In the grand tradition of freebies, I agreed to volunteer for Hangzhou’s International Qipao Exhibition in exchange for a free custom-made qipao dress. I’ve done a lot of events and things for Hangzhou’s tourism bureau (some of which include: helping to choose the slogan “Living poetry,” being in a couple G20 promotional videos, and even editing the city brochure.) This time, I went in with absolutely no idea of what I was supposed to do.
I mentioned the etiquette class I took in another post (link here), remembering that we learned not only how to walk, but also the proper ways to pose. They were described as “pains.” Headache: hand on head. Toothache: hand near chin. Backache: hand on waist.
‘Ah, so we’re going to be models,’ I thought.
The day began at 6:30 am at the umbrella museum by the Grand Canal, where hordes of high-schoolers were waiting to do our hair and make-up. I asked, and it turns out that they had been studying cosmetology for the past 2 years, and so were brought in to help us get ready. I’m pleased to say that I’ve reached the level of adulthood where I can handle eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick, but was grateful to have someone do it for me nonetheless. When it came to hair however…
“Yeah, it’s naturally curly, so it might be different,” I said.
“This is NATURAL????” the high-schooler said. “Holy shit!”
I watched her freak out as her teacher came over to calmly tell her to just put it up in some way. When it was all done, she nudged me with her cell phone for a couple pictures.
But lest we forget…the qipao!
I was part of the Zhejiang University group, and we had been told that we could not choose our designs (which was fair, considering they were FREE). So we just went to the area to grab the ones with our names on it. I mean literally. My name is on the tag. I am my own brand. My qipao’s design was an artistic rendition of Hangzhou’s Baochu Pagoda (which incidentally is my favorite spot), which had been especially designed for this qipao exhibition. It was smooth. It was silk. It was as fancy as I’d hoped it would be.
But what, pray tell, was I supposed to DO in it?
As it turned out, just be in group shots, do interviews with TV stations, and generally be a pretty extra in a film advertising the qipao exhibition. The director apparently wanted 1,000 foreign women to sign up so he could get a shot of qipao-laden crowds. We didn’t quite have 1,000, but we did get enough to fill both sides of the bridge for a shot welcoming others to the Grand Canal.
I was approached by a reporter near the beginning, and I’ll admit that I was a little dazzled by all of the qipao. She asked me how qipao reflected the cultural landscape of Hangzhou, and I just dumbly pointed to my own qipao and said, “Look! It’s Hangzhou. It’s literally on my dress. My qipao literally IS the landscape of Hangzhou!” I do kind of hope she uses that in her report.
We posed on the bridge, and then went to West Lake for more video shots. By this point, many of the other girls were eying my low-heeled sensible shoes with envy. We had to walk along a crooked bridge (which apparently were made crooked in ancient times to slow down ghosts, since ghosts can’t make sharp turns. The more you know!) I was part of the group that held up the sign, which was all well and fine until we had to walk along the bridge. We fumbled over the inclines, slowed down the line, and were generally cussing along in a very unladylike way.
Film it again? Naw.
In terms of duties, that was about it. We had to pose for group shots for a video I hope I can see at some point. The other girls crowded around me to ask what happened next, assuming that since I was the translator from the lesson, I knew what was going on. (Also, years of being a teacher have taught me how to say absolutely nothing with absolute authority.) In the end, we just took a bunch of pictures by the lake.
And, of course, we remembered to pose with the “pains.”
True, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and freebies usually come with strings attached, but this time, I got a fancy dress out of it. Freebies have never done me wrong! (knock on wood…)