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Keeping love alive for five decades of marriage


FEW may realise it, but one sweet Valentine is an evergreen Malaysian celebrity, 78-year-old Lai Meng of Empat Sekawan fame, who, although lost her husband six months ago, still has a lot of fond memories of him.  

They say old wine gets sweeter, and Lai is one such person who believes in the institution of marriage. While romance is a beautiful thing, faithfulness is what gave her 50 years of marital bliss.  

This is the secret she wants to share with many a young Valentine couple this year. It is the secret of how she managed to keep her marriage to her late husband Inspector S.P. Yap alive for five decades, and how she maintains her youthful looks despite the stresses of an acting career.  

Fond memories: Lai Meng reminiscing her heyday with several old pictures
Better known as Meng Yee, the veteran actress who is well loved for her many roles in various Chinese sitcoms, says she believes by divulging her two secrets, she would be able to leave a legacy that will help other Malaysians enjoy a better quality of life.  

“After all, I have run the race of life,” she says.  

“I am reaching the finishing line. There is a lot to life that I have learnt, and I am happy to share the secrets if that can help my countrymen, who have grown up with us as true Malaysians.” 

When she talks about quality of life, she does not necessarily mean material wealth or possessions, but two aspects of life that most people crave for. 

Still having very fond memories of the late Yap, who passed away on July 1 last year, at the age of 80, the bubbly Lai Meng, describes him in just one word: 'gentleman.’  

“He was a very quiet man who never showed his temper,” she said.  

“He was always supportive of the things that I was doing.” 

Perhaps, her only regret is that Yap had never once said to her or the children, “I love you.”  

“That was not his way,” she says.  

“Much as I wish he had said it, you can’t expect him to be like many other husbands. Yet, deep down in our hearts, we know he cared a lot for the children and me.  

“He wasn’t very handsome, but what was more important to me is that he was a good man at heart.” 

What was her secret in keeping the marriage relationship strong over five decades?  

She puts on her iconic smile, and offers her advice to struggling young couples: “Well, if you know that a quarrel is brewing, both sides have to just talk a little less, and things will cool down.”  

In a relationship, she says, there must always be a give-and-take attitude, and both husband and wife must be tactful in the way they talk to each other.  

“Without those values, how can two persons live together for so long? I have always believed in being able to forgive and forget, sometimes, even appearing as if I was the one who had lost out to my husband,” she says.  

“It takes a strong character to be willing to lose, in order to win back your husband’s heart.” 

Between her and her husband, whenever there was a quarrel, both of them would put up a cold war; the husband would just sit and read the newspapers, and not even say a word. 

“But he knew my weakness,” Lai smiles. “After two or three days, when I saw he was keeping to himself, I would strike a conversation or make him a cup of coffee. Thereafter, we would start talking again.” 

Maybe, that’s the reason why the compassionate Lai Meng is famous for her favourite catch phrase, “Yen Wong” (which means, “so pitiful”, in Hakka). She would take pity of her husband’s loneliness and give in.  

“I do not think I appear young,” she laughs. “Perhaps, the only reason for me staying young is simply to take life easy and mingle around with colleagues and friends after work,” she says.  

These days, in her semi-retirement, Meng Yee spends most of her leisure time looking after her grandchildren. Browsing through the old family albums, she begins to tell stories about her heyday as an actress. 

Hailing from Belut, Johor, Lai Meng often recalls Empat Sekawan, a popular Chinese sitcom in the early 60s through 80s, had started, with the encouragement from RTM’s then Chinese programme manager, Loong Heng Woon, who first approached them to do the TV show.  

When television was first introduced in the sixties, Empat Sekawan was among first local television progammes introduced in 1966 and lasted well over two decades until it ended in 1988.  

It featured the daily life and times of four local veteran artistes, Hoi Yong, who, on his demise in the early 70s was replaced by Tan Ah Chek (also passed away two years ago), the late Wong Hor, Hon Ying and Lai Meng. Only Lai Meng and Hon Ying are still alive.  

Wong Ho and Hon Ying, often appearing as husband and wife, spoke Cantonese, while Hoi Yong conversed in Hokkien, and Lai Meng, although her mother tongue is Cantonese, often appeared as a Hakka-speaking young lady early in the series.  

Their friendship dated back to as early as 1949, when Lai Meng, Hon Ying, Hoi Yong and Wong Ho were already singing and acting at BB Park in Jalan Bukit Bintang, a former popular nightspot where Sungei Wang Plaza is currently located.  

The team would travel as far as Penang and Singapore, and to places like Ipoh, Malacca, Batu Pahat and Muar to perform at nightspots. Between 1952 and 1989, they were also a hit among Chinese radio listeners doing mainly comic skits on RTM’s Chinese radio channel.  

Lai Meng later joined HVD in 1992, and was on a very hectic schedule until recently.  

“I still hope to go into acting again,” she adds. “I love what I have been doing all these years.”  

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