The Straits Times
7 June 2015
Ms Sherry Tan's daughters grew up not having any idea that she was one of the biggest local TV stars of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Better known as Chen Xiuhuan, she quit show business in 1995 to get married and be a full-time housewife. After she had children, she never spoke to them about her former career.
In fact, her three daughters - Shanisse, 17, Shalynn, 15, and Shavinne, 11 - almost never watch TV. When they were younger, they were banned from switching on the goggle box - "not even for cartoons", says Shanisse - and the rare times that they did get to watch TV, they tuned in to documentaries.
Ms Tan, a self-professed tiger mum, says in Mandarin: "I was strict about that because I wanted them to watch only really good, educational programmes.
"To them, I'm just their mother, not any sort of celebrity mum. So when people recognised me on the streets and called out my name, they used to be very puzzled and asked if those strangers were my friends."
Ms Tan, whose TV roles included an alien in fantasy drama Star Maiden (1988) and a rugged policewoman in Lethal Duo (1994), was speaking to SundayLife! to promote #MothersFor Nepal. It is a social media initiative where mothers are encouraged to submit video pledges of support for the mums and children who have lost each other in the Nepal earthquake in April.
"I was devastated, looking at pictures of lost children in Nepal and families being separated after the earthquake," says Ms Tan, who is credited as a "founding mum" of the campaign. "Kind people have been sending food and money to Nepal, but the people there also need to feel love and encouragement from the rest of the world.
The 48-year-old is married to a Taiwanese businessman who deals with chemicals and raw materials. Their eldest daughter is a student in Raffles Institution, the second child is at Raffles Girls' Secondary School and the youngest is in Nanyang Primary School.
Ms Tan has no regrets about leaving the entertainment industry. She says: "I was doing so well when I quit. It was a big sacrifice, but I did it for my family. The amount of time I got to spend with my children and to take good care of the household - I think it's completely worth it."
Who is the stricter parent, mum or dad?
Shanisse: Mum is the one who is stricter with us on a regular basis because she's the one at home. She watches over all the things we do. But if we get very naughty, then it's dad who is scarier.
Shalynn: When dad gets angry, he yells very, very loudly and that's when you know you've done something really wrong.
Did you ever use the cane on your children?
Ms Tan: Yes, when they were younger, but I made sure that I hit only a maximum of three strokes at one time. As soon as I caned them, though, I felt very bad.
Shanisse: After she caned us, she would apply medicated oil on us. She would also hug us and, sometimes, she'd say sorry. I think she just wanted us to know that we did something wrong, rather than punish us terribly.
Ms Tan: The two older ones would learn their lesson after caning. But the youngest one couldn't care less. She would run off as if nothing happened.
Shanisse: She listens to only me, actually, which is very funny. When I scold her or tell her to do something, she'll listen.
With three daughters, does dad ever feel overwhelmed by the women?
Ms Tan: Not at all, he loves it. He is so close to all of the girls, it actually makes me very jealous. I used to be his only princess. Now he has three other princesses in the house. He doesn't hold my hand anymore when we go out - he holds their hands.
Did you ever wish you had a son?
Ms Tan: I used to think it'd be nice to have both daughters and sons, but I don't think that way anymore. I think girls tend to dote on parents more and my daughters are the sweetest in the world. They planned a surprise birthday party for me recently and I was really shocked. They secretly contacted all my friends and arranged for everyone to come over and surprise me.
On Valentine's Day, they would also remind my husband to buy me flowers.
If they wanted to become actresses, would you be open to the idea?
Ms Tan: Sure, if that's what they want, but they have to finish university first. Show business is not easy and I think it's important that they have a solid back-up plan for stable careers. I don't think they are interested in acting as an occupation anyway.
Shanisse: I want to study either political science or medicine.
Shalynn: I play the violin so I hope to pursue music.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you have done differently?
Shanisse: We weren't allowed to have sleepovers when we were younger, so I would allow it.
Shalynn: I would give my children a data plan for their phones, so that if they get lost and they can't contact anyone, they can use Google Maps to find their way home (laughs). And they won't run out of money on their phones, which is the case with our prepaid plans.
Ms Tan: Nothing. If I were them, being such good students, I would feel very happy and proud of my achievements.
Follow Yip Wai Yee @STyipwaiyee
For more information about the #MothersForNepal campaign, go to www.mothersfornepal.com
See more images of Sherry Tan in the gallery below.
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