Although she hasn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since the premature birth of her twin boys in 2017, actress and former singer Charlie Yeung Choi-nei says they have given her a new life full of hope and joy – and she feels younger than ever.
“They became my first priority in life,” she says. “I am an only child and I was also born prematurely. My mum gave me lots of nutrition, and [I did lots of] exercise. My husband and I decided to do the same for the boys. Very [small] and incubated for a month, they showed lots of determination to fight for their lives.”
Yeung – now 47 – says she has learned to never underestimate her children.
“They learn fast. My boys get back up on their own after stumbling and, when school was closed during the pandemic, I was worried that they might be too impatient to sit through online classes at home. But they can, and they find the experience novel.”
Yeung in the 2019 Hong Kong movie Little Q, which explores human relationships with guide dogs for the blind.
Yeung says she has developed new hobbies which have brightened up her life as a full-time mum.
“I started to learn how to make bread, as my kids and I are big bread lovers. I can buy better flour, control the sugar amount and use natural methods to make it, like using carrot juice for colouring,” she says, adding she now makes all the meals for her family.
She also enjoys shaping food for her twins into animals, such as a duck made from rice, set on a “pond” of pumpkin sauce. The process, she says, is stress-relieving: “I know the food will make the boys happy and healthy”.
Yeung retains the youthful air that made her a big star in the 1990s and 2000s.
The Taiwan-born Yeung made her feature-film debut in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s art house martial arts movie Ashes of Time (1994) alongside superstars including Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung and Brigitte Lin, and her lead performance in period tragedy The Lovers (1994) was widely praised.
Yeung (right) in Ashes of Time.
Her singing career took off after the release of her debut Cantonese song Won’t Cry In Front Of You in 1993, when she won the best newcomer prize awarded by TVB – Hong Kong’s dominant free-to-air broadcast network.
The secret to her youthfulness, Yeung tells the Post from her home in Singapore, is her kids.
“Many of my friends who have kids also look way younger than their actual age. Being with kids brings happiness. They feel happy easily. Simple acts like eating [together] and parental companionship are already enough to make them very happy. My husband and I love to play with their toys, like Lego, too. Our interaction with them makes us young.”
Regular exercise, the occasional indulgence in unhealthy food and having nourishing soup daily also help keep her young, she says.
“My husband and I often went diving overseas. During the pandemic, we started taking walks in Singapore, which is full of greenery and fresh air, after the kids fell asleep.
“I play badminton with [Singaporean singer-songwriter] Stefanie Sun and her friends. My family swims several times a week. We take the kids on outings every weekend. I believe the sun nurtures vitality – provided full sunscreen protection is applied.”
Yeung in an advert for Hermès. She gave birth when she was 42. Photo: Wee Khim for PIN Prestige SG
Singapore is famous for its hawker, or cooked food, centres, and Yeung says the occasional plate of street food, like satay or Fukien fried noodles, is important to her happiness.
At home, she makes soup every day. Her mum’s home-made soup was something that used to get her through exhausting days at work before she was married.
“The taste of her soup is ingrained in my mind. My mum’s soup contains simple ingredients like apple, pear, red carrot, sweet dates, pork and corn. Her chicken soup made with dried scallops and mushrooms is also nourishing. I am learning how to make vegetarian soup. We eat very little red meat, and are vegetarian every Friday.”
Yeung’s husband, Singaporean lawyer Khoo Shao Tze, works full-time, and the couple go out of their way to keep their marriage happy and vibrant. “He’s with the kids throughout the weekends – but we go out every Friday to dine out, just the two of us, and to go shopping. The kids know [they have] to go to their grandparents’ home on Fridays.”
Yeung, who married Khoo in 2013, gave birth when she was 42 and says there are a few things one can do to make a full postnatal recovery as an older mother.
“Pregnant women must try their best to get as much rest as possible, because uninterrupted sleep is impossible after childbirth! Kids wake up very early.
Yeung, an ambassador for the Hong Kong Committee for Unicef, in Sri Lanka in 2005. Photos: Hong Kong Committee for Unicef
“I had a very good [doula] who knew what I needed to eat, and I ate everything she cooked for me. Don’t try to lose weight right away after childbirth – you lose weight just by trying to raise your children anyway. Don’t drink health-replenishing tonics right after giving birth either – eat light foods to help flush the body [of toxins] so that it can tolerate tonics later.”
Childbirth actually led to Yeung’s health improving. The cold extremities she used to suffer from, for example, were no longer an issue after she gave birth, which is why she believes following the right post-birth recovery regimen may lead to better health.
Yeung also engages in writing and charity work – both children and animals are causes she cares deeply about.
In 2007, she co-founded children’s charity Little Yellow Flower Education Foundation alongside Hong Kong singer Gigi Leung, Taiwanese singer Valen Hsu and Malaysian singer Angelica Lee. During the pandemic, the charity has distributed supplies to the needy in Malaysia, Nepal and Hong Kong. The charity is also organising a parenting workshop.
“It’s important for first-time parents to get support from their peers. I am recruiting professionals in child education. Theatre professionals will write a script for the workshop containing different scenarios regarding parent-child interactions. Parents can share how they will feel facing the scenarios.”
Yeung, whose directing and scriptwriting debut Christmas Rose (2013) was nominated for an award in the 5oth Golden Horse Film Awards, says writing remains one of her favourite hobbies – she has written books on beauty tips, her life musings and her charity work with organisations such as Unicef and Orbis.
“My husband often encourages me to write. Creating a script from scratch for Christmas Rose was a magical experience. My life experience has taught me to be grateful.
“Parenting is challenging, but I see it in a positive way. I jot down my feelings on things now. Such writing will be research for another script I want to do in future.”Internet Explorer Channel Network