Exclusive Interview with Teddy Tang: On losing 40kg and pulling through anxiety and insomnia

(photo courtesy of Teddy Tang)

Standing at 1.88 metres and weighing in at a lean 72 kilograms, actor-model Teddy Tang wears many hats. For someone who grew up plus-sized and broke chairs on which he sat, he has dedicated an inordinate amount of effort to get to where he is today.

A bilingual host who was crowned champion of 2012’s local talent-scouting competition, Hey Gorgeous, Teddy has appeared in some local dramas: Channel 5’s Tanglin, Channel 8’s Dream Coders, You Can Be An Angel 2 and Hero.

He co-hosted Closet Secrets, a fashion variety show, with veteran host Quan Yi Feng. Tang has walked the runway for Fendi, Issey Miyake and Dior in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has also appeared in the commercials and print ads of brands such as Samsung, Hyundai, Gucci and American Express in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. His modelling portfolio includes gigs like the Timberland Fashion Show, Adidas shows in Taiwan and China, and editorial shoots for Esquire and GQ Taiwan. He was also a guest on popular Taiwanese variety programmes such as Genius Go GoGo, GTV Delicious and Travel Cheering Squad, where he takes part in games and discusses societal issues with other guests.

These are great achievements and proud accolades for Teddy who once weighed in at 105 kilograms as a teen and had to tailor all his uniforms to fit a 40-inch waist. He successfully lost 40kg by dieting and exercising over 1 and a half years.

Teddy is signed to Catwalk, one of Taiwan’s top talent agencies that has local power couple Fann Wong and Christopher Lee and Taiwanese model-actress Lin Chi-ling and Tiffany Ann Hsu in its stable of artistes. He also had the chance to rub shoulders with A-list celebrities such as Zhou Xun and Fan Bing Bing. He also dreams of collaborating with local veterans Wong and Lee in the near future.

Signed without an audition, he met the agency’s manager over a dinner in January 2015 and was offered a five-year contract shortly after. Teddy’s exotic and pan-asian good looks are inherited from a Taiwanese mother and a Singaporean Chinese father with Dutch and Japanese blood, making him unforgettable after appearing on TV screens.

1) Share with us the school activities you took part in while studying Mechanical and Aerospace engineering at NTU. How did you get acquainted with modelling while studying?

I was involved in the leisure team for tennis and volleyball. I played them constantly with my friends. As I did not stay in the halls, I would bunk in with my friends occasionally to get a feel of the hall experience.

Initially, I wanted to be a doctor and even got accepted into the medical school at Shanghai Fudan University. However, I realised I was not cut out for it when I took an opportunity to experience hospital life. I freaked out when I saw the mess in a hospital and how blood was everywhere. You need to be able to look at dead corpses, face losses, deaths and accidents in the emergency rooms.

I realised that I did not want to spend five years in a medical school only to regret later that it was not suitable for me. Thus, I decided to study engineering instead. I was stronger in the sciences anyway. I know that engineering is a very versatile degree and engineers are extremely adaptable.

I felt like I was just taking a safer route. My dad was an architectural engineer and he was willing to offer me help and guidance.

I did manufacturing at the Coca-Cola company in my internship during one of my undergraduate semesters. There was a lot of procedures to follow and I learnt that it was not good to cut corners. The best part of the internship was learning how things can go wrong when we do not follow the proper protocols. The worst part of the internship was that we had a lot of good food for our meals and we put on a lot of weight!

I also did relief teaching after A levels, as I wanted to see if I could be a teacher. I was teaching at Henderson Secondary School, and I taught almost everything. I was also a waiter for two months as I wanted to try out the waitering experience. I was curious to know how it was like in customer service. I wanted to be a positive influence to young people.

In NTU I was the champion for Hey, Gorgeous and was later scouted by a manager from a modelling agency; they asked if I was interested in modelling. Since I had spare time to kill I thought to myself why not since the opportunity would allow me to gain experience and some allowance for myself. I also had to learn how to manage my time well, to juggle and compromise during examination times and when I am less busy. Or do more modelling jobs during the holidays.

The most memorable part of my modelling gigs was my very first fashion show at the Orchard fashion show. I was quite nervous as it was my first show since signing the contract. Throughout the whole stretch of Orchard road, my face was stern-looking as I was told that I had to look fierce. My family was wondering what happened to me as I looked so fierce. I wanted to get it over and done with. The least memorable or the worse experience was when I was in Taipei, when I had to prepare for winter outfits for the esquire magazine. As we had to do it during summer, the temperature at Dan Shui was boiling and I had to wear so many knitted layers. Perspiration was tricking down my whole face. My clothes were wet as I was perspiring all over. It was not the best experience, but it is part and parcel of my job.

2) What is your greatest takeaway from school life?

I did enjoy studying engineering and my time at NTU. The greatest takeaway would be the friends that I made. Being in university is something like being in a miniature working society. As I enjoyed making friends, I would always be the one to organise an outing together with the rest of my tutorial classmates. The whole tutorial class would go for movies together. We also had to take other electives and through these I made a lot of friends from different faculties.

I appreciated that I got to meet different people from different backgrounds and learnt to mingle with different people. These are the friends who will support me through my life. I remember taking up a module called “Magical Voices” and had singing lessons and sung at the faculty of ADM.

3) Growing up, did you have a role model you looked up to?

My role models in my life are my dad and mom. My dad is an extremely hardworking person and he stayed in the same job throughout his time. He was in his company for 30 to 40 years and was well-respected by all. He taught me not to give up. They weren’t born with a silver spoon and had to work very hard for social mobility. Life is going to be difficult, but you just have to persevere till you succeed and not let yourself down in the process, He taught me to never give up and he always gave the best to his children. This was how I soldiered on when I faced challenges in my engineering studies, I remembered that I must never give up.

My mom has the biggest heart. She’s the kind of person who will buy tissues from elderly at public places. She is very kind and does a lot of charity work. She helps people whenever she can. What goes around comes around. She believes in selfless giving – doing good without expecting anything in return.

4) What are your hobbies?

I like to play a lot of sports, like polo, swimming, bowling, tennis and volleyball. I like to watch movies in my free time and enjoy learning lessons from movies through their plot development. The movie, “La La Land” is a very simple plot telling you that in some point in your life you will have to make a decision that will have different outcomes.

My favourite movie is Titanic! There are different classes in Titanic and the different forms of entertainment and treatment they receive due to their class differences. It is like a miniature society that portrayed what different social classes faced in real life.

I like to travel to different countries to look, feel and experience too. I fell in love with India even though I had diarrhoea. I especially like to experience the culture of the different places, live the life of the locals, do as the Romans do, and understand their cultures and traditions. It makes me realise how fortunate we are in Singapore with good sanitation and clean water, clean environment and efficient roads. This is despite it being so stressful in Singapore.

5) How was it for you having to fight anxiety and insomnia in your early days in the media industry? How did you cope? How are you now?

As I was alone in Taipei, for work back then, I had very high expectations of myself. I wanted to be successful quickly, in the shortest possible time. But I kept getting rejected in the first six months when I went for casting. I kept receiving poor responses, despite having worked with big brands in Hong Kong. I never expected to be jobless in Taiwan and not getting through the castings. I kept thinking if it was because I was not good enough and questioned myself every single day to find out what was wrong. I was getting upset and easily emotional, not the typical happy person that I was. I realised something was not right, and the negative vibes did not go away. So, I decided to see a psychologist, and the doctor found that I had insomnia and anxiety. I was prescribed some medication to cope.

I was living in a vicious cycle where I slept in the wee hours of four to six in the morning and would wake up at ten in the morning.I felt very lethargic after taking the medication and started opening up by talking to my mother and friends in Singapore. They would talk to me through Skype and supported me during that period. With the help of all my close friends and family, I was out of medication within two to three months and picked myself up instead of wallowing in self-pity. I went to the gym regularly and practiced acting diligently. I started exercising and eating healthily and things started picking up. I was subsequently offered more jobs and my confidence came back. Things became smoother for me. I took classes for modelling and managed to pull through difficulties.

From this episode, I learnt that things will get better if we stay positive and have positive mindset. On hindsight, I realised that companies might be more comfortable with regular faces instead of new faces. They might not be confident if I was up to the job. It is thus important to have a positive mindset.

6) Where do you see yourself five to ten years’ down the road? Join Mediacorp full-time? Or host the next edition of Hey Gorgeous to spot the next talent?

I want to be on the bigger screens playing the role of a Marvel superhero.

When I am a better actor, I want to be involved in Netflix. They have very good productions and a strong cast for their interesting projects. On the international stage, I want to be on Netflix original.

I constantly try to upgrade myself as I feel that self-improvement is so important. I can’t emphasise that enough. We always need to find ways to better ourselves and learn new skills. Learning never stops. When I was in Taiwan I was always on variety shows, and you must be able to speak fluent mandarin wittingly. I would always find ways to improve my Chinese.

7) What kind of attributes do you look for in a partner?

I would appreciate if she could be understanding towards my career in terms of being able to withstand the stress of being seen in public with me and have a big loving heart.

I want to be based in Singapore and fly to countries for projects. I want to be more established in my career, so that I can still call Singapore home when I fly overseas for projects. Just like Fann Wong and Christopher Lee. I enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephews as they are living with me right now. I want to be involved in my kids’ life as much as possible.

8) What advice do you have for young undergraduates who are still looking for their meaning, purpose and calling in life?

It is common to feel lost. Don’t choose what you want to do based on how much monetary rewards your career will give you, because you will never be happy in the long-term. Try out different work stints in different fields and give yourself time to learn and choose. In every stage of your life, you will feel lost for a while. If you rush for things to happen, you may get blinded by the race.

Take your time, breathe and don’t choose things based on what it can offer you. Every job can give you a comfortable life as long as you can excel in it. Take the initiative and do an internship or part-time job and discover your calling. Take me for a living example, I never knew that I would become a model in this industry. In the blink of an eye, I have been in the media scene for ten years.

9)What is one thing you will tell your past self and future self?

To my past self: Always stay humble, treasure whatever you have.

To my future self: Your family and friends are the most important in your life. Regardless of how successful or famous you are, like the next Andy Lau, you must be humble. You must never lose your family and friends or lose yourself as these are the people who will stand by you and support you.

10) What is one quote you live by in your life?

It is from the movie, “Kung Fu Panda”: Yesterday is the history, today is a gift, and tomorrow is mystery. That’s why today is called the present.

I want to live my life to the fullest every day. Don’t worry about tomorrow as we will never know what is going to happen. Choose to indulge in fulfilling activities and always be happy.

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