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Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014

Singapore

Family pastimes

The Straits Times | Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014

These families share similar hobbies, which allow them to spend quality time with one another.

These families share similar hobbies, which allow them to spend quality time with one another.

Are you happy with the amount of quality time you have with your family? There is a good chance you are not.

About 50 per cent of Singaporeans were dissatisfied with the amount of quality family time they had, according to a recent poll conducted by non-profit organisation Families For Life.

Out of the 872 people polled, four in 10 here say they spend six hours or less of quality family time with their families each week, which works out to less than an hour daily.

Families For Life conducted the survey in August, and the poll results were released last month as part of the Families for Life Celebrations.

SundayLife! speaks to four families who are more than satisfied with the amount of quality family time they have because of unusual family passions that bind them together.

Wonderful Wans

Never in his wildest dreams did Mr Patrick Wan imagine that his entire family would be involved in the performing arts.

"I exposed them to things because I wanted them to learn new skills," says Mr Wan, 57.

Today, the wife and four children of this ventriloquist cum magician each has an artistic skill to call his or her own.

His wife Ellen, 57, is the costume seamstress, prop maker and make-up artist.

Daughters Joanna, 29, and Rachel, 24, can do acrobatic stunts, while son Aaron, 26, does "bian lian" (mask changing).

Youngest daughter Agnes, 21, is also trained in acrobatics but usually helps out as personal assistant to her siblings and father at their performances, and takes photographs of them in action.

It all began in the 1970s, when a teenage Mr Wan found himself interested in ventriloquy and magic tricks.

Although largely self-taught, he would also seek out visiting performers here to learn from them.

He began doing paid performances part-time when he was 16, and in 1988, he quit his job as an electronics supervisor to go into performing full-time.

By that time, he says, "I was making more money from my shows than from my full-time job".

When Joanna was a preschooler, Mr Wan got acrobats from China - who were then performing at the now-defunct Tang Dynasty City theme park - to train her to be a contortionist.

In return, he taught them ventriloquy and magic tricks.

The training eventually extended to the other children. When Aaron was five and Joanna, seven, they had their own contortionist act as a part of their father's shows.

The training sessions were so tough, Aaron recalls "clinging to the fan" and Joanna recalls "pretending to be asleep" each time the trainers came to their home, in a bid to escape training.

But they left a great sense of fulfilment.

Says Joanna, now a personal banker: "It's a wonderful feeling when the audience claps and thanks you in person."

Aaron, a real estate agent, adds: "You feel good being able to do something that many other people can't."

By 1999, Rachel, then nine, was a part of Mr Wan's shows too. She could spin 20 hula hoops on her body.

"I mastered that act when I was eight, by watching a video of a performer doing the act," says Rachel, a tax consultant.

Together, these three Wan siblings, known as the Wonder Kids, had a show with acts involving the balancing of 25 candles on one's head, hands and legs, and squeezing their bodies into barrels.

The Wan family performed together for more than 15 years, from 1994 to 2010. But they never considered performing full-time as a family. Mr Wan says having his children learn these skills was for them to have something to fall back on, should they not do well in school. But they all did fine academically.

As the Wonder Kids entered working life, however, it became increasingly hard to perform together. They now operate as three separate acts instead of one: Mr Wan's ventriloquy and magic show, Aaron's mask-changing show and Rachel's contortion and hula hoop show.

They get up to several bookings a month especially during Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and also receive overseas bookings.

Joanna no longer performs, preferring to give moral support to her siblings instead, the way Agnes does.

On weekends, the whole family spends time together watching videos of their performances, which they say continue to keep them close-knit.

They also have dinner together almost every night, and say they support one another in their careers and personal lives. All the children are single.

For instance, the family helped to staple Aaron's property business card to flyers, and the children are now helping Mr Wan search for a warehouse to store his show props.

Says Mr Wan: "We have our own lives beyond performing together, but remain united as a family."

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