It was my first time meeting Sylvia, off the screen. Like many, I have known her as “Xiao Bitch” for the past few years, an online persona that embodied the spirit of my era. She doesn’t know it, but I have re-watched 17 Types of Ah Lian for over 10 times in the course of my life, simply for the fun of it.
The scenes, whilst overly dramatized, was the exact kind of comedy that spoke volumes about the Ah Lian scene in Singapore in the early 2010s. Her unabashed presentation of the character, along with the intended mispronunciation of Hermès (Hermes, as she had called it, instead of Er-Mez), made her relatable among the common man. Xiao Bitch was a character that existed at least in the minds of every female millennial, having gone through the phase of skirt-folding to taking selfies from the back camera of our phones. We all had a Xiao Bitch among us, or within us.
Meet Sylvia, the OG Xiao Bitch.
However, unlike Xiao Bitch, she is not in any way as unrefined and bimbotic as her on-screen persona. A jack of all trades, Sylvia is co-founder of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC), a digital content creator and friend-mager to her talents. Beyond these key roles, she delves into a series of marketing and PR-related issues for NOC, as well as acting and directing in a myriad of NOC videos. I know – this is all a mouthful to swallow, which then seriously begs the question: how?
Upon introduction, she handed one of the two Starbucks Green Tea Frappes that she had kindly bought to me. We had agreed to meet during her pedicure session, which I thought was ingenious; clearly, Sylvia was a pro at multi-tasking and time-management, given her schedule, and I took a mental note to learn from such practices.
She settled down on the massage chair, ready for the hour-long Q&A session that I had initiated two weeks ago. Whilst lethargic-looking, she sounded vibrant, though this is probably the nth time she has had someone ask the same few questions over again. I proceeded gently with the questions, and by the end of the interview, I can safely say that she is exactly how I thought she would be – authentic, brazen and uninhibited. I compiled the essence of our chat into a few key lessons, which I thought was in line with Sylvia's ethics - to inspire.
Lesson 1: Do things that spark joy.
Content creation, which Sylvia identified as the core of what she and NOC does, is something that she consistently spoke of with passion throughout the interview.
Unlike many of our local entrepreneurs, Sylvia doesn’t prioritize wealth-creation as much as she values her happiness. She is willing to spend time, energy and money on the content that she is interested in producing – even if it might not be lucrative to do so – simply because she enjoys the process of making them.
Along with her team and husband, they seek to produce and create whatever that makes them happy.
This includes the weekly Out Of The Box (OOTB) series conducted by Ryan and Dee Kosh. Though the series fails to “earn her any money”, she continues to film the series because she saw how delighted the duo was to share their buys online.
I also had the privilege of being led into a secret: together with Ryan, they had forsaken the networking opportunities presented for being nominated in 2016’s Forbes 30 under 30 in Asia, to continue shooting for a video. She protested against the need for such business-centric norms, and expressed heartily that she would not be able to make the cut for any entrepreneurial events because she was told that she “didn’t know how to run a business”.
“It’s so annoying, people tell you to conform… that as a good business person, you must go and network… But we don’t want! We just want to make our stupid videos.”
At 31, beyond video production, Sylvia continues to partake in a series of projects that benefits the community. She talked with great zest about the projects she had on hand, which ranges from a series of self-initiated talks in schools to the year-old NOC Charity Club (she plans to call this community club hereafter).
As Uncle Ben from Spiderman would have called it, “with great power comes great responsibilities”. In this vein, Sylvia finds her online influence significant in assisting the society, wherever she is able to contribute. According to her, these ideas can be very spontaneous, and can sometimes stem from something as random as their exasperation towards “entitled, lazy and privileged kids”.
In overcoming such feelings within herself and her team, Sylvia firsts acknowledge that like most adults, she feels that the younger generation can be too pampered and indifferent towards their privileges.
However, unlike many adults who will simply “complain and don’t do much” to change the situation, Sylvia and her team made it a point to reach out to several schools to hold talks and workshops. Along with both Ryan and Aiken, they go with the intent to inspire, even if they succeed in inspiring only one student among the entire cohort.
With such goals, their audience hence varies from primary school children to university students, who at different junctures may encounter diverse troubles and concerns.
Through sharing sessions and workshops aimed at teaching skills (videography, editing etc.), Sylvia finds herself akin to a motivational speaker, whose personal experiences can help empower the youths to take ownership of their lives.
While some speakers have the tendency to present themselves as “well-respected” seniors to look up to, Sylvia does not attempt to embellish her journey, and instead displays herself as an individual who has repeatedly failed and recovered. In portraying herself as a fellow counterpart, she has allowed many students to confront the truth of being human – that being human means being fallible.
Amidst the carefully curated life-stories of many, as displayed through social media, Sylvia and her team is easily seen as the Robin Hood of the local Internet sphere, especially with their commitment to do more workshops as they expand in size.
Lesson 2: Find what makes you happy, and make a job out of it.