People to Watch
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of SarahLian.com
After her rapid success as a celebrity in Malaysia, appearing on TV, radio, magazine covers, FHM Malaysia's "Most Wanted Woman" is back in Canada. Her many talents, multilingualism, and multinational identity enables her to smoothly navigate between different markets and cultures.
While Sarah was in Vancouver last year, I had the chance to catch up with her to see what she's been up to since the last time she talked to Schema. Coinciding with our catch-up session was the launch of Mr. French Taste on KoldCast TV, in which Sarah plays the sexy and elegant Lily Lee. Naturally, we talked about the new show, yoga pants, what it is to be "creepy-nice", and even Jeremy Lin.
What have you been up to?
In the past year, Sarah has been busy working all over the world. In Canada, Sarah shot a docu-drama called Cold Blood, worked with a playwright on a short film in Toronto, and partnered with her old highschool classmate/neighbour, 3 Piece Media's Jae Yu, on his video "Dear Vancouver (My City)". Add to this the recent good news of landing a role in a Yahoo-distributed film, Cybergeddon.
She's active even in Malaysia after leaving in early 2011. "I still have a commercial airing over there, appearing in radio and stuff. They still do reruns of my show! I feel very lucky that I can be in many places at once," Sarah said.
In Hong Kong, Sarah was involved in a mobile tour guide app called Ask Ting Ting, had a role in the thriller Jasmine, and played the sexy and fashionable Lily Lee in Mr. French Taste. Mr. French Taste is a comedy series set in Hong Kong about a French etiquette coach called Mr. French, his client Leon, and their object of interest, Lily.
Photo courtesy of RockGinger Limited
How did you get involved in Mr. French Taste?
Sarah credits Jennifer Thym, the award-winning director of Lumina and Jasmine, as the main reason she got involved. "I initially met Jen at this networking event in Hong Kong, and it was basically an event that promoted a lot of artists to come together in the arts (music, dance, performance)," Sarah said. "French Taste Films, the producer of MFT, approached Jen and asked her to help produce or direct it. She was looking for someone to feel out a script, so she got me involved. I did a little thing with them, and she really liked it. I thought if I had a chance to work with Jen again, why not? She's an amazing person."
What attracted you to MFT?
"Earlier that year, I had just been to France," Sarah said. "Maybe I was just being extra vigilant with anything French (laughs). But I think mostly it was because a) Jen is gonna be part of the project, and b) cross-cultural comedy was something very interesting to me. I'd never seen it before.
"It's just such a feel-good show. I think that's what really drew me in," Sarah continued. "A lot of it came from the truth. It wasn't fabricated. Etiquette can be misinterpreted depending on which place you're from."
Each episode of MFT is just three minutes long: "What I really love about the show is that the episodes are not that long, but there's always a punch line. I feel like it has a very French humour, and I like it," Sarah said. Perhaps that's why she chose one particular scene as her favourite: "I actually do like the scene where I have the orgasm," Sarah laughed. "I enjoyed that".
What orgasm? Think brand names and exotic designers. That is all I can say—it's for you to watch on KoldCast TV.
On Canada and Malaysia
Being present and relevant in two markets make it inevitable for Sarah to divide her time between Asia and North America. She said that the decision to return to Canada last year was a career choice: "I was only planning to go to Malaysia for a year to gain experience and to bring that wealth of experience back to Canada and work in this North American industry, which was always my first intention."
One year became three as Sarah quickly became one of the most sought-after TV hosts in Malaysia. Did being multilingual and multicultural help? Her Canadian-accent helped drive her career in Malaysia. "I would like to say that it was because I was outgoing and awesome," she laughed. "But my English skills definitely came into play."
So where is Sarah based now? "I would probably say Toronto and Kuala Lumpur," she said. "I mean Toronto is my official headquarter, but I also have a lot of links to Malaysia."
What about Vancouver? "That's just where my mom lives right now. I have a few boxes there, and maybe some winter clothes," Sarah said.
Photo courtesy of SarahLian.com
Sarah can't hide the Vancouverite in her. When asked if she misses Vancouver or things associated with the city, Sarah revealed: "Right now, I'm wearing Lululemon pants, so I definitely do not miss it because I have like a billion pairs!"
"I grew up in Vancouver. Every time I'm back there, I go three rounds of Phnom Penh, and I go and eat at IHOP," she said. "I lived in so many different cities now, and if there's one place that is absolutely beautiful and stunning, it's got to be Vancouver. Especially during the winter time when you can see the snow-capped mountains and the little lights down from the ski lift. And then there's the little fog from my view in Burnaby ... it's just so beautiful."
One of the things Sarah misses most about Canadians when in Malaysia is the casual small talk. "That's what I love about being here! You can have conversations with strangers sitting beside you. You do that in Malaysia, and they'll pull their kids closer and say 'Don't talk to her'," Sarah said. "I don't think Malaysians are quick to banter. I don't think their culture is like that."
"We Canadians are just so nice. Sometimes it's a little annoying, but it's okay." Sarah said before sharing this anecdote: "I was in Malaysia and I was doing some work at a café. I was on my laptop, and I was just working on my website. This guys comes in and sits besides me.
"He sees my name, and then Googled my name. He was like, 'Oh, you have your own Wikipedia page.' He bought me another round of fries, which was really nice. He then said he was from Vancouver, and I was like 'You know what? I can tell you're from Vancouver,'" Sarah giggled. "Because he was so creepy-nice. Like he's a little nosy, but then again, that's okay, because you're nice."
But Where Are You Really From?
Schema readers are well aware of our ongoing series "But Where Are You Really From" and perhaps understand the mixture of confusion, challenge, and sometimes agony that this question brings. Sarah shared the same sentiment: "I never really know how to answer that. I wrote a blog post about it, actually. That's one of the hardest questions I have to come across and it's a very common question. It just sucks every time I hear it, because I don't know [how to answer it]."
When asked the question, she would normally reply that she's from Malaysia. Her lack of accent usually provokes further interrogation, and she would say that she grew up in Vancouver. It's a very simplified answer, however.
Photo courtesy of SarahLian.com
It's an antagonizing question to a lot of hyphenated Canadians out there, but Sarah thinks that maybe this question might not become as relevant in the near future. "The fabric of Canada is really based on immigrants, so whether you're first gen, second gen, or white/black/yellow etc., I think it doesn't really make a difference anymore. Not that we're as integrated Brazil per se, but we're getting there." Sarah's own cultural identity is equally as fluid: "I'm someone that uproots and gets rooted very easily. I would say that I become a citizen in every city I'm in."
Jeremy Lin came up as a side-note in our interview because according to Sarah's blog, she was invited by a friend from the Chinese Canadian Youth Athletic Association to be part of the media group reporting on a New York Knicks game in Toronto two months ago. Sarah gave me her take on Linsanity and its effect on Asian Canadians.
"JLin's story is so special and unique to [Asian Canadians] because for the first time, we see an Asian guy with swagger and skills to back it up. We see someone who looks like us, who probably has parents that instilled the exact same things in us, like "Go to Harvard", and he freakin' did that! Isn't that amazing?"
But to Sarah, the Linsanity message stretches beyond cultural influence: "Aside from his [cultural background], it's such an awesome human story. Someone that was pushed down to the D League three or four times, and still tried to find a way and a home in basketball. I think that definitely sends an impression to anybody, not just Asian Canadians or Americans."
So what's Sarah up to next? "This year has been a sabbatical year—a year of learning and understanding myself, and being disciplined about it," she said. Having just finished off her second performance at the famous improv school Second City, Sarah is keen on becoming better and better at her art: "I'm just trying to be very studious with my acting, and just appreciating a lot of the opportunities that have come up.
"Right now I'm focused on developing my career and developing myself as an actor in North America," she further explained. "Between Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and maybe even Calgary, there are a lot of film and TV series that are going on."
Photo courtesy of SarahLian.com
The ambitious actor mentioned her plans to stay international. "My plan is to, more or less, be able to carve a career in both North America and Asia. I definitely look at Malaysia as my first market, and one of my best markets, and I do not want to lose sight of that."
Malaysia may be her starting point, but it seems like Sarah's getting ready to take up the rest of the Asian continent. "I'm looking to grow my brand regionally [in Asia], so not just sticking with Malaysia but hitting up South East Asia in general.
"I'm developing a show that's actually regional," she continued. "I'll be working with a friend of mine who's Korean Canadian, and we're hoping to start shooting next year. So I'll be back in Asia in the end of October for a few months."
Sarah also said that she hopes to create more networks with Asian Canadians and be part of their successes. "A lot of that is just about creating a network or a community among us to have a stronger voice. That's what I'm focused on—being a good actor and trying to be a good Asian Canadian actor," she chuckled.
Ada Lee is a culture junkie and a life-long learner. She tries to get by in life by getting high on ideas, breathing deeply, and dreaming vividly. Sustainability, books/films, and travelling are her things, but so are bad jokes and all things geeky. Follow 0415ADA at your own risk.
People to Watch
People to Watch
People to Watch