From underdog to top dog
Mrs Singapore Globe winner struggled to master English when she moved here from China at 17
Showing off her svelte figure as she took centre stage while being crowned Mrs Singapore Globe 2016, Madam Lina Li was one of the big winners at the finals of the Mrs Singapore and Classic Mrs Singapore 2016 pageant, held on Saturday night at Orchid Country Club.
The other two main titles went to Madam Giselle Ang (Mrs Singapore Planet 2016) and Mrs Lynette Tan (Mrs Singapore Universe 2016).
Looking at the confidence, poise and radiance she exuded as she smiled for the dozens of flashing cameras, you would never imagine that the journey from past to present for the 33-year-old, who also won the subsidiary Leadership Award, was far from picture perfect.
Instead, it was one that was full of adjustments and personal transformation.
At 16, the Chinese national left her home in Tianjin when she was offered a scholarship to pursue her secondary school education in Singapore.
She began at the Secondary 3 level at Dunman High School when she was 17.
Madam Li, who is a mother of two, told The New Paper in fluent English: "You will never know the pain and torture I went through (to learn the English language).
"At the very beginning, I couldn't even understand a single word my teachers were saying except 'Good morning' or 'Thank you'.
"I really didn't understand any lesson and I had to self-study because I was on a scholarship and I was, in a sense, forced to produce results... (if not I) would be sent home."
She added: "I would read the textbook word for word and check the dictionary when I came across any words I didn't understand, then I would translate it into Chinese and try to make sense of it.
"I remember I didn't understand the subject of Geography at all, from the concepts to the questions being asked in the exams. I would memorise the textbook from the first page to the last."
Madam Li ended up scoring A1s for every subject in her O levels, except for English, which was a C5, a grade she was still very happy about.
She continued to excel academically as she moved on to Raffles Junior College and the National University of Singapore, where she met her Chinese husband, whom she married in 2009.
JUBILANT: Madam Lina Li, who won Mrs Singapore Globe 2016, with her husband. TNP PHOTO: DALENE LOW
After that, she started teaching physics at an Independent secondary school and gave birth to her first son in 2011.
She became pregnant again just nine months later and welcomed another son in 2012, after which she was posted to a different school.
That was when her troubles started.
Madam Li said: "I went from teaching at an Independent school to a neighbourhood school and there was such a big change in the environment, the culture and the student profiles.
"On top of that, my husband was travelling to China a few times a month for work, then there was added stress from my parents-in-law who came (from China) to help me look after my newborn."
Madam Li believed she had postnatal depression then, as she was overwhelmed by the new roles and responsibilities she had to take on.
Said the self-proclaimed perfectionist: "I cried very often, feeling like escaping from my house. I found myself very useless at that point of time and I couldn't seem to do anything right. I was struggling with my career, motherhood and I simply had no time for myself."
During this period, she put on 9kg due to stress-eating, going up to 64kg from her usual 55kg.
"I knew there was something wrong with me and I couldn't ignore it anymore. I had to find time for myself to figure it all out so I had a discussion with my husband about putting my career aside to focus on our kids.
"I took a year of unpaid leave last year and resigned in January this year," said Madam Li, who is now a freelance make-up artist.
She went on to tackle her weight issue.
Madam Li, who is 1.65m tall, jogged up to 5km in her neighbourhood, walked up to three hours at parks, danced and got toned with videos on YouTube. In three months, she lost 12kg, and, at 52kg, is now even slimmer than before.
She came across the Mrs Singapore pageant, and because she had regained her confidence and had free time, she decided to try something new.
Madam Li, who, like her husband, is now a Singapore citizen, said: "I'm someone who likes to constantly challenge myself. At the beginning of the competition, my scores were not leading, but I think I managed to prove myself.
"I believe through this platform, I'll get to reach more people who can benefit from my story and inspire them. I like to share my experiences and lead people, which is probably why I won the Leadership Award too."
HAPPY FAMILY: Madam Lina Li with her husband, her mother, and two children.
Widow received support from strangers
SUPPORT: Classic Mrs Singapore 2016 winner Clara Lee was escorted by her son Shaun (below) during the evening gown segment. TNP PHOTOS: DALENE LOW
Arms linked, the Mrs Singapore and Classic Mrs Singapore 2016 contestants' smartly-dressed husbands clad in tailored suits escorted them on stage for the evening gown segment of the competition.
But for Ms Clara Lee, the special man by her side was her 20-year-old son Shaun, who had just completed his National Service.
Last month, the 49-year-old shared with TNP the story of her husband's sudden death while she was five months pregnant.
In 1995, when she was carrying the couple's first and only child, she received the tragic news that her 29-year-old photographer husband had died in a car accident in Germany. He had travelled to for work.
Widowed and feeling lost, she fell into a state of depression.
For a year, she would go to the 12th storey of her HDB block, climb onto the parapet and talk to her late husband as her legs dangled beneath her, before snapping out of it one day after seeing the pain she was causing her mother.
Last Saturday, Ms Lee walked away with the title of Classic Mrs Singapore Universe 2016 and also won the Charity Queen 2016 subsidiary award.
Madam Jessica Loh and Madam Serene Cheng, both 50, were named Classic Mrs Singapore Globe 2016 and Classic Mrs Singapore Planet 2016 respectively.
Since the TNP article was published, Ms Lee, a management operations executive, said she received an outpouring of support from friends and even strangers whom she met while helping out at charity events.
She said: "They have told me that I'm daring to step out of my comfort zone and that I'm strong and they're happy to learn from my example.
"They said they're sad to read about what I've been through, but happy that I've become a better person because of it."
Ms Lee said she even received phone calls from various organisations, including Singapore Amalgamated Services Co-operative Organisation and the Singapore Cancer Society, asking for her assistance in the event that she wins.
"I said even if I don't win, I will help. Charity is in my heart ," she said.
"But the only reason I had the strength to share my story was because of my son.
"He said, 'Mum, if you join this pageant, there is a chance of people getting to know our story. If you want to step up to share, I'm proud of you. If you feel ashamed of it, you shouldn't be joining this pageant'."
Shaun said he encouraged his mother to do so in order for her to "break out from her shell" and "move forward in life".
He said: "To see her come out from a dark period to winning this, it's very impressive. Seeing what she has been through has motivated me to overcome my own difficulties in life."
Ms Lee, who even showed off her belly dancing moves during the talent segment of the pageant, feels that if her husband were alive today, he would be very proud of her and would have supported her throughout the competition.
"But it is because of his death that I've been able to face the challenges and step out of it and grow," she said.
"The most important thing I've learnt is to do charity. By making others happy, you will feel happy.
"I mainly want to help those suffering from depression to show them that if I can come out of it stronger, they can too ," she said.
She won major title and 6 awards
HAPPY COUPLE: Mrs Lynette Tan, who won Mrs Singapore Universe 2016, with her husband, Mr Jedidiah Tan.
"And the winner is -Contestant No. 14 Lynette Tan" was the line that was announced the most at Saturday's finals.
Mrs Lynette Tan took home six of the 27 subsidiary awards given out, as well as the bigger title of Mrs Singapore Universe 2016.
She won Mrs Aeon Singapore, Mrs Beautiful Smile, Bejeweled Brand Ambassador 2016, Kira Singapore Beauty Aesthetic, Mrs Wellness, and Best In Talent 2016.
For the pageant's talent segment, she danced and lip-synced to US singer Meghan Trainor's hit song Dear Future Husband.
The 40-year-old radio DJ told TNP: "I just wanted to do something I've never done before and through this journey, I really did, (like) dance in a shopping mall in front of a crowd or cook in public, and I hope that through this, I get to inspire other women to step out of their comfort zone like I have."
Mrs Tan, who has been married for nine years and has no children, also wants to use her title to help married couples who might be going through struggles.
She said: "I hope to build strong marriages because I think that's synonymous with strong families, and strong families lead to a strong nation.
"I have had troubles in my own marriage before and I have overcome them, so I feel that it is possible to mend a marriage and make it even better than it was before ."
Her husband, Mr Jedidiah Tan, 40 , who is in the civil service, said: "It (had to do with) a bit of interference from parents during our early years of marriage, who didn't know where to draw the line and that created a lot of pressure for the both of us. Parents need to know when to start (letting go of) their kids, especially once they're married, as it is timely and necessary."