Ng Jun Sen
The New Paper
Sunday, Dec 28, 2014
His big grin is plastered on television screens, bus stops and billboard advertisements on the MRT.
That same infectious smile, belonging to Thailand-born TV host Pornsak Prajakwit, 32, is present throughout the interview. But he confesses that he can get emotional and is prone to crying during filming.
Once, while filming for an inspirational TV series, the crew - including Pornsak - had to take a break because they could not stop sobbing after being moved by the story of a teen trapped in a toddler's body due to her medical condition.
The teen, who reminded her father to buy food for his wife on her birthday, reminded Pornsak of his own mother.
His father, now 90, married Pornsak's mother when he was in his 50s. She was his second wife.
They lived in a five-storey house in Sathorn, Bangkok. When he was five years old, she died. His dad was hit hard by her death. The traditional Teochew businessman did not know how to cook or how to do the housework at all, recalls Pornsak.
"I remember going to bed the night after mum died. Usually, she would bring supper to me, but that night I heard my dad rummaging about in the kitchen.
"He came into my room, crying. In his hands was a bowl of instant noodles that he had made for me. He said 'no matter what happens, I won't let you go hungry'."
When Pornsak was 10, his father wanted to emigrate to Singapore, where he had lived with his first wife in the 1940s, raising eight of Pornsak's half-siblings.
It was a bewildering experience for the carefree Bangkok-bred boy.
"It was in December and I was told we were visiting Singapore for a holiday. But I was very confused when he started giving me books and uniforms.
"Suddenly, when January came around, I found myself sitting in a classroom as a Primary 4 pupil in South View Primary School, not understanding a word of what anyone was saying."
He could not even recognise his own name being called out when the teacher was taking attendance, as he spoke only Thai and Teochew then.
"My classmates were like aliens to me. I was really lost. I just wanted to go home. Not the Singapore home. The Thailand one."
It was also during those confusing days that he had to quickly learn English and Chinese "to survive", as Pornsak puts it. He focused on the lips of his teachers and friends when they spoke and tried to reproduce the sounds on his own.
Today, he speaks fluent English.
"It was really difficult. I don't know how I managed," he says, adding that he blamed his father at the time. Today, father and son are close and live together here.
Through sheer hard work, Pornsak became effectively bilingual and found himself integrating smoothly into the fabric of life here in Clementi Town Secondary School, Jurong Junior College and then Singapore Management University.
He found success while hosting an event in his university days when he was talent-spotted by a senior MediaCorp executive.
He is now a well-known face and personality here and Singapore has become home.
Today, he manages his own chain of Thai restaurants, Porn's. He also founded a childhood education centre, Fun.Learn.Share Chinese Lab.
He confesses that life as a celebrity has its drawbacks. He rues the increased scrutiny he is under whenever he does something, including making posts on social media.
"Much as I want to be myself online, I have to be a bit careful. People, the press, fans, they're all watching," he says.
And while most may know him as outgoing and cheerful, he is a little different in private.
"I'm thankful that people think I'm always smiling. But the real Pornsak is someone who would rather stay at home and appreciate the silence."
He says he is not dating anyone now because his hectic schedule means he rushes between filming locations, photo shoot venues, and his four restaurant outlets.
Says Pornsak: "Now, I'm content staying with my father in Singapore. He doesn't have much time left and I want to be there for him, just as he was for me."
Secrets of the trade
1. Make use of platforms like YouTube and talent shows to showcase your talent. You may get spotted and get a foot into the entertainment industry.
2. Always "make love" to the camera. As soon as the camera rolls, be intimate with it, by looking directly at it as you would if it were a person. This allows you to connect with the viewers on a personal level.
3. Hire a good manager. With so many schedules to follow, it's almost impossible to do it without someone to remind you where you need to go or what you need to do.