Profile photo (photo credit_ Monica Lie)

Olivia Choong, seen here with one of the chickens she raises, is known for championing eco causes, as well as for her urban farming and minimalist lifestyle. What is less known is the fact that her non-profit eco society Green Drinks Singapore was started during her decades-long effort to find herself. Photo by Monica Lie.

Olivia Choong was baptised as an infant, attended catechism classes on Sundays and went for church services as an “obedient child”. But she could not relate to any of it.

emptiness in life

Olivia at her confirmation. All photos courtesy of Olivia Choong unless otherwise stated.

“I went to please my parents. But I found it very boring and I couldn’t connect with any of it because I didn’t understand anything.

“They told her the Christian faith was helpful to them.”

“That was my whole childhood.”

When Olivia, now 43, asked her parents why people were “so interested in this old stuff”, they told her it was because the Christian faith was helpful to them.

“But I wasn’t convinced. I wasn’t sure it was real.”

Free to party

By her own admission, Olivia “was not very academic”.

“I hated studying. My plan was to drop out of school to be a drummer because I loved rock music.”

“I hated studying. My plan was to drop out of school to be a drummer because I loved rock music when I was young and I loved rock bands.

“I was going to make money out of being in a band. I was idealistic.”

But her mother valued education and was determined to provide her with a good one. Using her own savings, she sent Olivia to study in Australia after secondary school.

“I went because my mother felt it was the only thing she could give me to go into the world.

emptiness in life

Olivia (second from right, standing) dressed for a play in her secondary school days.

“It was so expensive. For her to put aside her savings for me, it was a big ask.”

Olivia was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Perth for college. There, she continued going to church because that was what was expected of the students.  

emptiness in life
emptiness in life

With friends at her college in Perth.

But once she went to university, she was free to do what she wanted and what she wanted was to have “a party life”.

“That freedom was awesome. I did a lot of things that came with that kind of lifestyle, I tried things. I had a great time.”  

emptiness in life

In university in Perth, Olivia had more freedom to live the life she wanted.

Her parents knew about some of what she was doing and were “disappointed”. Her father asked Olivia to return to church. But she only went when they visited her in Perth.

“I didn’t want to upset my dad.”

Miserable at work, miserable in love

After completing her post-graduate studies in public relations, Olivia returned to Singapore. She secured her “dream job” in one of the world’s leading global communications companies.

But the corporate world was a tough place for Olivia, who described herself as meek. Very quickly, she felt pressured to be “all these things I was not”. 

emptiness in life

In her 20s, Olivia (right) found her “dream job” in a top communications firm but was still “very miserable”.

“My dream was shattered. I was very miserable.”

She was also in a long-distance relationship at the time with a man who had expectations of her she felt she could not meet.

“It was false courage. I faked a strong persona. I was putting up a false front.”

“I had to be a certain kind of person for him. He wanted me to be quite feminine. He would say that I should be this and that.”

Not wanting to displease him or to disappoint, Olivia tried her best to meet his demands, including being a listening ear for his mother.

“I used to care about being a nice person. I didn’t want people to think badly about me. So, I did a lot of things I didn’t want to do. I was very miserable.”

In a bid to find herself and have a life beyond work – “I was buried in work” – Olivia signed up for a course to improve her people skills. It helped to “break down walls and rebuild me” but it also “transformed me into this very proud person”.

emptiness in life

Her 20s was a time Olivia tried to discover her true self in order to be authentic.

“It was false courage. I faked a strong persona,” said Olivia on hindsight. “But I was still miserable. I was putting up a false front.”

In her search for identity and meaning, she started Green Drinks Singapore in 2007 after she had completed the leadership portion of the training programme. The non-profit society which focusses on the environment is what Olivia is now well-known for.

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Olivia (centre in grey) is the President and Co-founder of Green Drinks Singapore, a non-profit movement that actively raises awareness about environmental issues, and connects various parties for knowledge sharing and collaboration opportunities. Photo by the National Climate Change Secretariat.

“I decided I wanted to be authentic and felt that I had to work towards something. At the time, I didn’t have a hobby but I cared a little bit about the environment. I just needed something new.”

The emptiness inside

For a while after that, “life was okay”. Olivia found herself in a new relationship, one on which she pinned much of her hopes.

“I was on this drive to fix myself. I just felt that there was still some emptiness in my life.”

But they broke up after two years.

“It was a huge turning point in my life. I felt I had put all my eggs in one basket. Now, I had no life. I was depressed.”

Wanting to “find out about myself”, Olivia decided to give the New Age movement a try. She became involved in its beliefs and practices for the next 11 years.

“I was looking for peace. It kind of was in line with the environmental stuff. I was really deep in it. I felt it was a new identity.”

emptiness in life

In her 30s, Olivia sought out New Age practices in a bid to find peace.

She sought astrologers to find out about the future and psychics to understand her past, did meditation, and tried out different healing modalities including the Japanese form of energy healing Reiki.

“I was on this drive to fix myself. I just felt that there was still some emptiness in my life. So, I dabbled in so much rubbish.”

Some of it did help her realise certain things, such as the time when she was eight and got lost at a supermarket, and felt immense loneliness.

“I felt that out of that loneliness, I did a lot of things. That’s why I pursued all those things in my 20s – going out partying even though I knew I should not – just because I was lonely.”

But none of it filled the gnawing within.

An intriguing guy

Then, five years ago, Olivia got to know a man who would change her life.

“I could have kept talking to him. I was very drawn to him.”

“It all started on Facebook. He added me as a friend. But I didn’t know him. I knew of him. He seemed like an intriguing guy so I friended him.”

That man was Levan Wee, once the frontman of top local rock band Ronin. At the height of the band’s fame in the mid-2000s, they were performing to crowds of up to 50,000 and had been signed on by Motorola to endorse their handphones.

By the time they became Facebook friends, Levan had long left the music scene and had earned a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Melbourne.

“For a year, we never talked but his stuff kept coming up on my news feeds.”

emptiness in life

Olivia and Levan.

When Levan’s dad passed away, the news appeared on Olivia’s Facebook news feed.

“Within days of our meeting, he told me he was interested in me.”

“He mentioned he was quite sad. So, I messaged him, ‘Hope you are feeling okay.’”

That check-in led to more exchanges until, one day, Levan asked her out. It was mutual attraction from the moment they met.

“When I spoke to him, he was interesting. And I could have kept talking to him. I was very drawn to him.

“Within days of our meeting, he told me he was interested in me.”

Beginning of the end?   

Though they connected at a profound level – “we both don’t like small talk, we like to talk about deeper stuff” – and held to the same ethical and moral values, there was a lot of friction in the beginning of the relationship.

“We did things differently. He sometimes thinks I’m not too succinct and I think he is too succinct.

“Christianity isn’t a topic of interest. It’s an entire lifestyle, a way of being.”

“At one point, I wanted to leave. I thought: This guy is so difficult. Why is he so messy?”

Then Levan, who was struggling with depression at the time, began having visions.

“I was kind of ready for this because in New Age practice, this is common. I already believed in God by then because New Age practices always talked about God. But I didn’t have a fixed idea about who God is.

“So, when Levan said that God was communicating to him, I thought, ‘Great!’ I believed him.”

In mid-2020, two years into their relationship, Levan had a series of personal encounters with God and became a Christian.

emptiness in life

Levan’s discovery of the Christian faith would open the door for Olivia to return to the Church.

“When he said, ‘I am going to be a Christian”, I thought, ‘Oh no, this is the beginning of the end of our relationship.’

“Christianity isn’t a topic of interest. It’s an entire lifestyle, a way of being. I knew it wasn’t going to work out if we were not on the same page.

“He would go to church and have an entire circle of Christian friends around him, and I would be doing my own thing. It would be two different lives. I didn’t want that.

“In relationships, if there is too much of a distance, you kind of tear away from each other.”

Olivia was not ready to embrace Christianity.

“I thought: These Christians are hypocrites. If you join them, we would break up or I would get dragged in.

“God came and met me where I was.”

“I also had this misconception that, if I were to become Christian, I might have to do a lot of things I don’t want to do, a lot of obligations.”

But after Levan became a Christian, Olivia saw a change in him.

“He has always tried his best to be a better person but there would still be these moments of anger coming through and it would be quite fiery.

“If you are not a Christian and if you are angry, it is no big deal. But as a Christian, he knew he shouldn’t be judgey, shouldn’t be angry.

“After he became a Christian, he really tried his best to be a better guy. I felt pressure looking at him. I felt I had to match him.”

Yet Olivia did not want to do anything about it. What came next would surprise her.

“God came and met me where I was,” she said.

The struggle to forgive

In the years that Olivia was involved in New Age practices, she had “felt harassed by spirits”. Psychics she sought and fortune-tellers she met would tell her she had a child spirit attached to her. Even when she got help to “get rid of it”, another would return.

“Always children,” said Olivia.

She traced it to a traumatic time in her childhood between the ages of eight and 12. She had a Chinese tutor who would cane her for no apparent reason.

emptiness in life

Olivia in primary school.

“The caning continued even when I had 80-something for my tests. She said it was not 100.

“She kept finding new reasons to hit me and I became a very angry person. I lost interest in my studies.”

When confronted by Olivia’s mother, her tutor denied any wrongdoing. Olivia would suffer the abuse for the better part of her primary school years.

“The psychic I saw said that because of this incident, I feel like I needed to look out for kids this age. So I kept attracting ghost children.”

Olivia shared that she would feel throbbing in her ear, which she believed were the child spirits.

“I wanted to get rid of them for good. I had given too many inroads to these spirits because of my New Age practices.”

Olivia tried to do this by attempting to forgive the people involved in her childhood abuse.

“That was the one day I felt that God was speaking to me and I cried all that day.”

“One day, I prayed for more than an hour and I couldn’t forgive them.”

She shared her struggle with Levan who told her of a vision revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

“He described the room where everything had happened, where I sat, where the tutor was.

“Then he told me that I would not suffer in vain and that I should write a children’s book out of it. He told me the name of the book, what the book should be about and even that I would be working with a female illustrator.”

That day, on Olivia’s Facebook was a status update from a friend recounting how she had been hit by her piano teacher. It was too much of a coincidence.

She sent the story to Levan who sent her a lyric video called Wanted written by two people, one of whom had experienced abuse as a child. It had been highlighted to him just that day.

“The lyrics matched to a tee how I felt. That was the one day I felt that God was speaking to me and I cried all that day,” said Olivia, tearing even as she recounted this.

“I had heard from Levan about all the miraculous healings. I knew I had to go directly to the Source, that I should go straight to God.”

This was September of 2020.

Steps to freedom

Three months later, Olivia went to a Christian friend’s house for lunch because he had cacao saplings which interested her. She ended up talking to the man’s wife and the conversation somehow drifted from gardening, Olivia’s passion, to Christianity.

That conversation became a turning point in Olivia’s life.

She also said, ‘Your lower back pain is gone.’ I had never told her about the pain.”

“She led me to say the sinner’s prayer. When I did, I felt this thing enter my body.

“I thought that when I went to church as a child, I already had the Holy Spirit in me but this was very different. I felt it helped to drive out all the other not-so-holy things.”

In the weeks that followed, the woman walked Olivia through the steps of Freedom in Christ, a course to help Christians overcome things that are holding them back from living the abundant Christian life.

But there was more.

At a breakfast one day with a pastor and his wife, Olivia wanted to find out more about being harassed by spirits. But before she could broach the topic, they asked her if she had something to say to them.

emptiness in life

In her garden at home. Olivia’s return to the Christian faith has given her a new perspective of Nature. “I just think, ‘Wow, God is so creative. It’s so amazing how plants function, how pollination works – everything is perfect, everything just comes together.”

They ended up praying for her. As they did, the pastor’s wife saw a vision of a snake spirit falling away from Olivia.

“I realised that all this New Age stuff was a huge distraction from God.”

“Years ago, I had a Kundalini awakening. I was told that there was dormant energy represented by a coiled snake at the base of our spines that had to be released to help us break emotional obstacles. I had invited all this into my life.

“When she said that she saw the snake spirit fall away from me, she also said, ‘Your lower back pain is gone.’

“I had never told her about the pain or the Kundalini awakening.

“I realised that all this New Age stuff was a huge distraction from God and I had to leave everything behind and follow God. That was a very huge life-changing moment for me.”

The backache that used to plagued Olivia – “on certain days, it was so bad I had difficulty walking; once, I had to cancel my flight” – disappeared from that day.

Together with Levan, Olivia is continuing to pray for God to reveal if there are any other spirits she had allowed into her life so she can renounce them.

Coming home

Returning to the Christian faith has given Olivia an understanding of the Bible she never had in her youth.

“Previously, people would tell me how and why I should be a believer. But then when I read the Bible for classes, for exams, I found it dry.

“Those 20-odd years that I was away from the Church, I didn’t find peace.” 

“Now, when I read it, I marvel at the stories. Wow, this really happened! It is a living book, not a dead book. It is a living religion.

“It’s like coming home. But this time, you understand better. I wish I had found my faith earlier.”

Being a Christian has also given Olivia more to talk to her parents about. Through their conversations, she found out how her mother would pray when faced with challenges and how God would encourage her.

“My mum said that when she prayed, something would always show up. For example, she would read Reader’s Digest and there would be a story about hanging in there, perseverance.”

emptiness in life

Olivia (left) with her brother and sister-in-law, and her parents. Olivia’s father had long wanted her to return to church with him. He even shared a dream he had of them attending a church service together and how he had been “so happy” in his dream. Said Olivia: “With the pandemic, my parents have been watching sermons online. When my dad does go back to church, I will go with him to make his dreams come true.”

When her parents wanted to get married, they prayed over the preparations, fully expecting to have a simple affair. But people showed up offering them things for free.

Olivia also found out that her mother had prayed about sending her to Australia to study and how things had “miraculously fallen into place”.

“Had I known it was so simple and there is a God who knows me by name … that’s amazing.”

Her father also revealed that he would go to church every day before work to spend time with God to “clear his mind” and how God had helped him at critical moments in his life.

“No one told me these stories when I was younger. I was just told to do this, don’t do that.

“When they tell me stories of how prayers work, I am moved by it. If they had told me all this earlier, I would know that there is help out there.

“Looking back at those 20-odd years that I was away from the Church, I didn’t find peace doing all those other things.

“I had been drawn to the New Age movement because of all the supernatural stuff. 

“I had gone this big round, opened myself up to unnecessary things, spent a lot of money. Had I known it was so simple and there is a God who knows me by name … that’s amazing.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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