Host Chang Hsiao-yen may be diminutive in size, but she definitely packs a big punch in the Taiwan showbiz world as the longest-lasting star, with 50 years of experience tucked under her belt.
In an industry dominated by male hosts such as Chang Fei, Hu Kua and Jacky Wu, she is the only female who can claim the right to be called the Queen of Entertainment.
Indeed, no one has lasted as long as she has.
The 55-year-old, who started out as a child actress after winning a dance competition when she was barely six, has stayed in the business for half a century.
'In Taiwan, even monks and nuns know me because I was already in this business way before they were ordained!' quips Chang in Mandarin during an interview with Life! last Friday at The Oriental hotel.
She was in town to act in Taiwanese drama doyen Stan Lai's Sand And A Distant Star, which played to packed houses over the weekend at the Esplanade's Huayi festival.
Her poignant portrayal of a street peddler, who believes her missing husband has been abducted by aliens, moved many members of the audience to tears.
The Shanghai-born star has won several acting awards in the past, both as a child and as an adult.
In person, she is pretty much the same Hsiao-yen jie (Big Sister Swallow) whom everyone has become familiar with after years of watching her host 'programmes suitable for the whole family' on television.
'In Taiwan, even monks and nuns know me because I was already in this business way before they were ordained!'
-- Chang Hsiao-yen on her 50 years in showbiz
'A cook needs to try all sorts of different food to make comparisons and improve, right?' -- On watching TV till 3am on her first night in Singapore, sampling local programmes
Lively, chatty and quick-witted, her trademark laughter spices up the 30-minute encounter which feels more like a chat between friends than a media interview.
Giggling, she tells you she spends so much of her waking time working and watching television that 'even the paparazzi would find me boring and would give up after a few days'.
For the record, there are at least nine television sets in her house (there is even one in the bathroom).
After she arrived here last Thursday evening, she remained glued to the set till 3am, sampling local programmes.
'A cook needs to try all sorts of different food to make comparisons and improve, right?'
SHE MOTHERS YOUNG ARTISTS
WHEN asked if she has considered retirement, she muses with mock anxiety: 'Oh dear, everyone's asking me the same question, does that mean it's really time for me to retire?' Then, she bursts into a loud guffaw.
One of the most influential figures in Taiwan's television industry, she offers advice to young artists - whom she calls xiao peng you (kids) - like a devoted mother.
'I often tell them: 'Don't make me like you. It's not good enough for me to like you. You must make your bosses need you, that's more important.'
The only time the live wire clams up is when she is probed about some unexpected career moves in recent months.
Late last October with little notice, she quit her directorship of Asia Plus, the satellite station she helped to set up in December 2001. Swallow Time, her popular chat show on the station, was also cancelled abruptly at the same time.
Last week, the Taiwanese media reported that she could be kicked out of the variety show Happy Sunday, which she is now hosting with Pu Hsueh-liang, Chang Shan-wei and Huang Tzu-chiao, because of poor ratings.
Some papers claimed that the veteran compere, who hosted her first show in 1972 at the age of 24, would also ditch her proteges Pu and Huang for singer-songwriter Phil Chang.
Choosing her words carefully, Chang confirms that she will be teaming up with the singer-songwriter from this Sunday, but declines to reveal if the show will still be Happy Sunday or an entirely new one.
She is equally vague when explaining her decision to leave Asia Plus.
'Er... this is because, er, I think everyone has his own beliefs and ideas... I felt that I should draw a line between being an artist and a station director.'
GIVING HER BEST TO A FORGETFUL PUBLIC
SHE makes up for her uncharacteristic reticence on the controversy later by talking candidly about how she coped with her grief of losing her husband Peng Kuo-hua to liver cancer 2 1/2 years ago.
Her 11-year marriage with Peng, who founded record company Forward Music, was her second. In 1986, she divorced her first husband, with whom she has a 24-year-old daughter.
In March 2001, Chang stopped working to take care of Peng, who was seriously ill. For four months, she lived with him in the hospital and was virtually cut off from the outside world.
'It's a very strange feeling, sending your husband into the hospital, then walking out of it four months later, alone,' she says.
Her eyes, from behind a pair of tinted glasses, begin misting.
In a choked voice, she continues: 'I didn't know how to carry on living. I asked myself: Do I want to go on like this? I've always felt that if our parents are still around, we don't have the right to be too sad.
'Can you allow the company to be destroyed because of your tears? Can you let your parents and friends worry about you because of your constant crying?'
Within a few months, the steely Chang bounced back and launched Asia Plus.
'I made a deliberate effort to dress up on Swallow Time because I didn't want to let anyone see me grieving. Grief should not be displayed for all to see. You can only grapple with it alone,' she says softly.
Her philosophy after 50 years in showbiz is this: 'I'm still in this business because I really like what I do.
'The public is very forgetful. When you produce something good, they will forget the lousy stuff you did. Similarly, they won't remember the good things you do, so you just have to keep on giving them your best.'
Then she lets out another hearty laugh.
It is infectious, and the public is not likely to forget it easily.