Photos: Tammi Tan, Zhang Zhen Huan/Instagram, Sally Pan/Instagram
Our chat with Zhang Zhen Huan may have taken place in a cosy, luxurious villa overlooking a private pool and landscaped lawn in laidback Bintan, but there was nothing relaxed about the 34-year-old actor – or us, if we’re being honest – during those 10 short but strained minutes.
Blame the topic of our conversation: his relationship with 23-year-old former makeup student (she has already graduated) Sally Pan, which was made Instagram-official on April 30 this year. For some reason, Zhen Huan seemed far less forthcoming compared to when things were still ambiguous between them, refraining from divulging info such as when exactly they got together and how he asked her to be his girlfriend.
Still, he was a lot more generous with other bits of info, especially compared to more fiercely private couples we’ve tried to pry quotes out of in the past (we won’t name names). For instance, his guarded demeanour made way for a gushing “I’m such a lucky guy” grin when he spoke about how good she is at planning surprises.
So good, in fact, that he admitted that he had a nagging suspicion that she would suddenly show up right there at any time on the Indonesian island, where he and other cast and crew members spent four days filming scenes for long-form drama Reach for the Skies two weeks ago. His wariness stemmed from Sally’s tendency to pop up in Singapore from China (where, like him, she hails from) a day earlier than she said she would.
But instead of anticipating a potential arrival with open arms, Zhen Huan pretty much told her to stay away, primarily due to the safety issues that may arise from a young woman travelling alone, the language barrier, and well, he is there for work, not play, after all.
“On my first night here, I asked her to video-call me so I could make sure she was still in Singapore,” he said. “I kept telling her not to come here, and assured her that we can always go for our own beach vacation next time.”
Continued on next page: When is Zhen Huan planning to get married?
Unfortunately, that romantic seaside getaway may have to wait. After filming for Reach for the Skies wraps in either late August or early September, Zhen Huan will have a couple months’ break before starting work on a new 20-episode Channel 8 drama in November. During his time off, he plans to jet back to his hometown in Sichuan to spend time with his family, whom he hasn’t seen since last year.
This begged our obvious next question: will Sally be tagging along then for an official meet-the-parents session? “I haven’t thought about it yet, and I’ll have to see if she’s free,” he shrugged, adding that his folks have, rather surprisingly, not been pushing him to bring her home or to settle down.
And he’s not giving himself that pressure either. “It’s still too early [in the relationship to talk about marriage],” he said, saying that his personal belief is that a couple should be together for at least three or four years before taking the next big step, which means if all goes well, they can tie the knot before his 40th birthday.
In the meantime, Zhen Huan will be learning how to be more of a sweep-you-off-your-feet partner from Sally, whom he admitted is far better at this lovey-dovey thing than he is. “I’m not a very romantic person when it comes to things like planning surprises,” he said. “I’m more thoughtful and considerate; for example, I’m always making sure she isn’t too hungry or cold, and I can tell if she is even if she doesn’t say a word.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t done anything worthy of a #boyfriendgoals honour, though. As his girlfriend loves flowers, Zhen Huan once did the ultimate leading-man-in-a-romance-movie move and bought her a huge bouquet of 100 roses. Our next question (“Was she happy about it?”) now makes us feel a bit stupid because: DUH!?
When we asked if this gesture has permanently raised Sally’s expectations for future amorous acts, Zhen Huan said that while she, like most if not all other women, would love for him to be more romantic, she has completely accepted that she can’t force him to go beyond whatever level he is capable of. “It’s not something she has a strong demand for,” he said.
What can we say? They’re lucky to have each other.
Catch Reach for the Skies weeknights, 7.30pm on Channel 8. Watch past episodes of Reach for the Skies on Toggle.