The welcome ceremony to Anyang, a city in Henan province, for the Miss Tourism Queen International Beauty Pageant didn't quite go as planned.
The microphones stopped working halfway through the show, streamers randomly burst upon the stage, and as confetti fell at the end of the show, the band on the right of the stage was playing "Jingle Bells" while drummers to the left banged out a traditional Chinese song.
Yet the beauty queens smiled through it all.
|VIDEO: Miss Tourism lights up Beijing|
China has only allowed competition in beauty pageants since 2002. The Anyang ceremony was just one of many stops during the month-long Miss Tourism International Queen, an international beauty contest which toured through China from July 9 to August 2. With 108 women from 75 countries around the world competing for the crown, the contest is one of the largest pageants in the world.
While contestants battle for titles as varied as "Best Smile," "Miss Friendship," and "Miss Charm," the pageant's organizers say the goal of the event is to enhance "tourism development, the friendship among different countries, and international culture exchange."
We watched the competition for "Miss Disco Queen of the World" one night along with thousands of others crowded in front of an open-air stage. Fireworks and a bubble machine ushered in the beginning of the pageantry.
The contrast between old and new China came to center stage when the pageant's hosts, a man wearing a sequined coat and woman with a green evening gown, waited on the stage as a stiff, straight armed government official spoke into the microphone with a translator at his side. After he finished his lecture on civic pride, they brought out the dancers.
Dancing to the techno beats of Madonna, the contestants shook their booty for the judges and crowd. Interspersed between these performances, the Chinese hosts performed traditional dances and hip-hop routines.
In the end Miss Trinidad and Tobago won the Disco crown, though Miss America's break dance moves provided strong competition.
As the end of the tour neared, some girls were feeling the grueling pace. Every morning they would wake up around five, and their days were filled with one photo-op after another – from shots with sponsors to showcasing famous Chinese sites.
Nearing the end of competition, Miss Romania confessed that she was suffering from exhaustion – not an uncommon feeling towards the end of a lengthy pageant according to Henrique Fontes, founder of globalbeauties.com, a sponsor of the event.
One uncommon feature of the pageant was the organizer's practice of taking the passports of all those involved – contestants, journalists and judges. In particular, the absence of any contestant would mean losing valuable sponsorship money.
After competing for 15 different titles, Miss Russia won the Miss Tourism Queen International crown, Miss Thailand coming in as the first runner-up, a representative of Fernando de Noronha (an archipelago off the Brazilian coast) as second runner up, and Miss U.S.A. rounding out the group as the third runner up. (And we lost twenty yuan in the journalist pool).