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What is it like to have a twin?
by Eve Yap

When sisters Wong Shi Yun and Shi Li joined Deloitte Singapore as interns in December 2010, colleagues in the auditing firm did a double-take.

From their bangs to their slight frame - Shi Yun, at 163cm, is just 6cm taller - the 24-year-old identical twins look like two peas in a pod. They became audit associates in the company in September last year.

Says Shi Li, who is the younger by two minutes: "Twins are not that common and to top it off, twins working in the same company?"

Her observation is not wrong. Figures from the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2012, show that of the 42,663 babies born here last year, there were 1,121 twin births.

Little wonder, she says, they were initially deluged with questions such as "Who is the older one?", "Do you have any telepathy?" and "Did you ever try to trick friends into thinking you're the other twin?"

Shi Yun, who is usually the first to answer questions, says: "I normally tell them we are not that alike in appearance actually and that people can tell us apart because Shi Li is slightly smaller."

Still, people get confused, not least because the twins have a habit of chiming in together, saying things such as "Oh, yes" or "We think so".

The sisters live with their mum Alice Kay, 57, a housewife, in a three-room HDB flat in Bedok. Their father died of a heart attack when they were seven.

Twins interviewed say they share more similarities than dissimilarities. They often go to the same schools, pick the same university, travel together and share the same pool of friends.

While strangers treat them as novelty, do parents treat them as a package deal?

Human resource practitioner Angie Ong says she and her husband unconsciously treated their twin sons Kenneth and Nicholas Chew - now 22 - "as a package" when they were very young.

Her husband Philip Chew, is a regional legal counsel in an IT firm, and they are both in their 50s.

Ms Ong adds: "But we could tell from when they were 10 that they wanted to be treated as individuals."

They supported different football teams. Kenneth, who is studying environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore, is a Liverpool fan. Nicholas, studying business and environmental science at James Cook University in Australia, supports Manchester United.

It was when they were in Temasek Junior College, that each boy had his own sartorial style. Kenneth, the older brother by a minute, goes for functional attire with track shoes; while Nicholas chose more fashionable shirts with prints and pairs them with casual shoes, says Ms Ong.

Despite this, they are "more similar than different", says Ms Ong, as they share interests in jazz, cooking and sports, among others.

The couple also have a daughter Lesley, 14. The twins dote on her like a baby because of their eight-year age gap.

Ms Eunice Yap, senior clinical psychologist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's department of psychological medicine, says it is often tempting for parents to treat twins as a package due to "the ease and convenience it brings in caregiving".

Plus, there is the element of "cuteness" when parents dress the pairs in similar outfits, for instance.

"But it is best to consider twins as individuals as it allows room for personal growth and the development of self identity," she says.

The National Institute of Education's Assistant Professor Noel Chia Kok Hwee, of the Early Childhood and Special Needs Academic Group, says that identical twins develop from a "single zygote and have the same genome". But the environment plays a part in whether they stay the same.

For instance, the food they eat or the choice to dye their hair different colours render them "regular siblings and not part of a set of two".

Grades can also be the factor that differentiates twins. For instance, Shi Yun scored 241 for PSLE and went to Temasek Secondary School, while Shi Li scored 220 and attended Damai Secondary School.

Says Shi Yun with a laugh: "Mum wanted to put us in the same school. My grades could take me to my school, so I thought, 'Why not?'"

For male twins, national service may be when they are first separated. Pairs may be sent to different camps and hold different ranks. For instance, Kenneth and Nicholas were officers in different camps.

Unlike normal siblings, twins have to deal with more intense comparison and competition between them.

Says Ms Yap: "While their needs are mostly similar, growing up, if resources are insufficient, they will compete to gain the 'upper hand'."

For instance, to get more time on a bicycle they must share or work harder to get their parents' attention.

Such was Ms Kathi-Lyn Ong's childhood experience, she recalls.

Born one minute after her sister Kristi-Ann, the 23-year old relationship manager in wealth banking, says: "I felt that Kristi had more of my father's love and I had more of mum's love."

Kathi-Lyn cannot recall the details but says: "I was around 10 or 11 years old. It made me feel a bit jealous. I threw a tantrum one day while we were swimming in the pool at home."

They live in a bungalow in the Tanglin area with their paternal grandparents, parents and three younger siblings aged 22, 20 and 17.

While he cannot recall the tantrum, her father, lawyer Ong Kian Min, remembers taking her to a teppanyaki restaurant after school "around that time".

Mr Ong, 53, says: "The twins were of the same age and experienced the same life milestones at the same time. So this made treating them as individuals even more critical." His wife, Ms Joni Ong, 53, is a HR consultant and restaurateur.

While their parents do not pit them against each other, Kathi-Lyn says: "We compare ourselves."

Kristi-Ann, a corporate banking acquisition manager, says: "We want to be better for the other person."

For instance, Kristi-Ann influenced her sister to switch from her job in the food and beverage industry, where she was earning "three or four times less", to the finance sector.

Kathi-Lyn, on her part, thought one of her sister's boyfriends was "taking" more from her sister than he was giving and told her so. Her sister heeded her advice and split up with the man, whom they do not want to identify.

While most twins interviewed say they have each other's back, the same is not true for 10-year-old fraternal twins Nur Munirah Mohideen and Muhamad Mubarak Mohideen.

They are the younger of three children of housewife Norzaikha Ali, 34, and her 42-year-old husband, a personal assistant at a maid agency. They live in a four-room HDB flat in Haig Road.

One cannot get along with the other, says Madam Norzaikha.

Munirah, who is older by 21 minutes, "cannot stand it" when her brother kicks his football at home or invades her time or space when she is watching television.

Madam Norzaikha usually ticks off her son and adds: "She's a good girl. He disturbs her."

Mubarak does not understand the fuss and says: "I do it when I'm in the mood to disturb her."

Says Munirah: "Every day."

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