Chinese plastic surgery tourists to Korea surge

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Chinese plastic surgery tourists to Korea surge

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Li Xue hated her looks. She had issues with her mouth, which she thought protruded too much and showed “too much of my gums.”

Her features were so unattractive, she thought, and she was sure others would agree. She slowly isolated herself from the rest of society, and cocooned herself in her ego.

Then one day, she came across stories on the Internet endorsing new cutting-edge technologies in Korea’s cosmetic surgery industry.

A resident of Hevei Province, northeast of Beijing, Li booked plane tickets to Seoul in 2011, and made reservations at a plastic surgery clinic in Sinsa-dong, one of the most affluent areas in Seoul, to bring an end to her chronic sense of inferiority.

“Korean medical technology seemed more developed” than in China, Li recalled. “I thought it would be safer to have experienced doctors to conduct my surgery.”

Kim received what Park Sang-hoon, her doctor at ID Hospital, likes to call double jaw surgery, which requires “cutting and relocating the jaw to create a softer face line.”

Recent data show that Li is just one thousands of Chinese tourists who fly to Seoul for cosmetic procedures, a trend that is sharply rising, according to lawmaker Nam Yun In-soon, a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), citing figures yesterday from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Of the 24,075 foreign patients who received cosmetic surgery in Korea last year, 67.6 percent (16,282 patients) were from China. Those statistics are more than 20 times higher than the 791 Chinese patients in 2009, and when considering back-alley operations, actual numbers are likely much greater.

But with such significant influxes from all over the world, the government must prepare countermeasures to undermine illegal practices from running rampant within the local cosmetic surgery industry, Nam Yun warned.

“Excessive commission fees to illegal brokers, giving too much anesthesia to hide ghost surgeries or ghost doctors, and unlawful advertisements are only a few of the problems,” she said.

Concerns have accompanied the thriving plastic surgery industry for as long as its initial boom, yet the international flock of patients seems far from diminishing. Yoon Hye-young, who was formerly the head public relations officer at Faceline, a clinic in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul, said that - taken from a broader perspective - the practice for clients is more akin to “doctor shopping.”

“Knowing that plastic surgery is a critical procedure in their life, patients deliberately try to choose the perfect doctor,” she said.

As for Li, she says her previously protruding mouth “normally went in,” and that her face has become “shorter” - both changes she perceived as successful.

“I can’t see the difference in my personality, but my friends say that I smile more often since the surgery, and that I’ve become more extroverted,” she said.


BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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