Faces of KE: New Kids on the Block

Written by: Shervin Lim

Edited by: Sarah Cheng

[ As part of the initiation for the ‘Faces of KE’ series in AY15/16, KE Press decided to do a feature on KE’s newest Resident Fellow, Dr. Chen Zhixiong, and his family. The interview was conducted at Dr. Chen’s house. ]

Getting ready for the interview.

Getting ready for the interview. (Video Still)

Nestled on the fourth level of F Block is the Chen family, comprising Dr. Chen Zhixiong, an NUHS lecturer; his wife, Shan; and their two children, Natalie and Emmanuel, aged four and seven respectively. Behind the door of their cosy apartment lies a small corridor, leading nicely into a quaint living and dining room. We were greeted warmly by Dr. Chen and his wife, ready with packet drinks and pancakes to welcome us, while their kids hid behind the sofa as we entered, hoping, perhaps, to surprise the visitors.

The interior of the house is dressed in earthy hues, under warm light for most parts. White light shone above the dining table; ‘For the kids to read,’ Dr. Chen revealed. The cabinet beside the television console displayed photographs and books; clearly, a habit of reading was inherent in the household, as Emmanuel kept a book close before the interview with the family began proper.

Restless Emmanuel does a dance.

Restless Emmanuel does a dance. (Video Still)

When asked about the inspiration behind their home’s decor, Dr. Chen explained: ‘As you can see, it’s very spartan, very minimalistic. We like to go for clean designs, generally giving a perspective of space; airiness. It also defines the way we do things, with clean lines and transparency.’ Adding on, Mrs. Chen expressed that ‘a lot of the decor came from when (they) were in Sweden, so (they) brought them back as a remembrance’. We also learnt that Dr. Chen has a particular liking for lamps, as depicted in the video still.

The kids were most certainly unafraid of strangers, perhaps in the company of their parents, as they enthusiastically handed us the refreshments. A dearer sight, probably, would be the two kids sharing bites off the same pancake; surely, an ideal image for the government to promote childrearing for residents in the future. We later found out that Natalie was born in Sweden, therein acquiring a neat maternity package for Mrs. Chen (who enjoyed a year’s maternity leave, from the 480 days of leave that the couple were entitled to, as a whole).

Dr. Chen went on to joke that ‘if (he) didn’t like (the arrangement with NUS), (he) could essentially sack (himself) and take the rest of (his) paternity leave’, that which, of course, comes at the cost of the Swedish ‘tax deductions’.  It was a good three years of further training in Sweden before the family reluctantly shifted back to Singapore, and settled down in the hills of King Edward VII Hall.

Natalie takes her minute of fame. (Video Still)

Natalie takes her minute of fame. (Video Still)

I pursued the topic of relocation and queried if the family had adjusted to life in KE. Without missing a beat, Dr. Chen responded: ‘As you can see, they’re very adjusted, they’re already playing with the camera *pointing to the kids* and feeling very at home. I think it’s wonderful. I have ‘extended help’ for childcare.’ Most recently, as many residents would have noticed, the family was exceptionally involved in the Inter-Block Games, with young Emmanuel even playing soccer for one of the blocks.

Turning to the children, I raised the questions that I had prepared specially for them:

Interviewer: So Emmanuel, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Emmanuel: Ohh… yes, my favourite question! I want to be a superhero. I want to be a, a hero in civilian defence? Like, being a commando? Or I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, like my father.
Dr. Chen: But I’m not a fighter pilot. *chuckles*
Emmanuel: (aside, to his father) You always wanted to fly but then, (to the interviewer) when he was three years old he ‘lost his eyesight’.
Dr. Chen I didn’t lose my eyesight! I just became ‘partially blind’, in a way. Yea, I told him that I always wanted to be a pilot actually, but I started wearing glasses when I was three. So essentially that dream was dashed, so I feel very bitter every time I watch NDP. *chuckles* In fact, I went back recently to reservist and I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my colleagues, with huge glasses, and he’s a pilot.
Interviewer: And Natalie, who is your favourite person in the world?
Natalie: Princess! (upon clarification) Mummy! And my lambs. *holds up her fluffy lamb plushie*

[ whose names we found out were Lamb-lamb, pronounced lum-lum ]

Interviewer: Why do you like your lambs?
Natalie: He’s very fluffy! [ in all Agnes-likeness, see Despicable Me ]
He's very fluffy! (Chen, 2015)

He’s very fluffy! (Chen, 2015) (Video Still)

Returning to Dr. Chen and his wife, I asked them for the advice that they would give to their seven (or four) year-old self. The father and son exchanged glances, before Dr. Chen offered these words of wisdom:

Do your best; whatever you do, you should do your best. So that when you put your head to sleep at night, your conscience is clear, you know. Whatever you do, do your best; do it with integrity and dignity, so the outcome is not important. As long as you know that there is nothing more you could do, that is good enough. And I would say that for everybody.

I posed the same question to Mrs. Chen, and after a long gaze at both her children, she succinctly replied:

I haven’t really thought of that but…  just be happy, I think, that’s important.

Emmanuel contemplates his dream career. (Video Still)

Emmanuel contemplates his dream career. (Video Still)

The final question for the night was kept for the little ones: What is one thing that you think Mummy and Daddy should do more often? Perhaps the question needed a better phrasing, for the kids replied in unison, asking, ‘Do what?’ After a short pause, Emmanuel leapt to the front and decreed: ‘I know I know (x8)… this question is very easy. Cycle with me! I like cycling and I always tell them to cycle with me and they also don’t want to cycle with me.’

Natalie, on the other hand, replied: ‘Mummy! Every time sleeping, mummy’, to which Emmanuel promptly explained, ‘Another thing, another thing, I don’t want my mother to sleep so much’ (as Mrs. Chen silently nods in agreement, musing: ‘Mummy sleeps a lot’). ‘Every time at night she will *makes sleeping noises*’, Emmanuel added, as the family erupts in laughter.

'Funny' for the camera.

‘Funny’ for the camera.

Before we ended the interview, Dr. Chen felt compelled to revisit the discussion on their life since moving into KE. Here is an excerpt:

I think that actually it’s been really good, I mean this one, whether for the record or not, I think (the kids) enjoy a lot of positive influence, especially from a lot of people, students that are also close friends now. So right now, I think we have… the comfort level has grown, if you can measure it, it means the distance they are away from us when we are eating. Now they are almost out of our line of sight, so I think in the months to come, eventually they will completely ‘disappear’. So that’s the kind of… how comfortable they’ve grown with the environment and the students. I think the students play a very important and big role. I think that we’ve not brought as much to the students as they’ve brought to (the kids); and also the SCRC: Master plays quite a bit with them. So we hope that they will, hopefully, make it more important for students in the future to have families, not so frightening. *chuckles*.

Mrs. Chen affectionately added:

We want to thank all the kor kor, jie jie… very good role models.

Such is a slice of the everyday in the lives of our newest Resident Fellow, Dr. Chen, and his family. There can be no greater joy or blessing than that of happiness in the home, a concept well appreciated by the Chen family as they embark on a new phase of life, here in King Edward VII Hall. On this note, Dr. Chen would also like residents to know that they can always approach him if they wish to talk about any issues, as he most certainly enjoys communicating with all KEVIIans alike.

The Chen family (feat. the motley crue of workers behind this feature)

The Chen family (feat. the motley crue of workers behind this feature)

Photos and video stills courtesy of Ryan Goh, on behalf of KE Vision.

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