Lina Ng On Getting Recognised In Public: "My Kids Would Say 'Wah, You Popular Meh?'"

The bubbly actress tells all about her family, her return to acting, and going home to do housework after the Star Awards.

Lina Ng
Lina Ng
13 Apr 2019

Lina Ng

In Lion Mums, Lina plays a stay-at-home mum facing divorce and an angsty son
In Lion Mums, Lina plays a stay-at-home mum facing divorce and an angsty son
13 Apr 2019

In Lion Mums, Lina plays a stay-at-home mum facing divorce and an angsty son

We wanted to catch up with Lina at the unveiling of the Star Awards telepoll numbers last month, but the star was nowhere to be found after the press con. Apparently, she had hurried off immediately after the event “to watch [her] son’s polo game”. There's no doubt that Lina is a loving and supportive mum. After all, the actress, who works on an ad hoc basis now, left showbiz at the peak of her popularity to become a stay-at-home mum. 

When we finally got the chance to talk to Lina this week, it felt as though we were meeting a close friend we haven’t talked to in a long time. (And this is our first time meeting her.) Our 35-minute chat was filled with her boisterous laughter, as she tells us that her “kids don’t believe that [she’s] a popular actress”. She would later go on to excitedly tell us about an upcoming drama she’s filming, The Driver, where she plays the head of a drug-trafficking syndicate. It’s her first baddie role, and it was pretty obvious that she’s looking forward to getting down and dirty with all the stunt-work.
Oh, and give the former childcare worker her sneakers anytime. Right after our shoot, she swaps out her uncomfortable heels for a pair of Onitsuka Tigers.

“Not being in showbiz has taught me to be very real. I got to experience everything that's different from ithe 'atas' artiste life, so I’ve never regretted my decision [to leave showbiz]," the super down-to-earth star tells us. 

Lion mum = smarter kids?
Lion mum = smarter kids?
13 Apr 2019

Lion mum = smarter kids?

You wouldn’t think that the Lion Mums star is a lion mum in real life though. She admits to caning her kids and that she once left her middle son alone in a foreign country to “scare” him into learning the importance of misbehaving... but more on this later.  

Lina, who is married to former national bowler Mike Lam, has three sons: 15-year-old Jeriel, 13-year- old Joel and Samuel, eight. Unsurprisingly, her sons are all pretty high achievers in school. Her eldest “prince”, Jeriel, is currently studying in Raffles Institution, while his two younger brothers  are in Anglo-Chinese School. The trio have many academic achievements, which you will know when you scroll through her Instagram (@linang56). 

Lina and her family celebrating Jeriel's 15th birthday
Lina and her family celebrating Jeriel's 15th birthday
13 Apr 2019

Lina and her family celebrating Jeriel's 15th birthday

8 DAYS: Would you say you're a lion mum in real life?
LINA NG: Yes, every mother would be a lion mum to her kids at a certain point. And also to their husbands sometimes ‘cos they can act like kids too. (Laughs) I was a lion mum to my kids when they were much younger 'cos they were unable to make the right decisions by themselves. 

How about now?
Okay, there are three stages to my parenting. The first one would be the lion mum stage, where I just tell them what to do. You have to be the lion mum to guide them. Now that they’re growing up, we’ve come to the second stage where I will suggest and lead them. The last stage would be me suggesting and then they make their own choices. My first two kids are in secondary school now, and I have an 8-year-old who I have to tell what to do. Of course, I will explain to him the reason behind my suggestions lah. 

A strict disciplinarian
A strict disciplinarian
13 Apr 2019

A strict disciplinarian

What do you think about lion mums? 
I had a really bad temper when I was young, but if you look at people with such “lion mum” character, they are actually quite soft-hearted inside. They can really scold you and punish you, and then they’ll regret what they did like crazy. They will do everything to mend back the relationship, and the sayang-ing will be more than the scolding itself.

Have you ever punished your son so badly and then had to make it up to him?
I’ve shared with others a lot about caning, and I admit that I used to cane my second child a lot. There was an incident where I tried to use extreme methods to “scare” my child so that he would learn the importance of sticking to us. 

Jetting off
Jetting off
13 Apr 2019

Jetting off

Pray tell. 
We were on holiday in Australia before our youngest son was born. And as you know, children love to run around and get lost. So we told them that they need to stick to us in case they got lost. Joel didn’t care and continued to run around. We got so angry, we left him at a corner, told him to sit there while we walked away. We were hoping that Joel would get scared, and run after us. I mean, that would be the typical reaction of any kid, right! (Laughs) But no! This kid is so stubborn, he just sat there and refused to follow us. We also didn’t want to give in, so we continued walking away. When we reached the car park, there was still no movement from the kid. We even hid in the car to watch him!  Seriously. (Laughs) It was quite a distance away, about 200 metres. After awhile, an Australian couple approached my boy to ask if everything’s okay. Knowing that they would say things like “I’m abusing the child”, I panicked and we ran all the way back. (Laughs) We told the couple that we were just punishing him and they gave us the look of disdain. (Laughs) So in the end we lost, lah. (Laughs) Joel was only four when this thing happened, but up till this day, he still remembers it very clearly and uses it to guilt trip me occasionally. (Laughs) I did say sorry to him, okay!

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Lina with her son Joel and her hubby Mike. 

The Lam family
The Lam family
13 Apr 2019

The Lam family

It seems like you’re the disciplinarian at home. Does your husband discipline the kids too? 
He wants to! (Laughs) But because he’s working and I’m always at home, so I naturally become the one who will disciplines them. He's more of the fun guy, the one who plays sports like soccer and water polo with them.

How has your relationship with your sons changed now that they are older? 
I noticed that the two older ones feel like talking to their daddy more. At their age, they want to talk to dad more because they feel that dad understands them more than mum. But Samuel still sticks to me. (Laughs)

Climbing up the ranks
Climbing up the ranks
13 Apr 2019

Climbing up the ranks

What kind of things do they tell their dad but not you?
Wow… I don’t really know! Come to think of it, I haven’t been very up-to-date with what’s going on in their lives. (Laughs) Sometimes when my husband mentions something, I’d go, “How did you know? Why don’t I know?” (Laughs) Take this morning, for example. My husband was mentioning about some activities my sons were having in school, which I was totally unaware of. My sons then told me that they’ve already told their dad about it, so I was like, "Okay lor…" (Laughs) However, it’s so funny because they’d still open up to me about sensitive issues like relationships! (Laughs) Actually, I am the one that will ask them lah. (Laughs) ​​​​​​​

Lina with her eldest son Jeriel
Lina with her eldest son Jeriel
13 Apr 2019

Lina with her eldest son Jeriel

So you're the kaypoh kind of mother?
I will ask, “Do you have girlfriend now?” ‘cos their tutor said that Jeriel’s very popular with the girls. (Laughs) Sometimes, Joel would help me spy on Jeriel, telling me about this girl that he’s constantly talking to. I would then directly ask Jeriel if he likes her. 

So does he like her? 
He said no! (Laughs) But we kept teasing him. Oh! There was once we went on a family trip to Taiwan, and he bought two phone covers of the same design. He said that this is for a girl friend, so I asked him, “Why does it have to be the same design? If it’s just a gift, don’t need to buy the same!” (Laughs) But I’ve been through this before. You know, all these couple items! (Laughs) He kept saying that he doesn’t like her, and we were like, “Okay, if you insist…” (Laughs)

She rules with an iron fist
She rules with an iron fist
13 Apr 2019

She rules with an iron fist

Isn’t 15 too young to be in a relationship?
I definitely think it’s too young. I think he should find a girlfriend only after he’s completes his studies and has a job. But in any case, if he really does get into a relationship when he's in school, he’ll have to face the consequences of not doing well. There are very few people who can balance both, and now is not the right time. 

Sitting pretty
Sitting pretty
13 Apr 2019

Sitting pretty

You've been in the business for 25 years. How has acting changed for you? 
Right now, the roles I’ve been offered are usually cameos, or very minor supporting roles. It is only in Lion Mums did I get a lead role. I am also more selective in a sense that the roles I pick have to be challenging. And the challenge with Lion Mums is that I have is to speak English and film very emotional scenes. I feel like I didn’t do some scenes very well, and it has been a struggle for me due to the lack of practice. 

You made the Top 20 Most Popular Female Artistes list this year. Where were you when you were told that you got in?
I was at home. My whole life is [spent] at home. (Laughs) I was doing house work when they called. I was like, “Oh, okay.” I was a bit speechless. I mean, of course I was happy, but I didn’t understand why [the people who were polled] would pick me. I thought about Lion Mums because it was one of the most prominent shows I was in. Or maybe it’s because I have a few Toggle shows? I don’t know! (Laughs) 

Leading lady
Leading lady
13 Apr 2019

Leading lady

How did your family react to the news?
My husband has been very encouraging, so he was really happy. He wants to be my hype man and my marketing manager. (Laughs) I like to tease my kids about how popular mummy used to be before they were born. (Laughs) When I stopped acting to take care of them, they never knew that I was a well-known artiste! When I go to their school, their teachers would recognise me and my kids would give me that look and say, “Wah, you popular meh?” (Laughs) They didn’t believe it at first, and had a lot of questions in their head. So when it was officially announced, I told them, “See, mummy is in the Top 20!” (Laughs) My eldest is going to be my personal assistant on that day! Actually, he was also there on the day of telepoll results!

Happy family
Happy family
13 Apr 2019

Happy family

You rushed off really quickly that day!
Yeah, he had a really important water polo match that day and we wanted to support him! If his team won, they would get into the finals. 

So did they win? 
(Pauses) No. (Guffaws) My heart broke like crazy lah. (Laughs) Actually, I am a very embarrassing mum. I wanted to shout and cheer at the match but I was afraid that he would be embarrassed 'cos his classmates would think his mum is crazy. (Laughs) 

No regrets
No regrets
13 Apr 2019

No regrets

What does fame mean to you? 
When I first started, I needed it for my career. It helps that people know you. To even have a voice to voice out for certain roles. At my age now, fame is a bonus. 

What do you think your life would be like if you hadn’t quit? 
I would’ve earned more money to buy a bigger house. (Laughs) I think I would’ve become a proud person if I had continued in this industry. I would not learn how to appreciate the smaller things in life. My husband is the sole breadwinner, so I needed to learn how to be careful with my spending. If I were still an artiste, I would definitely spent a lot more on shopping. Having said that, I'm very grateful for what we have now even though we stay in a HDB flat. 

Have you ever regretted leaving?
Nope, I don’t regret it. In fact, it has worked out really well. I was able to witness all of my children’s milestones, and be very close to them. I believe that everything happens for a reason. If you are able to embrace it with a positive attitude, you’ll be able to live a fruitful life. 

Sofa so good
Sofa so good
13 Apr 2019

Sofa so good

In terms of awards, do you think you would’ve gotten the All-Time Favourite Artiste award by now if you had stayed on as an actress?
I don’t think so. (Laughs) Because you need money to vote, and I cannot bear to ask people to budget $100, $200 to make calls like that. I know how precious money is, and they can be used in better ways. I’m so sorry to say that! I think there are people out there who need the money more, and we should not [waste] it on calls. But if you really want to help, I’d say just go vote online for me. I would appreciate that. To have the award is a bonus, but I don’t really need it to move on. If I don’t have it, I’m fine. 

Have you tried calling for yourself? 
Yes, but I gave myself a budget. $2. (Laughs) 

Lina's 1996 trophy for Top 5 Most Popular Actress
Lina's 1996 trophy for Top 5 Most Popular Actress
13 Apr 2019

Lina's 1996 trophy for Top 5 Most Popular Actress

What do you remember of that year when you were named one of the Top 5 Most Popular Actresses?
Wow! I was taken aback. I was so surprised! Ivy [Lee] was there, [Chen] Xiuhuan was also there, but the actress we all thought would win was Cynthia Koh! I remember Cynthia was really popular then. When they announced my name, the look on everyone’s face was just pure shock. It was very interesting to see their expressions. Not that I was offended by it, though. It was pretty amusing to see that someone they did not expect to win win. I didn’t deliver my speech well also lah. I can’t believe I called myself the “black horse” because I was wearing black. Stupid ah? Oh! I also didn’t know that I had to return the trophy after winning so that they could engrave my name on it. (Laughs) At the end of the awards, they realised that my trophy was missing, so they called me. I didn’t know what to do, what! It’s the first time I’m winning this award, nobody asked me for the trophy back… I asked if I could return it for engraving, but they said it was too late! So my Top 5 trophy is the only one without a name. (Laughs) If I win this Sunday, I would not forget to ask if I have to return my trophy for name engraving! (Laughs) It was so funny! If people see my award, do you they will think I bought it for myself? (Laughs)

She's award show-ready... not
She's award show-ready... not
13 Apr 2019

She's award show-ready... not

Have you written down a speech? 
Yes I have! Whether I win or not! (Laughs) Not gonna tell you what it is! 

How are you preparing for the show? 
Wah people are nagging me like crazy to do this or do that. I don’t even want to go for a pedicure and manicure. But I bought some stick-on nails. I’ve got housework to do the next day! I tried painting my nails, but it’s impossible to do housework because they just chip off. I’m sorry, I’m a very practical person! I’m not going to go for facials either! (Laughs) I mean, of course I will respect the occasion and doll up, but other than that, what else can I do? (Laughs)

A lot of people are going on diets. 
No lah! I won’t even dress in an outfit I don’t feel comfortable in. My stylist always tells me to show off my bare back on the red carpet. But I’m not known to be sexy, lah! I’m a mother already, I just need to look presentable. (Laughs) 

Catch Lina in Lion Mums 3 which premieres on Monday, April 22, 9.30pm on Ch 5 and Toggle Video-on-Demand.  

If there’s something Lina Ng fears, it’s walking the flight of 50 steps at the Mediacorp atrium during the Star Awards. Fumbling around in her heels during our photoshoot, the 44-year-old actress psyches herself up for the big day by having a conversation with herself.  

“I’m afraid that I would shake during the awards because I’m so nervous!”
“It’s been so long, all these things feel strange to me!”
“Walk up the stairs in my heels? My legs are wobbly!”
“What if I fall down? The other artistes are used to it lah, but we are first timers…. Okay, okay. I won’t think about it anymore.”

You get the point.

[PHOTOS: BRYAN LIM}

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