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Tay Ping Hui On Working In China: “I Stay In The Better Hotels And Fly Business Class All The Time.”

He also talks about the harsh filming conditions, ying-yang contracts, the Great Firewall of China and how being there has humbled him.

He also talks about the harsh filming conditions, ying-yang contracts, the Great Firewall of China and how being there has humbled him.

He also talks about the harsh filming conditions, ying-yang contracts, the Great Firewall of China and how being there has humbled him.

Before we begin, Tay Ping Hui has a disclaimer to make: In no way am I belittling the Singapore market. It’s just the nature of it so it can't be helped, he says during a chat with, where he calls the Chinese showbiz scene an “ocean” compared to Singapore's “ little pond”.

You would know by now that the 48-year-old actor has been working in China for the past one-and-a-half years and since his big move there, he's been involved in four dramas, including Chinese period epic Handsome Siblings and most recently, Brave Heart 2, where he plays an anti-Japanese spy.

1 of 13 Brows on point

And TPH shows no signs of slowing down. The actor has projects in China lined up until 2020. Talk about being hot stuff.

And boy, does he have a lot to say about his experiences working in China. Throughout our 45-minute chat, the charming Ping Hui gave us tons of insight into his daily life there, where he says, on a busy day, means waking up at 3am and working till late at night the next day.

“Totally lost already, right?” he pauses to check up on us as he rambles on about the dramas he has done in China in Mandarin. It's clear that Ping Hui is very passionate about China, judging from the effusive praise he has for their working style and their treatment of artistes. “We just turn up on set, and act. The work may be tough, but our welfare is the number one priority and they really take good care you, he says.

2 of 13 Ping Hui in Fearless

But Ping Hui, who is back in town for some R&R and will be going back China at the end of this month, also tells us that “Singapore will always be home”. He also isn’t ruling out the possibility of acting in another local drama. His voice perks up when we ask if he would accept a role in Kin, which he admits to watching despite his busy schedule. So Kin producers, maybe consider casting Mr Tay?

3 of 13 Ping Hui taking a break on set

8 DAYS: What is it about China that is so attractive to you?
TAY PING HUI: The industry is dynamic and there are opportunities abound. China’s a thousand times bigger. The types of shows and dramas are way more diverse. For example, Singapore will never have a full-on period-action drama. The remuneration is also dramatically different. Also, a single TV station would have a hundred million people watching. Most importantly, it’s much, much, more competitive in China, because you’re only as good as your last project.

And how does Singapore compare to that?
I think Singapore is a very protected place, like a little pond. Very sanitised, very clinical, and limited, simply because of the nature and size of the market. Whereas China is the ocean where there are a lot of predators, prey… People “die” all the time… But if you become the primary predator, you can achieve a lot of things and “eat” a lot of stuff. The water may not necessarily be clean, and there’s the very deep end of the ocean where you will not survive if you’re not a deep sea animal.

  • 4 of 13 Horsing around

    How are filming conditions there like?
    Harsh. Difficult. You shoot long hours, and work is hard. I’ve got to fight [in the dramas] and do things I've never done before. There’s a lot of wire work for stunts and on-the-spot tutoring going on. We don’t have the luxury of training for months before a role. When you go on set, the stunt coordinator will just teach you there and then and there’s an expectation for you to be able to immediately replicate what was just conveyed to you. The travelling time between places is also long and the environment is not exactly fantastic, but you’ll just need to deal with that. Actors are treated extremely well there, though. In a nutshell, all we need to do is act. We absolutely don't need to worry about make-up and wardrobe. We just turn up on set, and act.

    Exactly how well are you treated there?
    I stay in the better hotels and fly Business Class all the time, because they provide it for me. Unless Business Class is not available, then bo pian lah. (Laughs) On set, I get treated very well. Everyone is very kind to me. There’s also a special tentage area set up for us actors to rest in between takes too.

    5 of 13 Ancient Chinese Deliveroo?

    Did you experience any culture shock when you first moved there?
    Not really. I’m also not a spoilt brat, so I just adapt to their culture. I believe that everyone should integrate into the country instead of expecting their people to accommodate to you. I have a China bank account, contact number, and I use all their apps… I love Taobao! (Laughs) Everything was refreshing and different, but by no means was I shocked.

    What has been the most memorable thing about working in China?
    The relationships I’ve built with the people I’ve worked with. Oh, and the weather, definitely. The weather is the most memorable. When it’s hot, it’s like f*****g hot, but when it’s cold, it’s f*****g cold. The weather gets to me. (Laughs)

    6 of 13 Sitting on the throne

    Is working in China a bid for you to gain more exposure and in turn, become more famous?
    I didn't look at it that way. I have fame in Singapore. I was making good money and was comfortable in Singapore, but I didn't really enjoy being in the public eye all the time. I’m a very private person. You don’t see anyone exposing what I do in public and what not. I’ve always been very low-key, so for me, the prospect of going to China and have eight million people recognise me wasn’t very enticing. However, I’ve had a strong desire for the past 10 years to do something different and bigger, therefore I decided to venture into China. In no way am I belittling the Singapore market. It’s just the nature of it so it can't be helped. I personally wanted to experience being on a bigger production that is much more intense and diverse.

    You mentioned remuneration earlier. So how much more money do you make now?
    Not gonna answer that! (Laughs) But what I can say is that the remuneration on a whole is better, but it also depends on which part of the food chain you’re on. But yes, you can potentially make much more there.

  • 7 of 13 The grass is greener on the other side

    The Chinese government has started clamping down on the exorbitant amount of money actors are getting paid. Have you been affected by that?
    I think everyone is affected to a certain extent. But if you look at it positively, this whole exercise rooted out some companies and individuals that were unhealthy for the industry, so it’s pretty much like putting in some antibiotics and destroying some viruses. The industry will recover because it’s always growing and growing. It is a good correction.

    Have you had any experience with double (or yin-yang) contracts, which we all know brought down Fan Bingbing?
    I think [ying-yang contracts] have been around for awhile. I’m not sure how many people are involved and I don’t know anyone who has those contracts so I can’t comment because I don’t know how deep the penetration is.

    8 of 13 Ping Hui plays a spy in Brave Heart 2

    How has your experience in China changed you?
    {Ponders) I’ve been adequately humbled in China. I’ve learnt that there’s a bigger, rougher, meaner and more dangerous world out there, and that there are a lot of things we think we know, but we actually don’t. There is no reason for us to be arrogant, because anything we can do, others can do as well. I also realised and learnt that a lot of self-righteousness spans from ignorance. Singapore has a lot of learn from other countries and we should never look down on anyone. By going through this experience, I’ve grown and my eyes have been opened wider. I think I came back a much more fulfilled and educated actor.

    Earlier, you talked about your busy schedule. So how often do you get breaks from work?
    I didn't keep count, but my contract states how many hours I can work in a single day, which also translates to them giving you only the minimum hours of rest. (Laughs) But they can’t work you like a dog 'cos it's in the contract. There are also short bursts of time where I had to work a lot, but that's not really an issue for me lah. But if you’re talking about proper rest, then yes, I do definitely get a lot of those.

    9 of 13 He ain't no Wall flower

    So what do you do on your days off?
    Nothing, I just go back to my room and sleep. (Laughs) ​​

    Right. So where in China have you travelled to so far?
    For filming, I’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai, Lanzhou… Lots of places! Of course, I haven’t visited most of China. It’s too big! (Laughs) Even if I spend the next one to two years travelling China, I still wouldn’t dare to say I’ve been to most parts. My favourite places for history, culture and arts would be Beijing, but if you’re talking about fashion, finance, e-commerce, it would be Shanghai.

    10 of 13 Barking hungry

    What do you think about the food there, and did you crave for Singaporean food?
    Chinese food is okay for me, but of course, I miss Singapore food. There's nothing in the world like home in terms of food. Singapore is a cauldron of culinary experiences. When I was there, I missed carrot cake a lot.

  • 11 of 13 Is that a giant sword or are you really happy to see me?

    Since you are always in China, how do you and your wife handle being in a long distance relationship?
    The same way I handle my relationships with everyone I’m close to. In this day and age, technology makes it a lot easier. In the past, where there was just IDD, you’d have to pay thousands of dollars just to make a f*****g phone call, but now, with social media, staying in touch has become very easy and cost-effective. With WiFi everywhere, it becomes free. I try to call my loved ones as often as possible. Kudos to technology! (Laughs)

    Speaking of technology, you always seem active on Instagram. Isn’t that blocked in China?
    Yah lah… The Great Firewall of China...

    So you use a VPN?
    Of course, of course! (Laughs) I like to be able to communicate with my people in Singapore, and Instagram and Facebook are important channels I use. VPNs are safer anyway, I can protect my data from hackers. You should try to use a VPN, too! (Laughs) ​​​​​​​

    12 of 13 Ping Hui with Jesseca Liu and Yahui during the filming of Ch 8's Babies On Board

    So what are you doing back in Singapore this time?
    I'm back here to rest and when the next project comes along, I’ll go [back to China]. I’ll just take whatever time I have left and enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve worked pretty much non-stop so far, so I really need to rest and recharge.

    What are your plans for the future?
    I’m looking at a couple of projects that would require me to take on a director’s role. I would definitely love to stay in the industry for the next six years, until I’m 55. I’m always looking to expand my portfolio too.

    13 of 13 TPH as the selfish and arrogant Peter Tay in Tanglin

    You've expressed interest in acting in local dramas again.
    If the timing permits and the script is right, I don't mind coming back! (Laughs)

    We know you really liked your role as Peter Tay in Ch 5's Tanglin, would you be interested in being on Kin?
    That would be so cool! (Laughs) To be honest, I think I should go back as Peter Tay. If you look at what’s happening in Kin, I think Peter Tay belongs to that world. It would be quite a blast if I could return. I love Tanglin and I absolutely loved working with everyone on that show. It’s a big, happy family, and I hope that Kin is an extension of Tanglin. (Laughs) I watched a couple of episodes when I was in Singapore, and I really liked it! So if you asked me, yeah, of course I’d take up a role in Kin!

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