May 25, 2018

In this series, we explore the different forms and facets of love that exist in this world. Some may be more straightforward, while others can’t be easily defined. But love holds no boundaries and the celebration of the human heart should be captured with richness, colour and dimension.

Tay Su-Lyn, 41, Restaurateur & Tay Yiming, 36, Restaurateur

How would you describe Su-Lyn as a person?

YIMING: Fierce, determined, steady and very loyal.

How would you describe Yiming as a person?

SU-LYN: Very structured…

YIMING: Indescribable? [laughs] I think I’m more emotional than her.

SU-LYN: Yeah. He’s passionate and reacts to his emotions.

YIMING: She’s more balanced. Whenever I’m feeling something, I will call and speak to her. Maybe she finds it irritating.

How are you similar to one another, and how are you different?

SU-LYN: We share very similar values in life because of our upbringing.

YIMING: She is more outgoing and sociable than I am.

SU-LYN: It’s really funny that he thinks I’m more outgoing just because he sees how I interact with my friends and our relatives—I’m the chattier one while he tends to be more stoic. But that’s one side of my personality. In a normal social setting, I’m an introvert. I went to the Bruno Mars concert recently, and a couple came up to me and asked if I was Ming’s sister—he thought that we both looked alike. So he started telling me how he met my brother when he brought his parents to eat at our restaurant, and even went on to compliment how my brother was the perfect person to work in F&B. Many people have also commented on how affable he is when they meet him in the restaurant. He’s very grumpy with us at home though.


Do you think both of you look alike?

YIMING: Ummm… I haven’t really thought about that, but people always make comments that we do.

SU-LYN: Yeah, even back in the day when we used to go to Zouk, people would come up to me randomly and ask if I was Ming’s sister. Do we really look alike?

Ha ha… not really.

SU-LYN: People always think that I’m the younger sibling.

YIMING: It happened last week again! We made someone guess who is younger, and the person thought that it was her.

What are some of your favourite childhood memories?

SU-LYN: I remember the day when he was born because I really wanted a sibling to play with. With our 5-year age gap, sometimes it can go either way—if you have been alone all this while, all of a sudden, having a sibling might take away all the attention that you had. My brother was born on 19 December and by the time he came back from the hospital, it was Christmas. My mum held him in her arms and gave him to me and said, “This is your Christmas present.” From then on, that was the basis of our relationship—he was mine, to cherish and to protect.

YIMING: Growing up, my sister was very irritating…

SU-LYN: [laughs] I thought that my mum was very irritating too when I was young—must be the women in our family! Well, I used to hug and kiss him all the time. He would wake up from his nap and his face would be so sticky.

YIMING: Yeah, she would smother me with kisses. As we got older, our dynamic and relationship changed.

SU-LYN: It became inappropriate to kiss [laughs]. Another favourite memory was when my dad used to drive up to Pontian because he had family there. And we would take these 2 to 3-hour road trips, and my brother and I would entertain ourselves in the backseat. It’s a fond memory for me, as such things do not happen anymore. At that time, there were no iPads, so I had to make up songs or tickle him to pass time.

How would you define your brother-sister relationship right now?

YIMING: We have a very strong and tight relationship. I can’t imagine life without my sister. Ultimately, when we get older and our parents are no longer around, it’s just going to be the two of us.

SU-LYN: My mum used to call me the “wicked stepmother” because I would always tell him what to do. We have a very different kind of brother-sister bond. My mum worked a lot when we were young, so I became his caretaker by default. I would plan his birthday parties and look for tuition teachers for him. I’ve always felt very protective of him, even to this day.

YIMING: She still bosses me around.


Do you sometimes wish that you had a closer age gap?


SU-LYN: The age gap feels smaller now that we are older.

What is the most annoying thing about her?

YIMING: When I’m trying to talk to her about something and she goes off topic.

SU-LYN: I’m not. In my mind, I’ve already moved on. My mind works very differently from his.

What is the most annoying thing about him?

SU-LYN: He’s quite emotional and many times, I’ll have to deal with his big reactions. Although he might not see my perspective at that moment, I’m able to communicate it to him and he does listen and think about it. It’s not so bad; at the end of the day, we can talk through things.

When do you feel closest to each other?

YIMING: When we are not arguing.

SU-LYN: Actually, I do feel close when we are arguing too. We argue a lot about work, but it never gets personal.

YIMING: That’s true. I have a 2-year-old, and it’s nice when our kids play and hang out together… in the past, she was the only one with kids.

SU-LYN: On that subject, I also do feel close to him when he is close to my kids, because I get to share another part of my life with him. Obviously, when you have kids, they are such a huge part of your life, and they consume you for the good and the bad. My brother really embraced them—he took an interest in wanting to play an active role in their lives. He would bring them out, and listen to my parenting stories… it wasn’t in any way contrived. You feel close to someone when they go through things with you.

Did Su-Lyn give you any parenting tips when you became a father?

YIMING: Yes, she did. I also go to her for advice—recently, my son is at an age where he is not fond of sharing and she had an answer for me. Su-Lyn has 3 kids, so she has a wealth of experience in that area.


How have the both of you changed since you started the business together?

SU-LYN: We had big dreams right off the bat. My brother was very naughty when we were growing up, so I didn’t have any expectations when we went into business together. However, there have been a lot of surprising moments along the way—sometimes you don’t know how someone would react when the going gets tough. There were times when it was extremely challenging and like every business, there are growing pains and teething problems, but I really saw what my brother was made of. Throughout this whole journey, he has been so focused on achieving our goals and vision for the company—and he has been our driving force. I never got a chance to see those sides of him before—I don’t know if the business has changed him and he really got a chance to flex his muscle. F&B is hard in Singapore due to manpower issues and my brother has always stepped up to overcome those problems.

YIMING: Working together with my sister has confirmed a lot of things that I knew about her since young. And I get to experience it first-hand now. She has always been extremely steady, and she still is.

Over the years, what is the most memorable lesson that you learned from each other?

YIMING: I remember distinctly the time when my dad bought me a present. I was disappointed because I didn’t get what I wanted, so I went to my sister to express how I felt. She gave me a dressing down immediately for being so ungrateful, and knocked some sense into me.

SU-LYN: I’m quite a softie when it comes to people and I will naturally give someone the benefit of the doubt. However, sometimes, it might not be good for the business, but that’s just the way I view people. So my brother does school me on certain tough business decisions regarding people, and most of the time he is right. But when a new situation arises, I will revert to my usual self and he has to remind me again. Maybe this balance will make me wiser, and him more compassionate. I might feel a certain way regarding a situation but at least I have gone through all the different possible scenarios from another perspective, thanks to him.

What do you value the most in your relationship?

YIMING: Trust.

SU-LYN: I agree.

Who has more power in the relationship?

YIMING: I think… her [laughs].

Why? Because she is older?


SU-LYN: And I’m more reasonable, right [laughs]?

YIMING: I mean, plus she has always been taking care of me.


Is there one quality that you admire in each other?

YIMING: Her determination and grit. She has always been like that even when she was running her successful fashion business in L.A. Back then, I quietly admired her from afar.

SU-LYN: His focus and the ability to see something through to the end. We had an incident in our restaurant where one of our head chefs had a heart attack—he was the executive chef—and Ming had to step up and manage the entire kitchen. There were a lot of processes that he had to complete and fine-tune. He would even stay overnight for night productions. In that regard, I really do admire how process-driven and organised he is, as it doesn’t come naturally for me.

Tell me a time when you disappointed her, and did you do anything about it?

YIMING: We used to fight a lot during our younger days. One time I poked her eye with a toy, and she had to go to the hospital.

SU-LYN: Oh, is it?

YIMING: That really traumatised me. I guess I was scarred longer than you.

SU-LYN: [laughs] I don’t remember.

When was the last time you were vulnerable with each other?

YIMING: When our mum had a stroke in 2014, it was quite scary.

SU-LYN: It’s interesting that my brother brought it up. I don’t remember it being scary. I guess it’s a different perspective on the situation. Actually, I did not think that he was scared at that point in time and I had no idea that he felt that way. At that moment, you just work through it and it is mind over matter. For me, the word here isn’t “vulnerable” because we are so open with each other that it doesn’t feel vulnerable at all. But there are certain things I choose not to tell him.

So you have kept secrets from one another.

YIMING: Yeah, of course. But if there is something that I want her to know, I will tell her.

SU-LYN: I wouldn’t consider it a secret—I just choose to talk to different people about different things.

YIMING: She talks to her friends about a lot of things! When we were younger, our rooms were next to each other, and the phone line in her room was always engaged. She was always on the phone [laughs].

What do you wish for your sister in the next 5 years?

YIMING: Oh, wow. What do you wish for someone who has everything? I wish for her to be happy, and I wish that she has a happy family too. She’s got a great family and her kids love her to death.

What do you wish for your brother in the next 5 years?

SU-LYN: I wish that as we grow the business, my brother will still have a connection with his son because I see how he is with my children and I hope he doesn’t lose that.


What is something both of you enjoy doing together?

SU-LYN: Eating.


SU-LYN: We have also been travelling quite a bit together to scout for overseas locations and I really enjoy travelling with him. I didn’t expect him to be so good at navigating the streets. I was pleasantly surprised that he could read a map too.

The Army teaches you that.

SU-LYN: Yeah! After his naughty streak, he did confess to me later that National Service made him a better man.

On the topic of eating, who eats more?

YIMING: Her. She even taught me how to eat sambal belacan.

SU-LYN: I’m very adventurous when it comes to food.

What does family time look like?

YIMING: Going over to people’s houses… being surrounded by a lot of kids… it’s very chaotic… and eating together.

SU-LYN: I think being involved in the restaurant business together has funnily enough given me a relationship with him that suits me well. Talking, arguing or telling him how I feel about something he did and vice versa… it’s all part of family time. I don’t need to hang out and watch a movie with him.

YIMING: Yeah, that’s true.

SU-LYN: I have a huge amount of love for him even though it isn’t lovey-dovey. It’s partly protective, partly nurturing and being a voice of reason for him because our parents were divorced when we were young. To be able to be in his life as business partners is more than I could ask for.

When were you most proud of him?

SU-LYN: When he gave a speech at my wedding. Back then, he was a man of few words, but I still asked him to give one since he was my brother. I had no expectations as I’ve never heard him speak publicly before. When it was his turn, he blew everybody away. Even my friends who knew him since he was a baby were so proud of him because they had no idea that he could speak so well! It was funny, witty, on point… we didn’t even know that he had a sense of humour! Everyone was so shocked. I think he has a hidden talent for public speaking, which I don’t have [laughs].

What do you love the most about her? And why?

YIMING: I love that she has always been very real with me. I didn’t have a very close relationship with my parents where I could tell them what’s going on in my life. If I wanted a real opinion, I would go to her—I know she has the best intentions for me.