Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Cheap Cosmetic Surgery Capital of the World

Almost exactly two months ago today I was sitting in a cafe in Silom, the financial (also, some of it, the gay) district of Bangkok. The area‘s been in the international spotlight recently because the Red Shirt protestors set up an encampment just on the edge of it. A complete stranger came up to me. He said his name was Nut and he asked me if I would accompany him to his skin clinic. He was, he said, feeling a little apprehensive. Although only twenty-six, he had already had two operations on his nose. Nut is Thai, and like many Asians he wants to look like a Westerner. Westerners have larger noses than Asians. They also have lighter skin, hence the craze for skin lightening creams. You go into Boots in Silom to buy a moisturizer or facial scrub and unless you scrutinize the product carefully you will open it at home to find that it contains skin-lightening agents. Nut showed me photographs on his phone of his previous, pre-operation noses. I’m not sure I could tell the difference between any of them. It’s all relative, after all. Asians, to Westerners, have small noses generally. Some are flatter or wider or thinner, but they’re all small. Minor gradations may be discernible to fellow Asians but to the Westerner small is small. Nut’s nose had been made taller by a sort of hammering from within. No cutting had been necessary, just the insertion of a miniature club and the subsequent bashing outwards of the nasal cavity. Nut, though, was not happy with his taller nose and returned to his doctor in Silom to have cuts made either side of each nostril so that the skin cold be tucked in and sewn up. This resulted in a narrower nose. When I accompanied him on his third visit he extracted his iphone and showed the doctor a photograph. “There,” he told him. “That one. That’s the nose I want.”

During the ensuing discussion the doctor showed us other examples of nose jobs on his computer, and as he scrolled down through a sequence of ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots Nut began to emit little yelps of surprise. “Oh,” he said, “there’s Pon! Oh, and there’s Ta! And there’s Ton!” The patients were mostly friends and regulars at a renowned local nightclub. There they all were with their taller and narrower noses or their larger eyes - another operation popular with Asians being double eyelid surgery, or ‘enhancement of the Asian upper eyelid crease.' This again turns them into Westerners. All very odd, actually. I’ve never heard of Westerners having their eyelids messed around with so that they resemble Asians ('slitty eye surgery').

Towards the end of this consultation it dawned on me that I was being talked about and pointed at. If I had something done to my eyes, a kind of sucking out of the fatty deposits beneath them, I would look ten years younger, I was told. Oh no, I couldn’t, I said. Only 50,000 baht (about 700 pounds), said Nut. Oh, is that all? I said. Well, in that case… After Nut had had some quick botox injections (painful, he said) we left the surgery, passing boys peddling ‘sex dvds’ to tourists. Exhausted, sweaty soldiers slouched against shuttered shop fronts and gazed idly on.