Beauty with brains

Crystal Fung was born to wear a crown. As a child, she would walk around at home with a blanket on her shoulders and a broom in her hand, pretending she was a beauty pageant queen walking around the stage.

“I considered myself an ordinary girl. Being Miss Hong Kong was something so fancy, and I thought it was something that was not going to happen to me,” she recalled. “When I was in high school, I looked very nerdy.”

Attending the all-girl Holy Trinity College also consolidated her focus on books rather than looks. So she gave up on the idea of pageantry and instead concentrated on her other dream – of being a dietician – instead.

Growing up, Fung had to watch her brother, who is four years her junior, eat bland meals without seasoning, as he had a chronic kidney disease called glomerulonephritis and was on a strict low-sodium diet.

“As his sister, I thought of how I could help improve his quality of life with his limited food choices,” she said. “So I wanted to learn more about nutrition and healthy eating.”

She would go online to look for low-sodium recipes to make, and one of the recipes she made was avocado toast – years before it became a global trend.

“I would keep an eye out for information on superfoods and healthy eating, and that was how I learned that the avocado was one.”

Food soon became an interest and goal for the teenage Fung. She chaired the cooking club in secondary school and went on to study food and nutritional science at the University of Hong Kong.

Upon graduation, Fung had wanted to take a gap year before continuing with her postgraduate studies – a prerequisite to becoming a registered dietician.

Looking to take on a new challenge, she joined the pageant – and the rest is history.

First, she was crowned Miss Hong Kong 2016. A year later, she took part in Miss Chinese International, where she was second runner-up.

“My original plan was to finish my master’s degree and become a dietician. I never thought that joining the pageant would change my life.”

Even after winning the crown, she thought that she would return to a normal life after her one-year term as Miss Hong Kong.

“But it opened a window into acting and filming, so I went with the flow and took the opportunities.”

She won the 2018 TVB Anniversary Award for Most Improved Female Artiste a year after signing on.

“At this stage in my life, I go with the flow. When there are opportunities for me to perform and be a public figure – to utilize my influence and spread positive thinking and energy – I will continue this role,” she said.

“Tomorrow is uncertain, and I can’t guarantee what will happen next. So I won’t rule out the chances of someday resuming my studies in nutrition, but right now, I am enjoying what I am doing.”

Now 26, Fung has not completely given up her passion for wellness and has recently been studying online for a diploma in psychology and counseling hosted by the University of California Berkeley.

“The pandemic is a chance for us to slow down, appreciate things in life, and learn more about self-love and grow,” she said.

She also believes that it helps in understanding the psyches of the characters she portrays.

Her latest role is a Venezuelan-Chinese computer hacker called Ana in TVB drama Sinister Beings, who gets roped into the plot after her foster father’s death.

To prepare herself for the role, Fung took Spanish classes a month before filming.

“We spoke mainly Cantonese on the show, but there is some dialogue in Spanish, so I needed some basic knowledge to handle the role,” she said.

Fung felt she could relate to the witty, smart and wild Ana’s adventurous side.

“She is willing to take on adventures and embrace the unknown, so she is often tasked with investigations and even being a spy,” she said. “Like me, she likes trying new things.”

Shooting the drama in late 2019, she remembered the last days of filming overlapping with the beginning of the pandemic. “We were filming overseas in Thailand and received a lot of news about the rising cases,” she said.

“People in Hong Kong were freaked out about not having masks. So I was very lucky that I could stock up on some.”

Nonetheless, since actors and actresses cannot put on masks during their scenes, Fung is taking extra steps to minimize the risks for her and her family over the past year.

“I put my mask back on when the camera is not rolling and carry hand sanitizer everywhere.” She also does preliminary tests with rapid Covid test kits regularly.

Reflecting on her success, Fung believes that it is crucial to remember that your only competition is yourself, and it is important to admit your weaknesses in order to conquer them.

“Even if the situation is difficult, do not lose faith. If you are willing to look for a solution, you will find it,” she said.

“But it cannot come from comparing with others. If you focus on what you are working on, the world will be in your favor and you will find your suitable path.”

Sinister Being airs on weekdays from 8.30 to 9.30pm on TVB Jade until June 11.

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