Sarah Lian | Casually Sorta Chinese

Posted by Shirley Li & filed under People to Watch.

Sarah Lian is a Malaysian-based host and actress (Sarah Lian)
Sarah Lian is a Malaysian-based host and actress (Sarah Lian)

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It’s been three years since we’ve last caught up with Sarah Lian, and she’s as busy as ever.

A sought-after host, actress, and model in Malaysia, Sarah’s been gaining international momentum with roles in films such as Jasmine (2015) and It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (2015). We caught up with her about working in front of the camera, new projects, and her connection to polar bears.

For the past month, Sarah’s been all around Southeast Asia filming for the second season of Photo Face-Off where the team searches for the best amateur photographer in the region, airing this September. As the host of the show, her favourite part is discovering the different areas of Asia and meeting the talented contestants.

“I’ve hosted competitions before, but this one is interesting because I’m in different countries. It’s a little more challenging because I’m not entirely familiar with my surroundings,” she said. Of course, Sarah is just as prone to feeling upset when some of the contestants don’t end up making the cut. “There’s only one winner, but so many talented people.”

The fine art of multitasking

Besides hosting, Sarah has also been in movies that are circulating international film festivals, such as Jasmine and It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, the latter which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) on June 12. “It’s been really great to be part of a couple of Asian American projects,” she said of the experience.

Directed by Emily Ting, It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong stars Jamie Chung as a Chinese American and Bryan Greenberg as an expat who meet in Hong Kong, two people whom Sarah was thrilled to work alongside. Although her role in the movie was small, Sarah commended the film’s ability to capture an authentic yet romantic illustration of Hong Kong through its dialogue and imagerya city she herself has a special connection with.

It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong stars Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg. (Facebook)

It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong stars Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg. (Facebook)

Sarah also praised Tinga newcomer to directingfor her assertiveness and her producer background. “I’ve lucked out working with a few Asian-American female directors in the past few years and they tell a story that I can relate to,” she said. Sarah is happy that we’re seeing more representation of female Asian actresses in Western media, especially with more varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds being depicted. “It’s great that we can explore the diversity within this group.”

Outside from acting and hosting, Sarah has also ventured into entrepreneurship. Her PR company, Suppagood, is a Malaysian-based talent management agency. They’ve recently produced their first event for their art client CN Liew, a Malaysian painter and calligrapher, who gave a live art performance alongside his art displays.

Even though she’s launching and managing her own PR company, this multitasker isn’t going to put aside her acting goals. Sarah revealed that she wants to remain open to all experiences that come her way, and also said that she’d love to do more comedy or romance to indulge her own appreciation for rom-coms. “I love movies like that!” she said. Perhaps something similar to her character Lily Lee from Mr. French Taste?

Sometimes messy and sorta Chinese

“When I’m not working, I generally look homeless,” the actress joked. (Sarah Lian)

For someone who tends to look so put together, Sarah revealed she tends to opt for a simpler look on her days off. “I wouldn’t even want to guess what people think of me on-screen because I am a host and an actress, but when I’m not working, I generally look homeless,” she said (sorta) jokingly. Rest assured, even Sarah Lian herself rocks the messy bun and sweatpants ensemble on her own time. “People have preconceived notions of what a celebrity is supposed to look like. I really don’t fulfill that fantasy well.”

Since it has been three years, multiple projects, and a move back across the world since Schema last caught up with Sarah, we couldn’t help but ask her about her own thoughts on her intercultural identity. Now back in Malaysia, she believes that her identity is still the same as it was, just in a different locale. “I’m probably more in touch with my Malaysian side, but if you put me back in Toronto, it would be closer to my Canadian upbringing,” the cultural chameleon explained.

She also credited her upbringing in Canada, which was simultaneously “still Malaysian,” when discussing her ability to adapt to working in different countries.


Alongside her busy schedule, Sarah also takes the time to write blog posts on her official website every now and then. (Sarah Lian)

But just like many of us, Sarah isn’t one hundred percent sure of her identity, either. A few months back, Sarah wrote a post on her blog titled “I’m sorta Chinese,” expressing her own frustrations of not feeling Chinese enough, despite being ethnically Chinese. She explained that she had recently started to reflect on herself a bit more and found that, although she looked Chinese on the outside, she didn’t think like someone who was raised Chinese due to her Canadian roots. “It became more prevalent in Malaysia because a lot of the things I was doing could or would seem rude,” she said.

Sarah also discussed a comparison one of her best friends had made between their Asian backgrounds and polar bears. “In the big picture, we are these big white creatures,” she said, reflecting on her more Western way of thinking. “But only standing next to ice, we’re a little yellow,” she explained, feeling that she came to understand she cannot run away from her Chinese heritage.

Polar bear metaphor and all, her blog post resonated with myself and many of her fans as well. “I’m glad that people send me private messages and resonate with my thoughts,” she said, “because it makes me feel like I’m not a weirdo.”

Having had the time to dwell on the post for a while, Sarah also added that she couldn’t escape her ancestry, nor her Western mindset. “At this age, I know I cannot change my thinkingI can only adapt,” she explained. “It is also important to be culturally sensitive to people. When I was younger, I was much more unapologetic, but now, I don’t need to assert myself to validate who I am.”

Whether exploring new fields of work or creating identity-related animal metaphors, we look forward to seeing how Sarah continues to adapt and mature wherever her growing ambitions take her next.

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