Real life has mimicked reel life for former MediaCorp actor Xie Shaoguang.
In 1997, the Singaporean actor was nominated for Best Actor at the annual Star Awards for playing the iconic drunken, crazy Buddhist monk Ji Gong, in the popular Channel 8 drama The Legends Of Ji Gong.
Now, the 51-year-old has been officially ordained a monk after studying Buddhism in Malaysia for the past eight years, reports The New Paper.
The ceremony, which took place at Buddhist centre Golden Citizen Welfare Organisation or Ji Le Yuan in Pontian, Johor, on Monday morning, saw more than 200 people attending.
The centre is next to the pet shelter Animal Paradise, which Xie had been helping to run since retiring from showbiz in 2005.
Xie had his head shaved by the Da Shi Fu (Mandarin for big master) at 10am and is now known as Shao Guang Shi Xiong (Mandarin for brother) by his peers.
The New Paper visited the place on Wednesday. It is newly set up and not open to the public except every second Sunday of each month.
A monk by the name of Le Shan Shi Xiong opened the gates to let us in and said that he and Xie were the only two monks ordained on Monday.
The 48-year-old said in Mandarin: “I’ve known Xie for over a year now. He is a quiet person and doesn’t talk much. We usually talk about Buddhist studies. We don’t talk about his past in show business, he has already let go of that.”
Giving us a peek into their simple everyday lives, Le Shan Shi Xiong added: “We wake up at 5.30am daily to read the scriptures, then we have our breakfast before performing our daily tasks such as housekeeping. We then have our lunch and continue with our scriptures. Our day ends at 10pm.”
Xie, who now lives at the centre with five other people, was polite when he saw The New Paper team.
Dressed in a grey robe and sandals, with glasses perched on his shaven head, he has gained some weight since his heyday and has long white-grey eyebrows.
The former Channel 8 actor, who has resolutely shunned the limelight since leaving the entertainment industry eight years ago, politely declined to comment after hearing that we were from the media in Singapore.
The soft-spoken monk said in Mandarin: “You know I do not interact with the media all along, so I am unable to help you in any way. Sorry about it.”
But he did answer a few questions posed to him, saying that he kept his name Shao Guang after becoming a monk instead of adopting a new name, as his peer Le Shan did.
When asked if he does his meditation on an airbed at the back of the centre on a daily basis, he nodded.
Looking uncomfortable in our presence, the man of few words then opened the gates and quickly escorted us out.
During his prime, Xie was touted as the best actor in MediaCorp.
He received multiple accolades at the Star Awards every year and bagged an impressive 19 awards over a 16-year career.
He has received five Best Actor and two Best Supporting Actor Star Awards trophies, more than any other local celeb in the past decades.
He is also the only actor in the history of the Star Awards to bag both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards in the same year in 1996, for The Last Rhythm and Golden Pillow respectively.
He also won the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste award consecutively for 10 years from 1995 to 2004, before receiving the All-Time Favourite Artiste award the following year.
That was also the year that he chose to give up acting and move to Johor to study Buddhism and run vegetarian eatery Three O Cafe, where he is also the chef.
Back then, he had said in an interview with The Straits Times: “I have always believed that less is more. If I can live as simply – with only $500 to cater to my basic needs – then I have more to give to others who need it.
“There has to be understanding and compassion in every aspect of life and you don’t have to become a monk to attain this kind of enlightenment.”
In the same interview, he revealed that he had stopped smoking and had turned vegetarian in 2000.
He had also told local actress Cynthia Koh in 2008 that “a person’s image is about his character and heart... he doesn’t need clothes to project his image”.
He had said this when she visited him in Malaysia and chided him for dressing sloppily in T-shirt and shorts.
People who know Xie in Malaysia describe him as quiet, soft-spoken and low profile.
Ms Yu Mei Ping, who handles the administrative work for both the Buddhist centre and the animal shelter, said: “We’ve known him for almost eight years now. We treat him like a normal person rather than a superstar. He doesn’t talk much, though.”
After Xie left showbiz, all media requests to speak to him were rejected.
He refused to attend Star Awards ceremonies and chose not to appear on an episode of a MediaCorp variety show Star Reunion last year.
He also turned down local director Anthony Chen and did not meet him when the latter travelled to Malaysia and waited three hours for him. He had wanted him to act in his Cannes Film Festival award-winning movie Ilo Ilo, reported Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao two weeks ago.
However, Chen, who left Xie a note and a DVD of his previous works, managed to touch Xie’s heart and Xie contacted him a few days later.
Although Xie did not want to act in Ilo Ilo, he did offer advice and words of encouragement to Chen, telling him: “You need to continue walking down this path and not give up.”
Xie even took the train from Johor to Singapore to visit Chen on the set of Ilo Ilo and helped in the casting call.
Chen told Lianhe Wanbao: “The Xie Shaoguang whom I saw seemed to have entered another realm altogether. He has seen through the entire entertainment industry and does not miss it. He’ll never look back.”