitely. I actually wanted to go for tuition. [Laughs] Because in school it was very hard for me to pay attention and I needed more one-to-one attention to understand more, I have a very expensive learning preference, unfortunately. I remember that in the two weeks before my O-levels, I had tuition lessons for all the subjects. I was thinking YOLO! [Giggles]
Sounds rough. How did you cope with the pressures of studying?
Yi Xin: My parents just say: Just do your best. They also tell me that there’s really no shortcut in studying, you just need to put in the effort. And while they always tell me to start studying for the exams earlier, I’m always procrastinating [Laughs].
Yi Xi: The strange thing is growing up, I wasn’t very much into sports because I was blind in one eye. But after JC, when I was staying in the hostel at NTU, I started exercising, I’d go to the gym, go for a run around the track, come back when it’s super dark and continue with my work.
We read about your corneal ulcer. How did that affect you in school?
Yi Xi: [Laughs] This is so embarrassing but when I was in JC, I was playing soccer and there were like 15 girls and just five guys in the class and we had to play against an opposing class. I was in possession of the ball and the goal was right in front of me and I was the only guy on the team. The rest were just cheering me on and telling me to just kick the ball because it was a sure-win. But I kicked and missed the goal. The embarrassment is real. [Laughs] I couldn’t gauge where the ball was. After that, I really avoided sports.
Were you ever bullied in school?
Yi Xi: I remember sitting next to this person in Secondary school and he didn’t like me very much. He talked a lot in class and it was so annoying so I “bao toh” [Hokkien for reporting] him to the teacher and the teacher changed our seats. After that, he hated me. [Laughs] So, from then on, he’ll suan me [Hokkien for making snide remarks]. I didn’t suan him but he held the grudge forever. Besides that, it has been pretty pleasant for me. My childhood was quite fun, I had good friends.
Yi Xin: During my O levels, a best friend of mine actually made some mean comments about me on Twitter — I don’t have a Twitter account — but a mutual friend actually showed it to me. I was actually quite shocked to see it.
How did your parents help you get through that?
Yi Xin: My parents were definitely upset about the whole thing but they told me that there are a lot worse things out there and this is just a peek into the kind of things others might say. They told me that I just had to learn to deal with it, especially if I’m going to be in the entertainment industry.
“I’d hide it [the cane] under my bed or something until one day, she bought 10 canes and after that I was like okay, I surrender [laughs].”
Who’s the disciplinarian at home?
Yi Xin: I think they take turns [Laughs].
Yi Xi: Yes, both of them are and in very different aspects. My dad’s discipline is wake up, brush your teeth, make your bed, drink water and go exercise, so on and so forth. My mum’s area of discipline is about morals and principles behind being a right and just individual. But I’ll say my dad has a shorter fuse — he gets agitated easily. My mum will be ticked off by different things like mixing your coloured laundry with the whites [laughs].
Were you both ever caned as kids?
Yi Xi: Yes! I grew up in the ’90s so caning was a normal part of our childhood. It was like if you fail this — caned. If you didn’t do something — you’d be caned. When I failed anything, for instance, if I got five marks below the passing mark, that was one stroke, and 10 marks, two strokes, so on and so forth. But I guess it was really for our own good. I mean if they didn’t do so, I really wonder where I’d be today!
Yi Xin: When I was really young, my mum would chase me around with the cane and I’d take the cane and hide it somewhere. I’d hide it under my bed or something until one day, she bought 10 canes and after that I was like okay, I surrender [laughs].
Yi Xi: I remember I would hide the cane as well. But my mum has this very warped way of making me “like” the cane. She would draw faces on the cane and she would use it to talk to me and say how she won’t cane me if I behaved myself. Thinking back to my 9-year-old self, now I’m wondering – was I supposed to be fearful of it or…? [Laughs] It seems really disturbing [laughs] — it’s messed up, for sure!
Did caning affect you in anyway?
Yi Xin: Not really. Because I think I was really mischievous as a child and she did stop once I was like 7 or older. I was still immature at that point, so I think even if my mum did talk to me, I don’t think it would have gotten to my head.
Yi Xi: I think I’m pretty old school in saying that caning is necessary, especially in this era. I find that sometimes you can be consultative and then there are times when it’s just…wrong. Wrong means wrong! Like you go to a kid who bullies another child and then you try to talk sense into them. I don’t think kids understand such reasoning when they are 6 or 7.
How would you describe your parents’ personalities?
Yi Xi: My dad is a humongous child. He’s also very, very cheerful and chirpy person. He’s like bright sunlight. His smile is so radiant and bright that sometimes it’s quite blinding. He likes to go have breakfast, do sports and all sorts of physical stuff. Then, my mum is more of the chill and relaxed person. She’ll say things like oh yes, we can go shopping, eat out and just enjoy life. One thing they have in common is loving and living life as it is. So, I feel from the both of them, I get to learn very different things because their tastes are so different.
As actors, your parent’s work schedules aren’t the typical 9-to-5. So, how do you all spend time as a family?
Yi Xi: We do try to travel together every year. It’s my dad’s wish to bring his family out on a vacation every year. We’ve travelled to Greece, Korea and Japan and many other countries.
Care to share any memorable moments from your childhood?
Yi Xi: Back when I was in school, my dad would bribe me into passing my Chinese language exams by promising to buy me a七龙珠 (Dragon Ball) comic book if I passed. I also remember cycling with him along the beach. My mum, on the other hand, would bring me to eat lots of good food and I also got to see a lot of the old Caldecott Broadcast Centre. For me, the old campus holds a lot of special memories, even things like the distinctive musty smell from the studios — it just sticks out in my mind.
How do you both resolve your disagreements with each other?
Yi Xi: We do fight like all other siblings and most of the time, I’ll just let her do whatever she wants because, for me, as long as the house is quiet, I’m good!
What made you follow in your parents’ show business footsteps?
Yi Xi: I remember when I turned 25, I finally decided that I didn’t want to regret anything in life ― that if I lived life based on what other people say I should or shouldn’t do, that to me, is quite pitiful. I’m also very blessed to have parents who are in the entertainment industry and I’ve seen people who are extremely passionate about the industry and try so, so hard to get in. So, for me to just dismiss it without giving it a shot, I feel, it’ll be such a let-down.
Yi Xin: I actually never thought of going into acting because my parents have said youth and age is very important in this industry. But I also felt that nothing can go wrong, so why not just give it a shot?
“We do fight like all other siblings and most of the time, I’ll just let her do whatever she wants because, for me, as long as the house is quiet, I’m good!”
Take us back to your first drama production ― was it everything you thought it would be?
Yi Xin: I would say it was very interesting. I acted for the first time in the Channel 8 drama, Z 时代 (While We Are Young). It made me understand the hardships of being an actor. It isn’t all fame and glory. You have to look good, no matter the occasion. Even when you didn’t get enough sleep. I’m lucky I had a small role in the show. It’s really tough.
Yi Xi: Mine was pretty traumatic. I actually told myself that I didn’t want to act anymore because it was so stressful! I couldn’t get my lines right, I didn’t know how to portray the role properly. I was really robotic, lah. It was just stressful.
Any memorable fan encounters to share?
Yi Xi: One day, my JC teacher, who’s a very nice and proper lady, asked me, “Are you Edmund Chen’s son?! Do you know when your father got married, I tore off his posters and I cried!” [Laughs] I was a bit lost as to how I was supposed to feel. [Laughs] I figured — saying stuff like I feel you or I understand — wouldn’t really work under such circumstances. [Guffaws]
Whom do you turn to for advice?
Yi Xin: I turn to both my parents and even my brother. In our family, we really share a lot of our personal stuff with each other and don’t really have a lot of secrets. For me lah, but I don’t know about the others [laughs].
Yi Xi: Both my parents, they have very different perspectives. Like for my dad, his is a very manly attitude towards solving problems — he’ll say if you don’t like it, deal with it [and find ways to change it]. My mum, on the other hand, is all about patience and perseverance. And so, they are quite different in that sense.
Complete these sentences:
One thing people don’t know about my parents is…
Yi Xi: They are decent cooks. My dad is able to cook a good soup, my mum’s pretty decent, too.
Yi Xin: They are actually very adorable. They are easily happy and they get excited over little things. Oh, and my dad is the epitome of dad jokes! [Laughs]
The one thing I always tell my parents is…
Yi Xi: Later lah... [laughs]
Photos: Instagram/Chen Yi Xin, Chen Yi Xi, Edmund Chen
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