Words Julie Yim
Photographer Kim Mun @ Hopscotch Studio
Stylist Ibnu Aswan
Hair Artist Bibian Leong
Make-up Artist Shiyo Joo
Stylist’s Assistant Grace Naramol
Location The Ruma Hotel And Residences
To really get to know Aaron Chin and January So, one has to dig deeper beyond the surface. On paper, Aaron is the multi- faceted entrepreneur with a sharp sense of business acumen. By his side, January is the accomplished actress who has established a name for herself in the entertainment scene.
As individuals, the atypical couple embody their public personas, a juxtaposition of what may seem to be two contrasting personalities drawn to each other, but upon closer observation, they appear to be more similar than perceived, rooted in their values and aspirations. The duo first met over a dinner organised by a mutual friend about a decade ago but never really stayed in touch much as they were seeing other people at that time. More often than not, they would bump into each other but there was always a fine, polite line that existed between the two.
“I didn’t quite know what to make of Jan in the beginning,” Aaron speaks candidly about his other half, opening up about his first impression of her. “She appeared to be wild yet quiet at the same time. Honestly speaking she was a bit of a mystery to me,” he says, intrigued by the woman sitting next to him. As if on cue, January smiles back at Aaron. “I think he can be easily mistaken for someone who only cares about career and ambitions but I noticed that he pays attention to the smallest details in life and truly appreciates art and culture,” she divulges further, citing that it was ultimately Aaron’s unassuming polite demeanour and graciousness that caught her attention.
It only took a matter of the right time and place for the two to fall in love and their relationship eventually led to a path of self- discovery, propelling the couple to delve into a series of self-reflection which further spurred a string of drastic changes — both mentally and spiritually. “I think for a relationship to grow, you must first grow as an individual and not lose yourself in the process. Only then is collective growth as a couple is possible. Both are us are very conscious of the fact that we’re not here to satisfy our own personal needs or to please one at the expense of the other,” says Aaron who views their relationship as a journey of growth and evolution and a place to practise love together.
One of their very first decisions made early on after they got together was to embrace a full on vegetarian lifestyle which happened almost overnight. “One day over dinner, the idea of us becoming vegetarians just popped into my head so I casually asked January about giving up meat and she said yes immediately! That was the last non- vegetarian meal we had,” Aaron shares. “It’s really hard to find someone who shares the same view and is equally as supportive of everything you do so it was an instant yes from me,” January adds.
As a couple, they enjoy doing many activities together, some more unconventional than others. Horse-riding, book readings followed up by plenty of discussions, meditation in their zen room at home and even honing their skills at the art of calligraphy from a calligraphy master. Aaron reveals that these are all ideas that he have mulled over in his head for a while and when they got together, he finally found a life partner who is able to appreciate and enjoy his ideas collectively.
Though January is often perceived as the more outgoing personality in the relationship, perhaps due to the nature of her line of work in the entertainment field, she openly reveals that Aaron has always been the more spontaneous one in their relationship. “I say yes to his crazy ideas all the time,” she laughs, citing that Aaron once spontaneously popped the idea to go for a 10k run. “People may think I’m the noisy one in our relationship, but behind closed doors, Aaron will always seek a discussion on news and current affairs while I listen to him talk.”
Their relationship may have led them to embrace a new path, however, the duo acknowledge that the initial transition was not all that smooth sailing. In the beginning, Aaron struggled with his decision to embrace a vegetarian lifestyle while managing his F&B venture, known for its Korean fried chicken. Prior to his new vegetarian lifestyle, the business has been running successfully in Malaysia for two years. Aaron confesses that he even went as far as to discuss with his business partners on the possibility of exiting the partnership but they did not reach a consensus and he soon came to terms with separating his business and personal choice altogether.
There was of course the idea of venturing into a vegetarian restaurant business, but it simply made no business sense, so the idea was scrapped. “I’m more interested in establishing a restaurant where everyone can dine at,” says Aaron who is now in talks to bring an American F&B chain and a healthy food brand from China into Malaysia this year. A boutique hotel in his native hometown Kota Kinabalu is also in the pipeline, scheduled to open by the end of the year. His main business, however, still lies within Gamlite IT, an infrastructure asset management company, where Aaron has been working on taking his technology to neighbouring countries and providing solutions to reduce the alarming number of road traffic accidents.
As for January, she has embarked on an unconventional career progression, transitioning from acting to writing her own book, which will be published this year. The inspirations in the book stem from her daily observations in our lives, the seemingly mundane and insignificant events, activities or feelings of our own, but these have profound effects on our inner growth and on our journey to self-realisation. When I prompted her on what seems to be an unusual career progression for an artist in the entertainment industry, January affirms that the decision was one she made after going through a transformation that stemmed from her relationship with Aaron.
Her love for writing was also rekindled after she was approached by a magazine to write a column for the issue. “Since young, I’ve always been told that writing is not something I should focus on. As a woman, you should be pursuing other things such as finding yourself a husband. I’ve come to realise that in the earlier time of my life, everything that I’ve pursued was not a personal choice but a choice made by the people who surrounded me. After I got together with Aaron, everything changed right down to my circle of friends,” January opens up about her past. The past year has been spent focusing on her book which meant turning down jobs to make more time for herself. “It was tough to go through that transitional period from actress to author. To be a writer, you have to be honest, only then your writing will be able to touch people’s heart. I have practised a certain way for 15 years and in order to embrace this new life and mindset, I realised I have to give up my old habits. My old friends were initially not used to my new image but right now, I am at ease with myself,” she affirms.
“I think she has been discouraged way too many times,” Aaron speaks up, interjecting our conversation. “It was a struggle for her to turn down jobs because she has been in the entertainment industry for 15 years. Someone even approached her to become a DJ. She has been suppressed for so long. I often tell her you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and she has as much freedom as me to pursue whatever she wants to do,” he remarks. “My biggest struggle is all my life, people have been telling me that writing does not make money and if you don’t make money, you are not going to have a comfortable life. The kind of fear people implant in our minds is very damaging,” January points out.
Her personal struggle with picking up writing again has also led the couple to embark on a very special project together, signing up as sponsors for a literary award and short story writing competition for teenagers which just concluded last year. A friend of Aaron who was in publishing approached him about the idea of sponsoring the literary award which focuses on poems and prose. Aaron confesses that they initially had their reservations as it is an older format of writing which may not be so appealing to the younger generation, but after debating with January, the couple decided to proceed with the sponsorship on the condition of creating a new award category for short story writing which was already picking up in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“The idea is to encourage young writers to pursue good writing, be it in the forms of poetry, prose, as well as a new category that we created, called ‘short story’. To make things more interesting, we will select a story and shoot it in a short film format and maybe even participate in short film festivals. We intend to make this a biennial literary award,” he explains. “I want the younger generation to see writing as a real career path, not just a hobby,” says Aaron who is an avid book reader, stating that they have received over hundreds of submissions and he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of writing amongst the young Malaysians.
A common struggle many couples face in their relationships is ensuring that they spend enough quality time with each other in spite of work and other obligations, but for Aaron, it is not a balancing act but rather a matter of integrating both work and relationship seamlessly into their daily lives. “We don’t differentiate when work ends or when life begins. We see them as one continuous journey and we’re here to experience it all together. But of course, some paths I have to walk alone, and some paths she’s on her own, but we always meet at some intersection and spend some time with each other before parting ways again,” he shares.
As our cover shoot draws to a close, Aaron and January emerge from the bathroom dressed in Bottega Veneta, while January cheekily points out to the crew that her “hubby” has braces on. That leaves me with the final question: When can we expect a wedding? “We have plans to get registered this year. I don’t mind having a small wedding where it only revolves around two people in love,” she hints with a smile, implying what is to come next.
This story first appeared in the Prestige Malaysia February 2019 issue.