Tan Kee Yun
The New PaperFriday
Apr 29, 2015
In a rare, self-deprecating moment during this interview, Karen Mok referred to herself as "really ugly".
Sultry? Yes. Sassy? Yes. But unattractive?
The source of the Hong Kong singer-actress' disparaging comments: An old photo of her and her German finance executive husband Johannes Natterer, which she described as cringe-worthy.
The picture was taken more than 20 years ago in Venice, when the couple were high school students at Italy's United World College of the Adriatic.
"I thought hard for a long time before posting that photo onto (Chinese microblogging site) Sina Weibo. I was hesitant because I looked really ugly then," Mok told local reporters with a laugh on Monday afternoon.
"I was so fat and both of us had messy hair and worn-out sneakers. We looked ridiculous!" Her record label colleagues thought otherwise.
"They kept telling me, 'Aww, you have to show everyone how cute you guys were.' It was only after much egging on that I finally relented," said the 44-year-old, who has often been described as ageless.
Mok juxtaposed the picture with a recent snapshot she and Natterer took in Venice, when they revisited the Italian city.
The two pictures tell a sweet love story - Mok and Natterer dated briefly as 17-year-old teenagers, went their separate ways after graduation, reconnected two decades later at a school reunion and tied the knot in 2011.
While they have no kids together, Natterer has three daughters from a previous marriage.
In town over the weekend to promote her latest Mandarin album Departures, now out on iTunes, Mok explained that she and her husband "didn't set out to deliberately recreate" their youthful likeness.
"Both of us hadn't been back to Venice since our school days, so we decided it'd be nice to go for a holiday there," she said.
"Johannes vaguely recalled that we had taken a photo years ago at one of the bridges in the city, so we tried looking for that particular bridge.
"It was tough. Venice is such a maze and all its bridges look the same. We couldn't be a hundred per cent sure." In any case, they "went ahead to choose a bridge" for their new shot.
"Johannes dug out our old teenage photo only after our holiday. Turns out, we had missed the correct bridge by a little."
Earlier this month, Mok accomplished a feat not many Mandopop singers can boast of - she held her own travel photography exhibition, Departures, in Taipei and Beijing.
It took the same title as her new album. Her Beijing exhibition had its home at the sprawling 798 Art District, famed for its congregation of art galleries and multimedia installations.
On display were 200 photos Mok had shot during her three-month trip around the world with Natterer last year.
They visited several exotic locations in South America, such as Atacama Desert in Chile, the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia and Peru, the Iguazu Falls in Argentina, as well as Easter Island and Tahiti.
Mok took over 10,000 photos and chose the best for her exhibition. "I've been interested in photography since high school.
The scenery on this trip was simply breathtaking.
"South America is a continent many of my Asian fans aren't familiar with and have yet to venture into, so I hope to share my experiences with them through my photos."
Would she consider her photography skills on par with professionals?
BEHIND THE LENS
With a laugh, she said: "I dare not call myself a professional, but I felt that I did manage to capture moments that touched my heart.
"For this set of photos, I tried not to use lens filters. As much as possible, I wanted to retain the original essence of South America's beauty.
"If the opportunity arises, I'd like to bring my exhibition over to Singapore!" Mok, who held an autograph session at Bugis Junction on Sunday, said her new album comes from a very personal place.
"The word 'departures' alone means so much to me. It's basically what I'm doing all the time, being constantly on the move, going in and out of departure halls at airports, and leaving one city for another," she said.
"Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Like it or not, everyone has to experience 'sheng, lao, bing, si' (Mandarin for 'birth, ageing, sickness and death')."
Working on the album also helped her deal with her dad's sudden death last year. Her father, veteran Hong Kong food writer Alan Morris, died of a heart attack in January at the age of 76.
"I experienced a whirlwind of emotions that I couldn't put into words," she recalled.
"Recording the songs on Departures allowed me to pour everything I was going through into music. It became an outlet for my sorrow and pain."
This article was first published on April 29, 2015.
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