Arthur* works in the modelling business and has been travelling to different countries for 3 years: during this time he has lived in Lithuania, Turkey and now lives in China.
Arthur wrote “Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Yesterday” about Gankong and the difficulties of modelling.
* – name changed.
Arthur, 21 years old
I am a traveller, I dropped out of university to get some new experience. Emigrated first to Vilnius, with the thoughts of never coming back, but then I left the university. Stayed a bit in Belarus: half a year with more, because of the covid. And flew to Asia.
I left Belarus because of unfreedom, limited opportunities.
I tried to work in that country, but it was ridiculous. I was a waiter, a barista… It was impossible to live even in Minsk for that money. That’s why after graduating from school I left almost immediately.
In Vilnius, I started studying to be a designer, but I wanted to do art. Art for me is an honest expression. And honest expression is important, it’s like fighting the falseness of the world.
I am currently living in Asia, no fixed location, things are constantly changing. I do all kinds of things, but mostly modelling. Sometimes I work in clubs, carrying boxes…and other part-time jobs.
I came to modelling by force: they found me and I accepted, just for the sake of travelling. Once a year there is interesting work, interesting characters on the set, but mostly everyone is just making money. The schedule can be free, as luck would have it. But in a day, if you take, China, there are 15/16/20 hour shifts, almost without a break. That’s the norm here.
I’ve been to many cities in Asia, but I liked Hong Kong the most because it has the most freedom, which people allow themselves rather than being offered. And, of course, the contrast: you walk down one street there are dealers, a metre away there’s an opera and a theatre. In the streets there is everything you can imagine, there llife is faster and more interesting there.
About China… I would like to separate China and Hong Kong. In China, society is very repressed and closed. The constant presence of the police, ideological stretching, absurd holidays like “one hundred years of the party” are very depressing. It’s all depressing, depressing, depressing. I think this is influenced by China’s long history. But despite all this, Hong Kong itself has a lot of underground parties, raves, concerts: from punk to acid. Hangouts take place in warehouses, in nature… completely underground. Unlike in Belarus and Russia, where I’ve been to parties, in China and Hong Kong people 30+ come. That is, more determined in life, not young people like in our country.
But China itself crushes you with its industrialisation, there are too few human things, culture. You have to stay in Asia for a long time to socialise, unless, of course, you have training. Everything looks very strange. The locals say “did you have breakfast?” instead of “good morning”, but it doesn’t mean anything. And there are a lot of things that can be confusing. It’s hard to communicate with the locals, they are often closed, but that’s only because of the cultural gap and language barrier.
In China, all cities are similar, in any city you’ll see the same set of houses. There is very little heritage preserved. People are also different: in China they are all alike, but in Hong Kong you can meet interesting characters.
There are many advantages to modelling: the main one is that you can travel, meet a lot of people and learn to communicate in different languages. It’s rare to encounter situations where you are thrown out on the street without money or tickets, it hardly ever happens. On the downside… you can get stuck in Hong Kong eating rice and eggs for three months while you wait for a shoot – that’s what the agency’s allotted money is for.
The agency takes all the expenses, advances the money, on the condition that you work it all off. But it’s not really fair, you never know your exact payment. They allocate a certain amount of money for a week, but it’s really not enough. A lot of people work part-time. Someone looking for rich dudes, they go out to work in clubs.
You can work there as a model or just shine in the club itself. Sometimes it’s guest service, and there already… who has what boundaries. But most often it’s just accompanying the client. Many models work in clubs, although it is harder for guys to get there than for girls. It can also be dinners in hotels, parties on yachts. And of course there are always risks of rape and anything at all. And there’s a lot of different drugs… Unlike China, it’s very easy to find in Hong Kong.
Usually in modelling, people finish at 25 or 30. After that, the lane is closed. But you still have connections, I know a girl who went on to send girls to the Arab Emirates, to hang out with sheiks and stuff like that. She’s like an agent for that kind of thing now.
You get different money for modelling, I know a guy who made $3,000 in a month, and I made less than $1,000 in five months. And I was living on $200 a month. And it’s just brutal. You can make $10,000, purely on modelling, I had that once, but it happens in different ways.
There are some life hacks that allow you to survive on the cheap. For example, doing your laundry by hand. Here laundry is paid, in the next block costs $ 5-7. Stop smoking: a pack of cigarettes is 10$. You can freeganise, in Hong Kong there are food banks, they collect food from cafes, restaurants, bakeries, which wanted to throw out and distribute to those who need it. But I didn’t apply, I was kind of ashamed to ask for help.
A lot of frig is left over from models, they buy a lot of products that they don’t use and when they move they just throw them away. That goes for clothes as well. There’s more walking, exploring all the shops in the neighbourhood to compare all the prices: everyone has their cheap options. There is also the option of going to temples to eat.
In clubs, guys get paid in the neighborhood of 60$ – 70$ per night, the opportunity to go there you have two times a week. But the line there is gigantic. I only signed up once, and I was on a yacht for $200, I think. Girls get 100$ a night for sure, even for 4-5 hours of alcohol and coke. Sheiks can pay $10,000 a day. But in modeling it’s condemned (going to sheiks), you never know what’s going to happen there, a lot of risk. Intimacy… that’s at the discretion of the models. There have been cases where models were just given phones, but there is still harassment. It’s the clients and they can be different.
When you come from a small town to Hong Kong, hanging out with rich types, drinking the most expensive champagne in hotels, it’s easy to feel empty and I can imagine how that can be taken advantage of.
About safety. There are the people who organise these treks – the promoters. They can be normal, in case of what can stand up for you, but there are also those who don’t give a shit. Security is on the side of the club director, and he is on the side of his clients and they also don’t give a shit if something happens.
It’s common in clubs to slip drugs into drinks and it happens where there are a lot of people, witnesses. And, as a rule, in the modelling crowd, everyone knows who exactly from the clients like to engage in such topics, but no one is in a hurry to do anything about it. Because there is a capitalist hierarchy.
It often happens that you get scammed out for money in this business. It depends on the conscience of the employer, how much he will cheat you 10%-20% or 50%-70%.
There were times that even 70% cheated. But there are good agencies, where everything is transparent, you sign documents and know the amount you will receive. But it is not always possible to get into such an agency and then there is nothing left. It is better to read comments on the internet about the company, consult with other models.
About appearance – it’s a lottery. Do they want to see you skinny or pumped up? With long hair or short hair? More often than not, it’s unpredictable, and of course, it messes with your health and mental health, especially for girls. Every third girl model I’ve talked to suffers from an eating disorder, bulimia in the active phase.
After castings, you feel (I say this without discriminating against sex workers) like a girl on the streetl all day. Whether it’s casting for an expensive brand or a local market. It’s always very uncomfortable. But I’ve been able to move away from it, I try to be at peace with myself, look Ok for myself and not be equal to others. That’s the only way.
There’s a lot of stress in general, you’re pressured by an agency, you live in an apartment with 10 other models who are super proud and actually very uptight inside.
A lot of people leave this business because of breakdowns, especially after eating disorder episodes. Many models get depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. This happens regardless of shape, gender – in everyone.
To avoid burnout, you need to articulate to yourself what you value, what matters to you. And accept the fact that you are selling your body, that your body is not you, your body is a product you are selling, a material product.
Paradoxically, in my experience, a lot of people go into this business because of some ambition. They actually enjoy it and are interested in working. I think it depends initially on mental attitudes. If a person has some mental problems, it will be difficult for him, he will have to destroy them. But if someone has always felt OK, then it is usually easier for such people.
The most important thing, I think, is to formulate for yourself what you value yourself for and focus on that, not your body. There’s a really slippery slope here. Someone focuses on their body and achieves what they want: their goal, cheesy but what it is. Someone breaks down horribly, gets screwed over, gets raped. The latter applies to women as well as men. And someone, like me, wander around for six months with no money.
On the filming itself there is no hard harassment, I’ve only heard a couple of such stories. But you still feel like a sex object, sometimes you catch inappropriate remarks and glances. In my opinion, it only toughens you up, although it can break a lot of people. You go for the beautiful life and money, but you get this harassment and deceit.
If we talk about modelling, it gives you an advantage: you learn about the manifestation of sexuality. You’re forced to constantly express sexuality, even if you don’t feel it.
Eventually it is there, but the problem is that it’s some kind of capitalist imposed image that everyone is trying to grab onto and chase. And that, of course, is a bad thing. Sometimes people don’t live up to the image and go off the rails, and sometimes they do, and that’s even worse.
Of course, there are shoots where some image doesn’t meet social standards, something that’s so agender. Those are the kind of shoots where you can have fun.
Agenderism is a combination of incompatible female and male clichés, or a complete rejection of them. It’s clothing, make-up, poses. For example, a super masculine look with a feminine pose. I like agenderism – it’s a protest to the society I grew up in, the culture I grew up in. Something that was unacceptable and caused negative emotions in society.
It’s also a protest to model girls who wear mini-dresses 24 hours a day and guys who go to the gym and post pictures from there every five minutes. Wherever they are: in a club, in a flat, in nature, they behave the same way.
About Belarus… For a week in a row I dreamed about home, all the familiar places of Minsk… Sometimes I miss it very much, but I don’t want to go back.
Plans… I don’t know, now I’m doing photography on film, photographing people, cities.
I plan to develop in photography, I guess. Maybe I’ll try to re-enroll somewhere.