Mother’s Day is coming up, and there’s probably going to be a slew of Mother’s Day related shows coming up on television. But before we look to Hollywood for examples of super hardcore mothers that can iron all your clothes faster than Iron Man can summon his iron suit, let’s look to Singapore.
We’ve had a lot of hardcore mothers that made us cry, simply because they were so memorable in how they would stop at nothing for their families. Here are 10 of the most memorable ones on screen.
1. Soo Mei (Wee Soon Hui) in “Growing Up”
Honestly, most of us didn’t remember her all that much until the legendary episode when she died. That one was a tearjerker, because it began with a crushing reminder of how old-fashioned and irrelevant Soo Mei seemed to her kids. Vicky (Irin Gan) even had a line where she said she didn’t want to grow up to be like her Ma.
Then a robber stabbed her for pendant and she eventually succumbed to her wounds.
Even back then, it couldn’t have been easy to bring up four children, but Soo Mei managed to do it despite all odds. Though Mr Tay (Lim Kay Tong) remarried, things were never quite the same again.
2. Min Yi (Vanessa Vanderstraaten) in “Lion Moms”
Min Yi might be young, but she’s also a single mom who brought up her child all by herself while working part-time jobs. If you’ve ever rented a room or raised a child in Singapore, you’ll know how prohibitively expensive either endeavour is. She not only managed to do both, but she also had time to pursue a love life while she was at it.
Of course, things aren’t going to go so smoothly for her when “Lion Moms” comes back for its second season…
3. Ah Ma (Neo Swee Lin) in “Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd”
Again, appearances can be deceptive. She’s a wacky old woman in a sitcom, but she’s still making desserts by hand even after raising two boys. Ask any mother and they’ll tell you that raising a boy is a much bigger headache than raising a girl. Not only that, Ah Ma even went on to pursue a relationship with a lover (the in-story reason for leaving the show in Season 4).
Neo Swee Lin’s husky voice did give Ah Ma a bit of an edge too, when we think about it.
4. Lydia Lum (Lydia Shum) in “Living with Lydia”
Her backstory was rather convoluted (with really awkward chunks of exposition in the first episode), but it turns out that she was a disgraced restauranteur from Hong Kong who had to relocate to Singapore with her two teenager children. To compound matters, Lydia was also a widow, which meant that she was raising two kids by herself.
Migrating to another country is tough enough. But to have to adapt to an entire new set of business circumstances (remember, she opens restaurants, and that meant she had to cater to Singapore tastes) while raising two teenage kids (who were going through puberty) by herself meant that behind all those laughs, Lydia was one tough momma. And she had a brief dalliance with Phua Chu Kang in the 70’s, too, as seen in the episode above.
Rest in peace, Lydia Shum. We’ll always remember your loud, boisterous laughter.
5. Zhao Di (Aileen Tan) in “Long Long Time Ago” and “Long Long Time Ago 2”
Unwanted by her husband (she was the second wife) and oppressed by her chauvinistic father and brother, Zhao Di was a longsuffering mother who had to give up her newborns so that they would have a better life. While that might be an alien concept to us in this day and age, it was a very feasible reality of that era. Imagine giving up your children so that they would have a better life. They would never know or love you, but at least they would not suffer as much.
Even though she gave up her children, her maternal instincts still shone through in how she took care of her family and ensured that they had money to survive. Zhao Di’s children might not remember her, but we’ll always remember her heartwrenching sacrifice.
6. Terry (Angeli Bayani) from “Ilo Ilo”
This might hit a sore spot for many families, but in a way, a domestic helper is virtually a mother to some children. They’re always there for them, and they love them as much, or even more, as they would their own children. Just like Terry in “Ilo Ilo”, who was there for Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) through his family’s troubles. She bathed him, took care of him, and in the end… she had to leave him.
We’re still wiping away a tear from our eye at that farewell scene.
7. Teacher Aiyoyo (Chen Liping) from “Good Morning, Sir! (早安老师)”
For many children, teachers can sometimes be as close as mothers. After all, they can literally be spending more time with the student, thanks to the way our stressful education system works. So it makes sense that Teacher Aiyoyo would be on our list. She helped out her students as if they were her own offspring. As any teacher can tell you, that is a recipe for burnout. However, she persevered on, and eventually returned in her very own TV series in 2003.
8. Tianlan (Xiang Yun) in “The Little Nyonya (小娘惹)”
Tianlan was the mother of Ju Xiang and the grandmother of Yueniang (both played by Jeanette Aw), the eponymous Nyonya of the series. She was the subservient second mistress of the family, forced to bear this designation to cover up the fact that she was raped by the patriarch of the household.
Tianlan was another longsuffering mother who endured hardship and humiliation for the sake of her children. The scene where she repeatedly kowtows to Guihua (Lin Meijiao) was one of the most painful ones to watch, where she bows to the point of making her head bleed.
9. Mrs Wong (Audrey Luo) in “Our Sister Mambo”
Raising boys might be difficult, but in our Asian society, raising girls means worrying about a whole other set of problems. Mrs Wong had to raise four girls by herself, and being a traditional, superstitious mother, she was, of course, worried about whether they will eventually find spouses for themselves.
As a result, she frequently takes to praying a temples for her children. But this is really just a coping mechanism for the stress that she feels in having to raise so many kids. Deep down, you know she’s secretly worried about empty nest syndrome.
10. Tan Geok Neo (Margaret Chan) in “Masters of the Sea” and “Masters of the Sea: Troubled Waters”
Finally, we have the matriarch to end all matriarchs, Tan Geok Neo herself. She’ll forever be remembered for proclaiming that she will “crush her enemies like a cockroach”, and then “crushing her enemies like two cockroaches” in the sequel series.
She may have been hokey, but we had no doubt that she would resort to any means to safeguard her family’s fortunes and lives. We wouldn’t want to mess with a real life version of her, that’s for sure.
Which other Singapore screen mothers did you think was hardcore?
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.
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