Pageant with a dif­fer­ence

Central Leader - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABADIA

The search is on for Mrs Chi­nese New Zealand, but this is no or­di­nary pageant.

The women who en­ter will be judged not on their looks but on how well they re­late to the other contestants.

Eva Chen, who is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Well­be­ing Char­i­ta­ble Trust, is help­ing to or­gan­ise the in­au­gu­ral event.

It’s about em­pow­er­ing Chi­nese women who tend to hold the low­est po­si­tion in the fam­ily, the Mt Al­bert res­i­dent says.

She came up with the idea af­ter see­ing a post on Face­book about Mrs Chi­nese Canada.

Most of the nine en­trants have chil­dren, but not all are mar­ried, she says.

They pay $10 to sign up and then get to­gether for eight week­end ses­sions pre­par­ing for the fi­nal event in Au­gust.

The women will re­ceive tips on hair and makeup, pos­ture and dance train­ing.

‘‘We want the mums to feel good about them­selves,’’ the Mt Al­bert res­i­dent says.

A video of each en­trant’s fam­ily will be screened at the fi­nal event where they will talk about her at­tributes.

Shan­shan Ge Har­ris, 30, is one of the contestants. She says it’s a priv­i­lege to be in­volved.

‘‘I’m a lit­tle bit un­con­ven­tional. I have a 13-year-old step-daugh­ter whose mother is also Chi­nese.

‘‘The idea of en­cour­ag­ing Chi­nese women to speak up is some­thing I’m quite pas­sion­ate about.

‘‘I think there’s also an un­der­ly­ing is­sue with Asian mi­grants who come to New Zealand and find it dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate into main­stream so­ci­ety,’’ Har­ris says.

The Pon­sonby-based busi- ness banker has never en­tered a com­pe­ti­tion like this be­fore but as the ANZ Toast­mas­ters vice-pres­i­dent she’s used to speak­ing in public.

Chen says fam­ily pres­sure has stopped sev­eral women from get­ting in­volved in Mrs Chi­nese New Zealand.

‘‘Some mums sub­mit their ap­pli­ca­tion and then a few days later they call us and say: ‘I want to with­draw’ be­cause their par­ents or par­ents-in-law say no’.

‘‘The fam­i­lies say: ‘ You’re not sup­posed to make your­self fa­mous or be in the news. You’re just a house­wife. Your job is look­ing af­ter your kids’.’’

Un­der China’s one child pol­icy, girls and boys have been raised as equals, the 35-year-old says.

But all that changes once they are mar­ried.

‘‘I’ve been say­ing to the mums: ‘ You are not lower than your hus­band or any­one else. You are the last per­son any­one cares about in the fam­ily but it’s not your fault. It’s about cul­ture’.’’

Chen, who is a mother-of­four, says she some­times gets neg­a­tive feed­back when she tells Chi­nese peo­ple she runs a char­i­ta­ble trust.

Most Chi­nese women are taught not to ex­press opin­ions and are ex­pected to do as they are told, Har­ris says.

‘‘We need to learn from Kiwi cul­ture to put our emo­tions into words.’’

Ap­pli­ca­tions are still open for contestants.

The fi­nal event will be held at Lucky Star Chi­nese Restau­rant in Pa­p­a­toe­toe on Au­gust 16.

Tick­ets are $50 and din­ner is in­cluded.

All pro­ceeds from the event will go to the Child Can­cer Foun­da­tion.

Email for more in­for­ma­tion.

Mrs Chi­nese New Zealand co-or­gan­iser Eva Chen, with her 1-yearold son Mar­cus and con­tes­tant Shan­shan Ge Har­ris.

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