From The Straits Times    |

Watch Ning Cai read our minds and reveal with mind-bending accuracy the poker cards we chose

Remember Ning Cai, also known as Magic Babe Ning, Singapore’s first female celeb magician? She was known for her illusions and death-defying stunts together with JC Sum, such as escaping from a locked and chained tank underwater. She hung up her boots in 2014, but she’s back, this time with a new persona – Ning: Magic Mind Mistress, delving into the fascinating world of mentalism and psychological manipulation.

She spoke to us after her recent trip to the United Kingdom, where she was the first Asian magician to headline the South Tyneside International Magic Festival (STIMF).

Photo: Ning: Mind Magic Mistress

Despite still recovering from jetlag, she showed no signs of fatigue and described her experience at STIMF as “awesome”. At the festival, she performed at the gala night, then gave a one-hour lecture on illusions, escapes and fire-eating to magicians and magic enthusiasts.

“We had very good questions during the Q&A, it was a very vibrant community in the UK and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”

Interestingly, when she was sightseeing and went on two witch tours at Edinburgh Castle, she was pointed out as the witch both times. “Maybe I lived in Edinburgh before and was tried as a witch, the signs are there!” she laughed.

Photo: Ning: Mind Magic Mistress

On her comeback, Ning said people overseas were reaching out to her when she left the scene in October 2014. For instance, Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh, an award-winning American magician couple, approached her to join The Illusionists, a show that features world class illusionists from around the world – just when she announced her departure.

“I felt this stab of regret, like a pang of ahhhh!” she exclaimed. “I explained to them I had just decided to take a break and they respected that.” She added that throughout the months, many past clients from the MNCs wanted her shows, and she had to keep referring them to other magicians here.    

It was only last year that Ning realised she didn’t want to do escapology and illusions anymore, and her true first love was mentalism. In fact, before she was even known as Magic Babe Ning, she took part in a local magic competition where her persona was similar to Jean Grey, a character from X-Men with the power of telekinesis (the ability to influence objects through mind power).

“When I was a child, I always felt like if I had a superpower, I didn’t want to be invisible, I didn’t want to be strong, I wanted to be able to read minds. It’s very cool to know what people want, what people don’t have the guts to say and it’d be an interesting skill to have.”

Photo: Ning: Mind Magic Mistress

Mentalism is something Ning has always enjoyed, and she finds it similar to acting, in which we get better with age and life experience, when we understand humanity better.

She said she has been learning from various consultants in the UK, where the scene is much more mature and they have brilliant performers like Derren Brown (who redefined magic for intelligent, modern audiences and is synonymous with the art of psychological manipulation), and then applying the knowledge to herself – she doesn’t see a point in emulating her magic heroes.

“I always feel it’s very important to be your own individual, that’s why with Ning: Mind Magic Mistress, you can see it’s like an Asian dominatrix, and I want to be unapologetic about my gender, unapologetic that I am a minority in a male-dominated industry,” she said.

Ning made the decision to give up her Magic Babe Ning persona because she felt she had outgrown it and it wasn’t authentic to her anymore. “This current persona really is a very truthful reflection of the woman I feel I’m evolving into. I want to embrace maturing, I’m no longer in my 20s and I’m comfortable with that,” said the 34-year-old.

During her hiatus, Ning wrote her autobiography, Who Is Magic Babe Ning, and did a 200-hour yoga teacher training programme in Koh Samui, Thailand. Attaining the yoga teacher certification wasn’t for teaching but more to help herself to recover and to re-tune, after years of contorting her body in small boxes and enduring several mishaps in her career.  

Photo: Ning: Mind Magic Mistress

Touching on mentalism (watch her read our minds in the video above), Ning explained that it’s very surreal and experiential, and about making the audience feel very special. Compared to illusions and typical magic acts where it’s all about the performers, mentalism is something the audience can participate in, or you can delve deep into their psyche and observe them, she said.  

Ning, who’s now mainly doing private corporate events, is happy to collaborate with other artists and she feels Singapore has a lot of up-and-coming young magicians “who are very hardworking, and sometimes it’s about having that lucky break”.

Decked in a smart leather jacket, grey dress and Issey Miyake boots, she shared that when she was doing illusions and escapes, she had many bruises on her legs, so she couldn’t wear dresses for the longest time. These days, she’s embracing her Asian heritage more and wore cheongsams off-stage at STIMF. She particularly likes designer Ong Shunmugam, who blends different ethnicities and patterns into her pieces.

Ultimately, Ning thinks it’s important not to be a conformist when it comes to fashion, because each individual body shape and style is unique. “Don’t let the clothes wear you, you should own it and find out how to show your personality in the clothes and accessories you choose.”

On where she sees herself in the next five years, Ning said there’s so much more to life than work: “I don’t know, but I can promise you that it wouldn’t be boring.”

Spoken like a true mental case.


READ MORE: 12 career success tips from REAL Asian female bosses and These 6 Asian Power Women are Bold For Change​