My Crazy Rich Asian Jour­ney

Cur­tis Chin goes on an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ad­ven­ture to meet Kevin Kwan and Michelle Yeoh

Philippine Tatler Traveller - - Contents - PHO­TOS: CUR­TIS CHIN AD­DI­TIONAL PHO­TOS: MILKEN IN­STI­TUTE

To para­phrase… There’s a fa­mous Chi­nese proverb that ev­ery jour­ney of a thou­sand miles—even a “Crazy Rich Asian” one—be­gins with a sin­gle step.

That was cer­tainly the case with my own crazy rich, AsianAmer­i­can jour­ney this year.

From Los An­ge­les to Sin­ga­pore, with Manila and Bangkok some­where in the mix, I went from six de­grees to one de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion—and then con­nec­tion—with the au­thor of the book Crazy Rich Asians, and then the pro­ducer and some of the cast of its block­buster Hol­ly­wood adap­ta­tion, in­clud­ing su­per­star ac­tor and UN Good­will Am­bas­sador Michelle Yeoh.

All I can say is, “Spoiler Alert.” She’s great in per­son, too!


For the last five years, the Milken In­sti­tute—a Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­ni­abased, non-profit, non-par­ti­san eco­nomic think tank fo­cused on in­creas­ing global pros­per­ity through col­lab­o­ra­tive so­lu­tions that widen ac­cess to cap­i­tal, cre­ate jobs and im­prove health—has or­ga­nized an an­nual “Asia Sum­mit” in Sin­ga­pore.

Part of my role as the in­au­gu­ral Asia Fel­low at the Milken In­sti­tute since leav­ing my post as U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank has been to help shape con­tent for this Asia ver­sion of “Davos with palm trees”—as some have

nick­named our an­nual Milken In­sti­tute Global Con­fer­ence in LA.

The Milken In­sti­tute Asia Sum­mit now con­venes more than 1,000 lead­ers, in­clud­ing those from busi­ness, phi­lan­thropy and gov­ern­ment, and takes place an­nu­ally on the eve of the land­mark Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix. This For­mula 1 Night Race on the Ma­rina Bay Street Cir­cuit roars through the heart of the city-state’s Cen­tral Busi­ness District, amidst the sky­scrapers and world-class in­fra­struc­ture that Sin­ga­pore is renown for world­wide.

And what a glo­ri­ous, crazy rich spec­ta­cle it is.

Given our con­fer­ence theme of “Nav­i­gat­ing a World in Tran­si­tion,” my idea was to lead a ses­sion fo­cused on the rise of wealth in Asia. Af­ter all, one can­not fully dis­cuss a chang­ing world with­out look­ing at the rise of new—and im­pact of old—wealth in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

Asia is now home to more bil­lion­aires than North Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to ul­tra high net worth re­search firm Wealth-X. And Hong Kong has of­fi­cially sur­passed New York City as the place with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of su­per-wealthy peo­ple— ul­tra-rich res­i­dents worth at least $30 mil­lion. We’re talk­ing not just the rich, but the crazy rich.

And so be­gan my path to Kevin Kwan, au­thor of the block­buster tril­ogy of books— Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girl­friend, and Rich Peo­ple Prob­lems. The first book, which be­came a box of­fice hit, cen­tres on Rachel Chu, a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor played by U.S. ac­tor Con­stance Wu, who ac­com­pa­nies her Sin­ga­porean boyfriend Ni­cholas “Nick” Young, played by Henry Gold­ing of Malaysia, to his best friend’s wed­ding in Sin­ga­pore. Lit­tle does she know that Nick is scion of one of Sin­ga­pore’s rich­est, if not rich­est, fam­i­lies, and Nick’s mum, Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh also of Malaysia, will be a force to con­tend with.

That story is now fa­mil­iar to mil­lions as Asians and non-Asians turned out in droves for the mega-hit ro­man­tic-com­edy break­ing box of­fice records. Di­rected by ac­claimed Chi­nese-Amer­i­can film­maker Jon Chu, the film is the first ma­jor, non-pe­riod piece Hol­ly­wood film since The Joy Luck Club some 25 years ago to star a pre­dom­i­nantly Asian cast. Ken Jeong, Awk­wa­fina, and Nico San­tos are among other cast mem­bers.

How, though, to reach Kevin to pro­pose he join us in LA? Philip­pine con­nec­tions of course!

I reached out to Manila friends Doris Magsaysay Ho and Karen Dav­ila and be­fore


you knew it, my now new friend Kevin and I were sit­ting down to­gether this early May 2018 at the sto­ried Bev­erly Hills restau­rant known as The Ivy.

Over an al fresco din­ner, we talked about his own jour­ney, our shared and con­trast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences as Asian-Amer­i­cans and New York­ers, and his hopes—which I shared—for the pos­i­tive im­pact that a suc­cess­ful film might have on in­creas­ing the di­ver­sity of (and Asian rep­re­sen­ta­tion in) the sto­ries that Hol­ly­wood tells. We also touched on some of the is­sues that the then just-re­leased movie trailer for the film had sparked, in­clud­ing whether the di­ver­sity of Sin­ga­pore was fully rep­re­sented, and whether stars who were part- Cau­casian were “truly Asian.”

We cov­ered this and more in our “Mic’d Up Ses­sion” at the Milken In­sti­tute Global Con­fer­ence. And once posted on­line, via YouTube, a snip­pet of our con­ver­sa­tion would go vi­ral back in the Philip­pines when Kris Aquino shared it on In­sta­gram this Au­gust. “Hello @Cur­tisSChin,” she wrote! (Kris has a short but crit­i­cal scene in Crazy Rich Asians as Princess In­tan from Malaysia.)

My jour­ney from LA con­tin­ued on­ward to Bangkok, when three months later, Shane Su­vika­pako­rnkul—the pub­lisher, gallery direc­tor, and en­tre­pre­neur be­hind Serindia Publi­ca­tions, Serindia Gallery, and

the ex­tra­or­di­nary, award-win­ning Open House Book­shop by Hard Cover in Thai­land—in­vited me to join him at the film’s Thai pre­miere. Shane is also the force be­hind the Thai lan­guage edi­tion of Kevin’s book.

And with food be­ing as much a star as the film’s ac­tors, the mid-Au­gust screen­ing at Bangkok’s Paragon Cine­plex was ac­com­pa­nied by a sam­pling of Sin­ga­pore’s world-fa­mous cui­sine, from kaya toast to satay—thanks to Warner Brothers and the Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board.

A few weeks later I would hit a mother lode of Sin­ga­porean food af­ter I ar­rived in the citys­tate. “Lun­cheon meat fries” with sam­bal mayo, smoked pork col­lar, foie gras satay with rasp­berry sauce, deep-fried chicken wings coated with shrimp paste, black-pep­per crab, steamed fresh shrimp, Hokkien mee (noo­dles), green veg­eta­bles with gar­lic, fresh kaya and but­ter served with a baguette, and durian crème brulee were just a few of the dishes fill­ing my plate.

My hosts? Dy­namic TAEL Part­ners col­leagues— CEO Michael Sng and deputy CEO Loong Mei-Yin. The venue? Most fit­tingly: Ubin New Seafood, lo­cated in the same Chi­jmes com­plex that in­cludes a church build­ing fea­tured in an uber-wed­ding in Crazy Rich Asians. The restau­rant is a Sin­ga­pore fam­ily-run eatery whose ori­gins date back to a hum­ble home that served up kam­pong-style seafood start­ing in 1986. The Pang fam­ily restau­rant tagline: “A time­less culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. Truly Sin­ga­porean.” In­deed!

From Miche­lin-listed hawker stalls of­fer­ing some of the na­tion’s best food to the ma­jes­tic Ma­rina Bay Sands com­plex with the world’s largest high­est rooftop in­fin­ity pool to the stun­ning Gar­dens by the Bay to the “mer­lion” foun­tain, the sights, sounds and tastes of Sin­ga­pore are very much front and cen­tre in Crazy Rich Asians. (So, too, are some Malaysia lo­cales, which fill in for parts of Sin­ga­pore and New York in the film.)

But for me, it is the story and the ac­tors who bring that story to life who are at the heart of the movie. So, imag­ine my de­light and awe as this par­tic­u­lar, crazy rich jour­ney of mine moved for­ward to the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Sin­ga­pore this Septem­ber.

There, at the Milken In­sti­tute Asia Sum­mit 2018, I was hon­oured to join Michelle Yeoh, cel­e­brated Sin­ga­porean ac­tors Jan­ice Koh and Amy Cheng, and the movie pro­ducer be­hind the film, John Penotti of Ivan­hoe Pic­tures, to lead a dis­cus­sion of the Crazy Rich Asians phe­nom­e­non. Jan­ice plays Eleanor Young’s sis­ter Felic­ity Leong, and Amy plays Jac­que­line Ling, a so­ci­ety mum whose daugh­ter has her eyes on Nick Young.

Our on-stage dis­cus­sion, and a sub­se­quent talk that Michelle Yeoh did at a ben­e­fit screen­ing of Crazy Rich Asians for UN Women along with Sin­ga­porean ac­tors Koh Chieng Mun, Jan­ice Koh, Se­lena Tan, and Fiona Xie un­der­scored an­other di­men­sion of the film be­yond all its crazy rich­ness. And that is the crit­i­cal role of women in our so­ci­ety and the un­fin­ished busi­ness that we all share of em­pow­er­ing women and en­sur­ing gen­der eq­uity.

Re­in­forc­ing this mes­sage, ac­tors Amy Cheng and Jan­ice Koh had joined me af­ter our panel dis­cus­sion for a photo with a replica of the iconic sculp­ture “Fear­less Girl” from New York. The fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany State Street Global Ad­vi­sors had brought the sculp­ture to our Asia Sum­mit in part to fur­ther con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der di­ver­sity on com­pany boards. The orig­i­nal sculp­ture


by Kris­ten Vis­bal was placed on Wall Street fac­ing a larger bronze sculp­ture known as “Charg­ing Bull.”

That photo op­por­tu­nity and an ear­lier one with Michelle Yeoh and the mem­bers of my Milken In­sti­tute panel re­mind me how blessed I am to have made this con­nec­tion to the film and had this jour­ney un­fold from LA to Sin­ga­pore. Many of the city-state’s sights would also daz­zle me from a rooftop F1 launch party, hosted by lead­ing pri­vate global in­vest­ment firm TPG, and where I’d run into Michelle and the film’s pro­ducer again.

As a “Trekkie”—a Star Trek fan—I also had been fol­low­ing Michelle in her role as Cap­tain Philippa Ge­or­giou on the CBS All Ac­cess series Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery. Be­fore go­ing on stage ear­lier, Michelle and I joined oth­ers in a “Vul­can hand salute”—rais­ing our hands with a part be­tween mid­dle and ring fin­gers, as pop­u­larised by Leonard Ni­moy in his role as Spock on the orig­i­nal Star Trek tele­vi­sion series.

That ges­ture has be­come the univer­sal sign for a sim­ple mes­sage: “Live long and pros­per.” And it seems as fit­ting a mes­sage and des­ti­na­tion that there can be for all of us in our jour­neys, no mat­ter how crazy, how rich or how Asian we might be.

CLOCK­WISE Sin­ga­pore’s scenic sky­line; The Fuller­ton Ho­tel, his­toric Sin­ga­pore; Con­stance Wu on the cover of Time mag­a­zine, at Open House Book­shop by Hard Cover in Bangkok; a daz­zling Mex­i­can mu­ral at a LA taque­ria; Los An­ge­les— look­ing east to Asia from crazy rich Pa­cific Pal­isades

OP­PO­SITE CLOCK­WISE Cur­tis Chin, Crazy Rich Asians au­thor Kevin Kwan, and Reuters Big Money re­porter Lawrence Delev­ingne at the Milken In­sti­tute Global Con­fer­ence, Bev­erly Hil­ton, LA; have ticket, will en­ter! Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix F1 Night Race; a snap in Bangkok,Thai­land; crazy rich quin­tet: Crazy Rich Asians pro­ducer John Penotti, ac­tress Amy J. Cheng, ac­tress Michelle Yeoh, for­mer US Am­bas­sador Cur­tis Chin, and ac­tress Jan­ice Koh at the Milken In­sti­tute Asia Sum­mit in Four Sea­sons Sin­ga­pore; one more crazy de­li­cious bite on the au­thor’s crazy rich LA-to-Asia jour­ney—Sim­ply de­li­cious!

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT The tril­ogy: Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girl­friend, and Rich Peo­ple Prob­lems; Con­stance Wu and Henry Gold­ing on the cover of En­ter­tain­ment Weekly IN­SET With Michelle Yeoh at the Milken In­sti­tute Asia Sum­mit, Four Sea­sons Sin­ga­pore OP­PO­SITE Cur­tis Chin and ac­tress Amy J. Cheng strike a pose with Fear­less Girl for gen­der eq­uity

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