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Model Talk

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Model and Asia's Next Top Model contestant Helena Chan in the Fiat Cafe, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Bright, effervescent and extremely tall. Those words were in my mind as I watched Helena Chan on the TV screen, and even more so when I met up with her at the Fiat Cafe in Hong Kong. The lovely contestant of Asia's Next Top Model was kind enough to chat with me on a fine Saturday over tea. She revealed to me the behind-the-scenes drama of the show and life in the Hong Kong industry, as well as giving me some much-needed modeling tips. Read ahead to learn more about the Eurasian beauty!

When did you first know that know that you wanted to model? 
It sounds really cliché, but ever since I was a kid I always used to steal my mom’s fashion magazines and practice posing in the mirror. I used to dress up and put hideous makeup all over myself and take photos. I don’t now why, but I really enjoyed being in front of the camera. It was just something that I enjoyed.

When did you start your modeling career?
I tried starting when I was sixteen, and I got a few jobs here and there. It was totally random; it wasn’t anything that I could build my portfolio on. I got literally rejected by every agency in Hong Kong, but I kept on trying for five years - until Elite Model Management signed me.

Do you think that it’s difficult to model in Hong Kong?
I think that it’s easy once you get your foot in the door. It’s getting that one person at the agency to say “Actually, let’s sign her" that is the hardest part. Right now, when I’ve been modeling for just about three years, it is still very competitive in Hong Kong. When I first started out, I was just a nobody. I was just going to castings, nobody knew me and my portfolio wasn’t very strong. Now though, I have a better portfolio. I’ve done Harper’s Bazaar, I’ve done Esquire – high end magazines that give me amazing photos. And I did Asia’s Next Top Model, which was huge publicity for me.

How did you find the experience of Asia's Next Top Model?
It was very different to what I expected. It was first and foremost a TV show and not really a modeling competition. Asia's Next Top Model was so much about getting the judges to like you and getting along with the girls in the house. In the real modeling industry, you come to work and you do your job. You don’t have to deal with the drama.
In the show, they would try to make it as difficult as possible for you to perform. They make you upset so that you come to set super stressed. You’re in the model house for two months with no phone, no Internet, no TV. You just have the other girls’ company all day everyday for two months. And its difficult when you’re also trying to compete with them. Consequently, I made some friends and I made some enemies with the girls, but it was just the situation.

Do you still keep in touch with any of the girls from the show? 
I keep in touch with Stephanie a lot. She’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve met - a lovely person and a wonderful mom. She’s really strong: she had a rough time as a child and I love how she’s come out so sincere and so sweet.
I also speak to Jee. She came to Hong Kong recently, and we went out for a couple of drinks. It was fun to see her – she’s crazy!

What did you learn from the show?
Coming back from the show, I had a new appreciation of my freedom. I had gotten my phone back, I had just had access to the Internet, I was just walking around. During filming, I had cameras on me 24/7, so I was just tripping out with nobody watching me.
I also realized that I value my friendships a lot. When I came back from the show, my friends were nothing but supportive. I was upset hearing the comments about me on the show, but all my friends kept saying that “We know who you are and we love you. You’re crazy and you’re fun. People may not like that but we love that about you." It was very nice to have my friends, my boyfriend and my family support me throughout that experience because it made me realize how much I really love them.

Do you have any tips for girls trying to break into the modeling industry?
The first thing you need to do is to get some thick skin and not let people upset you. I'll go to castings, and the casting director will say outright “I don’t think she’s very pretty". I still have to put up with that even now - you just have to learn not to take things personally. One client may hate you, but the next may love you. As a model, you'll hear a lot of 'You’re not right'. But after a thousand 'No's you’ll finally get a “Yes!'. Modeling is very cut throat - you just have to be very confident and love yourself. It's always a learning experience, and you learn to be tough. If you really want to model, keep going for it.
It’s very important to keep fit but not be too skinny. I’m very happy that the modeling industry is not going for the size zero girls anymore, not even in Hong Kong. It's changed a lot in the past two years, such that they want the fit girls, the healthy looking girls that do sport and look good.

Speaking of keeping fit, how do you go about it?
I'm a foodie and I eat a lot - thus the incredibly curvy figure. So I go to the gym often, four to five times a week, but I do short bursts of exercise. Maybe I’ll do a half an hour run on full intensity and then I’ll stretch on one day. Then the next day I’ll just work on my core, do a ten-minute regime of sit ups and push ups. On top of that, I like to keep active in everyday life. I like to go hiking with friends; I also like swimming, surfing or wake boarding in the ocean. For hiking in Hong Kong I like to go up to the Peak, or over Dragon's Back to Stanley. I also like to go to Sai Kung - it's very beautiful for outdoor activities.

As a foodie, where do you like to eat in Hong Kong?
My favorite is Habibi Cafe, the Egyptian place in Central. The food there is so fresh and they have really good Halloumi cheese salads. Another good restaurant is Sahara. It's a Lebanese place on Elgin Street that serves delicious couscous and hummus.
But as I'm half Chinese, my favorite food has to be Chinese banquet delicacies. I love all of it except for shark fin soup. Having worked closely with the Hong Kong Shark Foundation as an ambassador, I try to encourage my family to abstain from eating shark fin too.
...And I love junk food too, especially Burger King.

How do you keep your skin so clear though?
I like to eat both healthy and unhealthy food - it's okay as long as everything is in moderation. I found that eating right really helps - I eat a lot of papaya, pineapple and tomato which is really good for your skin. My trick though is an extremely rigorous face routine. I'll wash my face with scrub to make sure it's completely clean, and then use toner to remove all the excess dirt. I'll also use anti-wrinkle cream underneath the eyes, as well as thick moisturizer all over the face. If I have the time, I'll take aloe vera gel and apply it like a face mask. Thick thick layers so that my face looks like jelly!

As a fun question... if you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
I think I'd want to be a witch in Harry Potter, mainly because I’ve always wanted to attend Hogwarts! A while back my friend bought me a wand for my birthday as a joke; it make sounds and it’s got a spell book so that you can learn all the spells. I just love the magic and the fantasy of that world. I sometimes get jealous and think “Life is so boring, I wish that we could have something magical happen to us too”

Many young girls would consider your life quite magical too
I’m not going to lie, I’m so happy right now. If somebody had told me three years ago that I was going to be a model, working full-time, travelling the world, I wouldn't believe them. Whereas some models are quite nonchalant about their job, I'm still overwhelmed by it. I still get excited to go shoot because it's so much fun.

See Helena on Asia's Next Top Model here and on her Facebook page here!

xo emmy