Cheryl Chou: My mum, my best friend
Miss Universe Singapore 2016 winner counts on mum for support during pageants
For Miss Universe Singapore 2016 winner Cheryl Chou, her best friend is none other than her mother, Mrs Carol Chou.
During a photo shoot with The New Paper, the mother-daughter duo were down-to-earth, constantly adjusting each other's outfits and bantering in the way only close family members can.
They even share clothes. Mrs Chou, 55, told TNP she had borrowed her daughter's jacket for the photo shoot.
She said: "We have always been best friends... I told myself that Cheryl has to be happy and I need to make sure that she is."
Ensuring that her 21-year-old daughter is happy means regularly shuttling between Shanghai - where she has a wine machine distribution business - and Singapore to spend time with Miss Chou, who is living here alone to study in Lasalle College of the Arts.
Her husband is based in Shanghai as well.
Mrs Chou said: "I used to fly back once a month, but ever since she took part in Miss Universe Singapore, I have been coming back once a week, and I will stay for four to five days."
Miss Chou said: "When we do not get to see each other, we will Skype every night.
"The journey was tough, and it was not easy for me sometimes, but my mother was there for me. I learnt from her to be more positive and to take things one step at a time. Even if I have had a bad day, I should just go to sleep. The next day would always be better."
The duo also like travelling together. They especially enjoy taking buses in foreign countries to take in the sights at a leisurely pace and spend more time together.
Mrs Chou also advises her daughter by sharing her past failures.
She remembers Miss Chou asking if she could take part in the Miss Universe Singapore pageant.
"I didn't hesitate to say yes as I thought it would be a good experience for her, and I wanted her to get out of her comfort zone," said mum.
"At first, we didn't want to aim too high. We would have been happy if she got into the top 15. Then, we slowly became more ambitious, hoping she could do better."
When asked how Miss Chou has grown up, Mrs Chou said her only child has become more independent.
"She never fails to get back up after a setback," Mrs Chou said.
Earlier this month, Mrs Chou followed Miss Chou to New York for a week for the official Miss Universe 2016 training sessions.
"They taught me what to expect during the pageant and stuff such as how to walk and answer the question-and-answer segment," said Miss Chou.
"It was intense, especially since there was a time difference. But the most difficult thing was walking in my evening gown."
On the question-and-answer segment, Miss Chou said: "One of the things I learnt is to not give an answer based on what others want to hear but to give an answer from the heart.
"And if we do fall while walking, we should just pick ourselves up and continue."
To prepare for the Miss Universe 2016 final, which will be held on Jan 30 in Manila, Miss Chou has been doing circuit training six times a week, a routine close to what she usually follows.
Her family switched to vegetarianism a year-and-a-half ago.
Mrs Chou said: "Every time I chance upon a vegetarian dish, I will try to recreate it. Cheryl loves to drink double-stewed soup, hence I have changed it so she can continue to enjoy the dish."
Miss Chou has been receiving well wishes from both Singaporeans and people from all around the world in the build-up to the final.
Miss Chou said: "I got a lot of support from the locals, receiving nice messages from them on my social media every now and then. Someone from France also e-mailed me to say "Team Singapore", which was encouraging.
"I feel that this year's support is different - there are more people who support pageants, and I really appreciate every one of them."
But Miss Chou does not shy away from the hate comments. Instead, she takes them as a form of advice.
What sets her apart from the other contestants?
"I was educated in an international environment since I was young, and there were so many different cultures around me so that helps a lot," she said.
Despite being in a competitive environment, she has become friends with a few of the other contestants, including Miss Universe Korea.
"We found each other on Instagram and started chatting. It is nice that we can be a source of help for each other whenever we need it. We even have a group chat with the other girls.
"I don't see them as competitors, but as my friends. I want to be friendly and approachable to them," Miss Chou said.
Mrs Chou said: "Cheryl is a nice and kind girl, and I couldn't have been more proud of her."
She will be heading to Manila five days before the final with other family members to support her daughter.
"I hope Cheryl can make a big change for Singapore and carry out her duties to represent our country," Mrs Chou said.
For the international pageant, Miss Chou designed a series of red scarves with two of her Lasalle classmates to present to the other contestants and the organisers.
The printed scarves feature iconic elements of Singapore, like the Merlion.
It was part of Miss Chou's school project in her previous semester. She and her friends named the brand Ahmasays.
"Ahmasays is based on myths and folktales, something your grandmother told you when you were younger. We designed the scarves in December and ordered 120 pieces to give away.
"I thought it would be nice to give a piece of Singapore to them. It is something modern and contemporary, and it is easy to take around," said Miss Chou.