Shaun Chen coping well after family tragedy

The actor shares about the last time he spoke to his older sister, who passed away two weeks ago

Shaun Chen coping well after family tragedy
Shaun Chen coping well after family tragedy
28 Aug 2017

Shaun Chen coping well after family tragedy

Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Genice Ooi

It’s been less than two weeks since Shaun Chen tragically lost his oldest sister, but the Malaysian-born actor is already back in full swing at work filming for Channel 8 drama My Friends From Afar.

Toggle visited the set of the upcoming drama yesterday morning, where a getai auction scene was being shot. Although we were initially wary of approaching the 38-year-old with such a sensitive topic, he was all smiles as he readily agreed to our video interview, assuring us that he is feeling much better now.

Here’s a recap of what happened: Shaun’s sister was giving a speech during a work trip in Thailand when – possibly due to the stress – her blood pressure spiked. Without her medication (which she had forgotten to bring), she fell unconscious and was rushed to a local hospital. When she couldn’t be revived after a few days, she was brought back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 17, where she was declared brain-dead. Doctors decided that it was too risky to operate, and she was taken off life support later that day.

Shaun admitted that he and his siblings decided to keep their mother in the dark about their sister’s situation as they were afraid she would not be able to handle the news. It was only at the last minute, before pulling the plug, that they came clean, allowing their mother to see her eldest daughter one last time. “That was a very heart-breaking moment for everyone,” he added solemnly.

Sadly, Shaun himself was unable to say his last goodbye to his sister in person – he did it via a video call – as he was only able to arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Friday evening (August 18). The funeral took place that weekend, and Shaun returned to Singapore on Sunday (August 20), after taking just two days of leave.

Continued on next slide: Shaun recalls his last conversation with his sister

Shaun recalls his last conversation with his sister
Shaun recalls his last conversation with his sister
28 Aug 2017

Shaun recalls his last conversation with his sister

Despite the brief break, Shaun reported that he didn’t have any trouble readjusting to work. “Everything is in the past so I have to accept it, move on, and focus on taking care of my own health,” he said.

His co-stars Carrie Wong, Paige Chua and Aloysius Pang praised his strength and grace in handling the news. Carrie and Aloysius, who were both on set with Shaun at the time, reported that he remained professional and put his personal feelings aside in order to deliver a good performance. They also confessed that they didn’t dare to say too much about the situation, settling with simple hugs and sincere queries of “Are you okay?”

When asked to share a fond memory of his sister (who was 12 years older than him), Shaun recalled something she told him when they were much younger. “She said, ‘I know you like babies, so when I grow up, I will get married and have many kids for you to play with!’ In the end, she gave me four nephews and nieces, whom I treat like my own children.”

Shaun also revealed that their last one-on-one conversation took place over mobile messaging app WeChat when his sister was in Australia two weeks ago. “She showed me some clothes she had bought for my youngest daughter and asked if they were nice,” he said. “I said, ‘Eh, those are winter clothes lah!’ but she insisted, ‘Never mind, the quality is good!’”

“These are now memories I will keep close to my heart.”

Photo: Shaun Chen/Instagram

Continued on next slide: Shaun cancels daughter’s full month celebration

Shaun to celebrate younger daughter’s 100th day instead of full month
Shaun to celebrate younger daughter’s 100th day instead of full month
28 Aug 2017

Shaun to celebrate younger daughter’s 100th day instead of full month

Although his family was unable to accompany him to Kuala Lumpur for his sister’s funeral (his wife Celine was still doing her confinement in her hometown Alor Setar after giving birth to their second child Neia last month), Shaun made sure to tell his oldest daughter Nellie, who turns two in December, what had happened.

“I told her, ‘Da gu gu (aunt) is gone, she’s not around anymore’, and she pondered my words for a moment before saying, ‘Nai nai (grandma)?’ I think it’s because she usually saw my sister and my mother together, so she associates one with the other,” Shaun shared with a chuckle.

Due to the recent events, Shaun and his wife decided to forgo a full month party for baby Neia (which would have been last Saturday), and will organise a 100th day celebration in early November instead. If all goes according to plan, the entire brood of four would have relocated to Singapore by then. There is also a possibility that they may settle down in Kuala Lumpur first, as Shaun is currently in talks for a movie project there.

In any case, Celine will be relieved to finally have her husband around to help with parenting duties.

“Her confinement is going well but it’s extra tiring because in addition to breastfeeding and pumping milk for Neia every few hours, she also has to take care of Nellie,” said Shaun. “Sometimes she does complain about me not being around, but she also understands that I need to work so I can provide for them.”

Jiayou, Shaun! And our condolences once again.

Photos: Shaun Chen/Instagram, The Celebrity Agency

Click through for more pictures from our set visit and interview soundbites!

Carrie Wong got bitten by a centipede
Carrie Wong got bitten by a centipede
28 Aug 2017

Carrie Wong got bitten by a centipede

When we arrived at the getai stage, we noticed Carrie being escorted away from the location. We quickly learned that the 23-year-old had been bitten by a centipede, and was being rushed to the clinic for a check-up.

Thankfully, she was soon back on set looking as right as rain, with nothing but a bag of medicine and an aching ring finger to worry about. “The doctor said that Singapore’s centipedes are usually not very poisonous so hopefully the bite is nothing serious,” she told us, explaining that her injury came about when she tried to swat the bug away from climbing up her leg.

“I’ve been bitten by mosquitoes and sandflies while filming many times, but this is the first time I’ve been bitten by a centipede!” she said with a laugh. “This is definitely a ‘highlight’ of making this drama, and I’ll remember it for a very long time.”

Another year, another eventless birthday for Aloysius Pang
Another year, another eventless birthday for Aloysius Pang
28 Aug 2017

Another year, another eventless birthday for Aloysius Pang

Aloysius recently turned 27 on August 24, and just like the past five years, he spent it being entirely uncontactable.

“I’m very strange; I stopped celebrating my birthday after I turned 21,” he said. “I ‘disappear’ every year on my birthday – no one can find me even if they called me.” Instead, he is completely content with having a simple meal with his parents and relishing in his own uninterrupted, private time.

This is a complete change of scenery from the past. “I used to go crazy with my friends on my birthday, but after I had a very big 21st birthday party with almost 200 people, I told myself that it would be my last birthday party, and I’ve treated every birthday after that as just another regular day ever since.”

Paige Chua is learning to play Hebe Tien’s hit song on the piano
Paige Chua is learning to play Hebe Tien’s hit song on the piano
28 Aug 2017

Paige Chua is learning to play Hebe Tien’s hit song on the piano

While Paige doesn’t have much confidence in her vocals (she rated her skills a measly four out of 10), the 36-year-old shared that she is diligently learning how to play Hebe Tien’s ‘A Little Happiness’, the hit soundtrack from popular film Our Times, during her piano lessons.

“I took organ lessons when I was five or six before moving on to the piano in secondary school, and I picked up the flute and guzheng (Chinese zither) three years ago.” However, she modestly declared that she is “not a musician”. “I just have an interest in music because it was a way of picking you up when you’re down.”

She said that she prefers music without lyrics too. “Sometimes even though the melody is beautiful, the words are very sad,” she explained.

Shaun’s daughter loves it when he sings to her
Shaun’s daughter loves it when he sings to her
28 Aug 2017

Shaun’s daughter loves it when he sings to her

In another music-related topic, Shaun beamed with joy when he gushed about singing to his little girl Nellie, who even treats her dad like a living radio by picking what track he should “play”.

“For example, if I start singing ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’, she will shake her head and I will go to the next song, and the next, until she’s satisfied and enjoying herself,” he said. “I feel very blessed during these moments.”

Nellie returns the favour too, and her latest jingle of choice is “Mama called the doctor and the doctor said” from ‘Five Little Monkeys’ (complete with all the big actions), and according to the proud papa, she can carry a tune pretty well for her age.

When asked if Nellie sings for her little sister, Shaun said the latter is still too young to appreciate such a gesture, so his eldest shows her love by watching her sleep, carrying her and stroking her affectionately. “I hope she will continue to be a good big sister.”

Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong share a laugh on set
Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong share a laugh on set
28 Aug 2017

Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong share a laugh on set

Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong, sharing another laugh on set
Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong, sharing another laugh on set
28 Aug 2017

Aloysius Pang and Carrie Wong, sharing another laugh on set

But things turn serious when it's time to film
But things turn serious when it's time to film
28 Aug 2017

But things turn serious when it's time to film

Yao Wenlong and Paige Chua are hosting a getai charity auction in this scene
Yao Wenlong and Paige Chua are hosting a getai charity auction in this scene
28 Aug 2017

Yao Wenlong and Paige Chua are hosting a getai charity auction in this scene

My Friends From Afar debuts December 6, 9pm on Channel 8.

WATCH: How is Shaun coping with the death of his older sister?
WATCH: Who's the worst singer in the cast of 'My Friends from Afar'?

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