Call me Tan Bee Keow

Indian singer has a Chinese name and is fluent in Mandarin and Hokkien because she was adopted by a Chinese family

Indian Singer Tan Bee Keow. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

If after watching the Royston Tan musical comedy 3688 you are puzzled why an Indian actress in it would go by the name Tan Bee Keow, you would not be the first.

All her life, the 25-year-old singer has had to deal with quizzical looks and double takes when she introduces herself.

Speaking to Life in fluent Mandarin, she says in a resigned tone: "When the teacher first did the roll call in primary school and called my name, I raised my hand and immediately everyone else in class looked and pointed at me.

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"They questioned me whether that's my real name. That type of thing would happen again in secondary school and beyond.

"People always look at me in an odd way, which makes me feel like I'm different."

There has been interest in the Malaysian singer-dancer's identity after she made her acting debut in Tan's film. In the film, she plays a feisty participant in a TV singing contest who impresses audiences with her competency in Mandarin despite being an ethnic Indian.

In real life, she is also fluent in the Hokkien dialect, having spoken it at home after she was adopted by Chinese farmers when she was eight months old. She has a 20-year-old adoptive younger brother who is also Indian by race.

"We were raised like most Chinese kids, celebrating Chinese customs and festivals such as Chinese New Year. I know my skin is darker than most and I might look different, but I see myself as Chinese," she says.

Director Tan had cast her in his movie after first seeing her take part in the once-popular Taiwanese singing contest One Million Star in 2010.

She had wowed television audiences with her performances of Hokkien songs and made it to the Top 12 before getting eliminated. Host Matilda Tao nicknamed her "the tanned Huang Yee-ling" in reference to the famed Taiwanese Minnan dialect singer.

Royston Tan says that he was "very intrigued that an Indian girl could sing so perfectly in Mandarin and Hokkien". "I felt that she could add a new dimension to the film with her beautiful voice and exotic look," he adds.

The Kuala Lumpur-based singer, who also belts out Cantonese numbers, says she has no plans to find her biological family. All she knows from her adoptive parents about them is that she was the youngest of 12 children.

"My parents have said that they will support me if I want to reconnect with my biological parents, but I don't see the necessity.

"I have my own parents and it doesn't matter that we are of different races. We're family."

•3688 is showing in cinemas.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline Call me Tan Bee Keow. Subscribe