Asia's Largest Plastic Surgery Hospital is in China, We Paid a Visit

By That's, March 26, 2020

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Throwback Thursday is when we trawl through the That's archives for a work of dazzling genius written at some point in our past. We then republish it. On a Thursday.

By Karoline Kan

If I’m honest, I’ve always been secretly interested in what it would be like to have double eyelids. The interest stems from my family. According to my mom, one of the most important reasons why my dad's family – who incidentally, all have single-fold eyelids and narrow eyes, wanted my parents to get married, was that my mom has “large beautiful eyes with double eyelids.” And this of course, meant that my parents would have a 50 percent chance at producing “good looking” kids. Unfortunately for them, both myself and my brother inherited my father's looks. My grandfather remains distraught to this day.

When my nephew was born earlier this year, the first thing my family all wanted to know was not whether he had all his fingers and toes, but whether he had those all important double eyelids. The answer? No. Having single fold eyelids is a sin, and my family are perennial sinners. 

In a brazen attempt to lift this apparent generational curse (and in the name of journalism), I decide to do what members of my father’s family should have done long ago: Book a consultation at the local plastic surgery hospital.

Now, my local plastic surgery hospital is not your everyday clinic. Self-described as “the biggest plastic surgery hospital in Asia,” it is in reality so big, it might as well be invisible. On arriving, I feel compelled to check in with both Google and Baidu maps several times, to ensure that yes, the huge building in front of me really is the same plastic surgery hospital I’d booked an appointment with online.

"The staff all wear the same tight-fitting uniform, sport the same haircut and — this is where it gets weird — have the exact same face."

From the outside it looks like an elaborate Vegas-style casino, with marble pillars, shiny colored glass and security guards dressed like 18th century courtesans; while from the inside, it feels more like a luxury hotel. As soon as walk in, numerous women approach me to ask how they might help. Each wears the same uniform, sports the same style haircut – and this is where it gets weird – has the same exact face.

“Don't be afraid, all the surgery here looks perfectly natural,” explains one of the women proudly. “My nose has been injected with hyaluronic acid. Just one dose, and immediately it looks different.” She passes me a glass of water. “And, of course, people won’t even notice, because it looks so natural.” If by natural, she means resembling the horn of a rhinoceros, then yes – I might be inclined to agree. Instead, I nod sagely.

Walking up the stairs, the girl ushers me to the second floor. Here the walls are decorated with oil paintings and ornate shelves with large green plants. They lead me along a corridor and into a large palatial lounge area where I am introduced to the hospital’s resident ‘face designing consultant’ Dr Huang.

Dr Huang smiles; the woman with the rhino horn smiles; the receptionist on the other side of the room smiles. Everyone is just so happy.

“Hi Karo…” says Dr Huang in raspy voice, using the familiar shortened version of my name. “What do you want to consult me about?”

“Maybe my eyes? I’m still not very sure,” I reply.

“Don’t worry,” says Dr Huang. “You’ll be 110% sure after the consultation.”

And so it begins.

She leans towards me, peering deep into my soul. Finally – after what feels like an eternity – she extracts herself from her trance like state and begins to examine my eyelids, as if carrying out research on a newly discovered specimen. She frowns, she smiles, ponders and at last writes down something in her notebook.

“I think I’ve discovered the main problems with your face," says Dr Huang assuredly. "Where do you want to begin?”

Problems? Where to begin? There are so many flaws on my face that you have to make a list? I tell her to begin with the part that concerns me the most: my eyes.

“If you look carefully, your eyes are not exactly the same size.” Dr Huang says.

I feel my face begin to blush. This is not what I had expected to hear. It’s a new discovery. It sounds serious. Tell me more.

“Close your eyes.”

I do as I’m instructed.

“Open them.”

“Close them, and open them….”

I do the eyelid movement a further six times. “I have found the reason why your eyes look narrow,” says Dr Huang. “Your eyelids have weak muscles, which means to open your eyes you have to lift your eyebrows. And look!" Dr Huang passes me a mirror. “There are already some small wrinkles on your forehead, not because of your age, but because of your weak muscles.”

“How old are you, honey?” Dr Huang continues.

I tell her my age.

“Oh, my god! How could you be so young. You look at least 5 years older!" she exclaims with a genuine expression of pity.

"Look, the skin around my eyelids is much firmer than yours. If things carry on as they are, you will look terrible in a few years.” 

Her finger pulls my eyelids back, in an attempt to show me clearly just how terrible and weak my eyelids really are. I begin to grow scared. Images of my grandmother's sagging face flash through my mind – will this be my fate too?

"How do I solve it?" I ask.

"It’s easy. We just need to do a little surgery on your eyelids – to make the muscles stronger, and cut off some redundant fat there, to make it firm again… It only costs a little more than RMB10,000," says Dr Huang, with a smile.

Her smile, however, soon fades: “Look at your poor face… what a shame.”

A sense of self-pride stops me from asking what exactly she is referring to. I needn’t have worried – she tells me anyway: “I’m so sorry for the freckles on my face. I guess you blame your parents...”

“What?" I say, confused. “What do you mean?”

“Well, the freckles are inherited from parents. What a shame, your skin is so fair, it makes the freckles even more obvious,” she says with a deep despairing sigh.

I wonder what she will think if I tell her that I regard my freckles as an old friend. I remember when I was a little girl, and my dear dad would tell me, “A face without freckles is like a sky without stars.”

I look at Dr Huang’s dejected expression. What if my dad was lying, what if he knew all along? Maybe freckles really do make my face look horrible? Maybe they are the most disgusting thing in the world? I suddenly find myself blaming my parents, I imagine shouting at them: “Why did you give me these freckles?!”

"For the first time in my life, I see my features as the failed work of my parents. A genetic disappointment. How could I have been so shamelessly confident all these years?"

Fortunately, Dr Huang is on hand with a solution: “Hey sweetie, why not have a try today, we have a discount. You can get rid of your freckles with photorejuvenation, for the small price of RMB10,000. You can have a face as clean as mine!”

Yes, finally, a bright white metallic face with thick make-up. Just what I’ve always wanted!

I smile and tell her honestly that I like my freckles and I wouldn’t want to spend RMB10,000 to have them removed. For the first time since we met, her smile recedes and the shape of her nose becomes clearer, reminding me again of the rhinoceros in my middle school biology book.

Perhaps realizing that I’m staring at her nose, Dr Huang changes tact. “Do you want to do something to your nose instead? The nose is incredibly important. Just a little hyaluronic acid, and you can get this effect instantly.” She points to her nose.

For the first time in my life, I see my face as the failed work of my parents. A genetic disappointment. The distance between the eyebrows and nose tip is too long, as is the distance between the two eyes. The face should be thinner. The forehead should be fuller to look smarter. Dr Huang’s list of problems echoes through my mind.

How could I have been so shamelessly confident all these years, when in fact, I should have hidden myself away. I will resolve to buy a mask, or maybe a black scarf to wrap around my ugly face to avoid offending the beautiful people.

I tell Dr Huang I need some time to think about it. “Today is the last day of our discount, don’t miss it…” she says, her voice growing increasingly frustrated. I reassure her that as crazy as it might sound, I don’t want the hyaluronic acid injection. She sighs, and asks an assistant to send me out.

Maybe she was the same assistant who received me? Who knows. They all look the same. But at least they all have perfect noses.

This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of That's Shanghai and That's Beijing. To see more Throwback Thursday posts, click here.

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