updated 3 Dec 2012, 12:06
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Tue, May 08, 2012
The New Paper
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50-year-old beats hardship with her looks
by Maureen Koh

SINGAPORE - Heads turn and people take a second look when they see her.

Gorgeous. Beautiful. Hot.

Tell them her age and eyebrows are raised.

She does not look her age, say all 30 people randomly approached.

She's 50.

I, too, am incredulous. So I ask Madam Betty Yu about her assets: Real?

Madam Yu laughs, then says: "You can feel."

She is fun. Full of confidence. Easy-going.

But her jovial demeanour belies a life of strife, of setbacks, of near-financial disaster, starting when her husband was paralysed in an accident, after which he suffered a stroke.

Her story is one to inspire mothers, ahead of Mother's Day next Sunday.

Madam Yu was recently crowned Classic Mrs Singapore Tourism 2012 and Classic Mrs Singapore 1st Runner-Up 2012.

Madam Yu's life - like her physical attributes - are real.

She's 1.65m tall and weighs 59kg. Her vital statistics are 38-28-38.

But first, she clarifies, she will turn 50 only next month.

And no, she's not a tai-tai who can afford to splurge on beauty treatments.

Life was good when she was running her own businesses, such as a souvenir advertising firm and two modelling schools.

Madam Yu recalls: "The businesses kept me so busy that I didn't have time to date and I missed the boat.

"My girlfriends were all married and had their little ones while I was left on the shelf.

"I found myself running an average of 100 runway shows a month. It was madness. I felt burned out. Totally drained. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn't cope with the booming business."

Another thought occurred to her: What's all the money in the world if you can't even enjoy it?

"It got to a point where I couldn't even sit down to enjoy a proper lunch."

That hectic lifestyle took a toll on her when she hit 35.

"I decided that I could not carry on with life like that. I made up my mind to let (everything) go. "I suddenly decided that I wanted someone to love me."

She laughs, then says: "Not that it was that easy. Most of the men I'd met were either businessmen or those (working) in F&B and most of them were married."

It was during the one-year break when she took off to get a new life that she met her husband, Mr Fernando Buyson Bernardo.

While on trips to countries around the world including Hong Kong, Taiwan, the UK and Italy, she decided to take up golf.

But she didn't know she could not play on a golf course alone.

"I had no choice but to wait for other golfers. Coincidentally, this Filipino-American was with his friend and they too were looking for another player."

Madam Yu hit it off instantly with Mr Bernardo, who is 12 years older than her.

They started dating after six months and married in November 1999 after a two-year courtship.

By then, she had started a new venture, a nail spa business, after taking beauty courses in London and Taiwan during her travel stint.

Six months after they married, Madam Yu had her first son, Fernando Joel, who is now 11. Life was bliss, she says.

When her husband, who held a senior position in an Indonesian company, was posted to Surabaya, Indonesia, in 2001, Madam Yu didn't think twice about giving up her nail spa business.

At the same time, she tried to have another child.

"We wanted another kid after my son was born, but after trying unsuccessfully for three years, I told my husband maybe we should just forget it," she says.

But "miracles do happen" and in January 2005, she returned to Singapore to deliver her second son, Immanuel Joshua.

"We were overjoyed. Life was perfect."

Three months later, her life took a tragic turn.

Mr Bernardo was in a car driven by his chauffeur when it crashed. He was bedridden and paralysed from the neck down.

"My world came crashing down. I had to take care of my two little boys and my husband, who lost his job.

"We relocated back to Singapore and I could not work for a whole year."

The hefty hospital bills and aftercare expenses wiped out their savings. To cope, they sold their apartment in The Summit in the east to pay off bank debts.

Madam Yu, who now lives in a four-room HDB flat in Bedok, recounts: "I was living like a zombie that year."

She gradually accepted the harsh reality that her husband "would never be the same again".

Her only consolation - that he was beginning to have some movement in his limbs.

But just when the family started to see a sliver of hope, they were dealt a second blow.

Mr Bernardo suffered a stroke and became totally immobile. His speech was slurred and no one could understand what he was saying.

She says: "I was, like, why, why, why this now when I can move on?"

Mr Bernardo needed full attention. Putting him in a rehabilitation hospital was not an option given the steep rates that they'd have to pay because he is not a Singaporean, explains Madam Yu.

After discussing the situation with her sisters-in-law, she opted to move her husband back to the Philippines, where hospital care is cheaper.

Parting with Mr Bernardo for the first time was excruciating for Madam Yu and her children.

She says: "Relocating with him was not an option as the children had to attend school."

It took Madam Yu another year to recover emotionally.

"From a high flier, I'd dropped to the pit.

"Ballroom dancing, horse-riding, golf, travel - I had to give up everything.

"I shut out everyone. I didn't want to talk to anyone, especially my friends. I sank into depression and wallowed in self-pity."

Madam Yu does not know exactly when she finally snapped out of her emotional limbo.

All she knows is that "one day, I told myself that if I didn't help myself, who is going to help me?"

She says: "Most importantly, how could I be so selfish and not think of our precious sons?"

Madam Yu reveals that both her mother, who died last year, and Mr Bernardo had repeatedly asked her to leave him.

She says: "'How could I?' I asked my mum.

"I asked myself, 'if this happened to me, how would I feel if he abandoned me?'"

Madam Yu has picked up the broken pieces and moved on.

She works from home as a beauty therapist and trainer. The arrangement allows her the flexibility to take care of her children.

But there was one other obstacle to clear - her lost confidence.

"Before this, everything was about the children. You just live your life for them."

Joining the Mrs Tourism competition gave her a new lease of life, particularly when she had the full support of her husband.

Says Madam Yu: "I spoke to him and he encouraged me to go for it. Once I made up my mind, I didn't leave it to luck to win. There was no room for a half-baked attempt.

"Suddenly, the Betty Yu of the past came back to life."

Madam Yu insists that she isn't exceptionally beautiful.

"As a woman, it's important to have confidence. The competition pressured me to look good. There was a goal to work towards," she says.

Madam Yu has also been picked to represent Singapore at the Mrs Asia International Pageant in Kuala Lumpur next month.

Madam Yu says: "If there's a tip for all mothers, I'd say it's important that you should not neglect your own well-being.

"And stay confident. Not only for yourself but for your children, who will then grow up to be confident adults."

This article was first published in The New Paper.


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At 51, mum of two looks years younger
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