When a then 19-year-old Hong Huifang began working at a bank, she was so bored with her job that she felt sleepy whenever she stepped into the office and had to seek refuge in the toilet to take 40 winks.
“I am not suited for a nine-to-five job,” the local actress, now 59, said of the administrative job.
She thought of switching to a sales job as she used to sell toys at a department store to supplement the family income, but in a twist of fate, a female colleague at the bank persuaded Hong to accompany her to try out for the artist drama training class at the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
In the end, it was Hong and not her colleague who was selected.
She continued her day job while she was taking the course, as she was not certain if she would be signed up as an artist.
“It was so tiring that I dozed off at the desk sometimes,” she told Chinese-language evening daily Lianhe Wanbao in a recent interview.
On Sunday, she won her first Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes award at the Star Awards ceremony.
A visibly emotional Hong could not believe she had won.
She blurted out on stage: “How can it be possible? I have attended the ceremony 25 times and have been nominated more than 10 times for this award.”
She said she had been thinking of awarding herself a Super Star Award after she was nominated 20 times. “I am really satisfied with this first award. I have not lived my life in vain,” she added.
It has been a long journey for someone whose home did not even have a television set at first. Hong recalled watching television at her neighbours’ house when she was young.
She disclosed to Wanbao that she earned $500 a month as a bank employee. She took home about $350 after the Central Provident Fund contributions and lived frugally on $150, giving her family $200.
She signed on as an artist after completing the drama course in 1984.
“When I started acting, the salary was not that high as I received $650 a month,” she recalled.
To save money, if filming ended after midnight, she slept in the resting room for the artists instead of taking a taxi home.
It was where – there were separate rooms for men and women – she met her future husband Zheng Geping, whom she married in 1993. The actor, named one of the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes on Sunday, turns 55 next month.
“Geping also slept in the resting room if he missed the bus services and that was how we met,” she said. The couple have two children.
Hong rose to fame after acting in the 1986 drama serial Samsui Women, and she was able to afford a car when she snagged gigs for commercials.
She has acted in other dramas such as Good Morning, Sir (1989), The Teochew Family (1995) and The Price Of Peace (1997), which won her Best Supporting Actress at the Star Awards.
She has also acted in movies such as The Maid (2005), the horror film directed by Kelvin Tong that also starred Chen Shucheng, and Grandma Positioning System (GPS), one of the seven works in the film anthology 7 Letters (2015). GPS was also directed by Tong.
What would Hong be doing now if she had not been selected for the artist drama training class back in the early 1980s?
She said she would probably be a waitress or go into sales.
“I can’t do the same thing all the time due to my personality,” she said. “I like to interact with different people and look at different things.”