Wong Li-Lin reveals she earned just $100 a month in her first job

7 June 2016 / 4 months 3 weeks ago

Sujin Thomas
June 7, 2016

You may best remember her as Inspector Elaine Tay in the hit local TV series Triple Nine from the 1990s, but former Singapore actress-host Wong Li-Lin's shot at the stars did not just land on her lap.

It took years of working through part-time jobs from the time she was a teenager till she got a stint at Mediacorp - then known as the Television Corporation of Singapore or TCS - training background dancers which eventually led to her TV debut in 1994.

But on hindsight Wong, 43, who now works in the corporate world as deputy director of special projects at Thomson Medical, wishes she had set a focus and goal on what she wanted to achieve from the string of part-time jobs.

In a recent lunch interview with AsiaOne at Island Cafe & Bar in Orchard Road, the 43-year-old who looks like she hasn't aged a day since the 1990s, said: "I came to do things because I found them interesting and not because of anything else. Which is why, I say that you have to be more focused."

"Left brain capabilities weren't exposed to me for the large part of my life. I wasn't aware so I wasn't looking. Even if I was exposed to it, I just didn't see it."

Typically, left-brain thinkers might feel stronger in logic skills and maths, while right-brain thinkers tend to lean on the more creative side of things.

This is why she left showbiz in the late 2000s, she says.

She said: "I realised that my left brain had such a gap. I wanted some stability for myself and I wanted to find mentors and work with an organisation where I could really grow and foster my left brain.

"Clearly on those needs, media was not the solution."

But aside from being a dance teacher, Wong also worked part-time as a mailroom sorter, waitress, salesgirl and even a florist.

That's quite a diverse range of jobs for most people but it helped Wong, who was fostered to different families as a child, pay her bills while studying in London.

It was there that she attended a vocational school and later won a scholarship to study ballet at the Royal Ballet School in London.

Recounting her time working in a mailroom in London, she said: "I remembered my stint in the mailroom as the most banal things I could subject myself to and vowed never again to put myself in a job that could be easily automated."

"I've had the good fortune of a few careers. In all of them, this much is true: You've got to own it. When you take ownership, you will do what it takes to learn, drive, master, push and share your voice (or the company's) and vocation."

She said her part-time job as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant in London helped her realise the merits of customer service.

"When a customer treat you badly, they don't even look you in the eye. How interesting it is for them to come in and throw their money. I became mindful not to be that sort of person," she said.

But her first part-time job came when she was just 13 and unable to pay the fees at her ballet school here.  Seeing potential in her, the ballet school owner asked her to teach for $100 a month - enough to cover her own fees.

Wong said: "In the world of craft like song and dance, you have to be somewhat skilled. I don't think my teacher would have asked me to teach if I was struggling as a student."

Today, her job entails exploring new growth areas for the medical group as well as dabbling in areas of business development, marketing, strategic outlook and communication - a world away from what she did in the early part of her life.

Wong, who is also a forerunner in Pilates in Singapore and committed to wellness and fitness education, says: "I could have gone into anything when I was looking for a job. I was specific about what I wanted to get into.

"I landed a place that's very nurturing. It's totally in line with the way I conduct my outlook too."

In her personal life, Wong has been a single mum since 2013 and is focused in raising her two children, Sage 12, and Jonas, 10, with the same values she picked up in life. She is divorced from actor-host Allan Wu.

When asked if she's still in touch with Wu, she said: "He is my children's father…He comes over and hangs out at the house. On occasion, we go out for meals together.

"It's unfortunate that divorce only means acrimony and I don't think that has to be the case. I see it as if I was really upset with you as a friend, over time I wouldn't be upset with you anymore, right? It should be the same."

When asked if she is seeing anyone, Wong said: "I get asked that question all the time. No, I'm not. I'm really serious about developing this next 10 to 20 years of my life so that takes a lot of time and energy."

She stressed that in any new relationship, one needs to invest time in it. And aside from work, she spends time with her children and sometimes her friends.

She said: "I need to have time for you. If I don't have time for you then you're not going to feel very good. So naturally that doesn't take place either. It's not whether I meet someone or don't, I'm not looking."

"My eyes are really focused on the prize and it's doesn't come in the form of a man."

So, is there a chance that she might one day return to TV screens?

Wong left it an open verdict when she said: "Never say never".

She added: "But, it's definitely not an ambition of mine. I know for a fact that in life's journey, sometimes you make little stops in places you don't expect to. I've done that and I'm very happy using all that I know and (now) acquiring new skills in addition, so I can be a better version (of myself)."


This 8-part #BeforeIWasBoss series is brought to you by FastJobs, your fast track to part-time and non-executive jobs. Visit www.fastjobs.sg or download the FastJobs app on your iPhone and Android smartphones.


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