alamela's blog

Dear Friends,

There was a camera crew waiting to film my arrival at at the airport in Cebu. They fllowed behind me as I was escorted to the BigFoot bus, and then transported back to the film Studio. This was a modelling contract I had always aspired to, and it was almost unbelievable to now be working with an organisation that specialised in underwater entertainment. I was always been fascinated by the unique skills required to transform a model into a mermaid, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Upon arriving at BigFoot Studios, the director of underwater photography and international film maker, Michael Gleissner, greeted me enthusiastically. There was an introductory dinner for the models and photographers, and after that we were initiated into the clubbing scene with a long night out and an early morning trip to Jolly Bee for traditional Philippine fast food. This party life became me, and slowly, my daytime persona slipped away. The only reminders of my innocence were the white tissues folded neatly in my ears in a futile attempt to retain my hearing. After several wild weeks, the days blurred together and I decided to spend a moment alone, forgetting the superficial fun of these evening adventures and considering the future.

I sat at Tiki bar, watching the tide covering the sand and matted sea grass. Islands dotted the dusky horizon. A mysterious Iranian film maker joined me, he said ”the ocean is peace”. We discussed poetry, philosophy, and politics. Then as the rain began to fall, we walked home together. This new friendship was refreshing, an escape from the unpredictability and fantastical demands of the film and fashion industries. Remembering moments like these was critical to distracting myself from breathing during the daily breath training sessions, and after several weeks my breath holding time had increased from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.

Then as I returned from the markets one day I was and summoned to the office of Michael Gleissner, and asked to begin shooting underwater. For weeks the weather had been unsuitable, and now suddenly the rain had stopped. We had less than an hour before these optimal photographic conditions were lost, because of fading light and ocean currents stirring the sediment. There was a rush to prepare equipment, contact safety divers, organise a location, and coordinate model fittings. The weighted shoes were laced up my legs, and my eyes began to water from the toxic aroma of waterproof cosmetics.

I was honoured to be selected as the first underwater model this season, and my heart raced with excitement as the shoreline disappeared behind me. Thousands of fish schooled around the boat, leaping out of the water in silver clouds. The sun wavered against a striped sky, threatening to disappear altogether. The motor cut and divers began to individually submerge and then descend, before disappearing out of sight. The water surrounded me, cold and reassuring, the ocean was peace. I took slow deep breaths and watched the mercurial bubbles flutter from my regulator to the surface. My feet found the ocean floor and I equalised, removed my mask, opened my eyes, cleared my mind, and began to shoot.

Dear Friends,

As expected, my poor diet has resulted in a series of exciting tropical diseases, beginning with food poisoning and hopefully ending with the ulcerated lesions that are currently paralysing my neck. Thankfully, my vision has returned so that I am now able to recommence studying ‘Adjudication Within The Criminal Justice System’ and complete this blog not too long after the month of December.

Besides the daily charity work I am involved in, a couple of modelling opportunities arose this month. The first eventuated from the work I was doing with the beautiful artist, and animal rights organisation representative Denise Woods (www.animaltreasuresgallery.com). Through her I became involved with the rabies vaccination projects that I spoke about last month, and she later suggested a photo shoot using some of their rescued and rehabilitated cats to promote ‘Compassion and Responsibility for Animals’ and encourage pubic adoption of stray animals. (www.caraphil.org)

The the job was located at one of the foster homes, with over 40 feline residents oblivious to their beautiful surroundings as they lounged and played about the garden. They were certainly well behaved, although, trying to convince any cat to stay within the photographic frame for more than a moment easily surpassed any challenge presented on Top Model.

Suddenly, the release date for ‘Avatar’ had arrived and although I am yet to see ‘The Cove’ these will probably be my favourite films of 2009. The quality of animation and scenery was breathtaking, and beyond the engaging story about love and war this was a work of art. It was also impossible to overlook the environmental messages that were so effectively imparted by both these films, and their global popularity is heartening.

Having come from a small, irreligious family, my Christmases generally pass by unnoticed. However, this year I judged the Mango Tree House Talent Show where the the children performed Christmas Carols using body percussion. The judging categories were ‘costume’ ‘creativity’ and ‘crowd enthusiasm’. The children misinterpreted this last section to mean that their participation in the crowd would be judged and they instantly became wonderfully supportive of their competitors. These holidays also marked the one year anniversary since I began working internationally, and through this success l I have become empowered to help others to realise their own dreams. That is the greatest gift of all.

The other modelling project I was involved in this month bridged the distance between the work I have grown accustomed to throughout my travels, and the challenges of my coming contract as an underwater model. The concept was a dreamy yacht inspired story, where the lady of the ship has left behind her husband with the hope of discovering a new world beyond the distant horizon. The creative team was wonderful, especially Pat for her dedication to organising this shoot (www.patramos.com) and Lyka an adorable and talented young photographer (www.lykaphotography.carbonmade.com).

Lady of the Ship

 Dear Friends,

Earlier this year I was booked for an underwater modelling contract in the Philippines, beginning in January. The idea of spending two more months on holidays was unappealing, so I organised to be flown to the Philippines immediately and once again became deeply involved in my beloved charity work.

I am staying at an orphanage called Mango Tree House, living with and caring for 35 children, many with no living relatives and all having survived situations of extreme poverty. Within this home they are provided with food, clothing, an education, and most importantly the support of a loving family. This care is possible thanks to the generosity of child sponsors from around the globe, and dedication of local staff. The enthusiasm and compassion within this organisation is truly inspirational, and I am privileged to have become known as Aunty Alamela.

During the week, the children begin school at 6am and return home around 3pm. Once I finished my university studies for the morning, I meet them in the library and assist with homework for several hours. I teach the high school girls maths and science, and practice reading and writing in English with the younger children. Watching their excitement grow as we elucidate what appeared to be a difficult question, is the most rewarding part of the job.

My days spent away from Mango Tree House are divided between medical missions to areas affected by the Typhoons, and the organisation of rabies vaccination projects. All this could not be possible without the public donations that fund our medical supplies, and the greatly appreciated volunteer work of so many trained professionals. Basic healthcare is provided to all our patients, and hopefully this reactive care will become integrated with systemic disease prevention in the future, through the implementation of community education initiatives.

As I observed while working in the pharmacy dispensing medication, that one of the greatest problems affecting the Philippines is the industrialisation of food manufacturing. Corporations continue to mislead consumers as they advertise low quality food using sentences like, ‘made from real fruit’ or ‘part of a complete breakfast’. This problem emphasises the need for increased public awareness, and improved labelling has the potential to prevent the vast majority of ailments that were encountered on our medical missions. I somewhat reluctantly distributed many hundreds of vitamins to our patients, as although this will remedy their basic nutritional deficiencies, there is no supplement for a balanced diet.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the lovely Stan Walker for winning Australia Idol. I remember long before reality television changed both our lives, we used to catch the bus home from school together. We would often be heard singing for an adoring crowd of school children, and hopefully someone has continued this tradition now that we are gone. He always was, and always will be, an inspiration to those around him.

Aunty Alamela and the children of Mango Tree House

Best wishes for the festive season,

Alamela

 Dear Friends,

Thankyou ever so much for your kind comments and encouragement. I have decided to continue this blog, and share with you a monthly update on my life. Since I last wrote, I returned to Australia due to severe pain in the right side of my head caused by an infection in my sinuses. I was unsuccessfully prescribed a course of antibiotics, and have since been placed on the waiting list for surgery. Apparently it could be ‘between several months and a few years’ before this half hour operation can occur, so in the meantime I have been organising my unsettled life.

I started making plans for the future, tired of living for the moment in this wonderfully fleeting career. I contemplated the options, and rather than continuing to model indefinitely I enrolled for university next year as a full time student. Somehow I neglected to include my boyfriend in any of these decisions, and realised it had been months since we had spoken. I wondered when he would next call me, and when I took the time to think about it I realised how little I cared. I was faced with the difficult task of ending a relationship that no longer existed. We agreed to focus on our careers, and after many years together that was the end.

I was surprised by my own indifference and independence, and ironically the emotions of this very serious relationship were nothing compared to a brief and passionate romance that followed. Everything about this new man was wrong, we were totally different, the circumstances were complicated, and we were certainly unable to provide each other with commitment. The last time I had seen him was the day we met, almost a year ago. The next week I started modelling in Korea and he left for Spain, so we lost contact. Now I wondered if he still lived nearby, and feeling impulsive I decided to visit him.

I always revered him as one of the greatest ballroom dancers, and as we were once again in the same country I hoped to get to know him better. During our time together we became close friends, and although we knew better than to become involved, the attraction was inevitable. One unforgettable waltz later, our whirlwind romance was out of my control. Those enchanting weeks together were foreshadowed by the impending demand of our busy lives, and less than a month later it was all over. There was no discussion or pretence, only solemn understanding of our situation.

The instability of life in this industry can be somewhat desensitising as models are repeatedly confronted with choices between money and morals, work and relationships, and our friends are regularly exported and replaced. So I learned to appreciate every moment with the people I love and always question, what did I do that made today worth living?

What did you do that made today worth living?

 

Evening shifts into early morning as sunlight filters through the smoggy sky, and everyone gathers the pillows and blankets to prepare for the final episode of Australia’s Next Top Model. Even the booker from our agency has come to watch the finale, and offer his expert opinion on the competition this year. Outside geckos chirp loudly and cling dangerously to the windowpane, and a couple of cats playfully chase cockroaches through the gutters many stories below. We wait in anticipation for the episode to begin. The internet is connected, the non alcoholic beers are opened, and the program begins, the opening montage flicks by, Sarah begins to speak yet we hear nothing. Apparently the speakers on my humble computer have broken, and we are forced to watch the show on mute. As sleep deprivation has induced hysterics in all of us, we decide to create our own storyline. Following the broadcast I scurry around the depths of the internet trying to piece together the reality of that night, which falls disappointingly short of our fantastical expectations.

The majority of the program is composed of flashbacks, reminding us of everything we have already seen. It is impossible to write anything even vaguely interesting about this. The scenes are interspersed with challenges, including a catwalk and the highly predictable task of telling the public why they should win. In typical Top Model fashion there are also several segments designed to downplay the bullying events throughout the series. Which is only appropriate, considering that both finalists were involved in insulting Clare and generally encouraging tensions within the Top Model household. Thankfully, there is still hope as Clare is voted the favourite model of this season.

As the final votes are tallied slow motion beauty shoot footage is recycled for the umpteenth time this series, presumably complete with nostalgic modern music (an oxymoron that does not equate to an effective film technique in any context). The use of soundtracks, however, is something that I am unable to critique considering my permanently muted speakers on this computer. Top Model finally returns to reality, and the winner is Tahnee. Of both the girls Tahnee was certainly the most appropriate choice. She is reliable, dedicated, and a beautiful model. It is also clear that Cassi has great potential, and perhaps having to work to succeed in this business will be a more valuable lessen for her than simply winning the show.

Regardless of the final outcome, many of the girls from this series have great potential and it is up to them to define their own fate in the fashion industry. It takes hard work to succeed, and the harder you work the luckier you get. Good luck to everyone who participated in this series of Top Model, and thank you to the viewers and readers who have been following my writings these last few months. Your comments and words of wisdom are greatly appreciated, and I wish you all the best in the years to come.

A model must have a strong portfolio, they must display the versatility to perform under pressure in a variety of situations, professionalism and perseverance will provide them with a lasting career, and the rest is up to fate. Certainly some models will excel simply because they reflect the current trends, but the most rewarding success comes from dedication. Those most worthy of praise are hardly the celebrities idolised by popular culture, they are the people who fail to achieve their dreams and try again. These people know who they are, they understand more than life on a silver platter, and they are truly admirable. They are people like Clare and her parents, and their strength of character is revealed in the face of adversity. I am therefore confident that this elimination will only strengthen her own resolve to succeed, and someday she will be amazing.

Like every single day in the life of a model, the majority of this episode is slowly dissolved by a series of castings. They require the girls to walk in a straight line, and preferably to avoid swearing at the clients. Cassi manages the latter and is praised for her vast improvements, the other two girls complete the task with little difficulty. This catwalk scene is repeated several times in different outfits, and at the end of the day Clare is announced the winner of this challenge. In an incredible twist of fate every single client has chosen a Top Model girl to represent their brand at fashion week. Five clients, three girls, nine jobs. That gives an average success rate of three jobs per girl, meaning that on average these girls book every second job. If only modelling in real life was so productive, then casting times could be cut in half and there would be more time to climb the mountains…

Additionally, the glamorous work on Top Model is not exactly consistent with the reality of catalogue jobs and kimchi commercials in Asia. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from a spicy fermented cabbage leaf, and these auditions typically require us to sing enthusiastically about the food before eating it. Any break from these relentless and unpredictable castings is certainly welcome, and to be involved in a shoot similar to those fantastical Top Model inventions is absolutely perfect. Similarly to the shoot on Top Model this job was on a beach, although this beach was rather lacking in sand… so not really a beach after all. Tamine suggested that it was more like the moon, so when the photographer asked us to jump and ‘stay in the air a little longer’ it almost made sense.

this is what the moon looks like

The images from this Top Model shoot were breathtaking, and a wonderful achievement having been taken under such adverse conditions. Although Clare was widely praised throughout this episode and delivered consistently good photos during the entire season, she was eliminated. This was paled in comparison to the judges insistence that Cassi had substantially improved her catwalk, even though the evidence from fashion week was clear. This was a perfect example of the psychological phenomena where people prefer to believe what they are subjectively told rather than what they can see, hopefully the Australian public does not make the same mistake.

This week the Top Model contestants ventured overseas to begin their international modelling careers. My South African house mate wishes Cassi all the best in this endeavour, and eagerly awaits her arrival in Taipei. He also suggests that if she would like to occupy the largest room in this apartment, he has no problem sharing with her. The excitement surrounding this brief trip was generally unsubstantiated, as the flight from Sydney to London takes 26 hours. Amounting to almost 3 days of travel, an additional day of filming establishing shots, and then 3 days remain to experience the European culture (limited to some subway travel and a visit to Top Shop).

As the girls arrive in England, a clear winner becomes apparent. Identified by her attachment to a certain amphibious creature, the secret of every Top Model career. My Brazilian room mate Tamine laughs in delight.

Tamine and Matheus

His name is Matheus. Mattheus is a frog. Her boyfriend is also named Mattheus. This is about as romantic as Cassi remembering her own bricklaying boyfriend, as she observes the use of bricks in London. Tamine quickly replaces the icepack on her already perfect nose afraid that the vibrations of laughter may aggravate her most recent injury. She has been particularly unfortunate during her time in Taiwan, and this ailment was the result of diving into a shallow pool earlier this week. After a trip to the emergency room she was relieved to discover that nothing was broken, and she would be able to return to work within a couple of days. The next part of this story also corresponds with the progression of Top model, spelt centering around the ominous task of using public transport to arrive at castings within a foreign country. Basically, we failed. Although admittedly, the task was made rather more difficult when the only map we could obtain was written in Mandarin. Basically there were two trains that left from the same station and we boarded the wrong one. When we disembarked after 10 stops, we were lost.

Beyond the perils of public transport and experiencing the wonders of hotel rooms in a new country, this trip has enabled the girls to work with some famous London sights. Generally this would imply ‘a portion of space with definite boundaries’, however as proof reading has been cut back on this episode this is not the case. The ‘sites’ include a telescope, a telephone box, a bus, and a house. The elimination of Adele has also left me doubting the intelligence of this program, and I am led to believe that Clare will be the next to leave.

Finally I would like to support the encouragement offered by Elle Macpherson to the girls this week, although it appears that something has died on her jacket. Another few animals adorn the girls coats at the film première this week. Shame on you Top Model for supporting the senseless fur trade. Meanwhile I volunteer with with Animals Taiwan to address the cruelty that this industry promotes, and encourage anyone who visits this country to assist their valuable organisation.

In what is potentially the greatest episode in Top Model history, this week showcases the dramatic arts and how they may be possibly somehow vicariously distantly related to the modelling industry. The episode opens with an aria performed by Sharon Zhai on the front lawn of the model mansion, this means I am no longer the only random opera singer in the series. She looks like the picturesque cover of a Mills and Boone romance novel awaiting the return of her prince charming, but instead she is greeted by a confused group of models. On a completely unrelated note, she also delivers a Sarah Mail. I am disappointed to discover that unlike her song, this is not written in Italian. Adele points out that the dramatic jargon and stage references insinuate an acting lesson will ensue, however the other girls believe they will learn opera. I wish modelling involved opera.

Soon the girls arrive at what can hardly be classified as an acting lesson, due to the lack of learning and or teaching. Instead, in typical Top Model fashion the girls engage in some impromptu acting performances. Clare nullifies my previous post by confessing to the murder of her imaginary friend Jenny, and Cassi successfully proves her expertise in fake crying. All this acting will apparently epare them for an audition for a real life television commercial, however there are no other models casting for this job and the winners are unlikely to be paid. Congratulations to the marketing team at Telstra for devising an ingenious method of obtaining free labour during the economic recession.

learning to act like a 12 year old

Tahnee is chosen as the lead female, and is once again transformed from moderate attractiveness into incredible beauty. In direct contrast to modelling reality, the girls without jobs must work and those with jobs are required to work overtime without pay. As Adele and Cassi wait for the shooting to finish they effectively communicate the irrationality of this punishment with a monotonic indifference, stating that they are ‘bored’ and ‘just want to go home’. Another rather obvious Sarah Mail arrives, but by this stage of the competition the girls have become predisposed to over analysing these messages. So when the note mentions driving and motion, they expect to be personifying various emotions.

This shoot is an excellent excuse for some sponsored product placement, and as usual, after the client is mentioned they are immediately forgotten by the models. Despite this inattention to the item being advertised, the resulting images are wonderful. Each model is required to emulate a specific style icon. Although some of the girls are unaware of who Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo are, it is clear that this week Jonathan has been styled after the unforgettable Napolean Perdis. Unfortunately Franky is eliminated, although her acting was highly commended and the photo was greatly celebrated at judging. I find it very irritating when a girl is kept in for one more week, although nothing she can do will protect her from the imminent elimination. It is generally an indication that she is simply good for increasing drama or maintaining ratings, an immunity that is unfair both to her and the other contestants.

the model household 

This week in my life, I finished reading the essay ‘Circles’ by Emerson. I visited Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, and discovered the National Theatre of Taiwan. There I attended the orchestral performance of ‘Farewell My Concubine’, and am very excited to attend for ‘Carmen’ next month. Between these various outings there was work, castings and fittings, shootings and runway. A couple of clients said I was too young for commercials, and apparently too old for maternity wear. This is the reality of modelling because you are never exactly what the client is searching for, only a vague impression of the concept in their mind. The model must therefore be malleable and ductile, to embody a brand and present a character that personifies that particular label. So what ideals are presented by Australia’s Next Top Model, and who will they represent. These answers and more, are only a month away.

By this stage of the competition the group dynamics are well established, and the contestants have gradually become accustomed to the reassuring predictability of a Sarah Mail arriving. This forshadows a long day of filming, and the endearing mystery that they once possessed has generally faded into a subtle disenchantment. For some of the girls this change will only sharpen their focus on the illustrious Top Model title, but regardless of their dreams they have now accepted that there are external influences controlling their fate in this competition.

Early in this episode some of the girls leave the house to exercise, and by exercise they mean walk briefly before sitting down to insult the other models. They are somewhat forgiven in my opinion, as providing this footage is probably the only thing they can do to secure the possibility of ever leaving the house again. Upon arriving home they walk out to the pool where they suddenly appear in new outfits. Floating in the water is a glass bottle containing a Sarah mail. The note cryptically and hypocritically tells the girls that their message should not be lost today. The models ponder these words for several minutes, before realising the instruction is somewhat obscure and irrelevant. Meanwhile as I type, I listen enviously to the conversations drifting down from upstairs covering topics such as the political ramifications of sociology on the North Korean War.

This brings to mind another point that has been illustrated several times this episode, the fact that intelligent models are always compared to either robots or serial killers. It certainly happened to me last season, and now both Adele and Clare have befallen the same fate. This is reaffirmed when Clare is called out at elimination and informed by the judges, “you do sometimes come across as fake”. After seven weeks confined to a house and surrounded by cameras, I am certain that she is perfectly real. If only she possessed a personality that was less professional, and more like… Finally every name is called but one, and although Lola had one of the best pictures in this episode she is sent home.

 

This week many people came and went from the real life model mansion in which I live, and by model mansion I mean inner city apartment with broken furniture. I took this upheaval as an opportunity to upgrade my room, and now possess a closet and a mirror and am surrounded by four feature walls all a hideous shade of purple. While moving in I discovered an odd collection of left foot shoes, several one cent coins, and a baseball bat that we now use as a rolling pin in the kitchen. Feeling wealthy from all the coins I aquired, I went to Sogo and purchased a dinner of durian (affectionately known as the gymsock fruit because of its smell) and bubble tea (a green tea textured with solid chunks of tapioca), then returned home to to watch Top Model but technology failed me.

Youtube decided to stop working, and endless windows of Internet Explorer began to open thanks to the reliable bugs of Windows Vista. After a number of restarts and some confusing fault messages in Mandarin, I was able to prove that Top Model was not actually ‘adult content’ as it had been classified by whatever superpower is currently censoring my internet and I finally regained access to the episode. The first few minutes were uneventful until suddenly Jonathan introduced the amazing voice of Claudia Navone, and after her heavenly critiques she oversaw the completion of a task involving the recreation of a fashionable outfit from a room of discarded clothing. The results were unsatisfactory.

The next segment effectively contrasts the previous failings with the prestigious casting and catwalk for designer and judge Alex Perry, an icon of all that is glamorous and magnificent in the Australian fashion industry. Three girls are chosen from the casting to walk in his runway show aboard the Queen Mary II, alongside previous Top Model winner and internationally acclaimed model Alice Burdeu. This episode reaches perfection at the Chanel themed photoshoot, on a pylon, in the ocean. This certainly brings back the memories of when we had to embody a brand in my season of Top Model, and I chose Chanel. That day was especially fun because it presented the opportunity to toy with Jonathan without facing any consequences, and even better I apparently excelled at acting. Although since the show I have not had a single job for tampon commercials I am currently acting in a Chinese film, so life could be worse.

this is my handsome costar in the movie

At elimination it is revealed that few of the contestants effectively embodied the effortless and timeless grace of Chanel. Although some struggled with the setting, generally the weaker models were simply not suited to the brand. As an exception Lola and Adele excelled producing some amazing photos, and after her second week in the bottom two Laura was eliminated.