Queens of Scandal: a look at Vietnam's hilarious beauty pageant farce factory

By Dang Hanh, Thanh Nien News

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Tran Ngoc Bich (right) posts a photo on her Facebook timeline, in which her newly-awarded prize in a beauty contest seen lying in a dust carrier. 
A single photo posted on a Hanoi model's Facebook timeline has rocketed her to fame and set off a media frenzy that looks like it will end in a police investigation.
The photo featured Tran Ngoc Bich's newly-awarded prize sash (most beautiful body) stuffed into an over-loaded dustbin.
Bich had won the prize at a pageant titled, simply, “Beauty Queen” the night before.
In the attached caption, Bich wrote “the pageant is just a farce" run by "unreliable and unprofessional organizers.”
But the real farce had yet to begin.
Bich's post sent the local press into a frenzied investigation of a minor pageant which had quietly finished on July 13 in Hanoi.
The resulting fracas alerted officials from the capitol's Department of Artistic Performances and the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to the contest's existence, prompting them to fine the sole organizer VND $50 million (nearly US$2,400).
A representative from the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism told the press, on Wednesday, that this was the largest fine ever issued for such a violation.
“Beauty Queen” is just one of dozens of unauthorized pageants which persist in spite of a 2008 mandate issued by the ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism that purported to limit their number to “not more than 1 per year”.
What's in a name?
Pham Tuan, “Beauty Queen”'s sole organizer said he hadn't considered seeking approval for his pageant since the ministry’s decision only banned contests that made use of the word “Miss.”
Indeed, Vietnam's profusion of illicit beauty contests feature names that range from the national to the very provincial: from national pageants such as Miss Vietnam, Miss Vietnam Global, Miss Vietnam World to regional contests including Miss Mekong (delta), Miss Martial Arts Land (held in Binh Dinh province), Miss Kinh Bac Area, Miss Coconut Land, Miss Tea Land …
An exhaustion of regional referents prompted pageant organizers to turned to local specialties or the sponsor names; then we had: Miss Coffee (sponsored by a coffee producer), Miss Sunplay (a sunblock brand), Miss Jewelry (sponsored by a jewelry company)…
I am not sure what they will call a pageant sponsored by Durex if the company one day intends to join the game.
But it would seem the organizers of such contests will not be daunted neither by law, nor absurdity nor redundancy.
A pageant called Miss Sea was quickly dwarfed by the subsequent Miss Ocean.
Shortest way to money and fame
A great number of these pageants only become known to the general public when they're embroiled in scandals.
Bich drew national attention after claiming the organizers of “Beauty Queen” lured her to the contest by assuring her she would win it. She threw her prize in the trash, she said, because she had been promised more.
Another contestant has since come forward to accuse Tuan of offering her the crown for the “soft price” of VND 350 million ($16,500).
“I told [Tuan] that the contest was just a small one, so I would pay him VND 40 million ($1,800). He agreed and we wrote out a contract,” said the girl who remains anonymous, adding that she paid him VND10 million as a deposit.
The girl said that she was later told to withdraw from the contest by her friends and demanded that Tuan give her back her deposit. Instead, she claims, he only gave back a total of VND 5 million.
Hanoi's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism said they have called on city police to investigate the claim, but the authorities are frequently viewed as part of the problem in these cases.
One authorized pageant was famously cancelled after all of the contestants had already flown to participate in it.
But despite the uncertainty involved in almost every pageant, thousands of Vietnamese girls register to participate in beauty contests every year.
Queens of scandal
Many seem to understand that winning these contests is second only to winning and scandalizing them.
In May, Trieu Thi Ha, Miss Ethnic Vietnam 2011 and the chief contest organizer Doan Thi Kim Hong became a household name after she told reporters that Hong had held her to a rigid contract that required her to be available to promote the event at all hours of the day
She asked to give up her title in a letter last year due to “health reasons.”
The matter quickly spilled into the media and Hong has accused her of libel.
Only after Ha announced that she would return her 2011 crown to the organizers of the-now infamous Miss Ethnic Vietnam did Ha begin to get better and bigger offers.
Now known as “Miss Give-Back,” Ha has come as close as a Vietnamese beauty queen can to national recognition.
There's ample reason to believe that “dustbin beauty” Tran Ngoc Bich will soon achieve a similar fame, having perfectly followed the formula for the scandalized, small-time beauty queen.

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