Germán Fontanini, modelFriday, December 2, 2016
Life out of a suitcase
For The Herald
Lives: Hangzhou, China
Born: Paraná, Entre Ríos
Education: Degree in fashion photography and lighting at Espacio Buenos Aires
Last read: El lugar a donde van las personas que están rotas
Last watched: Blood Father
Can’t live without: Yerba mate
While model Germán Fontanini essentially lives out of a suitcase, moving between the likes of India and South Africa for jobs, he spends considerable time living in the world’s most populated country. Currently on location in Cape Town, Hangzhou, China, is his base.
Germán says: “I was modelling in Argentina and working well, but it didn’t let me save any money. At 24 I realized I wouldn’t progress and I wanted to buy an apartment. By coincidence, an agency got in touch, we had a meeting, and I basically told them I was available for anything.
“A month later, they wanted me in India so I went to work there for five months. I was meant to return to Buenos Aires but hooked up with an agency in China, another trip that was only meant to last five months but that turned into a year and a half. And while I’ve been working in Thailand and South Africa and never really have a fixed abode because I travel so much, I’ve spent much of the past three years in China.
“I get a lot of work there. Modelling is very big and it’s attractive to have an Argentine with European roots; the Chinese stop me in the street for photos the whole time!”
One of the biggest cultural differences for Germán is accepting how the Chinese are of government control led.
“China is recently opening up to the world and the government controls so much; you don’t have access to Facebook or Instagram, for example. You can get around it, of course, but the Chinese themselves don’t do that because the government doesn’t permit it.
“The country’s enormous, 1.3 billion people, and it can’t be easy to govern. There are so many people and there’s a lot of poverty, humility and also exploitation. But my Chinese friends say they are happy to be governed in this way, so who are we to criticise?
“Shanghai has the newest subway in the world, and people had never even seen one before. Imagine how they grew with that! Everything is new and fascinating for the Chinese. They also have lots of customs and traditions and we have to respect them. Everything is very organised and computerised by the government to ensure there isn’t a lack of control. It’s fascinating but sometimes the culture shock invades and bothers me! Other Western people can’t take it for that long.”
A ‘small’ city
The Entre Ríos-born model lives in Hangzhou, close to metropolis Shanghai.
He says: “It takes 50 minutes on a bullet train that travels at 300km an hour. Hangzhou is a big city with 10 million inhabitants, though that is small for China. The city looks new but they have preserved the green; it’s next to a lake and close to the mountains, where they produce the world’s best green tea.
“I live in an apartment in Binjiang district, sharing with models who work for the same agency. That’s my home in China and my agency is like my family. A lot of models have to share rooms and are all crammed in together but fortunately I have my own space.”
Given the nature of his work, Germán has few material possessions, tending to live out of a suitcase.
“The truth is, I have fewer things every day! I used to pack a lot and on my recent trip to South Africa I was allowed two suitcases weighing up to 32 kilos but I took one that only weighed 20.
“I always pack my best clothes for castings as well as my mate gourd and yerba! Drinking mate always starts off a chat with someone so it helps me to integrate. I love showing off something that’s so typical from my country and normal for me but unusual for others I love that exchange. And I’ve converted a few people to it as I like to share it rather than drink it on my own!”
As for communication, getting to grips with language is obviously a challenge, though Germán takes the mission seriously wherever he travels.
He says: “At work I tend to speak in English and my booker will usually translate into Mandarin for me. But I learn a little of the language wherever I live because it’s important to show respect and not depend on someone else all the time. These days I can understand most of what goes on when I am working. It’s important to me that I can do so, and while it’s not so hard to speak, yes, it is hard to read and write. But I take a taxi, go shopping, do everyday things and even haggle in Mandarin!”
In his spare time, Germán likes to make the most of China’s great outdoors
“I love going hiking in Hanjo because the countryside is amazing. I climbed the Yellow Mountains three times; in spring, summer and autumn. I also like dining out in nice restaurants as well as eating street food. These days my stomach can handle pretty much anything!
“I also go out with friends who are models to nightclubs; here they give us everything and basically pay us to go out. That’s how models who don’t get much work, live they get paid to go out.”
Of the areas Germán has visited, Beijing stands out as a highlight.
He says: “The Chinese aren’t really into their culture, building whole neighbourhoods based on France, for example, and even have their own Eiffel Tower. Europe and the US is very aspirational and the Chinese don’t look after their own culture. But in Beijing you can still find the real China. Long distances, big spaces, it’s all very imperial. I went there with my mum and we saw everything we could: the palaces and temples are incredible.”
As for his most Chinese characteristic, Germán says he’s professionally extremely disciplined.
“I’m more addicted to my work than ever and want to earn money! That’s the Chinese mentality. They think a lot about making money and improving their country. They don’t have time to be happy; they simply want to generate money.”
And, besides his friends and family, Germán misses the flavour of Argentina.
“I’m not that carnivorous but I often miss my dad’s asado. And bread! We don’t get good bread on the table every day. Things that are basic for many people but I just can’t get here.”