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MISS Chinese Cosmos 2004, Carrie Lee Sze Kei can completely fool you. When she first walked into the Delicious Cafe at 1-Utama in Petaling Jaya, she was elegant, composed and supremely confident. In short, the lovely young lady with the silky long hair and doe eyes was the picture of ladylike femininity, poised to take on the Chinese entertainment world in a big way.
During the photo shoot in front of a scattered number of diners who were attempting valiantly to look nonchalant, Carrie pouted and struck poses for the camera like the model that she is. In the next moment, as we settled down on the settee for our interview, the ultra-cool beauty morphed into this girlish, charmingly giggly teenager (she is, after all, only 19 years old). She spoke almost nervously in rapid-fire English and Cantonese. At times, this Kepong lass stumbled over her words, but there was no doubt that her frantically paced speech was a reflection of her quick wit.
“The most important lesson I learnt from the pageant was how to be really, really confident and not so much how to groom yourself. Most of the contenders from China were so self-assured I had to force myself to be like that even though my Mandarin is rather poor,” said this former Miss Tourism Malaysia 2003.
Carrie was an active sportswoman during her secondary school years at SMK Segambut Jaya and had represented the Federal Territory in handball. Obviously, her decision to shed her tomboy image has reaped tremendous rewards.
Being the gutsy girl that she is, Carrie was adamant about her decision to join the pageant even though she was told that the language barrier would hinder any chances of her clinching the title. However, as the days wore on and Carrie went on to become one of the 20 finalists of the pageant, she actually contemplated quitting while she was still ahead.
“I thought if I were to be chosen as one of the eight finalists at the next stage, I would be forced to go through some tough question-and-answer sessions (which were conducted in Mandarin). I didn’t want to embarrass my family, my country and myself by speaking in my lousy Mandarin, so it did cross my mind to give it all up,” she reminisced. “But then again, I convinced myself to continue because I felt that I had a responsibility to give it my best shot.”
I asked her about her famous horse, which was the catalyst for her winning the coveted title. You see, Carrie allegedly won over the judges’ hearts when she broke down and cried after finding out that her horse had sprained its leg. So what was that all about?
“I felt very, very bad about how I treated my horse,” Carrie confessed with a cringe. “I had been riding the same horse in China for a few days and I had won many of the riding contests with it. So one day I was surprised to find that my horse was a lot slower than he usually was, and I used my leather whip on him. It was only when someone checked on him that I realised he had sprained his leg and could hardly move anymore. I felt so awful that I just burst into tears.” At this point, Carrie paused for a moment as her thoughts drifted back to her hoofed friend.
Currently, the budding starlet has just finished filming local production Love Circle, a Mandarin drama serial targetted for Malaysian TV.
“I can honestly tell you that I couldn’t bear to watch my first 10 scenes in the serial,” Carrie confessed. “I think that my acting ‘skills’ were awful then. I felt like banging my head on the wall when I saw myself on screen.” She laughed with embarrassment and shook her head.
She is also quite the jetsetter as she frequently flies to China for glitzy affairs like opening ceremonies and interviews with the Chinese press. Since Miss Chinese Cosmos was organised by the Hong Kong station Phoenix Satellite Television, Carrie has also made several appearances on Astro’s Phoenix Channel. Looks like Carrie will be treading the tried-and-tested path of capitalising on her beauty title by venturing into the entertainment industry.
She cheerfully held up five fingers and confided: “I am giving myself five years to make it in the entertainment industry. I am not really bothered whether I will be in Malaysia, Hong Kong or anywhere else in the world. Of course, my foremost priority now is to improve my Mandarin.”
Since she will still be relatively young after the said period, Carrie feels that there might be a possibility that she will continue her studies thereafter, preferably majoring in interior design. Previously, she had discontinued her business studies at HELP Institute in Kuala Lumpur after one semester due to financial constraints.
As if to reassure me that she is not a run-off-the-mill, garden-variety beauty queen, she added quickly: “Now, I am actually working on setting up an event management company with some friends.
“We had a meeting with people from the Tourism Ministry yesterday. We plan to implement a state-level Miss City Tourism pageant, which precedes the national Miss Malaysia Tourism pageant,” said Carrie, clearly bent on making full use of her experience in beauty contests.
Her very-short-term goal is to clean her house in preparation for the Chinese New Year. She laughed her uninhibited laugh as she confessed: “My room is such a mess and my mum has been nagging me to clean out my room.”
Being young and gorgeous, Carrie nevertheless prefers to stay at home than go clubbing.
“I don’t really enjoy a teenager’s life,” she declared with commendable conviction, spoilt only by a giggle. “I had my share of partying when I turned ‘blonde’ for one of my modelling assignments. I still go clubbing but somehow I don’t enjoy it as much anymore. I like to go to mamak stalls with my friends. There were a few times when people did recognise me, but I am not bothered. I just smile.”
In fact, Carrie is so carefree that sometimes she goes out with a bare face.
I asked her whether she has seen herself on the Phoenix channel and she grinned sheepishly and held up her hands. “I don’t have Astro at home,” confessed the guileless one. “My family can’t afford it as we are quite poor.”
Carrie, the middle of three siblings whose mum is a housewife and dad a welder, declared with a genuine smile: “I was born into a poor family; I don’t think I would be where I am today if circumstances had been otherwise.”
As with all interviews with newly crowned beauty queens, the issues of beauty secrets and romantic status naturally pop up.
“Beauty secrets?” Carrie mused aloud. “If I were to ask you to choose between consuming expensive birds’ nest or having eight hours of sleep, which one would you pick?”
“Sleep?” I ventured, thus prompting a satisfied grin from her.
“Of course, sleep is much more important because nothing will ever replace the effects of having a good night’s rest,” she opined.
Carrie openly declared that she has a boyfriend.
“You can write about it if you want, I don’t really mind,” she assured me by patting me on the hand. “There is nothing to hide. In fact, I bring him along for many of my public appearances.”
Before she picked up her bag to leave, I asked her for the name of her horse that had injured itself in China.
“Tong Hua (meaning fairytale in Mandarin),” she told me, flashing a dazzling smile.
How very apt.
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