Plastic Enthusiastic


In 2008, a woman named Hang Mioku appeared on a popular television program and instantly became one of Korea’s most infamous pseudo-celebrities.  At the age of 28, Mioku underwent her first plastic surgery operation.  Twenty years later, Mioku had gone through so many facial reconstruction surgeries that she was left scarred and disfigured.  Doctors refused to treat her anymore.  But she stayed persistent enough to find one doctor who was willing to give her a home injection kit that she could use to give herself silicon shots.  Believe it or not, giving Hang Mioku a syringe turned out to be a bad idea.  She ran out of silicon and, still wanting to make herself beautiful, began injecting cooking oil into her face.  By the time she appeared on television, her face was swollen and enormous, making her look something like a cross between a troll and a sumo wrestler.  The television show raised enough money to get Mioku help, and she would eventually undergo a procedure where over 200 grams of cooking oil was taken out of her face and neck.

Plastic surgery is generally accepted in South Korea and doesn’t carry with it the kind of negative connotation it has in the States.  An article on states that over 50 percent of women in their 20s have had some sort of operation done.  Of them, a good number had their work done while they were in high school.  The most common procedures are getting a nose job where the bridge of the nose is heightened, or having a “double eyelid” operation to make the eyes look more Western.  The motivation for going through these procedures is simple: Koreans just want to look good and attract a mate.

My motivation for visiting the plastic surgery wing of Gil Hospital was far different.  After slamming my face into a beer glass, I had twelve stitches put in around my left eyebrow, a process that I missed in favor of a nice drunken nap.  You can imagine how odd it felt when I was told I had to have the plastic surgery unit examine me later in the week.  “But I already have double eyelids,” I thought, taking my appointment card from the receptionist.  As much as I was disturbed at having hurt myself while drunk, I was a bit more upset by the idea that a doctor might have to take a scalpel and reconstruct part of my face.

On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, I had my Korean friend text me the words “plastic surgery” in Hangul.  My phone out and ready, I showed the words to the front desk, and later to a bunch of nurses I passed by when I was lost in the hospital hallways.  None of them spoke English.  And since I can’t speak Korean, I would just say “hello” and show them the screen of my phone, which said “plastic surgery.”  The nurses would nod enthusiastically, perhaps thinking that I had gone in for a nose reduction. 

Finally I found the Plastic Surgery Unit.  The nurses were all rather attractive, with pale skin and lovely makeup.  I looked around, hoping to see people bandaged up like the heroine of the Twilight Zone “Eye of the Beholder” episode.  There was nothing.  The Plastic Surgery Unit was empty.  Eventually I would spend portions of two days there, having my head looked at.  On the second trip, the surgeon – a young fellow who spoke some English – yanked the stitches out of my head.  He did so in silence, and in that blank space of time I concentrated on the pain and tried to picture what my scar might look like.  Like most people who came to this place, I imagined, I would be leaving looking at least a little differently than I had coming in.

Good old Hang Mioku, with all that cooking oil in her mug, wanted to be attractive. I just wanted things to go back to normal.  I guess the difference between us is that she believed that she could, if she put in enough money and effort, really be beautiful.  I’d given up on that notion a long time ago.  Plastic surgery is for people who only trust aesthetics, and who don’t doubt the idea that beauty is possible.  That acceptance is possible, and that beauty and acceptance go hand-in-hand.  When Hang Mioku went on that television show, the loudest thought in her head must’ve been, “Please, please look at me.”

Walking out of the Korean hospital, where I didn’t speak the language and stuck out like a broken thumb, I didn’t particularly care to be accepted by anyone around me.  I’d walk home by myself and that would be fine.  I could even run my fingertip across the ridge of the small scar that ran through the hair of my eyebrow.  Right over the jagged crack in my skin that will stay there forever.



Totally Krossed Out, Totally Stitched Up


Here is the lie I told my school on Monday, March 28th, when I walked into the teacher workroom with a giant bandage across my head:  I didn’t mention anything about backwards clothing, the 1990s, or the beautiful moment my face and the dance floor got to meet.  Instead, I told them the following:

“On Saturday, I was over at Bupyeong Middle School with my South African friends, playing football.  You know I’m not athletic, but they’ve been trying to convince me for awhile to join up and play and since it was such a nice day, I finally cracked.  Well, anyways, we were playing football – American football, that is, cause they needed a break from soccer or something – and I went out for a long pass.  I was running and looking over my shoulder, and that’s when I ran straight into my friend Matt.  Bang!  Knocked our heads right together.  I was down on the field, thinking why, oh why, did I agree to this?  Then I was off to the hospital to get stitches.  I’ll tell ya this – I am NEVER playing football again!”

Did my school buy it?  I have no idea.  They seemed to find it funny though.  Admittedly, the idea of me on the football field is ridiculous enough to warrant laughter.

“How long were you playing?” Hye Jeong asked.  “Five minutes?”

The real story isn’t exactly better, but it’s far more believable.  On Friday, March 25th, I went to a ‘90s theme party thrown at a bar called Underground.  I wanted to dress up but I didn’t want to spend any money, so I threw my jeans and a football jersey on backwards, turned my hat to the back, and went as 1/2 of the rap group Kriss Kross.  I suppose I was the one with the lighter skin, although I only know the verse first verse of the song, the one by the kid with the darker skin, who was obviously the more talented of the two.  “Don’t try to compare us to another bad little fad/I’m the mack and I’m bad/give ya somethin’ that you never had.”  The song played on a continual loop in my head, taking me back to the ninth grade, when I would ask someone “You down with OPP?”, get the response “Yeah, you know me!” and walk away not knowing at all what the question or that answer really meant.

It was a tough time to go through puberty.  Kurt Cobain died, OJ was found innocent, and the Broncos won not just one but two Super Bowls.  I grew up with the world turned upside down.

But back to Underground, the ‘90s party, and my accident.  At around 2:30 in the morning, I was good and drunk.  Like a fool, I listened to the alcohol when it talked to me: “I’m delicious – have more of me”; “You look really cool with your backwards clothes”; “Know all those times when you’re sober and you tell people you can’t dance?  Well you’re wrong!  Get out there on the dance floor and break it down Hammer style!”  Out to the dance floor I went, trying to shake it with a tall blonde friend dressed as Brittney Spears.  For a few blurry minutes, I was completely enjoying myself, drinking my beer and shaking it with Brittney.  Life couldn’t get any better.  Like the real Kriss Kross, though, my stay at the top was short lived.

Quicker than you can say “Oops, I did it again,” Brittney started to fall.  It all happened so fast.  Somehow I was falling too.  Down to the floor we went.  She ended up on her back (as Brittney often does), and I ended up slamming my face into a beer mug.  Wondering whether the fall was caused by Britt or my sagging backwards pants, I could feel the blood pouring down my face.  A few minutes later I was holding a tissue above my left eye, standing in the bathroom, occasionally bringing it down and looking at the massive red gash in my forehead.

I showed everyone my wound, waiting sullenly for the inevitable look of horror and the recurrent utterance of the word ‘stitches.’

The owner of the bar called an ambulance, and I was off to Gil Hospital.  Waiting in the emergency room, I snuck off to the bathroom.  The hospital staff hadn’t really seen me yet.  There was something I had to do before the CT Scan, before the nurse cleaned my divot with some kind of salt solution that made me wince in pain, and before the surgeon weaved the stitches through my face.  I was drunk, bleeding, and didn’t speak a word of the language.  Still I had a little pride left, at least enough to force me into the bathroom.   I didn’t want to look any more foolish than I had to.

In the bathroom I undressed.  I put my football jersey on the right way.  I pulled the jeans up so that the zipper was in the front.

There was no way I could sit in the emergency room with my clothes on backwards.  The ‘90s were over.  I searched for my insurance card.  “I’m a professional teacher,” I thought, holding gauze to the cut, composing my story, bit by bit, about how it all happened on a sunny Saturday morning at a football field for teenagers.