Lina Ng put her showbiz career on hold some 14 years ago when she became a mum, but she is now back with a vengeance in her biggest role in more than a decade as the perfectionist mum, Chae Lian, in Mediacorp Channel 5’s Lion Mums.
Lina, 45, first came into the spotlight in 1993, when she came in second on Mediacorp Channel 8’s talent hunt Star Search. Known for her vivacious personality as a TV host and actress, she is married to Mike Lam, 49, who works as an administrator at Hwa Chong International.
Incidentally, the mum-of-three is also playing a mother of three in Lion Mums. Lina says that she wanted to challenge herself with her “first English-speaking drama role,” as it means that she’s growing as an artiste.
Taking on the challenge, she added, would let her be a good example to her three sons.
She animatedly chats about her little men ― her oldest, Jeriel, 15, is a sensitive and sensible boy. “He’s big-sized because he plays water polo ― but he’s tender at heart. He’s my body guard and I love giving him hugs!”
Her middle child, Joel, 13, is the tribe’s street smart and outspoken one. “If you’re conservative, you may even think he’s disrespectful or rude ― but he’s not. He’s just confident enough to share what he disagrees with,” she grins.
“What do I do when I have a day off? I have to clean the whole house!”
Her youngest is Samuel, 8, a “happy-go-lucky fella”, who talks the most among the three brothers. She laughs, “He talks so much that we sometimes have to ask him to stop! He’s also Joel’s best friend and they play very well together.”
Hi Lina, how’s life these days?
Hi! I’m a full-time mum, so most of my time is with the children and with household chores! I still run a Chinese Enrichment programme, but I’ve scaled it down. We just service one school, Del-Care, now, as I didn’t want to overcommit myself. I don’t have a helper at home, so I handle everything on my own. What do I do when I have a day off? I have to clean the whole house!
Wow! What’s a typical day like then?
In the morning, when my husband sends the boys to school, I will do my marketing, then have a little me-time and breakfast. After that, I come home and start on some chores, like drying the clothes, vacuuming the floor, and I will start to prepare the food that we’ll be having for dinner. Surprisingly, all this already takes up quite a few hours. Then of course, when the kids get back home, I will have to help the boys get their homework done, making sure they do it before they can relax.
It seems like you’re really embracing life as a homemaker. How do you feel you have changed, as a mum, over the years?
I have a lot more patience now! I can get easily frustrated or kan cheong easily, like especially if I need my kids to get things done quickly. And if things don’t get done, I get frustrated. But after I had my second kid and then my third, I realised that I started to take things a lot easier. Like, if they fall, I no longer rush to them, I will say, are you okay, if you are, then stand up on your own. I’m so much cooler now!
You’ve made small appearances here and there on TV over the years ― how do you decide if something is worth your time?
I only take on projects that fit my timetable. I’ve done variety shows as a guest artiste, but I make sure that filming is always during school hours, like if I go at 11am, I need to be home by 5pm, so that I can prepare dinner. So, I was doing that till this current project, Lion Mums.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be successful doing English dramas, as people may not like the way I speak, but I would try my best.”
Won’t filming Lion Mums eat into your family time?
[Laughs] Initially, I took this up because I thought most of the filming would be done during the March and June holidays, and perhaps weekends. I didn’t realise it was 30 episodes, and there were more scenes than I’d expected. It did take up some of my weekdays, and I had to train my children to take public transport to school and back home.
Did you take up the role in this TV series because you identify with being a “Lion Mum?
Actually, it was more about challenging myself. I’ve always been known as a Chinese drama artiste. I also tried my hand recently at being a radio DJ at Love97.2FM for half a year. I’ve even done stage performances once or twice. The only thing I’ve never done is an English drama. So, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to make sure I’m growing as an artiste ― if I do this, it means that I’m improving and I’d also be a good role model to my children. I shared with them that I wasn’t sure if I would be successful doing English dramas, as people may not like the way I speak, but I would try my best. I want to show them that if mummy can do it, you can pick up anything you want as well.
Tell us more about the character you play.
I’m the fourth lion mum coming into the picture, and the mum that I’m playing is Chae Lian, this “elite” mum who is strict with her children. Chae Lian has three kids in the show, whom she trains to be “elites”. They always need to be the best. Other mums would go to her for advice about which is the best enrichment school, and what they should do to make sure they kids get the best support. In the show, Chae Lian has this line, “Play the system, don’t let the system play you”. She always says that there are ways that you can get by the system to get your child into the best school.
Oh? What kind of ways?
Like DSA (Direct School Admission)! Like, Chae Lian would tell other mums that you can use DSA, if your child has a certain talent in sports or art to enter a good school. Of course, studying hard is also important, so the child will be good both academically as well as in sports.
Are you like Chae Lian in real life?
When I went to audition for the role, there was this big similarity ― my own son actually entered his secondary school via DSA as he plays water polo! So, I can definitely identify with this role. The way I look at it, you take the stress off the child in the PSLE examination once he’s already got a position in the school via DSA. And it’s true ― my son was much more relaxed, and he wasn’t worried about the grade that he was going to get. This similarity actually got the producers hooked ― and made them think I was really suitable for the role. The part about being really strict and my child must be an “elite” ― there’s just a little bit of truth in it… I mean, who doesn’t want your child to be good? But I don’t really stress my children. I tell them to just do their very best ― if they still don’t do well, or even flunk, I’m fine with it. But if you don’t try your best, then yes, I will scream like any other mum!
“There has to be a kind of punishment that you have to instil – especially for boys – to know the seriousness of certain mistakes that they make.”
So, you’re a pretty strict mum?
[Laughs] Chae Lian uses the cane. I, too, believe in not sparing the rod. There has to be a kind of punishment that you have to instil ― especially in boys ― so that they’ll know the seriousness of certain mistakes that they make. I don’t use the cane unnecessarily. I would give them three warnings, and if they still break those rules, I will have to use the cane. There are certain values, like respect and not telling lies ― these are things we hold very close to in our family.
As a mum, do you have a message for other mums through your portrayal of Chae Lian?
Well, it’s not just from my role, but the whole script. The script really reflects the system that we have in Singapore, so I hope that when mums watch the show, they will identify with at least one of the characters. Like when I portray Chae Lian in a certain scene, someone will sometimes ask me, will a mum really do that? And I will say, actually yes. There’s no exact reason why a mum acts a certain way ― sometimes, it just happens, and you may even regret certain things that you do. I just want mums to know that they are not weird, and they are not alone. If we can portray this on screen, it’s because we have gathered the realness from real mums in Singapore.
So, as a mum of pre-adolescent boys ― are you looking forward to their teen years?
I’m honestly not very sure what I’m facing! Jeriel is now going through puberty, and there are days he seems emotional, or he suddenly just laughs for no reason. I’m like, what’s wrong with you? Then, I realise it is just the hormones. They still share a lot with me, and that is something I am very happy about. They are very open with me, whether it’s about conversations with their friends, or they will gladly show me what is on their phones if I ask them to. This is something I’m very happy to have built with my children and I really hope I can always keep this openness.
Is there anything you struggle with?
I’m trying to be more of a friend to them. I know that there will come a point in time, they will need me as a friend, and not just as a mother who keeps nagging. And it’s my own personal challenge to know when I have to stop being so much of a mum, and more of a friend. Of course, there are days where my sons will tell me, mum, stop nagging! And I will catch myself and say, okay, I’m not nagging, but can you please do this? Or I will end up sounding like I’m nagging. And then they will agree to do it.
“They are very open with me... This is something I’m very happy to have built with my children and I really hope I can always keep this openness.”
What about the birds and the bees?
We have already started talking about sex education because they learn about it in Primary 5 in school. Actually, I asked their dad to talk to them first because all these things, boys, right? I’m not embarrassed to talk to them, but I felt maybe it’s not so appropriate. So, I asked their dad if he would like to do that. We asked them, hey, are you all interested to know about all the different sex parts, and we can all talk about this together. We also said, if you are ever interested to know how sex happens, let us know. Don’t do it behind our backs and watch stuff on the Internet ― we can switch it on and watch together. Then, I can tell you what is going on, rather than you watching on your own sneakily, and feeling that you may be doing something wrong.
We understand that Samuel was a premature baby?
Yes, Samuel was born at 32 weeks. He was only 1kg at birth! But he’s really healthy now and we thank God for that. We go for yearly checkups to make sure that he is developing normally. We were concerned initially about his writing development, because at the end of N2 and K1, he still couldn’t write. I knew that would happen because he was a premature baby. We went for some physio and some checks, and found that it was more about his wrist power ― resting his hands on the table, so that he could hold the pencil and write. The physio helped and since he started K2 this year, he now loves writing. I have to be mindful that we just have to wait for the time when he’s ready to do it.
That’s great ―he must have come so far!
Yeah, it’s quite incredible! Back when he was a newborn, he was so small – and the doctors didn’t even dare reassure us that he would survive. He could have died! We had to monitor him each and every day. But he survived, and he’s such a happy boy, the joy of our lives!
What is one thing you do together as a family that’s precious to you?
Dinner together. It was Jeriel who suggested it. We had a session with him at his cell group meeting, and Jeriel suggested having regular dinner time together, so that we can talk and discuss things as a family ― everything, even political issues. And we thought, great! We like that! So, now, we always make it a point to sit and talk and eat together every day.
Photos: Lina Ng
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