MANILA, JULY 16, 2006 (STAR) LIVING ALIVE By Dero Pedero - On Saturday, June 10, I woke up to the ringing of the telephone. It was a call from Lorraine Schuck, executive vice president of Carousel Productions, organizers of the Miss Earth Beauty Pageant.

"Dero, wanna go to China?" Lorraine asked. "There is an invitation for a Philippine writer to witness and cover the Miss Tourism Queen International Beauty Pageant."

"The what?" I replied, never having heard of the contest.

"There’s this beauty contest and I thought of you… If you are not doing anything, it might be fun. But you must leave in seven days and be there for the opening."

I pondered the possibility and was reminded of one of the principles I teach in my life-enhancement seminars: "Just show up!" This maxim upholds that to make things happen in your life, you must show up or you would never find out what surprises life has in store for you. I also knew that the rains were coming and leaving would be a chance to avoid the depression that wet weather brings.

I called Lorraine back and declared, "I’m going!"


The flight from Manila to Mainland China, with a brief transit in Hong Kong, was pleasant. When I arrived in Chongqing, a pageant representative at the airport met and ushered me to a brand-new limousine that whisked me downtown to Hefu Hotel.

Chongqing is a cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers, wide boulevards, and bustling economic activity. It lies along the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers, and has an inland river port making it an important trading center. With a population of 13 million, Chongqing is one of the largest cities in China. Also called "Mountain City" and "River City," it is known for its wonderful scenery and tourist spots.

I began to meet the organizers one by one: Alex Liu, president and international events director; Kevin Zhang, executive president; Catherine Hew, pageant director; Linda Tan, overall events director; Antonio Qi, event manager; Rafal Sojka, choreographer; Gail Chudleigh, head chaperone; Edwin Lumaoig (a Filipino), pageant photographer; Jerome Too, Chen Chen, Bonnie, Mya, Robin, Alan, Andy, the rest of the production staff, and members of the press corps. Everyone was friendly and helpful despite the language barrier. Parents of some of the delegates were also with us and we all started to bond with each other.

The Girls And Justine

Most of the 86 girls were stunning: tall, slim and beautiful; the outstanding ones were total knockouts.

My easy favorites were Miss France, very elegant with an appealing voluptuousness; Miss Brazil, one of the most beautiful faces in the contest; Miss Serbia and Montenegro, sweet and angelic; Miss Monaco, beautiful and serene like a princess; Miss South Africa, the one with cheerful eyes and a big smile; Miss Poland, blond and appealing; and Miss Russia, absolutely gorgeous. It will be a tough competition, I surmised.

Then I finally met Justine Gabionza, the Philippine representative to the pageant. I first saw her at the 2002 Miss Philippines Pageant when she won Miss Philippines Air, and met her a few times in some of Carousel’s parties. I remember her as a graceful, quiet, smiling girl with bright almond eyes and flawless kayumanggi skin.

As we talked, I observed her intensely. The girl had natural appeal, spoke with a soft musical voice, and was charming and extremely sweet in her ways. But I realized that a little bit of makeup magic would enhance her looks and increase her chances of being noticed. What many people don’t realize is that when the lights are turned up on stage, makeup gets washed out. To achieve definition from afar and for TV, it has to be a little more pronounced.

Working A Little Magic

I wanted to make a few suggestions that I felt would help her win. But I had to figure out her personality and how she would take suggestions. She was receptive and enthusiastic, so I asked her to join me in my room as no one was allowed to visit the girls’ rooms.

To win her confidence, I had to brag that I studied film at the Hollywood Film Institute and lighting at the American Film Institute, and that makeup is the art of creating a beautiful, attractive illusion. There are minute fineries in using makeup to create light and shadow on the face to make it more balanced and appealing. To prove my point and for her to see the difference, I told her that I would be taking before and after photos, a proposition to which she conceded.

I felt that Justine needed to draw her eyebrows longer to frame her face beautifully, so I showed her how far I though they should extend. I just gave directions; she did all the application herself. When she saw the transformation by adding just a few pencil lines here and there and dashes of eye shadow on the right places, she started to get very excited.

I asked, "You like it?" and she replied, "I love it!"

We took more photos to check the effect of the makeup on film. We were so ecstatic and noisy, to the great amusement of my roommate, Antony Khomenko, a journalist from Ukraine. He must have found it so odd to see this old man teaching a beautiful young lady how to put on makeup! We asked what he thought of it and, with eyes shining, he gave us a nod of approval.

History Of The Pageant

Miss Tourism Queen International was founded by beauty pageant icon and founder Charlie See, a Chinese-American based in Hollywood. Charlie was the official photographer of the Miss Universe beauty pageant for many years until he started his own contests. (He was responsible for introducing then Miss International Stella Marquez to Filipino magnate Jorge Araneta.) Today, Charlie See, sprightly at 96, organizes over 20 beauty contests held around the world.

In 1993, the Miss Tourism Queen Organization held the first world final competition in Sri Lanka, and later in the US, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Singapore and other countries. It landed in China in 2004. This year, a record of 86 delegates came for the pageant.

With each delegate acting as a country’s tourism ambassador, Miss Tourism Queen International aims at enhancing the tourism industry, friendship among countries, and international culture exchange. With the full support of the Chinese government, around 250 local and international press coverage, over 50 TV networks participating, and the presence of the diplomatic and business corps, the contest has become one of the top pageants in the world.

Miss Bikini Of The World

The first major event of the pageant was the swimsuit competition held at Jin Hau Square, a large amusement complex. The girls showed off their figures parading in bikinis and tossing beach balls on stage. Justine performed very well, having had a lot of catwalk experience in modeling. Her exposure to contests like the Top Model of the World Competition in Dusseldorf, Germany, where she landed fifth place, surely helped her project an aura of confidence and grace.

Proclaimed Miss Bikini of the World was the svelte and blond Miss Belarus, Ekaterina Bezborod’ko. Miss Philippines garnered first runner-up honors, second runner-up was Miss Serbia and Montenegro Gordana Strajin, third runner-up was Miss Bolivia Pamela Justiniano and fourth runner-up was Miss Congo Fatouma Eboundit.

The highlight of the Chongqing segment was the opening ceremony of the Chongqing Three Gorges Tourism Festival. A big show was mounted at the mammoth People’s Hall featuring the girls and a cast of hundreds of musicians and dancers. I saw Justine’s national costume designed by Jontie Martinez for the first time and thought that it was breathtakingly fabulous.

Five sub-competition awards were given: Most Photogenic went to Miss Cuba Melissa Cabral; Most Elegant was Miss Chile Maria Jose Pestan Salazar; Miss Charm was Miss France Lynda Amalie Ksiazek; and Best Smile went to Miss Thailand Sujittra Pra-artitsukhum.

A bit disappointed that Justine didn’t win any of the special awards (she could have won Miss Elegance), I joined the entire entourage for some merrymaking aboard a riverboat for a spectacular dinner-cruise on the Jialing River. Flashbulbs lit the night as the contestants posed for souvenir photos with each other and their new friends.

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Next: Jiashan, Zhengzhou, the MTQI Finals in Hangzhou, and what really made Justine win!

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