By Liao Bowen (Research assistant, Center for Sina-Indonesian People-to-people Exchanges Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University)
Bruneian basketball player, entrepreneur and actor Wu Chun is loved by fans throughout China for excellent singing and dancing. He started driving at 14 and made Brunei’s National Basketball Team at 16. He opened a pool hall at age 21 and was thrust into the entertainment industry soon after graduation from university two years later. As his fame shot across China, Malaysia and Australia, Wu Chun introduced fans around the world to Brunei.
A Strict and Devoted Father
In recent years, Wu’s popularity in China has increased thanks to his “good dad” image. In 2014, he appeared on Dad Is Back with his three-year-old daughter Nei Nei. The reality show follows celebrity dads taking care of the kids while Mom is away.
In 2017, Wu was cast in another parent-kid reality show called Daddy Where Are You Going. This time he had to take care of both his four-year-old son Max and Nei Nei, who had turned seven. “The production team was planning on working with just me and Max, but Nei Nei insisted on going,” Wu revealed. “They actually preferred to have two, but I was totally exhausted.”
When asked his most unforgettable moment of the reality show, Wu pointed to a touching moment. “One night before they went to sleep, Nei Nei and Max said from bed, ‘Thank you for your hard work, daddy’,” he recalled. “I was so moved. They had never said such touching words to me. Maybe they saw me work hard caring for them, or maybe they heard me say it so often to the crew.”
It was not easy for the devoted father to do a Chinese show with his kids, considering Max neither speaks Chinese nor knows much about China. “The kids study at an international school that doesn’t have a Chinese language course,” Wu explained. “They speak English at home. But Nei Nei is learning Chinese after school, and Max learned the language for a month before we traveled to meet the production team.”
Wu hoped his children would experience Chinese culture and rural life through the show. Although the kids live very comfortably in Brunei, they had no complaints about rough rural life in China. Rather, they were polite and serious when performing tasks. “The first stop on our itinerary was an old Chinese village where they slept on a wood bed without complaints,” he beamed. “Nei Nei looked forward shooting every day and was always reluctant to leave set.”
Wu believes that a key factor in education is parents setting good examples through their deeds. One day the only available breakfast featured plain steamed buns, eggs and congee. Max nibbled at the bun before giving it to his dad who promptly gobbled it down. Nei Nei asked him why he would eat something so bland. Wu explained that many people in the world still don’t have enough to eat, so they should not waste food. Both kids then managed to enjoy the breakfast.
During an interview, Wu Chun revealed that Bruneian people don’t idolize stars and that he lives like an ordinary person back in Brunei. After Nei Nei was born in 2010, he moved back from Taipei to stay with his family and slowed his career. Three years later when Max arrived, he stopped filming altogether and took care of him for two years. Only in recent years has he taken up acting again. His most recent roles were in the movies My Other Home and Guardians of the Tomb and TV series Martial Universe.
As movie career blossomed, Wu began serving as an ambassador facilitating cultural exchange between Brunei and China. When he was a child, his brother and sister studied at an English school. But he was sent to the only Chinese school in Brunei because his parents felt that someone in the family should learn Chinese. The things he learned at school and his later development in China fueled a more profound understanding of Chinese culture. Today, he has become quite the expert on the cultures of both China and Brunei.
On January 6, 2014, then Chinese Ambassador to Brunei Zheng Xianglin invited Wu and his father Wu Jingtian to the Embassy. Zheng applauded Wu’s large fan base in China and noted that many Chinese people have learned about Brunei because of him. Because 2014 was ASEAN-China Cultural Exchange Year, he said that he hoped Wu would continue playing an active role in promoting Brunei to fans to attract more Chinese tourists to Wu’s home country. Zheng also expressed hope that the star would help more Bruneian people understand China and its culture to promote cultural exchange between the two sides.
The year 2014 saw increasingly frequent people-to-people exchanges between China and Brunei. In August of that year, Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) announced on its website that it had designated Wu Chun its brand ambassador to further explore the Chinese market. Dermot Mannion, then RBA deputy chairman, declared at a press conference that Wu had great celebrity charm, a good reputation and a pristine image, which made him the perfect spokesman.
As the RBA’s global brand ambassador, Wu embarked on an exhibition tour to Shanghai this August. During the event, he introduced fans to the RBA and his hometown, where residents are simple and honest. He also recommended famous scenic spots and special foods of Brunei. The star said that he has used RBA since childhood, so he was very happy and excited for the opportunity to join the team and help it develop step by step.
Wu shared his special feelings about Brunei’s Jerudong Park. His family used to take him there when he was little. He met his future wife at the park, and they returned there on dates on weekends, which left him many sweet memories. The facilities and diverse carnival rides create a great family atmosphere. Wu’s recommendation for local food was seafood, which is fresh and affordable. Tourists can also see the most primitive tropical rainforest, and diving is a popular experience in Brunei.
RBA Executive General Manager Martin Aeberli pointed out that China, Brunei’s second biggest source of tourists, has the world’s largest tourism market. China is also one of the largest foreign direct investors in Brunei. Last year, over 52,000 Chinese tourists visited Brunei, providing more business opportunities for the RBA as well as people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. He also noted that Brunei and China enjoy infinite possibilities in cooperation in tourism, trade and investment.