At its core, Esse has always been about celebrating women – the bustling, messy, beautiful lives that live in Esse. The connection to motherhood exists in many forms, but ultimately it shines brightest in those everyday moments of care, nurturing and love. This Mother’s Day we shine the spotlight on that special, unbreakable bond between mother and child with perspectives, experiences and stories of what makes this relationship extra special.
Normally, what you see on social media is not a pure reflection of relationships and narratives, but in this instance, it is, if not a window into their deep bond. Sweet, encouraging notes and photos occasionally pepper Kheng Hua and Shi-An’s Instagram feed, reflecting a special relationship they share as mother and child, an enviable friendship, a love that is one of a kind.
Kheng Hua, a veteran actress, recently relocated to Vancouver where she now pursues her acting career while being 12,813km away from Singapore, where her daughter, Shi-An is based. They speak candidly about their long-distance relationship and how Shi-An is forging her own path in the art of acting and performance, inspired by her mother’s journey.
Hi Kheng Hua and Shi-An, how would you describe your relationship with each other?
Kheng Hua: Precious. Unique. Natural. Easy. The thing I am most thankful for each day. The thing that brings out the best in me. The thing that gives me meaning and purpose. And joy. Deep joy. The sort of joy that makes human life truly exquisite and unlike any other creature on earth.
Shi-An: Even though we have quite different personalities, we have good chemistry and are complimentary in many ways. We are yin and yang! Although she is my mom, I see her very much as a friend and she is the first person I go to when I’m in need of help.
From left to right: Kheng Hua wears the Embrace Merino Cardigan in Burnt Caramel (NZ exclusive, enquire for availability) and Shi-An wears the Twist and Turn Toga Dress in Terracotta.
Happy Mother’s Day to you, Kheng Hua! How would you describe the role of being a mother, and how has that evolved, now that Shi-An has entered adulthood?
Kheng Hua: I have never really defined motherhood for myself. From the moment I knew I was pregnant until now, with Shi-An being 25, I have always from a very organic and natural way, taken care of her and gotten to know and enjoy her, not just as a mother, but as a person. And since this has always been my entry point to the relationship I have with my daughter, it has evolved in exactly the same way as it has from the day she entered my life (and womb). I am always curious about her. I always try to do right by her. I figure things out with her and for her. But I always, always enjoy her, no matter what age, as this person I have such a prolific, deep and joyous bond with. I am always actively engaged with her, no matter what age we are at, or where we are in the world or what it is we are doing.
What are some of the best takeaways/ words of advice you have been gifted with in this relationship with each other?
Kheng Hua: My innate curiosity about life and people has really helped me be the parent I want to be. And I daresay, am. My curiosity about Shi-An stops me from judging. Gives me patience. Helps me listen. Enables me to enjoy many aspects of her. I seldom parent her. I share her life with her as her biggest supporter, her closest confidant, her forever person who will always be there for her no matter what.
Shi-An: She always tells me to “shoot from all canons” or “seize every opportunity”, in other words. I feel like this motto truly encapsulates her tenacious spirit and it is highly motivating! My mom has a magic way of imparting advice. When my friends come over and she happens to be in Singapore, it usually ends up with them all sitting around the dining table, hanging onto my mom’s every word and they always have something useful to take-away from the conversation.
What are you most grateful to each other for?
Kheng Hua: I will always be grateful for her being my person. When the person you love the most also loves you greatly, and the both of you have a very healthy way of expressing and making that love work, it makes life so sweet and light and bright and fun. Shi-An gives me peace of mind and keeps my heart safe. These are everything.
Shi-An: I am so immensely grateful for the amount of support she has given me in my life. There have been so many moments in my studies or my career where I have felt inadequate but she has never put pressure on me or made me feel like I am not good enough. She makes sure I learn from my mistakes but she will not judge me, and that is something that I don’t take for granted. She is such a selfless mother and I thank god every day for her presence in my life.
From left to right: Kheng Hua wears the Rolled Neck Merino Jumper in Chartreuse (NZ exclusive, enquire for availability) and Shi-An wears the Modern Gypsy Trapeze Dress in Bone White.
What are some similar qualities that the both of you share?
Kheng Hua: We’re both very tenacious, hard-working, even tempered, we don’t sweat the small things, we like peace and calm, we love to travel and we love cats.
Shi-An: We love to organise fun get-togethers with our friends. Both of us like to host friends at home and make people feel happy. We are social creatures. Another big similarity we have is that we don’t like to spend money on luxury items or fancy meals. We are very “chin chai”.
Kheng Hua wears the Faux Wrap Shirt Dress in Pebble
How do you continue to stay in touch and build on your relationship especially over a long distance?
Kheng Hua: By believing and taking for granted that we are each other’s forever people. We just know nothing will break us, nothing will come between us. We continue to engage with each other, using different tools depending on where we are and what we are doing, and share is going on and what we are thinking about. There are no set rules except that I know she and I do whatever we can, in a very natural and non-pressurising way, to remind each other of the fact that we’re there for each other.
Shi-An wears the Twist and Turn Toga Dress in Terracotta
You’ve followed your mum’s footsteps to pursue acting and theatre, how has your mum’s journey and career inspired you over the years?
Shi-An: I’m very lucky to share this wonderful passion with both my parents. She has a beautiful gift and I love to watch her onstage and onscreen. Her career has been very rich and it reminds me that being an artist isn’t the dead-end that people in Singapore think it to be. Now that I have more acting jobs, I can talk to my mom more about her processes and approaches to the craft. I love those conversations.
Your hopes and wishes for your mum.
Shi-An: I just want her to be happy. No matter what she chooses to pursue next.
What is a term of endearment that the both of your share?
Kheng Hua: She calls me Mama and I call her Maah Maah. It’s strange, random but yeah, it is what it is.
Shi-An: This is so funny and weird but we both call each other “mama”. She calls me maah maah and I call her mama.
From right to left: Kheng Hua wears the Embrace Merino Cardigan in Burnt Caramel (NZ exclusive, enquire for availability) and Shi-An wears the Twist and Turn Toga Dress in Terracotta.
Please leave a short message for each other this Mother’s Day.
Kheng Hua: I have said this before and I’ll say it again. On Mother’s Day and everyday, I thank you for being your Mother.
Shi-An: My best friend, my idol, my mom - I LOVE YOU! You ceaselessly inspire me. Thank you for the wonderful life.
Special thanks to Kheng Hua and Shi-An for being a part of this interview, and our photographers for the feature, Tan Xinning and Kendell Dickinson.