Wong Li Lin: 'I grew up with prostitutes, gamblers and thieves'

5 August 2014 / 2 years 2 months ago

Jocelyn Lee,
The New Paper,
Sunday, Aug 3, 201

Local celebrity Wong Li-Lin, 41, is known as a pretty actress, an elegant ballerina and a loving mother-of-two. But as a child, she was fostered to different families.

She had also been to brothels and gambling dens, where she witnessed brutal fights. And this traumatic childhood is why she is helping troubled youth.

Wong was recently appointed the Community Chest's ambassador and she says her immediate plan will be to help youth-at-risk and the elderly.

Though there have been reports on her difficult childhood before, the usually media-shy celebrity opened up with vivid details to The New Paper on Sunday.

She reveals that for several years - from the age of two - she was sent to different foster homes. Wong tells this reporter she remembers living with a Malay family, then a Hokkien family before returning to live with her own troubled family when she was six.

Things did not improve.

The actress details in an e-mail interview: "They were very unstable times. I lived mostly in and out of gambling dens, and I grew up with prostitutes, gamblers and thieves."

She first saw the inside of a brothel when she was eight, when her mum went to visit a friend. At 10, she says, she witnessed her first fatal fight. Her parents also fought a lot.

Yet, looking back, Wong describes her childhood as colourful and dramatic.

"I got to meet people from all walks of life and I had the opportunity to learn and study human behaviour from a young age. There was a lot of drama, some amount of violence. As a young child, I didn't think to comprehend or not comprehend. It was just what it was,"

She was introduced to ballet by regularly tagging along with her best friend to weekend dance classes. At 13, Wong started teaching ballet to pay for her fees. She says she went to live with her ballet teacher, Mrs Skipp, for two years when she was 14.

Then at 16, Wong won the prestigious Loke Cheng Kim scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London, and danced her way out of her difficult life.

Perhaps her dark years can be best summed up with this: When she returned from London to her Lorong Melayu home in Kembangan, she found out that her parents had split up and moved away - and no one told her.

Yet the local star is not bitter.

She says: "I have been extremely fortunate to have had benefactors in my life, however turbulent it was. My ballet teacher and the ballet community provided me with a haven and skills. The goodwill that has been extended to me is not forgotten. The lack of guidelines and boundaries in my childhood was not helpful."

Wong, known to be a fiercely private person in the past, is slowly opening up. She even updates her Instagram account (@lilinwong) regularly, sharing bits and pieces of her life with her over 10,000 followers. However, she is still a little uncomfortable delving into too much details about her childhood as it touches on sensitive topics.

Wong hopes to use her influence to make a difference to society.

"I had a tough childhood, so I understand what these youth are going through. We must learn to help whenever we can. In this way, we can earn good fortune and blessings," she says.

On picking Wong as its ambassador, Ms Ng Ling Ling, managing director of Community Chest, says: "Li-Lin's childhood and growing-up experiences allow her to empathise and understand some of the difficulties faced by our youth-at-risk."

She adds: "Her story of overcoming life's challenges and staying resilient will also help to motivate many beneficiaries we support, who are striving to live life with dignity to their fullest potential despite various difficulties."

Wong comes across as a tough cookie and someone who stands strong in times of adversity. When asked if her younger days haunt her, she replies: "No."

She says: "I believe my childhood was what it was for good reason. How often does one get to see the drama of life in its extremes unfold? It is fascinating as an anthropology and in the study of being human."

Having not worked full-time for the past nine years, Wong wants to focus her attention on her career now. Besides her Community Chest work, she is also a lifestyle health adviser and provides consultancy services to companies that want to introduce fitness programmes to their employees.

However, Wong laments the most difficult part about being a busy single mum is making time for her two children.

She says: "I explained to my kids that I have to spend more time at work these days to make money, and they told me, 'Mum, sometimes we'd rather be poor!'"

Me, my children & career

Single for about a year now, Wong Li-Lin intends to stay that way, at least in the near future. She divorced Allan Wu last June after nine years of marriage, and they have two children - daughter Sage, nine, and son Jonas, eight.

Speaking to The New Paper on Sunday at the ComChest Care & Share Charity Show 2014 last Sunday, a bubbly Wong says: "I am at the stage where I am looking at making more friends and knowing more people. But I am not looking for an exclusive relationship right now. I don't want anything serious."

The Community Chest ambassador adds: "I am in an exclusive relationship with myself, my children and my career. I want to focus on myself."

She explains that she had three serious boyfriends since she started dating 22 years ago and was single for only six months in between each relationship.

She says: "I have always been attached. I want to use this time for myself to heal so I can learn and do better in the next relationship."

Wong was notably chattier and friendlier during the short interview with the local media, a far cry from her former private and guarded self when dealing with reporters. She credits that to being more comfortable with who she is now.

She also seems to have gotten over her divorce fairly well, sharing her feelings openly during the interview.

Speaking fondly of Wu, she says: "When a marriage breaks down, it is a big thing. The children get affected. But we can still be friends and Allan is still a fantastic dad to the children."

She adds: "It is unfortunate that we cannot show our kids how we handle an argument or a quarrel, but we can still be respectful and dignified towards each other. We just cannot remain in the husband-and-wife set-up anymore."

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