Midway through the filming of a heartrending interview in the remote mountains of China eight years ago, travel host Belinda Lee cried so hard that her false eye- lashes came loose. She proceeded to unceremoniously pluck them off. 

She recounts the behind-the-scenes moment with a laugh: “The production crew burst out laughing. They were amused that I didn’t care about my image.” She now knows she must get eyelash extensions that will not fall out.

Lee was filming the first season in 2007 of Channel U travelogue Find Me A Singaporean, which seeks out Singaporeans working on meaningful causes abroad. That episode featured a psychotherapist who cares for the mentally ill in Fugong, a county in Yunnan province. The heartwarming yet hilarious anecdote is included in her new book, Larger Than Life: Celebrating The Human Spirit.

The book, published in English, is her first stab at writing. It compiles inspiring profiles culled from Find Me A Singaporean and another travelogue she hosted, The Land We Live In (2013). The book hit the shelves earlier this month.

Find Me A Singaporean was a hit and Lee went on to helm three more seasons (2008, 2012 and 2014). The third season earned her the award for Best Info-Ed Programme Host at the annual Star Awards in 2013. She is hosting a new Channel U travelogue Somewhere Out There and will appear in an SG50 commemorative programme that will air on Channel 5 next year. She is also filming a movie and will join the cast of a new Channel 8 long-form drama next year.

Lee, 38, who is single, says: “These travelogues are different from the usual travel shows. They are not so glamorous. You have to rough it out and go off-the-beaten track. The themes are all about paying it forward, community work and making a social impact.

In the course of her work, she has slept in a cemetery in Manila and faced her fear of bees in Uganda. These adventurous travelogues have set her apart from pretty hosts and earned her the reputation of being a gungho compere with a can-do attitude.

Lee started out as an MTV VJ before joining MediaCorp in 2003. Her resume includes hosting food programme Makan King (2005) and acting in Channel 8 dramas Katong Miss Oh (2002) and Breakout (2010). It was her good friend, entrepreneur Elim Chew, who suggested writing the book. “She told me that my shows have touched many people, but not everyone has watched them. She felt that I needed to share these precious stories and bless others,” says Lee, the youngest of three children of retired parents in their 60s.

It was only years later that she got down to e-mailing publisher Marshall Cavendish. In 2013, she set up a meeting with publishing executives and sealed the book deal in 11/2 hours. She co-authored the book with freelance writer Juleen Shaw. All proceeds will go to humanitarian group World Vision. Lee is the goodwill ambassador for the group’s Singapore chapter.

1. Do you worry about not looking your best while filming?

The more I travel and go through hardship, the more unaffected I have become with this whole rat race in the entertainment scene. I realise there is more to life than trying to look perfect and beautiful the whole time. The funny thing is, the less make- up I have on and the more rundown I look, the more the audience notice and like me. They tell me they can relate to me better when I am dressed down.

2. Why was Find Me A Singaporean a turning point in your life?

Before I started work on the travelogues, I was not too sure if I was cut out for the entertainment industry. I was too soft, too gullible and I cried easily. As a young girl, I was quiet and had low self-esteem. No one would have expected me to become an artist. I enjoyed my work. I loved to act and host. However, I could not find a sense of purpose in what I was doing. There was just something missing. I was miserable. I thought it was time to leave the industry and find a nine-to-five office job.

3. What’s the most memorable profile featured in the book?

I would say it’s the story that we filmed in Mongolia in 2012. I met terminally ill Duurengaral Togmid, who had a pituitary tumour and other ailments. She left a deep impression on me because I was going through the lowest point of my life. I had just ended a six-year relationship. I was supposed to get married, but it didn’t happen. I was depressed and even thought of ending my life.

Duurengaral gave me the most beautiful smile in the world. She was a dying patient who was fighting to live. I was a healthy human being who wanted to die. There was that irony. At that moment, I felt so ashamed of myself. Sadly, she died a few months later.

4. Does it ever get too overwhelming?

Whenever I connect with someone who is hurting, I feel whatever he or she feels. Even now, I would go back to my hotel room and bawl my eyes out. I have friends who will be my listening ear. I will also go home and talk to my mother. This book is the best outlet for my emotions.

5. If you had the chance, what social causes would you campaign for?

I would look into helping those suffering from depression and low self-esteem because I know how it feels. I would also like to start a movement to help sexually abused children. During my travels to places such as Cambodia, India and Africa, it was painful to know that children had been raped. I have also taken part in a campaign against sex trafficking of children. I saw videos of how they get drugged and are sold into prostitution. It is not just depressing, it is also disturbing.

6. Do you find it unsettling when you return to life in show business, where all the razzle dazzle can seem superficial in comparison to the suffering that you have witnessed?

It makes me appreciate what I have in my life. I am grateful to have the best of both worlds. I am doing the entertainment work that I love. At the same time, I am doing projects that have a social cause. My life is a huge roller-coaster. One moment, I’m roughing it out with no make-up in Africa where I’m seeing poverty first-hand. The next moment, I could be all dressed up for the Star Awards. My travel experiences have taught me to be content and happy, whatever the situation. If I fumble during my thank-you speech or even trip on the red carpet, so be it, just go with the flow.

7. Are you looking to date someone?

I’m not dating, I wish I was dating. Can you find me a husband? (laughs). I’m so busy that I simply have no time to date. I think no one wants to date me because of my packed schedule. My future partner will have to accept my erratic schedule and support me in what I do. I really hope that I can meet a man with a big heart, a heart to love people.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

I hope people can remember me for my infectious laughter and my heart that genuinely loves life and people.


Larger Than Life: Celebrating The Human Spirit is available at $23.35 at all major bookstores. Catch Belinda Lee at her book-signing session on Saturday at 3.15pm at Popular Bookfest in Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre. Another session will be held on Dec 12 at 2pm at Books Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City.

Watch Lee on the travelogue Somewhere Out There on Thursday at 9pm on Channel U.

A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on November 30, 2015. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.