Models venture into Fijian paradise

Heaven is on the left, Fiji is on the right. It isn’t clear how that slogan came to be and from whom it originated but it has become a popular description of choice in China for those who have been here.

So when a team from a Shanghai-based Media and Advertising company was invited to Fiji to cover a fashion show, they had in mind the idea to see how much truth there was to the slogan.

The six-member team came to Fiji at the behest of Fang Fang Jamnadas, the owner of Jade Fiji, a string of hair & beauty establishments in the capital.

Fang Fang, herself of Chinese descent, had worked with two directors of the company while on national duty as Pavilion Sales Centre Boutique manager of the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

So when she started planning the Jade Avant Garde Fashion show six months ago, her thoughts quickly turned to the economic potential which lay in the Asian market and whether a slice of Fiji’s creative talent could be on display there.

Enter the Shanghai Run Li company and a plan to showcase Fiji’s natural beauty to the fastest growing economic sectors of the world.

Fang Fang has Fiji at heart since coming to the University of the South Pacific about 15 years ago to study Tourism and Business Management. Marriage to local legal top shot Dilip Jamnadas pretty much cemented her ties to Fiji and so began her love affair with all things Fiji promotional.

Her ingredients for a plan to promote Fijan business was very simple — Fijian creativity and flair, Chinese technical skill and some Australian help to widen the market.

“The whole trip for them has been enjoyable even though they are working. They have really experienced the beauty of Fiji and keep telling me that Fiji has natural beauty,” Fang Fang said.

“They feel that maybe Fiji hasn’t done enough to promote their country in Asia. Fiji still misses out because most Chinese still go to Malaysia, Thailand and other Asian countries.”

The six member team from Shangai arrived in the country with four Australian models two days before the Jade Avant Garde Show and both teams were immediately set on tasks to learn about Fiji fashion and travel … well, about as much as one can learn in 10 days but it was just pure good luck that there was a resort wear fashion show happening on Denarau around the same time so both teams were loaned to that event.

Suva was showcasing uncharacteristically amazing weather and so the last part of the plan, Suva’s best kept secret stepped in — Leleuvia Island Resort.

At Leleuvia, the groups equipment, valued at $F180,000 were put to good use in photographing and filming the Australian models in various activities and wearing local designerwear from Fang Fang’s personal collection.

“Since they’ve arrived into the country, they say they have seen for themselves how beautiful the people are and how friendly they are. They say the people’s hearts are crystal clear like beautiful water.”

A flashpacker for want of a simple description, Leleuvia is an eco tourist paradise.

Fast growing a great reputation with the local expatriate community, it has also become a favourite with local artists, sailors, nature lovers and even more recently, fashion types.

Another of Leleuvia’s strong suits is its “near yet seems far away” quality.

“I recruited the Australian models to learn Fijian activities so they can experience the Fijian culture. I wanted them to learn what Fijian life was like,” FangFang said.

The end result was the four photogenic girls she flew in from Sydney, Australia, to pose for photographs and walk on the runway. They ended up becoming ambassadors of Fiji tourism.

Sydney residents Caitlin Ahu and Rebecca Silk came to Fiji with some knowledge of the country, given their individual ties to the country but left with memories made in their hearts.

Caitlin, whose mother is Maori, has Fijian ties on her father’s side but without much interaction with her dad meant she didn’t get to visit Fiji before this trip.

“This trip was a real learning experience. I had been to New Zealand, learnt that part of my family and its always felt like home. Coming here, it felt the same but a different country and a different culture. I have really enjoyed myself and it’s been really good to come here (to Leleuvia) and get the chance to learn the traditional side instead of just the hotel side,” Caitlin said.

She knew very little about her paternal cultural heritage and she said the activities she did on Leleuvia, though simple, have ignited in her a wish to know more about her Fijian side.

The 19-year-old part-time Events worker said she hoped to look more into her Fijian side.

Rebecca, who models part-time when she isn’t working as a dental nurse, has dated a Fijian the past six years so she knew fairly more than the average Australian about Fiji.

Her partner, Justin Prakash, a native of Vunimono in Nausori has both iTtaukei and Indian ancestry, so Rebecca took part in activities of both ethnicities back in Sydney.

“I get to see both his cultures and get to take part in both sides of Fiji,” Rebecca said.

“This trip has been very different from previous trips to Fiji. Everyone has just been so friendly and although I expected that, its still been different in that I’ve learnt so much and just want to take that back to share with family and friends back home.”

The girls woke up on the first day with instructions to go to the farm and gather food for the day.

“Normally back home I’m given simple tasks (with food preparation) but now after this experience, seeing how things are done traditionally here, I feel like I can do more and be involved more in family activities,” Rebecca said.

In the morning, the first task before breakfast was gardening and gathering vegetables for the evening meal — Lovo.

Part of that included the popular every village child’s task: Vili Niu (gathering coconuts). Then with the help of Leleuvia staff, they had to husk, cut and scrape the coconuts for the palusami and miti.

This even took the four girls and the camera crew up some coconut trees.

From the coconut trees, the girls had to cut branches to weave baskets out of. It was after they had woven the baskets to put Lovo food in later, that they could take part in some water sports.

The water sports included water trampoline, stand up paddle boarding and later snorkeling at Honeymoon Island.

At the end of their stay, they were part of a turtle tagging exercise. As it happens, Leleuvia attracts turtles on their beaches.

The two say that chief among the lessons they’ve learnt is firstly an understanding of our country’s connection with the land.

They shared that the Fijian people’s laidback nature towards life has taught them to be more appreciative of everything they have back home.

It is that raw emotion and enjoyment that Fang Fang hopes Chinese people will see and appreciate once the efforts of the Shanghai Run Li Corporation makes it to Travel Television back home.

“This film, with all its details about island life and how people live, can be a huge success. They (crew) believe that there is a huge market for people who want to come and enjoy these activities,” Fang Fang said.

Leleuvia Island Resort Manager Colin Philp was only too happy to facilitate the filming because he — like neighbouring eco tourism ventures — has noticed a small, yet steady flow of Asian visitors coming for the extra something special.

“The Chinese market is huge and Fiji hasn’t really tapped into it,” Mr Philp said.

“People who come here come because its totally untouched. We have kept the island, the culture and the character of the place. If we look after the environment, it will look after us,” Mr Philp said.

“We do rely too much on the Australia, New Zealand market. I find that with Asian tourists, they are really appreciative of our culture. They really embrace our culture whereas others not so much.”

* Lice Movono-Rova is a freelance publicist who writes about interesting people, places and projects.


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