When Miss Hong Kong held its first round of auditions last month, Kirsten Ashley never imagined she’d be thrown head-first into the spotlight. With curly hair and wearing a relaxed summer dress, the English-speaking 23-year-old—who is Chinese-Filipino-Spanish—easily stood out from the other hopefuls. Amid loud camera shutters and reporters’ shouting, Kirsten’s confuddled response to a question about where she’s from—Tung Chung, she answered—set off the now-viral “I come from Tung Chung” joke.
Sensationalist media did not take kindly to Kirsten, comparing her looks to a Buddha statue with a raised palm and an ancient Chinese sitcom character played by veteran actor Albert Law. Unfazed by the comments, the bubbly and down-to-earth Kirsten has since sat down for interviews with local outlets, seen her Instagram follower count increase tenfold and even been recognized on the MTR.
Coconuts reached out to Kirsten, who took time out from her week to tell us about herself, her ambitions as a singer-songwriter, and how she’s handling the unexpected fame.
How would you introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m Kirsten, also known as Lenar Bata, my Chinese name is 利愛安. I describe myself as a fun, bubbly person who is out of the ordinary.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? We’ve noticed that you are a singer-songwriter and often share your music online.
I’m [also] a part-time university student. I’m studying in Meridian International Business, Arts and Technology College, also known as MINT College. It’s a university in the Philippines, and I’m studying Music Business Management [online].
Are you born and raised in Hong Kong?
Do you speak Cantonese?
Siu siu (Cantonese for “a little bit”). I also speak Tagalog, English and Spanish.
Tell us about your decision to join Miss Hong Kong.
Ever since I was young, it has been my dream to join Miss Hong Kong. My brother didn’t want me to join when I was younger because he thought I needed to be more mature. He wanted me to focus more on my studies first. I am now a university student and my brother said, “Alright, you can do whatever you want!”
How did the “I come from Tung Chung” joke come about?
At first, the press was there taking pictures. I didn’t actually hear what they were asking me, since every interviewer was talking, and the lights were flashing, and I’m like, “Are they asking me where I’m from?” So I just said, “Yeah! I feel good, I’m good today! I come from Tung Chung!” And now that’s what people know me for.
Do you have any regrets?
I think it’s a really good decision. I really enjoyed the process of filling out the form, joining, and meeting amazing people, and because of that, it has opened new doors, new opportunities for me. People started noticing my music. I gained more fans, because my followers were just around 300 on Instagram, and now it’s 4,000! Yay!
Has your life changed since you started receiving all this media attention?
Not really, I’m still me. It’s just that sometimes when I’m on the train, I see some people looking at me and they’re smiling. At first, I’m like, “Wait, why are they smiling at me?” And I’m like, “Oh my god, yes! I joined Miss Hong Kong! I remember!” Sometimes I forget that people know me now, so when I see fans and I can see that they’re really shy, I wave to them and tell them, “You want a picture?” And they’re like, “Yeah!”
People have said you look like the Buddha, Mrs Potato Head and Hong Kong actor Albert Law, and you’ve laughed along. Did you feel offended at first?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and as long as I know who I really am, it won’t affect me. I respect their opinion of me. I understand that.
You seem very close with your brother. Can you tell us about him? Does he play a big role in helping you write your songs?
One hundred percent! He does the music, he does the editing, he does the production, he does the mixing, he does everything. He’s kind of like my best friend, my confidant. He encourages me to pursue my dreams. I followed him to study music. I used to study communications, and then I saw my brother having fun, enjoying music and I’m like, “I want that too! I’m gonna follow you, big brother.”
You’ve said before that you like integrating your personal life into your music. What kind of stories do you hope to integrate into your songs?
One of my favorite stories is “Phantom of the Opera.” I first saw the movie when I was a kid. Afterwards, there was this one time in 2015 that [London Broadway] came to Hong Kong for a performance, so I watched the play and I was crying because it really touched my heart. Of course, I saved [the songs] on a playlist. These are the kind of stories that inspire my music.
What’s it like juggling your studies and your music?
It’s good, because in my studies, we also make music. They teach us music production. They also teach us what it’s like to be an artist and how to market yourself as an artist. We also have a subject called “artist management.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself already graduated from university, so I’ll be working full-time and helping other artists pursue their dreams and career in music.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated Kirsten’s last name as Fok. We regret the error.
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