A nip and tuck boom ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year
As the Chinese New Year comes back around, Matt Kovac reports on how some Taiwanese are spending their dollars on a new face face ahead of the festivities
Taipei - Jane Li from Hong Kong doesn't mind suffering for her beauty. And it's just as well.
Sporting two black eyes and a nose swollen like a small orange, Li looks like she has gone 10 rounds with a heavy weight boxer.
Despite the bruises and bandages, she still manages a wry smile at the thought of her 'perfect' new nose while recuperating at a plastic surgeon's clinic in Taipei.
"It's not that painful," she said, after the 1-hour operation that cost 40,000 new Taiwan dollars (1,247 US dollars).
"And anyway, I don't care because I want to have a cuter and thinner nose in time for the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities," she said.
Li, in her early 50s, isn't the only one.
In Taiwan, around a million face-changing procedures were performed last year, double the number from five years ago, with the Lunar New Year holiday proving the most popular time for a new visage.
And Dr Lee Chiu-heng, 41, who runs the B.G. Aesthetic & RF Laser Centre is happy to oblige.
"Business is booming and I am fully booked up," said the surgeon who graduated from UCLA's medical school in California.
"The extended 10-day holiday this year means people have time to recover from surgical procedures away from curious colleagues and nosey neighbours," he added.
The public's altered perspective on cosmetic surgery has also largely lessened the stigma associated with it and improving standards in surgical procedures are helping the industry flourish.
Of more than 300 certified plastic surgeons in Taiwan, more than half practice cosmetic surgery, a major rise from the 15 doctors a decade ago.
Taiwanese women are increasingly asking their surgeons for wider eyes, longer noses and bigger breasts - features not typical of the race.
To accommodate such demands, surgeons in the region have invented techniques not used in the west. The most requested procedure by far in Taiwan and the rest of Asia is a form of blepharoplasty, in which a crease is created above the eye by scalpel or by needle and thread creating a western look.
Other popular treatments are nose and lip jobs with the object to mirror Korean stars such as Chae Lim and Jun Ji Hyun.
"The soaring popularity of Korean TV programmes has certainly stimulated desire for plastic surgery among fans," said Lee.
At his clinic, he said older women are asking for endoscopic forehead lifts, a technique that smoothes the forehead, raises the upper eyelids and minimizes frown lines creating a more youthful appearance.
The explosion of personal re-engineering in Taiwan, and across much of Asia, is not only a reflection of peoples' pursuit for perfection - it also has much to with the pressure on women to look their best in a society obsessed with good looks.
"Many of the people who turn to surgery are suffering from low self-esteem and a severe lack of confidence," said Dr Jerry Wang, a psychologist based in Hong Kong.
"They often feel that surgery will give them a new lease of life, and in some cases it does, but not always," he added.
Whereas in the west it is purely about vanity, in Asia superstition also plays a big hand.
The Chinese New Year is a time of year to throw out the old and bring in the new and though traditionally this meant a new car, house or electronic appliances, it now incorporates cosmetic surgery.
Year-end bonuses help pay for procedures that range from as little as 3,000 new Taiwan dollars for laser eye treatment to 300,000 new Taiwan dollars for a full face lift and extras.
"I have clients that come to me to have corrective surgery to improve their chances of finding a partner, maintaining a relationship or landing a job," said Lee.
He said Chinese superstition suggests that hollows around the temple area for a women means relationships will be tense, whereas high cheekbones and a square face, known as 'Kuo Zi Lien', are considered a turn off for Asian men.
Dr Gary Chang, a plastic surgeon at a downtown Taipei hospital that performs a range of procedures, said facial bone contouring to correct a square face is painful.
"It literally sculpts and trims the zygomatic bone to create a thinner, smoother face, which women feel gives them more chance of securing a husband and better employment," he said. However, women aren't the only ones heading to plastic surgeons to improve their new year.
Taiwanese men are increasingly looking for remedies to middle age such as baggy eyelids, longer noses and fat transfers to minimize shallow features.
And the latest trend for men?
"Penis enlargement," bellowed Lee with a grin.
He claims to see 20 clients a month who no longer want to look small in the gym, sauna or hot spring by adding as much as 3 centimetres to both thickness and length.
"After 2 to 3 weeks of recovery, the men say they feel more confident and ready for the challenges of the year ahead," he added.