Photos: Felicia Chin
In the midst of shopping for gifts, soaking up the festive spirit and preparing for Christmas parties at the office or home, we remember a classic story about an old miserly man called Scrooge, who was taught how to live life all over again through visions from the past, present and future. In a nutshell, he learns about kindness and giving, which in turn brought him happiness and love.
This story brings to mind the intangible benefits many pet owners gain through their fur kids – be it big or small, and this Christmas season we’d like to spread some love and attention to a particular group of furry dwellers in the community -- the cats.
For this special series, we speak to four celebrity cat owners, Lin Peifen, Nat Ho, Felicia Chin and Priscelia Chan as they share stories about their furry felines who have each brought love into their lives.
Did you know Felicia once worked at the Singapore Zoological Gardens for three months, before she joined Star Search in 2003, after graduating from junior college?
The animal lover said it was her childhood dream to work with the zoo and during her time at both the Zoo and the Night Safari, she hosted their animal shows and learned how to clean and maintain their living quarters. “It’s amazing to be close to the predators and cute little animals. And there’s no way they can pay you back except for the intimate connection they have with you,” she shared.
You could say her love for animals is vicariously magnified through her devotion to Mian Bao, whom she adopted two years ago.
In an interview with Toggle, Felicia shared that memories of her first encounter with cats, which took place many years ago, when she was still a young girl, are still fresh in her mind: she saw an old man feeding the cats at the void deck every night without fail and he’d even teach the others the right method to feed the strays without causing a mess or attracting the ants.
“He took care of all the cats in the neighbourhood and I’d always remember him for the basic love he had for the cats,” she quipped.
Mian Bao at some of his favourite hiding spots at home
So when she finally felt ready to play her part and “adopt a new love” into her life, Felicia jumped at the chance of bringing Mian Bao home when a friend had recused an abused pregnant cat who gave birth to a litter of five to six kittens.
“She asked if anyone wanted to adopt the kittens and I felt an urge to do so. The kittens looked really adorable but most importantly I felt I could take care of the cat, plus, I had a better management of my time then.”
Previously fearful about handling babies, cats or dogs, the actress smiled wryly too as she spoke about how far she has “surprisingly” progressed with handling another tiny being’s life.
“More confident” now, the relatively new pet owner laughingly quipped, “He’s like my boyfriend and I am still trying to get to know him in our relationship.”
Another thing Felicia has learned from Mian Bao that has helped her as an actress? Living in the moment.
“That’s something I observed when I see Mian Bao or other animals in general. When they play they play, when they eat they eat, when they sleep they sleep; I think that’s how we should live our lives,” she quipped, “Sometimes we worry too much about the future when the moment is the only thing that is certain. This applies to me not just as an actress but as a person too.”
“I think he has taught me more than I have helped him in his life,” she added with a grin.
Why does Felicia think Mian Bao takes after her character in The Golden Path, and what did Mian Bao do that caused Felicia to change her sofa twice? Read on for more!
Toggle: Out of all the TV characters you’ve played, which one best depicts Mian Bao’s personality?
Felicia: Hmm, maybe The Golden Path’s Lin Fei. She’s very individualistic, sometimes nonchalant but when she loves a person, she loves deeply. So that’d be his character – he’s very fair as well (laughs), I was very fair-skinned in that show.
A lot of pet owners have pets that look like them or are similar in temperament, so in what ways are you like Mian Bao and what is the most Felicia-like behaviour seen in Mian Bao?
I think we’re both very easy going – he can be hugged by anyone and one of my friends even branded him as the best cat in the world. He did a cover shoot for a pet’s magazine before and they said he was one of the easiest cats they worked with. And that’s like me too, sometimes my friend would say to me: ‘Given your character, how are you going to take care of yourself when you go out?’ I think we can sleep anywhere too (guffaws) – he’d slouch against the door or against the table leg and I don’t want to say this but I can slouch and rest and sleep anywhere.
But he’s a very picky eater - that’s not like me, and I don’t pee around like him too (laughs).
Has Mian Bao urinated somewhere he shouldn’t? What do you think he is saying to you?
He peed on my sofa like two to three times and I’ve changed the sofa twice (chuckles). It always happens when I’m not home or when I’m not looking and I think that’s when we have to pay more attention to their behaviour. For example, when he’s going to pee at a spot he’s not supposed to, he’d walk around the area and start scratching. Sometimes it’s not his problem but our problem too, so I’m still trying to learn by spending more time with him – and neutering.
(Ed’s note: We learned that Mian Bao was neutered on the same day, after this interview was conducted)
What are his favourite spots at home and how did he claim “rights” to it?
He likes to jump up to higher grounds like the window ledge, so much so that I want to construct a cat superhighway – I think he’ll love it. He likes high areas and, of course, the sofa – and the bed too (which he has peed on once).
Have you learned how to tell his meows apart? Do you know what Mian Bao is feeling by his meows?
Yes, especially when he is locked up in the toilet (laughs). I’d go about my stuff in the morning and sometimes he’d come in the toilet with me too. Then I’d be done, go out and come home two hours later to hear him meowing! Luckily, it’s for a short period of time because I felt bad. And this meow is different from the I-want-food meow.
As an actress with a busy work schedule, how do you spend time with Mian Bao?
Before I started on my new project Life - Fear Not, we’d go on walks. Many people are amazed when I bring my cat out because he’s not scared at all! Sometimes when cats or dogs go to new places, they’d be scared and petrified but Mian Bao is super curious. When I put him in my car, he’d just perch himself on the dashboard and park himself there. When people drive past my car, they’d do a double take to confirm if that’s really a cat on my dashboard (chuckles).
Once I brought him to my coach’s place because she loves cats but has two dogs. I know there’s a process to introduce cats to dogs and after we tried it, the dogs were so enthusiastic and wanted to play with him but Mian Bao tried to hide. Later, he went around the house like it was his playground although it was his first time there. He checked out the kitchen, the toilet and the rooms and eventually found himself a nice cosy spot and nestled himself there. He has quite a character – maybe because the owner’s like that too (laughs).
If you could make a Christmas wish for Mian Bao, what would it be and why?
I’d wish that he grows up healthy, keeps his character this way and keep on surprising me every day.
You helped rally for donations when Cat Welfare Society (CWS) did their fund-raising activities a few months ago – is this out of volunteerism?
Definitely. When I was younger I did some volunteering activities too and when I came to know of CWS when I did the cover shoot for a pet’s magazine, I felt that the most direct way to help them is through social media. Recently when I celebrated my birthday I pledged a certain amount too. I think it’s great that a lot of cats are sterilised and the population is kept under control and I think a lot of good work is done by CWS. You know when they say you can tell how developed a country is by their treatment towards the strays. Strays are defenseless and it speaks a lot when there’s someone caring for them. I hope this spirit will go on.
How do you think people can help provide a safe and healthy environment for strays to live in?
The very basic is just to love them the way you’d love yourself or your children. All these cases of abuse or mutilation are just ridiculous and it’s painful to know that there are certain people treating defenseless animals this way. Look out for the strays – we can even prevent people from doing such mindless acts of abuse with some attention. That’s a very first step forward.
I think the message of love is important too, especially from the way parents speak to their children about the strays and having the people in the community respecting the cats. It’s good to sow the seeds in children that even though cats are not humans, they should be respected because they are also lives.