No. 1133, 5 July 2012
"She wears the PANTS and he's the belt that holds them up."
By: TAN YI HUI
IT'S BEEN A DECADE SINCE SINGAPORE'S MOST FAMOUS LIVER TRANSPLANT ALSO SEALED LOCAL SHOWBIZ'S GRANDEST ROMANTIC GESTURE. PIERRE PNG AND ANDREA DE CRUZ TELL US WHAT NINE YEARS OF MARRIAGE WITH A SHARED BODY PART FEELS LIKE.
Pierre Png and Andrea De Cruz are playing house in our photo studio, being kissy and hamming it up with their two shih tzus. At 38 he is the ageless golden boy who finally cracked the Top 10 Most Popular list at this year's Star Awards. At 37, she still rocks a magazine cover looking none the worse for wear, despite the health scare that almost claimed her life 10 years ago.
In 2002, Andrea suffered liver failure after consuming Slim 10 diet pills. Pierre saved her by donating part of his liver to her. Then came the lawsuits --- Andrea sued the pill manufacturer and was awarded $1.63 million. She also sued fellow actor Rayson Tan, who sold her the pills. The case was dismissed, but became a PR disaster. Actress Chen Liping, Rayson's wife, assused her of being "heartless" and greedy. Thanks to public ire and unstable health, Andrea's showbiz career has since taken a backseat. These days, Andrea's a businesswoman. Cinq Hair Salon, which she started with several partners, opened its second outlet in town at Scotts Square last November. She may also join Pierre in a tech business that he set up with some partners, retailing an eco-friendly phone charger, Csquid, sold at petrol kiosks. She even has plans to return to her first calling, psychology, and join her former boss as a partner in his practice.
And then there's Knight in Shining Armour, Pierre. Would anyone in his position have declined to save his girlfriend? The uber-chill bloke always plays down his role. "I didn't save her lah," he says matter-of-factly. "Our surgeon KC Tan did. Me? I'm just the piece of meat from the freezer." The couple tied the knot a year after the transplant. They now live in a penthouse in the East with Andrea's mother, a maid and the dogs. Next year, he has grand plans for their 10th wedding anniversary, details of which he's not sharing with us, 'cos it's a surprise for Andrea. Awwww...... Did Andrea strike gold with her choice of husband? Here's a dude who still looks like he could join Manhunt now and give the twentysomethings a run for their money, and who remains totally devoted to his women. When noon sunbeams creep in through the photo studio windows, Pierre stops the interview to pull the couch into the shade, as Andrea's anti-rejection medication puts her at risk of skin cancer. When the couple sidle up for an intimate shot and Andrea has to balance uncomfortably on three-inch heels while holding a pose, he supports her and coos sweet nothings into her face. What spell does she told over him? Is the way to a man's heart through his liver?
Their story is the stuff of fairy tales: Boy meets girl, girl falls deathly ill, boy saves girl, and they live happily ever after. But it's also a story with possible dark and twisted dynamics. Imagine an argument that ends in: "Okay, honey, so I forget to put down the toilet seat, but in case you've forgotten, I saved your life." You get the idea. Then again, there are observers who will say it'll never come to that, because ---- ahem ---- Andrea wears the pants, "Oh yes, I've heard that one," admits Andrea, who claims that it's a "misconception". We're not sold, especially when it's obvious she mothers him somewhat. She reminds him to check his phone in the middle of our chat "in case your manager calls." Talk about his notorious struggles with Mandarin, and she'll tell you like a proud mother hen: "This boy works so hard, you know. It hurts me when people say his Mandarin is still not good."
The man does have his alpha moments, though. They can't have kids at the moment 'cos of her health, but if children ever came into the picture, it's Pierre who'll be the boss. We see hints of his tough dad potential during our shoot as he exhibits Cesar Millan-like control over their mutts --- Woofie, a nine-year-old male and Oreo, a six-year-old female ---- who follow his every command to a T. Andrea just "spoils them silly," he reveals. Oh yes, he's the pack leader. And perhaps his leadership extends to other areas, too. "He's my rock, for sure," says Andrea, who gets upset when she encounters health hiccups, due to her compromised immune system. In a warped way, the spectre of her illness is part of what defines their relationship. He may defer to her because he claimes she has "better judgement", but she is still the damsel in distress to be saved. Imagine the expiry date looming over Andrea's head --- she was given a survival lifespan of about 26 years from the time of the transplant ---- and you'll see where Pierre, who says he's unafraid of death thanks to their Catholic faith, fits in. Says Andrea: "He's the calm one, and he tells me that when the time comes, we'll deal with it. He knows what to do."
It just makes us think: If she wears the pants, then he's the belt that holds them up.
8 DAYS: It's the 10th anniversary of your liver transplant. Does this year feel more special?
ANDREA: We're low-key people, so we've always kept celebrations between us. The exact date is May 7. It's even more important to us than birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. This year was a quiet one. The poignant part was just after midnight. We were both in bed.
PIERRE: I told her: Hey, we made it again. Ten years ago on that night, as I lay in hospital, the priest read me my last rites. It's a practice reserved only for the very sick. There I was, a healthy individual, being read the last rites by my priest before the transplant, I did feel fear, but also a sense of calm, like I was leaving everything in the hands of fate.
Not to get morbid here, but does it get harder with each year the passes, like the clock is ticking?
A: Every year, we shed some tears. We live each day and try not to think about it.
P: I have two places in a columbarium reserved for us when we go. I booked it after her transplant. I told her that if anything happens, this is how the funeral will be.....
A: Don't be so morbid!
P: I can say that all this while, I've never been afraid of death.
A: On the contrary, I have. I never used to be scared of it, but since the illness, I find it very hard to attend funerals.... I just wanna cry so much.
P: When we have to attend funerals, she never dares to view the coffin.
A: After the transplant, he joined this thing in our church called the Ministry of Consolation. They go to funerals to pray for the bereaved family. He visits wakes of complete strangers and for some reason, the family always finds comfort talking to him. So he's found a way to deal with death better. Maybe he's preparing for the day I go..... I dunno. (Laughs)
P: Being an actor helps, since people know me and it breaks the ice. I'd ask them: Are you gonna be all right? Of course it's easier said than done. Maybe one day when Andrea goes I will finally understand how these people feel, but my faith has taught me that death isn't the end ----- when something dies, something else lives or is reborn. If I were to go, it's not the end because Andrea will remember me forever and she will take whatever I taught her and share it.
A: (In mock despair) Noooo.... I can't do it. You can, but I can't.
P: Not everyone can do it, but my mentality is that life is a cycle. If you see everything as a straight line and a full-stop, then yes, it is sad.
Does it get awkward, especially for Pierre, when he has to work with Liping?
P: If there is any bad blood, it is one-sided. I've moved on. If I were to keep score, there'd be no end to it. I'd be living in the past.
A: Looking back, I don't think we would have done anything differently with the lawsuits. We went by the book, according to the advice of our lawyers. But after all the publicity that surrounded the court cases, you just wanna lie low now. I think we've all moved on from it.
Would you guys consider adopting children?
A: I think how we are with our dogs is a good reflection of what kind of parents we'll be. You can say it's a step towards preparing for kids. But we're comfortable with where we are now, so we're just concentrating on our dogs.
P: We may want kids eventually and we've talked about it. If all else fails, we've still got our nieces and nephews to look after.
A: Now that I'm past my 10th year, the doctors are looking into whether they can lower my medication. If they can, then we could try for kids. But nothing's confirmed as yet.
Andrea, since Pierre saved your life, have you ever felt like you've got a debt to repay?
A: No, he's never used this trump card on me.
P: I've never made her feel like she owed me anything. If we disagree or quarrel, the transplant would be the last thing on our minds. We both start from zero. Though there were a few times I thought: Maybe I should use it... But I have never lah. (Laughs)
A: I do feel more attached to him now that I share his liver. Like, oh, I am Pierre Png now. I am so Pierre Png I have more male hormones than most men. At home, I fix the household appliances, change the light bulbs, and drill the holes in the wall. My father-in-law calls me over to change his shower head and fix the door knobs. Okay lah, I've been like this all along. (Chuckles) But I do feel that after the transplant, I'm not as emotionally attached to things as most females. My thinking has become more like his --- more chilled out and calm.
So what work does he do at home?
A: He takes care of his car and his unicycle. He makes sure he goes for Aikido regularly and works out. I don't believe in stressing him out. His schedule is tighter than mine. If there are things around the house that I can handle, I'd do them. We have a maid as well. My business allows me to be flexible [with my time]. I want him to come home to food on the table, have his time to prepare his scripts for the next day, and get a good night's rest.
People seem to think that your wife wears the pants.....
P: I don't mind if she does. I'm find with that.
A: Actually, I think that's a misconception. Maybe it just looks that way 'cos he's more laid-back and I'm more in your face.
P: But she really does call the right shots. There are many times where if I were the one who decided on something, like stuff to do with the house, it wouldn't have worked out as well. She runs it by me ----- she doesn't dictate.
Who's the one with the worse temper?
P: I think it's me.
A: His pet peeve is bad drivers....
P: And drivers who show you the middle finger. Looking back at that incident [In 2010, Pierre was involved in a confrontation with another driver over a lane change], I would still have done what I did, which was get out of the car to face him.
A: Anywaaay................ moving on! Otherwise people will say we keep bringing up the past!
P: When it comes to dealing with anger, she's the one who prefers to thrash things out there and then. But I prefer not to 'cos I tend to talk in circles and she may get the wrong message.
A: When we were buying our Mercedes, I called him. It was a second-hand one but with a remarkably low mileage. He kept telling me it was too good to be true. I'm more the kind that likes to savour the moment. But he's more wary.
P: I guess I ruined the moment for her. I was thinking: It's not like we're desperate to get a car --- let's call someone who knows better. But instead I said, 'This is too good to be true, I know this is gonna be a f**k-up. We're gonna regret it. But in the end, we still got it lah.
A: See, he's the one who nags more.
P: I blame it on my family ---- it's on my Peranakan blood.
Andrea, how is your health holding up these days?
A: After 10 years, we've gotten used to the fact that if he wants to suntan, he's got to do it alone, or if we swim, it has to be at night. I do circuit training and power-blading in the gym. Taking all my anti-rejection drugs is as effortless as popping vitamins every morning now. I go for check-ups every three years ago, I caught the bird flu. My liver went into rejection and they pumped me with steroids.
P: When things like this happen, I tell the doc: "You can see the scar map on my stomach right? Just cut along the lines lah.'
A: I do get upset.... You think you're progressing and then there's a setback. It makes me cry.
P: I tell her that some days you have the flu and some days you don't. The doctors are not panicking, so neither should we. Just look at it like you're having your period.
A: Honey, don't say that!
P: What I mean is: What's the point of worrying? If it comes, it comes, if it gets serious, let the docs handle it.
A: See, he's good with crises like that.
What about other kinds of crises? Like showbiz temptations?
A: Temptations are everywhere! Look at all the young girls he gets to work with. But it helps that I was in the business, so I understand the hours that he keeps. Plus, he has no time to be tempted lah! He's too engrossed in memorising his Mandarin scripts. (Chuckles)
P: So luckily I'm not proficient in Mandarin huh?
A: Yeah, when he has to memorise his scripts, only one head is working.
P: It's a good thing I can't multi-task, then!