Backstage stories at the Miss Tourism Pageant in China
LIVING ALIVE - LIVING ALIVE By Dero Pedero () - July 23, 2006 - 12:00am
The Miss Tourism Queen International Pageant is unique because it travels through four cities in China in a span of 22 days. The contest brings the delegates, guests, and media to top tourist attractions to experience the local culture and sample the native cuisine.

After a busy week in Chongqing, the whole entourage of over a hundred people flew to Shanghai, then took a two-hour bus ride to Jiashan in east China’s Zhejiang province. A quiet industrial county, Jiashan is where Tom Cruise shot scenes for Mission Impossible III.

Upon reaching the Huadu International Hotel, the group was welcomed with a lavish international buffet. The girls were given the next day off to rest, and on the following day, rehearsed for the Miss Personality contest. At the fast-paced show, the top award was given to Miss Monaco, the beautiful and princess-like Julie Breham, while Misses Kenya and India got first and second runner-up honors respectively.
Henan Rolls Out The Red Carpet
From Jiashan, the entourage flew to Zhengzhou, the cosmopolitan capital of Henan Province. After two weeks of being together, the girls had bonded with each other. They were brought on a day tour to the Yellow Emperor’s birthplace and museum. The heat was so intense that two of the girls, Misses Peru and Tonga, fainted.

At the Jin Qiao Hotel show, the delegates paraded in the Chinese national dress, the qi pao, for the "Miss Qi Pao Contest." Adjudged winner was Miss Serbia & Montenegro Gordana Strojin. Runners-up were Misses Taiwan and Singapore.
Shaolin Temple
One of the highlights of the Henan experience was the visit to Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Chinese Zen Buddhism and Shaolin kung fu. The entourage arrived on a cold, rainy day at this beautiful region nestled in the spectacular Song Mountains of Dengfeng City.

Thousands of kung fu schoolboys showed their impressive martial art routines under the rain. At an indoor theater, the girls tried to outdo the kung fu masters who demonstrated incredible feats of flexibility and strength.
Like Reality TV
A beauty pageant is not all smiles and glamour as it appears to be. Many internal dramas unfold that could rival an intrigue-laden reality TV show. Miss Tunisia had to withdraw because her sister was very ill. Miss Colombia hurt her knee and had to be taken to a hospital. Misses Guam and Dominican Republic were sick for days.

Miss Sweden was homesick, cried a lot, and wanted to go home. Miss Poland wanted to get a haircut but because of language problems, got her hair dyed the wrong color! Because of the abrupt change from intense heat to rainy weather, some of the girls got sick. Around a dozen girls and members of the media complained of bad stomachs.
The whole entourage flew back to Jiashan to get ready for the final competition in Hangzhou, a modern and vibrant economic center famous for its West Lake, museums, silk, and beautiful scenery.

Two more special awards were given out the night before the finals. Proclaimed Best in National Costume was Miss Paraguay, and runners-up were Misses Mexico and Lebanon. Also crowned Disco Queen was Miss Cuba; runners-up were Misses Mauritius, Belarus, Lithuania, and Maldives.

All of a sudden, Miss Cuba zoomed up the popularity ladder. The contestants, tired from the hectic activities, were getting discouraged because the sub-competition winners were not the ones they had expected.

After the pre-judging, where the top 16 were chosen, Miss Philippines Justine Gabionza felt low and uncertain. She wanted desperately to get the National Costume award because according to her, Tita Joji Felix-Velarde of Carousel told her to forget about the crown, and just bring home the National Costume award.

Now, uncertain and losing hope, Justine meekly asked me, "Please, don’t be disappointed if I don’t make it. Promise."

I had to reinforce her confidence because I knew that it was important at that point for her to hold the dream of winning in her mind.

"You’re the most beautiful girl here, and you are going to win!" I reassured her. I was sort of lying through my teeth because the other girls were truly gorgeous and at that point, anyone could have just faced to win.
The Finals Night
The finals seemed to have come sooner than expected. The show was held at the spectacular Grand Theater of Hangzhou, a modern structure that resembles a flying saucer. The stage was expansive and grand, with all the high-tech production effects.

I was seated in the third row and was surprised when I saw the price on my ticket: $2,000! All the girls were lovely during the show, and the production was splendid and seamless. When the hosts announced the top five and called Miss Serbia & Montenegro as the first runner-up (she was Justine’s top rival), I knew Justine was it.
What Made Justine Win
At the victory party, Justine asked Edwin Lumaoig and me, "Bakit ako, bakit (Why me, why)?" to which we just answered, "Basta (Just because)!"

Justine has magic. She had the best projection among the girls in the pageant. Every time she appeared, her presence lit up the stage. Her winsome smile, arresting eye contact, elegant poise, graceful walk, and gentle sexiness made her win. Besides, she is a real sweet, amiable girl.

And Justine was lucky to have had two angels help her realize her dream: Carousel’s Lorraine Schuck, who had the special gift of spotting a winner, and MTQI president Alex Liu, who saw great possibilities in our young Filipina beauty.

After the pageant, I realized one important thing. If it is not your time, it’s not your time. But if it is yours, everyone simply gets relegated to the supporting cast as fate sets the stage to unravel your destiny. For Justine, it was time to conquer China and the world.
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Special thanks to Alex Liu, Linda Tan, Ramon Monzon, Lorraine Schuck, Carousel Productions, Dynasty Brand Promotions Co. Ltd.
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