The Korea Herald


From student to celebrity

Sun Yao talks about ‘The Beauties’ Chatterbox’ and life after

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 13, 2013 - 20:09

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This is the 10th in a series about foreigners working in the Korean entertainment industry. ― Ed.

Even before she moved to Korea from China, Sun Yao loved the country and the culture. She said she used to pass a Korean kindergarten every day and hear the little kids speaking Korean, which made her want to learn the language.

She then forced her friend, who was “Chosunjok,” ethnic Korean in China, to teach her Korean.

“The first thing I learned was ‘stand up,’ but its pronunciation for Chinese people is hard. However, when I first learned it, I pronounced it perfectly. So my friend told me I was born to learn Korean,” she said.

Before that, she was studying Japanese in preparation to go abroad to Japan, which is where her mother wanted her to go. When hallyu, the Korean pop culture boom, hit China, Sun said she really wanted to go to Korea. She recalled watching the drama “Star in My Heart” and falling in love with actor Ahn Jae-wook.

And it was then, she joked at the time, that she wanted to find her own Ahn Jae-wook.

“I had the impression that all Korean people would be like Ahn Jae-wook, who were willing to kill themselves, to die for their woman,” she said with a laugh.

Unfortunately, convincing her parents to let her study in Korea wasn’t that easy. They didn’t want her to go because they thought she would just spend money instead of studying. She was determined to show that she could be successful in Korea.

And she was. Sun came in 2002 and studied Korean at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies for a year before going to Kyung Hee University for a degree in international trade. She said her goal at the time was to play a role in connecting China and Korea.
Sun Yao. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Sun Yao. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Because I love Korea and China, I wanted to be in both countries. Just a simple dream, but after maybe the first year, I went to the TV show. And that time changed my life,” she said.

The TV show was KBS’ “The Beauties’ Chatterbox.” She got involved through a friend who studied at HUFS with her. At the time, in 2006, she thought she was being asked to be in the audience for the taping and turned it down because she was busy getting ready to graduate and working at a part-time job.

But her friend kept calling and she agreed to do an interview for the show, which she thought was strange considering she was only going to be watching. She finally got a call saying she was in.

She said it wasn’t until she got there and they announced her name that she realized she was actually on the show.

Being on the show changed life a lot for Sun. She admitted that at the time, she didn’t fully understand the power of broadcasting and TV.

“At first I was very pure and naive. I didn’t really realize the power of broadcasting, so I would just say everything, anything, I wanted to say,” she said. Which included sometimes talking about sensitive historical issues.

However, she still became popular on the show, with viewers admiring her honesty and confidence when she spoke.

That image has continued to help Sun today, years since the show stopped airing. Before the show officially ended, she had done a few other programs and some commercials. But now, she runs her own shopping mall, exporting Korean cosmetics to China. She said she is often busy meeting with companies and her reputation from the TV show has helped her to do business since Korean companies trust her.

On top of that, she has published two books, and is in the process of publishing her third, which is about Seoul from a foreigner’s perspective and includes illustrations drawn by herself. The book is due to be released within the next two months.

Sun said one of the difficulties of being in the showbiz is longevity. Korean fans often fall in love with someone, then just as quickly forget them.

“Some people ask me, ‘Why aren’t you on TV these days?’ I tell them, ‘I’m not a TV star. I’m not a celebrity.’ I think to stay in the Korean entertainment industry, once you get people’s attention, there’s always the downside. You always lose something,” she said.

Fortunately, being on TV has helped Sun gain something. Her fianc first noticed Sun by finding pictures of her from a documentary she was shooting in Mongolia in an internet caf.

She said he fell in love with her picture and kept posting that he needed to meet her, even though he previously had never heard of Sun or her work on “The Beauties’ Chatterbox.” So her producer played matchmaker and set them up. Sun admits that at first, she didn’t really like him.

“At first, he wasn’t really my type, because I’m more into mature, older guys. But the more and more I met him, looked at him as my kids’ father. I thought he could be the perfect guy for me to have a future with,” she said.

The two are set to marry this April.

By Emma Kalka (