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Rebecca Dunham
Peggi Lepage's Rebecca Dunham

Rebecca Dunham

October 25, 2011

Some of the jobs that you book in Beijing require you to travel outside of the city. Girls travel to smaller towns by train or plane to work runway jobs or do test shoots for smaller companies that want foreign models or a change of scenery. After a week in Beijing, the air quality and the heat became really exhausting. When our booker, Nana, asked if anyone wanted to go to the sea for a weekend of test shooting I was one of the first to shoot up my hand and say "ME!" In hindsight, I'm not sure I'll be the first to volunteer next time.

After waking up at 4am to get to the airport in time, my roommate Maria and I climbed into a cab with our booker. Just a short one hour flight later, we arrived in Yantai to meet a team of makeup artists, hairstylists, Chinese models and the photographer, all of whom were waiting for us in a van. Exhausted and hungry, we piled into the van and settled in for a nap. Unfortunately, our hopes of sleep were shattered when a screen opened from the ceiling and house music began to blare over the speakers and 90s music videos appeared on a television screen. Oddly, the music videos did not match the songs that were being played. Think J-Lo rolling around in the sand to a house music song about Düsseldorf. A moment later, our photographer got on a microphone and began to yell out things in Chinese. That's when Maria and I realized that this was going to be a long weekend.

We arrived at the hotel and were told that we had time to change before our group lunch and first day of shooting. At our group lunch we were told that the photographer was doing this shoot to raise awareness of the beauty of the sea and to encourage people to stop polluting the water. That day we were shooting on a yacht at sea and this was very exciting for me. When Canadians think of the sea, we think of a beautiful beach, swimmable water with the smell of fresh air and the sound of seagulls. The reality is much different in Yantai, which is located on the yellow sea. When we arrived at the water, I realized that all of the messages in bottles ever sent arrived on the shores of Yantai and were left floating around close to the beach, along with the countless other pieces of garbage that have been thrown into the red sea. The smell of a thousand dead fish roasting in the sun invaded our nostrils as we boarded the boat - yuck!

We began the shoot while we were still docked. The girls posed on the deck as the photographer shot from the shore. When it was my turn to shoot, I saw more than one photographer and countless fishermen with cell phones in hand waiting to take my picture. I felt completely naked in my bikini and was incredibly confused about what was going on and what camera to look at. Foreign models seem to always draw a crowd, even when you are just walking down the street. After the first look, I asked my booker who all of these people were? There was the main photographer, a videographer, and the photographer's dad all taking pictures.

Once the boat was at sea, the girls took turns shooting all over the boat until one model got sea sick and another suffered an anxiety attack. The team was slowly falling apart; it was down to two foreign models and four Chinese models. It was time to turn back after night had fallen and all of the models were exhausted. I changed inside the boat and I noticed that all of the garbage from our snacks and empty plastic water bottles were being thrown overboard into the sea! I was so shocked that all I could do was laugh; the purpose of the shoot was to raise awareness about pollution in the sea - not to add to it. The rest of the weekend seemed to stay on the same level, verging from unbelievable to laughable. Small things went wrong all weekend: the models missed breakfast because the breakfast voucher was in Chinese, two models were accidently left in the hotel the entire second day and our flight home was delayed two hours. Our last dinner in Yantai was an incredibly posh dinner, set up with security so that no one else could enter our end of the pier. The photographer ended up getting incredibly drunk and in traditional North American frat boy style slurring his words and dancing around in a towel. The dinner felt endless until our booker insisted we leave for the airport. All of the foreign models looked at each other in relief to finally leave Yantai and to get away from the photographer and his drunken antics.

As we finally sat in our seats on the plane, I looked over at my roommate Maria and let out a sigh, giving her a look of exhaustion and confusion. She smiled at me and said "Welcome to China!"


Rebecca is a Peggi Lepage model, with Unique in Beijing.

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