Tiong Li San is a living example of ‘beauty with brains’. The Kuala Lumpur native rose to the top in a beauty pageant at the tender age of 17 when she crowned Miss Malaysia Tourism Metropolitan for the year 2016/17.
Currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Commerce at Monash University, 20-year-old Li San has not given up on exploring the endless possibilities to her career. Now a full-time student, she intends to graduate in a year and venture into the world of business.
On the days where she has no classes, Li San does Latin and Ballroom dancing alongside hosting events. She remains a friendly face on TV by appearing in commercials. Above all, she has a passion for charity work. On a monthly basis, she spends some time off to volunteer at old folks’ homes and the newly established Pink Heart Care Centre (PHCC).
What struck me immediately about Li San is her eloquence and friendly nature. She is a firm believer that beauty pageants are not about superficial beauty. Instead, it promotes confidence, compassion and humility while providing a great platform for young women to be empowered and empower others around them. She highlights the point that each pageant winner represents a country in the eyes of the world and as Miss Malaysia Tourism Metropolitan, Li San shows us exactly why Malaysia is the cultural and beautiful country it is today.
I managed to catch up with Li San to know more about her journey towards becoming a pageant title winner and how it has changed her life and helped her spread positive vibes.
1. Tell us about yourself.
I’m currently majoring in economics and finance, and indulge in drawing, handicrafts and all things art-related in my free time. As a kid, I used to attend drama classes, in which my favourite role was being the narrator, but eventually I started getting into acting, and now I perform in university theater plays and TV commercials.
One thing that I can’t seem to shake off is being slightly clumsy – even on the night I was crowned as one of the winners, I almost dropped my crown! Good thing I had my fellow queens to cover for me when that happened!
2. What moved you to enter a beauty pageant?
It was a spontaneous decision! I stumbled across the pageant after seeing some photos online and since I had just turned 17 (which is the minimum age requirement), so I decided to give it a try. With zero knowledge in makeup, hairstyling and all other things, I took it upon myself to learn these skills as fast as I could before the pageant.
I’ve definitely come a long way since then, but I still have so much more to learn, even after being crowned. Joining the pageant has given me the opportunity to promote Malaysian tourism and give back to the society by working with various charities, namely the Loving Sunday Charity and recently PHCC, Pink Heart Care Centre.
3. What are some of the obstacles you have faced in the pageant?
Being the youngest participant and having no prior knowledge of beauty pageants meant that I had to put in more effort to learn new skills before the grand finals including preparing for the talent round.
Though the experience was relatively smooth sailing, there were other obstacles after being crowned, like having to improve more on my acting skills, dancing and emceeing. I’ve been trying to push myself to do better. Admittedly, nothing beats the feeling of overcoming obstacles that comes your way.
4. How do you juggle studies and work?
It can get hectic, especially since I am a part of the university’s student association. The thing that helped me the most was my planner.
Planning out my schedule beforehand, allocating my time and seeing how everything fits was the best way to make sure I didn’t double book my appointments and get everything done in time. It’s always better to prepare more in advance rather than leave it to the last minute. The feeling of productivity, no doubt, gave me the motivation to soldier on.
5. Beauty pageants are not solely about external beauty but inner beauty, too. Do you agree?
Absolutely! It is integral that we are aware of the current affairs in our country, Malaysia. Knowing these issues and coming up with ideas and solutions shows that we are citizens that are willing to help our country move forward. We work hard to come up with various meaningful advocacy and through the pageants, we convey our thoughts eloquently without compromising our true personality. In essence, we use our influence to help bring joy to the underprivileged.
6. How has winning the title made you the person you are today?
It has provided me a platform to make use of my skills, such as public speaking and emceeing. It definitely boosted my confidence and that enabled me to take on as many projects as I can. As a teenager, I was unsure of my own capabilities. Winning the title has opened doors for me to play an active role as a citizen and I’m glad to create a positive impact on the Malaysian community.
7. How do you aim to spread positive vibes in your capacity as a pageant queen?
I certainly want to help people gain confidence to try new things. I want to share my happiness with the underprivileged and give back to the society. Sometimes, having someone to talk to and to just listen can make a huge difference.
The charity visits I’ve made have taught me that empathy matters. It lies in small and simple gestures, for example, sharing food, putting on a performance and even playing games. If I’m able to inspire more of my fellow Malaysians to join me, then it’s a win for society. Kindness starts with a small step.
8. What advice would you give to someone who is intending to follow your footsteps but has low self-confidence?
It can be hard taking that first step. In my case, I was doubting myself a lot even after I was confirmed as a finalist. What really put me on the right track was positively focusing on what I wanted to achieve by the end of the experience – learning more and meeting new people.
It doesn’t matter if the end results aren’t what you hope for. It is important to remain focused and determined. Constantly work on becoming a better version of yourself. It will eventually pay off and lead to success.
Never give up on your dreams. Sometimes, you need to fall before you can rise to success!
* All images were provided by Tiong Li San. Featured images of Li San during a monthly charity visit under ‘Loving Sunday Charity’ and emceeing for Avenoir.