Chinese pageant winner loves the crown, hates the heels

Ouyang Qiuchuan did not intend to enter Miss Rose 2010 but won. Now she takes on the world in the Miss Chinese Cosmos Pageant. Just don't mention her stilettos.

Ouyang Qiuchuan beat 100 hopefuls in the Middle East to be crowned Miss Rose. She will be back in heels for the final in October.
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ABU DHABI // Among the 40 million Chinese who live overseas, Ouyang Qiuchuan can call herself the Asian superpower's official desert rose. "Actually, it's Miss Rose," the 24-year-old pageant winner joked when she met The National at a Deira hot-pot restaurant.

The Dubai flight attendant was celebrating after being named Miss Rose 2010 this month at the Emirates Palace hotel. Ms Ouyang had not even planned to enter the contest and only went along to keep her friend company. But she went on to beat more than 100 Chinese Gulf entrants living in the UAE, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar and claim the crown. Ms Ouyang, who comes from the impoverished southwest province of Guizhou, described her new title as "unbelievable".

"It's like an international Miss Chinese for all the Middle East," she said. She was crowned in front of 500 guests including Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Chinese ambassador to the UAE, Gao Yusheng. Ms Ouyang will go on to compete in October in the 2010 Miss Chinese Cosmos Pageant in Hong Kong as the Middle East's representative. The only drawback will be she will need to get back into those killer heels. "It's really, really painful," she said. "Two of my toes on my right foot are still numb."

The annual pageant is produced by the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV station and has been beamed into millions of households around the world since 2003. Unlike the Miss China competition, the Miss Chinese Cosmos entrants are not required to hold Chinese passports. "We're recruiting a Miss Chinese, not a Miss China," said Peipei Fu, the project supervisor for the Middle East final. At the Hong Kong pageant, Ms Ouyang will face competition from North America, Australia and Southeast Asia, not to mention the mainland.

The 2009 Middle East representative, Nadya Cui, who is also from Dubai and of mixed Chinese and Emirati ancestry, qualified in the top 12 last year. It was the first year the Middle East subdivision - the smallest in the competition - was introduced, according to Ms Fu. "There are four different sub-subdivisions in mainland China - in Guangzhou, Xi'an, Beijing and Hongjiao," she said. "In Beijing only last year, there were more than 3,000 contestants."

Ms Ouyang, who moved to Dubai less than two years ago, wants only to try her best. "In China, there are so many beautiful girls, but to find a girl who is beautiful outside and inside is also very important," she said. When the call went out in mid-July for Middle East contenders, she planned only to accompany a friend to auditions in Dubai - not try out herself. "I wasn't thinking to join the contest because I didn't have confidence," she said.

"But I went there and one lady said, 'Oh, you look great, why don't you join us? Come, come, just try'." She was surprised when she was recruited among 20 candidates and asked to prepare a performance. "They had a computer, so I downloaded music from the internet and sang a simple Taiwanese song I used to sing in karaoke." Her answers during the question round at Emirates Palace also impressed judges. "They asked me what I would do if I won? What are you going to do to improve Chinese culture?

"Because I'm from a really little town in China, this small province, nobody knows it, only that there are lots of very poor people [who need] charity, I said my only wish is to help people know more things about my home town. It's not only poor people. We have nice food, lots of painting, cultures." As a China-UAE cultural envoy, Ms Ouyang was the best choice, said Wu Jianping, chairwoman of the Middle East pageant's organising committee and cultural officer for the Chinese embassy in the UAE.

"I think she's very elegant," said Mrs Wu. "She has nice features, but also has knowledge." One aspect that Ms Ouyang admits she needs to work on, however, is walking in high heels. "I hate high heels, but to join this contest you need to wear 15cm high heels every single day," she said. Ms Ouyang is earning her master's degree in psychology through an online course in Beijing, and eventually wants to return to China to work as a psychotherapist.

"There are so many bad things happening in China, like earthquakes. I think Chinese people are suffering psychological problems, so they need somebody to help them."