I haven’t spoken much about Disney and my experiences there, but now that I have gone back to Hong Kong to visit one of my best friends (that I met while performing there), I’d like to reminisce the magical memories again, share some backstage stories, and of our unchanging friendship.
I recently went on a trip to Hong Kong to meet up with my best friend from Disneyland, Danielle Denquar Chupak, a half British half Thai girl who grew up in Hong Kong. She’d been away in London pursuing her career as a singer, and was recently back for a stint at the Shangri-La lobster lounge, and I thought it would be the perfect moment to make that trip back to see her. After all, It’s been 6 whole years apart.
That’s us 6 years after I left Disney, meeting up again in Hong Kong, spending a nice week together. Finally.
Credits: Shakeball Ho
This was one of us (it was hard to tell in some photos), the little lady at the bottom right of the photo. In the wig and the outfit, our own mothers couldn’t tell us apart. #truestory
We played the same role at Hong Kong Disneyland’s Musical Theatre Show ‘The Golden Mickeys’, at the Storybook Theatre. The premise of this show was cute and simple:
A reporter named ‘Bebe’ (rotated by me, Danielle and 2 other girls) got the opportunity to meet the famous Mickey and Minnie Mouse during an interview, and was invited to tag along on a most magical journey with various ‘friends’ such as Goofy, Lilo & Stitch, Woody and Jessie from Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and the Little Mermaid to name a few.
2 clearly very different people and our takes on the same role.
The bestie ‘Bebe’s interviewing Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Danielle and I as ‘Bebe’ in the ‘Toy Story’ scene.
Me and Danielle in the ‘Lilo & Stitch’ scene.
Me as ‘Bebe’ in the finale of the show.
Danielle in the role of ‘Bebe’ during the finale of ‘The Golden Mickeys’.
Though (accurately) 5 years and 2 days of age apart, we shared Disney as our first professional experience after Musical Theatre School, the same role on stage, birthdates 2 days apart, and a love of deep conversations that begin and end anywhere, everywhere and nowhere.
Even at our young age (18 & 22) we had these ancient souls, and to find each other amongst a sea of good looking people strutting their stuff, was a privilege we enjoyed with each other, to keep our grasps firm on reality. It wasn’t easy for people like us to dodge projectile vomited personalities who masked insecurities with confidence, or who stood on apple boxes to be able to look beneath them in a sea of great looking, talented individuals, addicted to recognition. I’m not saying we’re better than them. Everyone had their own problems, and Danielle and I were lucky to have found each other to cope with it all.
Possibly 2010 (aged 18 & 22), at a ‘Gleek’ themed party in Hong Kong, where we chose to either dress as a ‘Mean Girl’ or a Geek.
This was a photo of Denx and I with a guy who played, or rather was ‘the friend of’ Disney’s ‘Tarzan’. My mother thought he was wearing a muscle suit on stage, but his diet of chicken breast and eggs don’t lie. Check him out on Facebook. He now has his own fitness empire (I’m not surprised), Rick Twombley Fitness.
Between shows, we would go to the ‘Space Mountain’, and pull faces when we know the camera was going to snap the photo.
During Christmas we would take a walk between shows to the Disney Hotel to sit on Santa’s lap and ask for ridiculous presents.
I remember as a Disney performer we had so many things we could and could not do. Before we started rehearsals and such, we had to go through an intensive course known as ‘Disney University’, to learn about how things work, how you point, give directions, and exclaim in Mickey Mouse splendor.
Nevertheless, we would always still get in trouble for the littlest things they perhaps didn’t mention. Like getting creative by colouring characters with different-than-original colours, or gothing up the little mermaid on a Disney colouring book we brought one day to pass time between shows.
We all got into so much trouble for doing that, and I mean all the performers who actually did picked up a crayon and initialed their names on their artwork. The Disney colours were so iconic and with the branding thing and all, we, especially being people who worked for the corporation, had to respect it and not indulge in any form of ‘vandalism’ (the word used) on Disney stuff.
To tell the truth I quite enjoy people’s takes, that have surfaced these past few years, on the classic Disney characters.
Like this: Disney Characters reimagined as college students (Cool right?)
From time to time, our costume pieces accidentally get swapped, and once, it happened to be the outfit where the circumferential difference of that particular body part made it a big deal.
Take the bikini top in this scene for example:
It’s not obvious in this photo, but Danielle got ‘them’ from her mother, who is English. Them people ‘Knock’ it out of the park if you know what I mean.
And me, I’m just, Unendowed. When the costumer buckled me up the back in Danielle’s top, I felt like a half scoop of rice 🍚 in a ramen bowl.
No one’s fault, show must go on, so, I tried not to bend forward as much as I could, OR pretended to do that princess hand gesture thing, where you interlace your fingers, strategically placing it in front of the chest just under the chin, which usually is accompanied by the wide-eyed expression of perpetual disbelief; also known as the ‘Disney Delight’, or ‘double D’, which is indicative of how I had to make up for my lack thereof. #sarcasm
Since then, I started this thing where I told the costumers I’m not the ‘Big Boobied Bebe’, just for s***s and giggles. When your entire life was backstage like this, making the costumers laugh becomes a hobby, but they kept it too! One of them took it to the next level by referring to Me as the ‘Small Boobie Bebe’, which she thought was hilarious so I gave her that for the next year or so.
Cantonese is Tricky
I learnt Mandarin growing up ok. But even 10 years of that didn’t help when I had to learn Cantonese for this show.
Mandarin: 4 tones
Cantonese: 9 tones 😱😱
Even native Cantonese speaker, Danielle, had her fair share of bloopers. At some point in the show we had to say something to introduce ‘Pixar Animation Studios’, and as you know, intonation is key in Chinese languages. Say the same words in the wrong tone and you could end up with:
‘Pixar Animation Studios’ (bei see dong wah) to mean ‘Booger Animation Studios’. Same 4 words, 2 wrong tones. #ridic
Every theme park has its fans. A lot of them are super duper sweet and we still keep in touch with them because they help us document our journeys as Disney performers with their wonderful camera skills and such. Also they’re usually locals who invite us out to meals, and this is always an awesome thing if you like food.
This was just recently while I was in Hong Kong visiting Danielle, where they gathered us all one Sunday for ‘hot pot’ just so we could all get together before another 6-year hiatus. These people make. It. Happen. You know?
This lady, Kathy Chui, compiled a photo of us in 2011, and the recent one of us, and it’s just amazing to see the comparison. #asiandontraisin #yellowdontmellow
This boy was my little fan, and was 5 when I left Hong Kong, and now he’s 11. Also, he doubled in height and it’s crazy to see him again like this.
This is Tony. He’s my main man. Supported me through the entire Disney contract, I’m so flattered. And he came to the airport twice (Long story, I’ll explain below) to see me off. He also took me to his place of work, and showed me around. Check out the video where I get to ‘Fly A Plane‘.
But we also had crazy fans at Disney. The most infamous one being the one who would know our schedules before we did. To this day, we have no idea how she managed to discover we’ve switched shows, before we even get word of it ourselves.
This girl would come into the theatre on crutches, in a wheelchair, with a cast on her arm / leg, neck-braced etc.. just so she could sit in the front and scream our names. She even followed some people home. That, was the scary part. Whenever she would spot us around the park she would shout our names and come sprinting toward us (if she wasn’t all crutched up during that day). When we would go into the park between shows we would often play the unspoken game of how to avoid her. It was a stressful game tbh.
Look, I understand she probably lacked something in her life and she needed this as an outlet, but when she would show up at your private parties, you wouldn’t know what to do either, know what I mean? In fact this little taste of fandom is quite bittersweet in a sense that it was nice to have people support your endeavours as an artist, but at the same time, you understood how people in the REAL limelight should be cut some slack too. Nobody likes to be followed around and be snapped photos of while they’re dozing off on the train, drooling on the arm they’re resting their head upon, after the exhaustion of a 4-show day.
Let’s be frank. The Chinese from mainland china aren’t known for their manners. But I have had some outrageous and eye-opening first experiences in Hong Kong with the Mainland Chinese.
*disclaimer: some of you who have read my first post know that Oliver from FuJian province has since changed my mind about generalizing the 1 billion population, but I’m just sharing some pretty riveting stories from when I was performing at Hong Kong Disneyland.
My first experience was in my show alone. As the ‘host’ of the Golden Mickeys show, I had to sort of ‘open’ the show among the audience. This was projected LIVE on a screen off stage right.
The opening sequence of the show I did in Hong Kong Disneyland, projected LIVE on a screen, while I stand among the audience.
At this juncture of every show here, ‘Bebe’ is wide open to heckling that ranges from wig-touching, to arm-grabbing for a selfie, to violent waving in her direction to get attention for special photos. Probably my worst experience, no doubt, was when a guest, yelling at me in mandarin, attempted to acquire the microphone I was holding by snatching it from me. A local audience member sitting near by came to my rescue and pushed the woman back into her seat, as I finished my spiel, and made a dash back on stage to continue the show. I had to write a ‘statement’ about that for HR of course. #eyeroll
Another day when I was taking a stroll in the park between shows I noticed a little child, gleefully running around in crotchless + arseless pants. Maybe they ran out of fabric at the factory or something, maybe the person sewing it just forgot the material, or was sick of their job, or was blind, or facing some sort of family problems or something, that they simply forgot to stitch the crotchal region of those pants.
I pretended not to stare, but I had to look twice.
Definitely the full ‘ding-a-ling’ show happening there.
I started brainstorming reasons to make sense of it all:
- Maybe the diapers go between skin and fabric. Makes changing them easier. Brilliant! But where are the diapers.
- Maybe boy was running around and lost his underpants or something. Surely those must have caught on, undies, even in China.
- Maybe he just did a poopoo and after cleaning him with wet wipes they’re just airing his little bottom.
I could speculate all day, but I’d rather find out. So I turned to the closest Chinese person and asked in mandarin, “Why does that boy’s pants have a big hole like that [gestures]?”
She pretty much responded like this:
Lady: Is it a boy or a girl? 《他是小男孩还是小女孩？》
Me: Boy. 《小男孩。》
Lady: That’s why. 《就是这个原因。》
He’s wearing crotchless arseless pants because they want people to know that their ONE CHILD is a BOY.
I asked someone else backstage and confirmed this. Ok, if you have some other reason please feel free to let me know, but I’m telling you, this was what was said.
You never forget something like that.
Maybe that Chinese lady was a famous comedian or something, but if that was the case, daym girl, #badass. 🤘🏼🤘🏼
Mickael Bellemène and Nico Pires, 2 of the french ‘clowns’ that Disney hired to entertain the streets with their tomfoolery and high energy Diabolo skills.
Disney hires seasonal street styled performers to rove the ‘lands’ at specific times to entertain their roaming guests. I watched one of their ‘Diabolo’ performances one time, and, I feared for the safety of some of these Chinese kids.
There is a trick with the Diabolo called the ‘Excalibur’, a badass name for a badass trick. Mickael does very well to explain this in this promo video ‘Diabolo – Chinese YoYo with a French Touch‘, where he slo-moed at (2:40) to show you the badassness and precision of the trick.
In case you don’t have time to watch the video, let me explain this ‘Excalibur’ to you. The performer ‘accelerates’ the ball bearings in the giant YoYo to make it spin really fast, throws it in the air, and as it spins in mid-air, he whips the string around him and catches the prop before it falls to the ground. Imagine the speed and strength at which he would have needed to whip that thing around him and catch a giant yoyo in mid-air. The whipping sound is even terrifying to observe.
Which is why, during his show segment, he explains clearly with gestures (since language is a barrier), before he executes the trick, that the audience need to stay as far as he’s directed them, by walking them backwards in a giant human circle around his show area. He does this very well in fact.
But at this one particular show, as he was just about to execute this ‘Excalibur’, one Chinese woman pushes her kid forward and eggs him to stand beside Mickael for a photo. Thankfully, the kid fell forward from the strength of his own mother’s push, and landed on his face, as the Diabolo string and stick whipped (with a loud light-saber force double SWISH-ing sound) just above his head, catching the Diabolo in mid-air as was intended by the stunned performer, who stood there in disbelief at the stupidity of this woman.
The gravity of this was clearly understood, and Mickael had to write a statement for HR in case anyone made a complaint against him. I volunteered to write a witnessing statement just in case.
We fell in love. And out of love 4 years later but that’s another story to be told.
These were some of my biggest most memorable experiences during my 2-3 years in Hong Kong as a Disney Performer.
Back to Danielle. My best friend.
I left in 2012. Left her to continue one more year as ‘Bebe’ while I stole Mickael to Singapore / South-East Asia pretty much, transforming him from regular old Mickael, to some sort of sought after entertainer, performing internationally, living the life!
Danielle went to London, lived various struggling artist experiences, heartache, successes, toured as a hotel singer, finally back to Hong Kong before she heads back to London again to record an EP.
Don’t take it from me. You can find and follow her on her Instagram / Facebook to find out more about what she’s been up to in detail.
Me, I’d stayed around Asia managing first that Internationally performing French Artist, then after returning from some more training in Los Angeles, managed myself as an actress for screen / commercials / hosting / musical theatre / theatre (aka the everything girl).
Even after 6 years of being apart and hardly contacting each other, Danielle and I reconnected in person in Hong Kong, and it was like neither of us had left. We just had So Much to share, so much to reminisce.
A photog sesh we had with a collaborator photographer friend who wanted to help document our friendship. Thanks Shakeball Ho.
This is us now, nothing changed, sharing a tiny studio and a tiny bed during my 7 day stay, like nothing changed.
My flight was on the 22nd of Feb 2017, but because we had so much fun, we got muddled with the numbers and I ended up at the airport, teary-eyed, and sad to leave, on the 21st. So I decided to play a prank on Denquar. In a nutshell, I told her I was going to get on the next flight, but really, I went to surprise her at her gig at the Shangri-La.
But prior to that, because my main man Tony as mentioned above, came to the airport to see me off and discovered my ENFP / ADD / Dyslexia with dates, he decided to make my day by bringing me to his workplace – Cathay Pacific City, to enjoy an excellent excellent pilot training simulator!
Watch full video HERE on YouTube.
After that riveting surprise, we all decided to meet some more Disney fan friends but taking the train (the MTR) the long way round, making a pit stop at the first suburb I was living in when I moved to Hong Kong 8 years ago!
Tung Chung. A station away from Disneyland, 30mins away from the city centre on the Yellow line (Tung Chung Line). I loved the memories.
Then we made our way to Tseun Wan, met up with these guys, and had dinner!
Left to Right: Patrick, Wah, Caitanya, Tony. Another reunion.
We ate Taiwanese food!
I actually enjoyed the sweet and sour pork even though I don’t even eat pork. This version of it had huge chunks of pineapple, dragon fruit, grapes and strawberries, which is really unique (coming from singapore where ours has onions, green and red peppers, so it’s more savoury than sweet). Hot fruits aren’t half bad! Then came the dessert. 😱
Seriously, Hong Kong people know how to make pretty impressive share plate desserts.
It was lovely to be able to dig into a plate with your friends as opposed to the individual dessert type plating. To me there is a sense of loving in sharing your food. This was the way my parents brought me up, maybe it’s an Asian thing, but I find a certain warmth in this culture that is still very much a gesture of love as is a hug or a cuddle.
Check out the surprise inside!
Cubes of bread toasted with honey and butter, making it all crispy and golden brown.
After dinner, we bade each other farewell, and headed for the Shangri-La to surprise Denquar!
She was so shocked to see me! ❤
I left the next day (the right day), uneventful, but grateful for every little stupid second we spent together. Who knows how many more opportunities we will ever get to spend time like this once life gets in the way again. But this trip made me realize the groundedness of our friendship. 6 years we’ve been apart, and still, bam, it was like we’d never left.
What’s that quote?
Something like that..
I hope we’re friends until we die. And then I hope we become Ghost friends, and walk through walls and scare the shit out of people together. Photo Credits: Shakeball Ho
Please remember this when I’m not there to remind you.
Credits: Shakeball Ho
Distance isn’t that bad thanks to technology. Not the same as being face to face, but makes it a little easier.
We’re been friends for so long now I don’t know which of us is the bad influence.
Denx, you’re the sister I never had, and you will always be in my life, my heart, my soul. I’m glad we met in the happiest place on earth, and I hope when we meet it will always be the happiest place no matter where we are on earth.
Shall we meet in Amsterdam like we discussed then?