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Britain’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6: Susan Loughnane Interview

Since I reviewed Britain’s Next Top Model, Season 6 EXTENSIVELY for Teentoday (sadly, now lost to some Internet dark hole), rather than talking about the whole cycle, I thought I’d just bring you my favourite contestant from the series instead – flame-haired Oirish actress Susan Loughnane.

Given that she lasted all of two weeks, she’s a bit of a strange choice for favourite, right? What I liked about Susan was that, apart from being exceptionally pretty, she proved you didn’t have to be some raging drama queen to make for good viewing on a Next Top Model show. She came across as funny and likeable – a fact proved even more by an amazing interview she gave me a long time after her exit. Honestly, I just wanted to sit down over a cuppa tea and have an off-the-record natter with her!

Some self-portraits about the comfort of tea. The lighting, the mood, the expression – so evocative. Love it!

As usual with BNTM, most of the photos were a bit rubbish. Every year I have high hopes they’ll up their game and every year they disappoint, with cheap-looking shoots, crappy sponsorship deals and dull concepts. So Susan can feel smug about the fact that, although she doesn’t even want to model anymore, she already has a body of work from her pre-show days that is actually quite stunning – the ‘pretty things’ that are scattered around this post (some taken by herself, multi-talented girl!). Red hair just looks so amazing, doesn’t it?!

Susan’s interview is a must-read for any Next Top Model fans; it blows the lid on the whole series! Since Teentoday has been scrobbed from the Internet (and with it, about five years of my life and work *sad face*), I’ve reproduced it here in its entirety – enjoy!

So… the big question… who are you rooting for in the final?
Do you know what, I’m rooting for Tiff. She is the real underdog here because she’s not 100% British. I can empathise with that. She won’t get the same level of support the other girls will get. I think all the girls deserve it though, I would be over the moon for Alisha or Joy to win. I would have loved to see Amelia win as well : (

You’re going to be at the final with the rest of the girls… do you have any idea what’s gonna happen during the show? Will you be wearing one of your impressive jumpers?
Yes I can’t wait!! I have no idea what’s going to happen! All I know is that they have booked for me to get my hair done at Daniel Galvin before the show and all the girls will be staying in a hotel together! I’m super excited. I don’t think it will be an appropriate time for me to whip out one of my amazing jumpers unfortunately, however I do have a lovely dress which will have to suffice.

You’re also going to be at BNTM Live along with the other girls. Any idea what you’ll be doing there? Excited?
Actually I don’t think I’ll be doing BNTM Live. The models aren’t being paid. The show will undoubtedly make a huge amount of money. I don’t do unpaid work anymore. I’m not demanding a lot but if I don’t value myself, who will?

I guess it must seem a long time ago since you left the competition; did you keep up with watching the show? Were you OMGing at stuff along with the rest of us?
I don’t actually have a telly here! I do watch all my favourite shows online though, god bless 4OD! However I’ve had to wait to watch BNTM on youtube. But mostly I knew how things went, because we all found each other on facebook and got the gossip there. It’s funny to watch how it’s all edited though!

sue loughnane swimwearYou may have gathered by now that I’m a sucker for 50s styling. The colours here are so vibrant and Susan looks like Rita Hayworth. Hot!

I wanna talk a bit about your time on the show… as you know I was a big fan and really sad to see you leave so early : ( Were you upset/shocked about how you were eliminated?
Aw that’s nice, I love hearing that. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d even gotten onto the show. I don’t really see myself as a model and have trouble understanding how anyone else sees it. I think I made it on there mostly as a result of my personality! I really clicked with all the producers and I think they really liked me. I think they wanted me there more than Elle and the judges. I thought the way I was eliminated was great, very dramatic, just how I like it! I loved how fans were outraged and really got behind me! That was brilliant, I was so unbelievably grateful for that. It could have been far worse. Delita got a very hard time from the fans for being in it as long as she was. And the photographers on the show didn’t seem to like her either. I think that would be much harder to deal with. I felt quite sorry for her. I was lucky that the photographers on the show really liked me, I came across well and a lot of people were disgusted when I left. You couldn’t ask for a better exit than an unfair one! I’m quite ‘glass half full’ about the whole thing.

It seemed strange as you hadn’t received as much criticism as some of the other girls for either your walk or your photos. Do you think if you’d been given more constructive criticism, you could have improved and stayed longer?
They want the girls to have a character arc. It is the same with acting. There has to be a story. You have to start somewhere, preferably a fairly rocky start, or where they show your potential but how you might falter, and then there has to be hurdles, breakdowns, obstacles, triumphs… Me, I was always quite stable and happy. This was my flaw. I think I was too grown-up for the tantrums and the breakdowns, and I knew enough that I wasn’t starting from a disadvantage, so the story wasn’t there in the long run. So they got rid of me. It was never about how I performed as a model. Am I ruining it for you?? Sorry.

 

The people at the go-sees didn’t seem encouraging at all and looked like they were sucking lemons when they saw you! Did you already get the vibe that they weren’t interested? Were you angry (I was and I wasn’t even there!)?
I know that they were told to criticize me, because it was my time to go, but man they were total assholes! They weren’t nice people, they had no scruples, no shame, no empathy, nothing. The majority of the horrible things they said were actually edited out because it was just too mean and completely unjustified. It took all my strength not to tear them to pieces for being horrible human beings. But karma will get them, they will come back in the next life as a warthog and a stinky hyena. [Guess they won’t be getting a Christmas card this year…!]

I read in one interview that you wanted to deck them! Models 1 will also be at the BNTM Live event… have you been working on your right hook?!
Haha I have better things to do than take them out. But in fact I have been working out a lot lately. I do want to be able to throw a good punch in case the need ever arises. It’s actually quite empowering as a woman to work on your physical strength.

Were you upset that you didn’t get a proper goodbye – seeing Elle, writing a farewell letter etc? What were the other girls’ reactions to your departure?
Oh no, as I said I was very happy with how I went. I didn’t have to go through another elimination, those are the most horrible nerve-wrecking things! And all the girls were there to help me pack and make me feel better. They even tried to bake a potato for me to bring with me, they knew how much I loved my spuds, and Tiffany gave me her last energy bar, which meant a lot in a house where food was scarce and you couldn’t just pop out to the shop and buy more. And they were just so lovely and supportive. They were really a great group of girls! Afterwards, Tiff and Amelia went into the diary room and said some really sweet things about how much they were going to miss me. I cried watching that.

Did it frustrate you that, whilst some judges complained that your acting detracted from your modelling, loads of stuff after you’d gone revolved around acting? You’d probably have rocked the bullying campaign, the horror shoot and the Hollyoaks challenge!
Yeah, well I couldn’t have stayed on really, could I? That would have been my chance to shine. So they had to find some way to get rid of me. So they found two callous assholes with no scruples who would be quite happy to shamelessly put me down and bully me. And that was followed by an anti bullying campaign…

Do you think you had a different experience to the rest of the girls as, with your acting, you’re more savvy to being in front of the cameras and dealing with criticism? What do you prefer – reality tv or having a script?
I honestly prefer having a script, however I am quite comfortable just being myself. But I was completely sure of who I was and what I would and wouldn’t do. I think that comes with age. At my age, I know who I am and cannot be pushed around by producers and convinced to do something I would be ashamed of later. The younger girls were more malleable which makes for better TV.

Give us the inside scoop on filming a reality tv show – were the cameras really on you 24/7? Did you feel pressured to come up with good soundbites? Do you feel the producers deliberately amped up the drama for better tv? Did you feel the judges were being honest at panel or just trying to be controversial?
The cameras weren’t there 24/7, there was a lot that the cameras did not see! We weren’t allowed to play music in the house because it would interfere with filming and they might not be able to hear what we were saying. But one night, Kirsty found a stereo system in the bedroom and after they had all gone to bed we used to put it on and have a bit of a boogie. They found us at it one night and decided to film it because it would show us bonding or some shit like that. But there was a lot that they didn’t see. They did deliberately amp up the drama, but I wasn’t really involved in that kind of thing, I tried to mostly stay away from drama. I wasn’t a very good contestant really was I? I would never make it onto Big Brother!! I’m a bit too chilled.

None of the judges were honest really, except maybe Charley. Grace was quite honest at times but always exaggerated what she really thought to make it sound more extreme, because she wanted to be the Simon Cowell one. Julian was always just being controversial, he didn’t seem to have a filter in his brain to sieve out the ridiculous comments. It was like he had Tourettes. The producers obviously loved that.

It sounded like you entered BNTM on a bit of a whim (especially as, you admit, you’re not even technically British!). Were you happy you just got as far as you did? What was the feeling like when Elle called your name last at Model Academy? (Only for her to kick you out without a goodbye a few weeks on – bloody cheek etc!)
I couldn’t believe I actually made it in. It was mad. I went over on a whim. If it hadn’t been for a Ryanair sale and £10 flights, I wouldn’t have gone because I really thought they were highly likely to turn me away the minute they saw my Irish passport. So I just thought, well it would be nice to see Glasgow and it will be a funny experience either way, and sure the flights were practically free. I actually laughed when I was told I had a call back. I did always have to pinch myself when I was on the show and I never felt I would make it to the next week at any stage, so I was shocked to even get as far as I did, and I was really honoured to be there. So I was fine about leaving. I felt a bit abused by their manner of doing it, but I didn’t expect to stay, and I knew there was an elimination that day, it was completely pre-planned in advance, so I was not shocked. It was not a shock elimination like they made out. It was totally scripted. That’s a Fact.

A few unkind people have suggested you only entered to get exposure for your acting – what’s your response to them?
It’s the truth; I have no real interest in being a model. I completely used BNTM for my profile and it worked. So there.

susan loughnaneSusan’s gorgeous 2012 Irish Tatler cover; photo by Barry McCall Photographer

What have you been up to since you left?
Thankfully, I’ve been doing quite a lot of acting. I shot an Irish TV series called Single-Handed down in beautiful Galway. I’m told it will be on ITV over here in the New Year. I’ve just been cast in a play here, I have a fantastic new London agent and he is getting me lots of auditions here so things are great. I love living in London. [NOTE: Since BNTM, Susan has actually become a quite well-known actress, with roles in acclaimed Irish drama Love/Hate and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, plus has also written her first book!]

You can model, act and have a nifty taste in jumpers. Let’s assess your true triple-threat potential! Any other talents hiding under there?
Haha, that’s really sweet. I do love my jumpers all right. Actually I am also an artist and dabble in photography. I’ve been a professional portrait artist since I was about 17, and still take the odd commission to supplement my income. I find painting a very relaxing and therapeutic thing to do; however, I have taken a break from it since coming to London because I couldn’t bring over all my easels and oil paints and canvases, and it would be a big investment to buy new stuff. Also I am focusing solely on acting for the time being, I think to be truly successful at something you have to be single-minded, and now I am totally focused. I do still carry around my SLR from time to time and snap casual pictures of friends and London life in general.

I just noticed on your CV that you trained for a year at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York (most famous student: Marilyn Monroe!) – how was that experience?
I loved New York. It felt like home straight away and whenever I think about it my heart actually aches a little. I think it is homesickness. I do feel the same way about Ireland though. The Lee Strasberg Institute was an incredible experience. Not only did I get fantastic training but I met truly brilliant people. It was like the UN, I now have friends from literally all over the world and all walks of life! It was a true all-round life experience.

My boyfriend thinks you look like Amy Adams – have you had that before?
All the time, I used to get called Nicole Kidman too, but I think my personality is closer to Amy Adams… now if I could only have her career…!

How do you think being part of BNTM has changed you?
It has made me very determined. And I have a lot more belief in myself. The fans were very supportive I’ve gotten some wonderfully positive fan mail. It is fantastic and invaluable to have the support of your family and friends, but when complete strangers have a strong faith in you it has an interesting effect. I throw away every negative comment, they are irrelevant to me unless they are constructive. But the really positive ones are like little badges I sew onto my sleeve, like when I was in a kid in girl guides, and they add to my confidence and sense of purpose and self-belief. I really am grateful for that.

And finally, what’s your top style/beauty tip for Teentoday readers?
I believe in rewards. When I have worked really hard I like to reward myself with something I don’t need but really want. Like that jumper I wore on the show, for example. I was shooting a TV series up in Belfast last November, and one day I had two big emotional scenes that were very hard work and emotionally exhausting, but I got a few hours off after so I went shopping in Belfast and bought myself that jumper. I returned to set that day with a huge smile on my face. And now I have a jumper that always makes me happy and reminds me of the great work I did that day. Love yourself, take care of yourself and reward yourself when you deserve it.

All photos from Susan’s website and Flickr. As ever, click on the photos for enlargements.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens: Green there, done that

It’s a nice day, you’re unemployed and at a loose end. What to do that’s cheap, interesting and actually involves leaving the house? How about a trip to Hong Kong’s Zoological and Botanical Gardens?

Admittedly, now probably isn’t the best time of year to visit as most of the 1000 plus species of plants are no longer flowering. Yet given it was an absolutely beautiful summer’s day and I wasn’t sure if we’d be having any more of those this year, my boyfriend and I decided to make the trip to Central and have a calm and gentle stroll around.

Trek not helped by The Stairs To Nowhere. HK Planning Department Fail.

Of course, we forgot that beautiful summer’s day = getting hot and sweaty. Especially as it’s a bit of a trek to get there, much of it uphill, and one problem of an open-air park is that there isn’t a blast of cool air-conditioning to welcome you there! (I still think the LCSD is missing a trick by not making its museums and parks have proper restaurants and cafes. It’s something many places in England have done, making them destinations in their own right. But most places I’ve visited in HK make do with an amateur-run eaterie, akin to the school cafeteria, with plastic chairs, dishing up instant noodles – and that’s on a good day! HKZBG was no exception, sporting a few fast food kiosks. Given the number of young families and yummy mummies visiting, I think a beautiful café could make a killing here). However, it’s still a lovely place, especially since this spot of lush verdant greenery is nestled right in the heart of Central’s towering skyscrapers.

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest of its kind around the world, with construction starting in 1860, opening to the public in 1864. The pagoda inside is the oldest structure in the garden and there are a few other historical statues, like a bronze one of King George erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of British colonial rule in HK and a memorial arch as you walk in dedicated to British and Chinese soldiers who died in the war. I was also surprised by how many animals there were, an eclectic bunch of simians, reptiles and around 400 exotically-plumaged birds.

But I was here because I missed green stuff. I missed plants. I missed grass. I missed trees and shrubs and my garden. I missed walking around in green spaces, breathing in fresh air and being a bit removed from the rumble of pollution and the smog of concrete. So most of my pictures are of that. Enjoy. (As ever, click to enlarge). And yes, I will be going back in Spring.

This plant was called mother-in-law’s tongue! *Insert mother-in-law joke here*

Some form of Heliconia, also known as ‘false bird-of-paradise’. You can see why! Birds-of-paradise were always my favourite house plant in Sims!

Another hibiscus – not HK’s national flower, but it might as well be.

I want to call these catkins. They might not be but whatever, it still reminded me of my Flower Fairies books.

The Education and Exhibition Centre currently houses a display of orchids. Most were fairly standard (or as standard as orchids ever can be!), like those at CWB’s Flower Market but these were unusually beautiful.

I thought these tree roots were amazing – like a labyrinth or a witch’s hand! Better than any modern art sculpture!

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Albany Road, Central, 2530 0154. Free admission. Fountain Terrace Garden (the fountain was closed when I visited!), open 6am to 10pm. Green House and Exhibition Centre, 6am-4pm. All other areas, 6am-7pm.

Get a bus or get the MTR to Pacific Place, Admiralty. Go up the escalators at the side by Grappas and Lane Crawford to Hong Kong Park and follow the signs to the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

Pawn Again: views from The Roof Garden @ The Pawn

When I used to work in Wan Chai, my colleague and I used to dawdle about the streets until the dying seconds of our lunch hour, bemoaning the lack of pleasant public spaces in the area where we could sit and avoid returning to the office for as long as possible. Little did I know that one such place did exist and could have saved us from being harangued by strippers and grimacing over grotty tattoo parlour displays in the streets of WC.

The Roof Garden (and yes, those are real plants and they’re gorgeous), on the third floor of The Pawn restaurant, is a quiet haven from the heaving hubbub of Wan Chai. It offers spectacular views over the city, a chance to drink in the different styles of architecture and savour the fact that somehow, a little piece of old Hong Kong has been preserved. Admittedly, preserved by becoming a set of swanky restaurants, but preserved nevertheless.

Photo contrasting the old Woo Cheong Pawnshop with the new development, from HK Man’s Flickr, which you need to check out like, now. Hundreds of amazing photographs like this comparing old and new HK.

The Pawn occupies the former premises of century-old Woo Cheong Pawnshop (hence the name), a set of four tenement houses (known as “tong lau”) originally built around the turn of the 20th century. “Tong lau” were unique to Hong Kong and Southern China, balcony-type shophouses featuring a mixture of Chinese and Western architecture, where the ground floor was usually devoted to a family business whilst the upper levels were residential. These ones have four stories, with high ceilings, French windows to the balconies, verandahs facing Johnston Road and other typical Tong Lau features that you can see in some of my photos, like the balustrades and decorative urns on the roof, which have been restored and revitalised. Columns on the ground floor supported the upper levels, forming a covered pedestrian arcade – a feature more HK buildings today could do with, saving us from the beating sun and dripping air cons!

Another nice little detail – the shophouses did not have toilet provisions. Instead, the “nightsoil” was collected by government scavengers at night from the pail latrine (i.e. a bucket). How do I know all this stuff? Well, upon visiting the Roof Garden, you’re met by an attendant from the Urban Renewal Authority (who bought the building in 2003 and helped restore it), bearing a pamphlet snappily entitled “Welcome to The Pawn Roof Woo Cheong Pawnshop Building Cluster”, full of such interesting facts and photos! Apparently, this was a response to The Pawn not exactly encouraging non paying-customers to enjoy the Roof Garden but I certainly had no such problems on my visit. Sadly, the attendant didn’t speak much English so couldn’t answer any of my other questions – like whether some of the racks on the roof were actually from the Woo Cheong Pawnshop itself (they definitely looked rusty enough!).

The preserved terrazo front sign for Woo Cheong Pawn Shop

It’s easy to get frustrated with Hong Kong’s attempts (or lack of) at historical preservation. Many old buildings have ceded to anonymous modern developments already and it always seems to be an uphill battle to prevent sites of historic interest from being ripped apart and swiftly following suit. Although it isn’t exactly ideal that these century-old tenements have survived as a luxury commercial development sold to the highest bidder (with Woo Cheong shunted out elsewhere in Wan Chai to make way for them), I’d rather concentrate on being happy that it’s survived at all, that a stunning part of it is easily and freely accessible to all and that The Pawn has put real effort and thought into making the most of its setting and history (review of the restaurant itself here!).

[And what with The Press Room Group paying homage to the pawnshop, having previously done so with The Press Room itself (its name references the Overseas Chinese Daily News / Hua Qiao Daily newspaper, the 1920s residents of that building), perhaps they’re getting a taste for this kind of thing?!]

View showing the orange lift going up the side of the Hopewell Centre, which at the time of its completion (1980) was the tallest building and first circular skyscraper in Hong Kong

As for the Roof Garden – well, the pictures speak for themselves, don’t they? (As ever, click for enlargements.) It’s a spot of serenity with absolutely breathtaking views and a humbling sense of heritage. (And it would be absolutely great for a private party as well, they have a bar and everything!) There is also a small computer screen attached to one of the columns downstairs as part of the Wan Chai Heritage Trail (quite how it hasn’t been carted off by some hobo yet I’m unsure) which details some of the history of the area – including jaw-dropping maps showing how much land has been reclaimed. Basically, I’d have been standing in the sea!

Whilst we were enjoying having the place to ourselves, my boyfriend wondered when Hong Kong’s legion of “helpers”, who swarm in the thousands upon HK’s various public spaces every Sunday in a sea of fried chicken, hip-hop dancing and piercing babble (making many such areas impossibly crowded and near inpenetrable to the average pedestrian… never mind the amount of debris and mess left at the end of the day – will save that rant for another day!), might discover it. So get down there before they – or anyone else for that matter – does and savour this hidden oasis set in the midst of our concrete jungle. Enjoy.

Ding-ding!

Photos showing the redevelopment and restoration

The instantly-recognisable HK pawn shop logo. Wikipedia reckons it represents a bat (signifying fortune) holding a coin (signifying benefits). The character in the middle is the symbol for pawn shop, the two upper characters the name of the family who own the shop.

Roof Garden, 3/F The Pawn, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai.

For more information and photographs about the restoration and preservation of 60-66 Johnston Road, check out the Urban Renewal Authority’s website here.

Canada’s Next Top Model, Cycle 3: Ticket to nowhere?

Been feeling out of sorts lately but unable to work out why? Well, I might just have the answer! It’s been over a fortnight since I did a Top Model post!

Cycle 3 of Canada’s Next Top Model was the best Canada had seen yet. Given that Season 1 was fronted by Long John Silver’s wooden stump (I’ve heard she goes by the name of Tricia Helfer), populated with a cast of ugmos and won by an anorexic who gave up modelling before she’d even begun, you can see this isn’t exactly the most glowing of endorsements. Thankfully, Tyra freed Mister Jay in time for Season 2 and by Season 3, he had rounded up a vaguely attractive cast, half-decent panel and enough budget to ensure that shoots no longer looked like they had been done by that dodgy bloke who hangs round your mall.

Although it was the most recent cycle of CNTM, the series still felt like it was occurring in the medieval ages of Top Model-dom – a too-short run, a dated look and a distinct lack of drama. But it was good to see an unshackled Jay Manuel declaring he hated the word ‘fierce’ – take that, Tyra!

What drama there was started off pretty low-key. One girl walked before anyone had even learnt her name. Another girl didn’t really fit in. There was the obligatory meltdown at makeover – ‘I look like a muffin!’ – and the most un-dramatic outing of a lesbian I think I’ve ever seen on reality television. And then there was Maryam.

Maryam was originally from Iran, meaning she was the one who would make incessant references to her culture every time she had to reveal so much as an ankle on tv. So far, so standard. But as the girls screamed, whooped and jumped up and down on discovering they’d be Bahamas-bound for a bridal-themed photoshoot, it transpired Maryam didn’t have a passport. Poor girl probably thought she wouldn’t need it, given CNTM had thus far been so low-rent that the furthest the girls got from Canada was probably being made to flick through American Vogue. Everyone thought Maryam was a goner and Barbadian-born Ebonie thought she had her best shoot yet but the show stumped up a special shoot for Maryam, using better green-screen effects than Clash of the Titans, and girlfriend absolutely rocked it.

Come panel and Ebonie’s photo (above) was truly horrible and looked like she was having the worst period OF ALL TIME (judge Yasmin Warsame: ‘I’d buy that, I’m sold!’ *on seeing close-up* ‘Oh dear, I change my mind!’). Ebonie still thought she’d done brilliantly and was promptly sent packing, still protesting her brilliance. Surely I’m not the only one who gleefully cackles when stuff like that happens?!

I absolutely loved this shoot because I’m a sucker for bridal. A childhood spent collecting Barbie stickers and swooning over Disney movies has meant that seeing a bridal gown triggers some primal urge that sets me off squealing and clapping my hands like a seal. Contrast tropical setting and pretty dress with looks of intense pain and sorrow and I adore it even more, regardless if it’s an idea as old as (certain parts of) Janice Dickinson. My favourite photo of the entire cycle was Heather’s (the banner photo), the perfect balance between serene beauty and utter wretchedness. I also love how true Rebeccah’s feels – a quiet moment of sadness captured on film. [Her story about how she achieved it, by thinking about when her dog died, would have made even the most Botoxed-up fashionitas shed a tear… if their ducts hadn’t been frozen solid, of course.] And as for Maryam? Can you tell her signature look was ‘fierce’? She was the only girl to show some attitude and look pissed and I think it pays off. [Below, left to right: Rebeccah, Maryam]

Just when you thought the passport dramz was over, cue more screaming, whooping and jumping up and down because the girls were headed to New York! And guess what? Maryam still didn’t have a passport!

Having blown the budget on two international trips and green-screen technology, there was no special treatment for Maryam this time. So whilst the rest of the girls did some fancy shoot portraying two different characters in one photo, Maryam called upon a photographer mate (quite likely that dodgy bloke who hangs round your mall) to make her own picture. As she was shown posing in what appeared to be someone’s cloakroom, rattling on in her thick Iranian-accent about being pictured with a gecko, this was hide behind your pillow viewing. Clutching her brown envelope at panel, containing what you imagined was some amateur snapshot of her gallivanting with a lizard she probably found in the streets (very common in HK), I could barely watch for fear of this sweet little Iranian flower being brutally stamped out by the judges. And yet, it somehow turned out awesome, better than the stupid New York shoot and she even escaped the bottom two! Only to be given the boot a week later…

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the standard of the shoots, although after a bit of digging on forums, it appears that’s because most of the ideas were nicked from other (better!) fashion editorials anyway! Photographed in Week 1 by Nigel Barker (*groan*), I initially thought the concept of being shot at random with a wild animal was a bit of a stunt. But, combined with glam 80s styling, big hair and a liberal dose of fierce eyes, it worked (in fact, something pretty similar was done this current season of AusNTM). [Below: Maryam, Nikita, Rebeccah, Heather]

Meanwhile, I simply loved the styling in Week 2. It looked, as good old Alex Perry would say, ‘expensive’. These lushly opulent designer frocks are works of art and were shot and styled accordingly. I could do without the random flashes of bright light but Nikita (the ‘muffin’ makeover girl, who was a great contestant – quick, witty, bitchy but still likeable) looks regal and exquisitely untouchable – bow down! I also really liked Rebeccah doing something a bit different and channelling Twiggy, which really works with her outfit and haircut. [Below: Rebeccah, Tara – purely because I love her outfit, Nikita, Heather]

Finally, beauty shots avec duct-taped mouths. It’s such a great concept for a beauty shot that I refuse to believe it hasn’t been used before, but the CNTM girls do it justice. It would be easy to fall into an oppressed woman trap so I love how defiantly Nikita eyes the camera, but still in an aloof sexy way. And those are some quality cheekbones (and nails)! Heather’s ethereal, almost resigned look heavenwards manages to transcend both the duct-tape and the huge hair whilst Rebeccah channels Twiggy… again! And I’m still going to love her for it… again! Her make-up is more cutesy than the other girls, so the big eyes look great with it and the composition of the shot, with her peeking out from one side of the photo just like she’s peeking out from one side of her hair, is kookily clever. [Below: Nikita, Rebeccah, Heather]

So, a solid season with solid photos, a solid cast and enough drama to keep things ticking along for eight episodes that can be wrapped up in a weekend. Basically, just enough reason to forgive and forget for a few weeks that Canada is responsible for both Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne. Oh, ok, nothing can make up for that!

Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong 2010, The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories: Lights, camera, lanterns!

The lanterns didn’t stop there. Over in Tsim Sha Tsui, there was an absolutely amazing lantern display entitled The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories. These cute and quirky lanterns, depicting nostalgic scenes from 1960s Hong Kong, were designed by Leo Tang and I thought they were just lovely. Perfectly capturing the spirit of Hong Kong with a fond heart and light touch, it’s the sort of ephemera that’s unlikely to go down in the history books but provokes all sorts of loving rose-tinted memories. Now I’ll let the photos do the talking; as ever, click for enlargements.

Hustle and Bustle

These show scenes from 1960s city life, including many traditional businesses that have since died out, like shoe-shiners, calligraphers and rickshaw drivers.

A policeman in his pagoda directing traffic in the days before traffic lights. (Vintage photos from HK Police Force website and HK Man’s Flickr).

A tai-tai at the tailor’s – check out that retro hair-do!

I loved the attention to detail. Here the little boy at the barber is reading a comic-book to keep him entertained – and you can actually look inside the box and see what comics are on offer (hello Astro Boy!).

This little fellow is Lap Sap Chung, a monster created in a campaign to stop HKer’s from littering. He’s being chased by Miss Super Clean, remembered by lots of pre-pubescent teenage boys for her mini-skirts and go-go boots! Mischievous Lap Sap Chung proved so popular that he soon found himself being recreated as merchandise and inflatable toys! His memory was so enduring – a survey found that over 90% of respondents had heard of Lap Sap Chung! – that he was revived for a recent Keep Hong Kong Clean campaign. He even has a Facebook Group in his honour! (Posters from Chan.police’s Flickr and Gwulo.com)

Also note the red, white and blue striped lanterns in the background. These are based on the infamous plastic ‘amah bags’ that you see at wet markets or lugged around by Filipinos, burst to breaking point. I even saw one woman trying to post a full one! (Photo from Red, White, Blue, Here, There, Everywhere Flickr)

Delicious Memories

What would HK be without its food?! Here’s someone enjoying a meal at a dai pai dong (food stall in the street) – love how you can see the pak choi in the owner’s wok!

A spinning cup of milk tea (ngai cha), so beloved of HKers, being serenaded by a teddy boy.

A street hawker, carrying wicker baskets full of vegetables suspended on a bamboo pole on his shoulder. I love how the lady buying from him even has a shopping list in her hand!

An ‘airplane olives’ (fei gei larm) hawker with his distinctive brown paper bag. If you saw him in the streets, you would call down and he would throw the olives up to you several stories high! You would then drop down your money – only paying for what you caught, mind!

Not sure what this guy’s offering us. Hotpot? Congee? An ashtray? (OK, the last one seems unlikely). Answers on a postcard please.

Starfruit-shaped lantern!

Home Sweet Home

This one confused me – was there some strange game in the 1960s where kids had to run to and from a tap?! My auntie had a look and thinks it refers to the days when children would have to go to the village tap to collect buckets of water for the whole family back home. (Those slippers are so Hong Kong as well!)

In the old days, apartments were very small and people slept in simple metal or wood bunk beds to save as much space as possible. Here, the little girl is making plastic flowers by hand, a part-time job many people had in the 1960s to generate a little extra income.

The mum, carrying her baby in the typical Chinese papoose-sling on her back, seems to have rollers in her hair. No GHDs in those days!

The little girl is holding a traditional rabbit lantern for Mid-Autumn Festival; these stem from the rabbit’s presence in the myth behind the Moon Festival and are still sold nowadays.

Traditional paper lanterns for Mid-Autumn Festival – none of that inflatable singing and dancing tat in those days!

Do I need to tell you this is a retro thermos flask?!

Play & Playground

You might notice that some of these happy children are running about in what appear to be the old-school colourful wooden building blocks that children from yesteryear used to play with.

The circle-shaped counters with different coloured airplanes on, seen floating in the background or decorating the giant lanterns, are from a popular Chinese board game, Flying Chess (飛行棋). I say board game, it’s actually played on a fold-up piece of paper and works similarly to Ludo or Frustration. I only noticed this when I was looking back on my photos afterwards and it’s the little touches like this that Tang totally nails; I actually remember playing this when I was little and seeing that detail really made me smile, which is exactly the sort of response I think he hoped for. (飛行棋 photo from DChome forum – I swear I have the exact same game at home!)

The centrepiece to the whole display was a giant rabbit lantern, stuffed with old-school lamps, shop signs and birdcages. The amount of work that must have gone into it! Almost seems a shame that it will all have to be taken down : (

Cute, charming and quintessentially Hong Kong. What’s not to love?

The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza (near Star Ferry), Tsim Sha Tsui. 10 September until 17 October 2010, 6.30-11.30pm.


Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong: It’s a marvellous night for a mooncake

Mid-Autumn Festival may just be one of my favourite festivals in Hong Kong because just about everywhere makes the effort to look pretty. Admittedly, all it takes is a few paper lanterns scattered about, but at night time especially, it looks charming and uniquely Chinese.

Also know as Moon Festival, it’s held on the 15th day of the 8th month (of the lunar calendar, so roughly late September) when the moon is supposed to be at its brightest. There are many variants of the legend behind the festival, but I’ll tell you (in the best Chinese tradition!) the one that my mum told me.

A long long time ago, there used to be ten suns in the sky, which burnt away terribly at the Earth. The emperor commanded the most skilled archer in all the land, Hou Yi, to shoot down all but one of the suns – which he did, leaving us with the one sun we have today. As a reward, he was given a magic potion that would grant him eternal life and he hid it away at home. According to my mum’s version, Hou Yi became a tyrant, corrupted by power and ambition; on seeing this, his beautiful wife, Seung Orr, decided to eat the pill herself to prevent him from living forever (other versions have the wife finding and eating the pill accidentally). Upon eating the pill, she found herself becoming lighter and lighter and she began to float. Eventually, she floated out of the window, up into the sky and onto the moon where she lives today. She also has her rabbit with her, who you can sometimes see outlined on the moon.

If you’re a virgin to Moon Festival, there are only two things you need to know – lanterns and mooncake! Seung Orr adorns many a mooncake box and the traditional cakes are made with a yellow duck egg inside, representing the moon. Nowadays, there are all kinds of modern takes on the mooncake, including chocolate, mango, green tea or even ‘snowy’ ice-cream ones. We bought one that was shaped like a pig! It came in a miniature version of the traditional basket that real pigs used to be carried to market in the olden days and I love how he even has a little curly tail. Alas, he had to be decapitated and eaten – the filling was green bean paste – and my auntie said he looked a lot nicer than he tasted!

Lanterns are lit to accentuate the brightness of the moon and on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival itself, paper ones are lit and floated off to the moon. This year, one managed to land on an MTR train, sparking a small fire, panic, evacuations, delays and talk of regulating lanterns more closely next year. As with mooncakes, lanterns have evolved with the times and you can get them in practically any shape, size or colour you desire, with inflatable musical cartoon character versions proving particularly popular with youngsters (so if it’s late September and you’re hearing a tinny tune in the dim and distant, it’s probably a toddler holding a blow-up Doaremon).

We went to the special market in Tsing Yi’s Maritime Square Mall, which is basically your one-stop Mid-Autumn shop. As you can see, the lantern stall was a riot of colour! We bought two ($35 each) – a pretty lotus flower and a gorgeous goldfish. You can see them in action in our flat below!

However, these are mere small fry compared to the lanterns that the government has built to mark the occasion. For all of Mid-Autumn weekend, Victoria Park in Causeway Bay is transformed into a luminous lantern extravaganza. It costs a small fortune but hey, who cares when it looks this spectacular?!

Check out my posts on more beautiful Mid-Autumn lanterns in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong here and here

‘Cos baby, you’re a firework! Come on, let your colours burst!

A little something to celebrate National Day…

As a teacher with shall we say, “limited” artistic ability (what… you mean stick men aren’t good enough?), it was always a bit of a headache creating art where I could produce a decent enough sample for my kids to copy from in the first place. Drawing coloured dashes with pastels on black paper was pretty much the extent of my skill, but as fireworks on a night sky, it’s pretty effective and it’s probably my favourite artwork that my kids drew (especially as, in the time-honoured tradition of 5 year-olds, they were far more adept at getting paint on themselves rather than on the paper). So well done them.

And if you’re looking at these drawings thinking they look a bit much, think again. In Hong Kong, we let off fireworks for practically any day of the week ending in ‘Y’ and, far from youthful flamboyance, these are probably a fairly accurate depiction of one of our more restrained pyrotechnic displays! Chalk it up as another reason that I love living here.