updated 26 May 2012, 13:50
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Wed, Mar 21, 2012
Simply Her
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Moving forward
by Azlinda Said

Michelle Chia's famous long tresses have been chopped off. Yes, those lovely locks that made her such a memorable Lux shampoo ambassador are gone. She now sports shoulder-length hair for her upcoming drama in April, Pillow Talk. She's excited about her new look; the last time she had short hair was when she was in school. "This is a big step for me," she exclaims. "It took a lot of courage for me to say yes to cutting my hair; I'd always wanted to go back to having short hair, but there was no motivation for me to do so until now."

Perhaps the new look is also meant to be a cathartic change for her, given her recent divorce from husband and fellow artiste, Shaun Chen? She admits with a laugh: "I would love to say that it is. But no, I had to do it purely for work."

But Michelle is still recognisable no one can miss those lovely big eyes and dimpled smile. And being recognised on the street is something the friendly actress is used to, and enjoys.

However, there are days when she's in an 'off' mode "We (celebrities) are like any other normal person; we have mood swings, too. But when we wear a blank face, it doesn't mean we are unfriendly."

Michelle is well aware of how everything she does is under scrutiny, much like her televised May 2009 wedding to Shaun, now 33, a year after they registered their marriage and their subsequent divorce. No detail was left unexplored; the media and fans speculated on what went wrong; there was even talk of infidelity and financial problems.

The photogenic pair first met in 2004, on the set of the Channel U drama Power of Love and dated for four years before tying the knot. When talk of their marriage hitting the rocks first surfaced in the media in October 2010, the couple denied it. Michelle did admit the pair had 'some problems' but she insisted they 'were still trying'. Six months later, it was official: The fairy-tale union was over.

Michelle says her divorce will be finalised by February and now, she's eager to put it all behind her. "Being constantly discussed is making things very hard for us to leave the past behind us. We both want to start anew and hopefully, have a fair chance in doing so."

Lessons of the heart

She adds: "I don't think this (failed marriage) means I'm a failure. It's a pity the relationship cannot continue, but I treat it as one of life's lessons." In previous media interviews, Michelle had cited 'personality differences' as the cause of her divorce, not 'monetary problems', 'difficult family members' or a 'third party'. She had explained then that both hers and her ex-husband's pace of life and lifestyle habits were not similar, something she declines to elaborate on.

She muses that from this marriage and the other relationships she has had, she's learnt that loving someone takes a lot of hard work. "When you fall in love, you do it effortlessly. But you need a lot of effort to continue to keep that love alive. You can't have one without the other."

She points out the importance of learning how to compromise and communicate. "When you know you are lacking in a particular trait and you want to improve on it, make sure you do something about it. Ultimately, love is a two-way street both parties have to try to make it work."

Michelle admits that given her accommodating nature, she tends to alter her personality to suit her partner a trait which she feels might not have her served her too well. "When I get to know someone, I would try to change myself to fit the other person's needs or preferences, and make him happy. But I've come to realise that this is not the best way to do things, because you will feel tired of pretending. As it is, my job is to pretend to be someone else every day. So in real life, I just want to be myself."

So what is the real Michelle like in a relationship? "I'm a giver," she says. "I like giving my man surprises, like leaving little notes to cheer him up when he is feeling down. I'm also an encouraging partner. I tend to look at the positive side of things and be his shoulder to cry on. But of course, I have my 'damsel in distress' moments, when I just want him to sayang me.

She declares she has not given up on love, but is not dating anyone at the moment. "It's very hard to describe in words how I feel right now. I will need time to heal. At times, it's very difficult to see friends getting married or couples with lasting marriages. But I hope that one day, I can have that again, too."

Her support system

Michelle credits her vast support system for helping her through her heartbreak. "My family and friends were very supportive. That was the most important thing to me during those tough times Ð to hear my family and friends say they would be there for me."

Her family's reaction to her troubles wasn't surprising, seeing how closely knit they are. "My mum is like my closest girlfriend. When I'm on the phone with her, I get very manja, so much so that others think I'm talking to my boyfriend!" she says with a laugh.

But as much as her parents play Aunt Aggie, Michelle says they've never interfered in her life. "They were strict but they gave me a lot of space," she points out, sharing that her family is very affectionate. She and her brother, who is four years younger, used to run out to greet their father by kissing him when he got home from work.

Michelle also drew strength from strangers on the street who would say things like: "My family loves you," and "We're behind you." She elaborates: "They treated me like a friend. I don't know them and yet they were so sweet and supportive. For that, I'm really grateful and thankful."

Her career

The affinity that strangers have with her may stem from the fact that Michelle literally grew up in front of our eyes. It began when her dad's friend needed children to star in a television commercial and persuaded Michelle's father to send his daughter, then six, to the casting call.

Growing up in front of the camera has resulted in her making numerous friends with the crew members, some of whom have been with Michelle since she was a tiny star. As such, her time at work feels like being 'at home'.

Due to the kinship that Michelle shares with people at work, it is no wonder they respected her privacy and left her alone during the divorce. "In the beginning, every time I went to work, I was worried people would ask me many questions about the break-up. But they didn't. They looked me straight in the eye, and asked me only once: "Are you okay?" When I said: "Yes, I am alright, they nodded and carried on with their work. These were very simple gestures, yet they were so sincere," Michelle says.

Michelle's upcoming project Pillow Talk revolves around four married couples (she and co-star Thomas Ong play one). The show, inspired by the best-selling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, explores issues like communication breakdown in a marriage. Michelle plays a tiger mum, someone who stresses over getting the best for her children.

She's taken away something from the drama. She says: "For one, there can't be two individuals in a relationship. You need two halves to become one whole, to form a solid partnership. I've also realised the importance of not miscommunicating with my other half. This is something I'll remember for future relationships. But I know things are easier said than done."


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