Mt. Kilimanjaro and the fashion ramp are worlds apart but for Jocelyn Luko-Sandstrom, they’re as close as it gets.
Both are her platforms for different reasons. In fact, one led to the other.
Born in Hawaii to an Austrian father and a Japanese mother, Luko-Sandstrom has been around the world as a fashion model.
Since age 15, she has inhabited the glamor world, basking in the spotlight and enduring personal hardship off it.
“I was living alone in a dormitory in Tokyo and I got tons of comments from people who said I was too chubby or too slim, too Caucasian or too Asian,” she says.
Luko-Sandstrom remembers when she had to stop working after she broke out with pimples.
“The makeup people ended up putting a stronger foundation which made the pimples worse.”
She will be the first to tell you that a fashion model is no different from the next girl, facing daily challenges from the mundane to the dangerous and having to deal with the same temptations.
Europe was a bad memory, especially Milan.
Work was exhausting but it was its dark side that unnerved her when she had to fight off clients and agents who demanded sex from her.
“There were girls who were willing to do it, including some of the models from my agency,” she says.
“And all those men were so much older.”
Luko-Sandstrom began asking herself why getting a job was so hard. “I was getting frustrated. I was only 19.”
She says Hong Kong is the safest place because here, she had no such experience.
Still, it was a bit of a shock to her.
“In New York, models get nice meals — vegetables, salads etc. In Japan, food is healthy, but in Hong Kong, they treat you to a McDonald’s meal,” she says.
She was at the height of her glamor days when she hit another peak — Africa’s highest mountain — five years ago.
It came when she and her husband were asked by filmmaker Sean Lee-Davies to do a documentary about the environment on Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest standalone mountain at nearly 6,000 meters above sea level.
It was a far cry from the world of glamor.
She wore no makeup to begin with. “We didn’t shower nor wash our heads either. We did brush our teeth.”
Luko-Sandstrom suffered from altitude sickness and had severe headache. There was no medical staffer, so she soldiered on with the help of energy pills.
“It was like a dream. I couldn’t see clearly. People appeared to move in slow motion”.
It didn’t help that the group walked into a snowstorm.
“Faith was important. I thought that as long as I kept walking, I would get there,” she says.
When they reached the snow-white mountaintop early one morning, everybody cried. “No kidding. We cried and hugged one another.”
The return journey took eight days, with the average temperature at minus 16 degrees celsius.
“Walking through the forest, I could see some ancient trees — the ones you see in a Tim Burton movie. I thought I was on another planet.”
Luko-Sandstrom says she was fortified and comforted by her husband’s presence during the trek.
“He kept asking if he could help me with my backpack. I kept refusing him because I had promised to carry it myself.”
Luko-Sandstrom hopes the documentary will resonate with its environmental message.
“The glaciers on the mountain are melting and we humans should do something about it,” she says.
“Everyone can take a small step but together, we can make a giant leap.”
Luko-Sandstrom is not shy to admit her modest contribution. “I seldom use plastic bags. I bring my own shopping bag.”
Adventures To The Edges will air on TVB Pearl every Wednesday at 9 p.m. starting on Aug 5.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 3.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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