“Look at this,” Race Wong tells daughter Cara patiently, pointing to the pink turtle-shaped watch on the four-year-old’s wrist. “Mummy will be done in five minutes. When the green hand moves here, it’s five minutes. Okay?”
We are nearly an hour into our Zoom interview with the 39-year-old, who enjoyed a spell of fame in the Noughties as half of Cantopop group 2R with her sister, Rosanne, but who has since given it all up for a no-less-exciting life as an entrepreneur and doting mother. Before Race’s mini-me Cara adorably popped onto our Zoom windows, we had been chatting about how time really was the most precious thing, more than riches, commodities and properties, and how challenging it was for Race to juggle motherhood, work, self-care and all the myriad other things that require her attention.
But when her firstborn walks in, glues herself to Race’s lap, and demands cuddle time, it becomes clear that the struggle for just a few extra minutes in a day is real. We’re sure if her four-month-old son Dayton could toddle to her, he, too, would clamour for his fair share of her time.
But surprisingly, when asked if she had ever considered taking on less, Race tells A Magazine, “No, actually, I find that I’m always taking on more. It’s definitely hard to do less because once you get started on something, you can’t stop. There’s a Chinese phrase I learned in school that stuck with me, and it’s that ‘learning is like going upstream’. And every time you stand still, you’re actually going backwards, because the whole world is moving forward so quickly. I’m so scared of just standing still — I don’t want to move backwards.”
An expert juggling act, a whole lot of planning and some sacrifices are what are required for Race, who co-founded Ohmyhome in 2016 with her sister Rhonda, to keep forging ahead both in her career and in life. “Very soon after we started Ohmyhome, I got pregnant,” she tells us.
“And Rhonda was pregnant when we launched in September, and she gave birth in December. We knew what we were getting ourselves into and what it was going to take — we were already all in.”
All in means that in order to grow her online real-estate platform startup, Race, who holds a Master’s degree in Business from the University of Newcastle where she majored in Marketing, would miss seeing her daughter walk for the first time (“I was on a flight to the Philippines when I received a video of her taking her first steps”). She almost never has dinner with Cara, although that is something she is trying to change.
“We were reading this book about what kids all over the world do and what they eat, and Cara told me, ‘Most of the time, I have my dinner alone and I eat broccoli and pasta.’
“After that, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I make time to have dinner with my husband almost every day, and that’s when we catch up, but our dinner is usually quite late, after we finish work. I told him we should try to have dinner earlier so that we can dine with Cara.” Race’s husband, David Loh, is the executive director and joint chairman of Centurion Corporation Limited.
It does sound like Race needs more than 24 hours a day, especially since she’s also nursing her infant son around the clock. “My guilty pleasure right now is taking short naps, sometimes in between meetings,” she laughs. “Like if my next Zoom meeting is at 3pm and I had just finished a meeting at 2.45, I’d take a 10-minute nap and set my alarm for 2.57pm. I have to plan my time very meticulously.”
And her own days aren’t the only things she masterminds — little Cara has a very busy schedule as well. “She goes to school in the morning, then she has classes such as piano, ballet and tuition. I organise a lot of lessons for her, because with the baby and my work, I can’t spend that much time with her. The good thing is that she loves to learn. I have to educate her that even though I’m at home, I’m working, and that we have to do the right thing at the right time. She’s used to it already.”
If she had a precious 25th hour every day, she would spend more time with her kids, or use the time to read. “Juggling work and two kids, I have a lot less time for myself. The last person in line is always me,” she muses. “During my confinement, I did have a thought, like, ‘Oh, can I actually be a stay-home mum and do this all the time?’ But then I also feel very insecure when I’m always at home and am not being productive. I think working keeps me sane!”
Working To Stay Sane
Speaking of work, Ohmyhome recently had an infusion of funds after its latest round of fundraising, which she says will catapult it towards doing more of what it does best. “Ohmyhome is not like the major property platforms. Our focus is not on listings — it’s on helping homeowners and homeseekers transact their properties as efficiently as possible. We have our DIY listings platform, where you can list and search for properties and connect for free. And then we have our agent services, mortgage services, conveyancing and renovation services. Our aim is to improve our data-matching technology, and up the speed and satisfaction of property transactions.”
The fact that Race’s family is in property investment and that they moved over 30 times since she was a kid, influences her current business. “I know all about the pain and the joy of a new place because I’ve moved from Malaysia [where she was born] to Singapore, to Australia, and then to Hong Kong and back. It’s from all these experiences that we feel things can be done in a better way. And that’s what propelled us to start Ohmyhome.”
You could say that having a little head start in the family’s real-estate business may have helped Race, Rhonda and Ohymyhome, but Race tells us that in life, there aren’t many things that happen without a “very intentional effort”. Even her celebrity journey wasn’t a walk in the park.
“My intention was to be a singer, and to do that in those days, you had to go to Hong Kong or Taiwan. So I moved to Hong Kong and went through countless castings to get my first TV show, my first ad and my first record deal. Of course, there was some luck, but also a lot of intentional hard work.
“Just like for Ohmyhome — we started from scratch with our own investment to create the first prototype app, and we had to bootstrap for more than a year with no salary. We were on the ground knocking on doors, giving out flyers and free ice-cream at MRT stations…we were working 24/7. And that’s how we became the No.1 DIY property app within a few months of our launch. There’s a saying that goes, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’.”
And for all her success and everything she’s worked hard for and gotten lucky in, from her triumphs in business to her awards and achievements in showbiz (she was nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award and a Golden Horse for her first leading role in the 2004 movie Ab-normal Beauty), Race wants to give something back.
“I do think we should embrace charity as part of our daily lives, simply by being kind. And of course it begins at home. We should start with being nice to the people around us — whether it’s our helpers and babysitters, or our parents and siblings, who are people we tend to take for granted.
“One charity I strongly support is the International Justice Mission (IJM), which works to end exploitation and violence of women and children, and issues like the online sexual exploitation of minors. I always feel like whenever we have a choice, it is a luxury. There are people who don’t have a choice. And these are the people we have to lend a hand to.”
Photography by Cher Him, styling by Chia Wei Choong, hair by Sean Ang using Dyson Hair, makeup by Wee Ming using Dior Beauty, photography assistance by Mikey, styling assistance by Kevin Tew