Nip, tuck Chinese seek South Koreans for beauty

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SHANGHAI, Sep 14 (Reuters) South Korea is becoming known as the plastic surgery capital of Asia, where celebrities get ''done'' to attract legions of fans across the region. Now, its doctors are trying to crack the lucrative Chinese market.

Chinese in fashion centres such as Shanghai see South Korean plastic surgeons as safer and more skilled than local doctors.

They also want ears, chins and chests just like the South Korean stars popular in China who have gone under the knife in Seoul's best clinics.

''I just want to look more beautiful, and I am here for the best doctor, the best service and the best hospital,'' said Lily Xie, a wealthy office worker who was waiting to see a doctor at a South Korean-run beauty clinic in the downtown Luwan district.

''I think Korean doctors are more professional than Chinese doctors. I also prefer them to American or European doctors because they know Asian faces better,'' said the 24-year-old.

Xie is one of about 15 Chinese patients of Korean plastic surgeon Kim Byung-gun scheduled to undergo surgery in Shanghai on a Sunday in September.

Kim, who runs South Korea's largest plastic surgery hospital BK Clinic and is one of the country's most successful surgeons, envisaged a bonanza in China after noting that 40 Chinese women a month were flying to his Seoul clinic for cosmetic surgery.

''I wanted to be the first Korean surgeon to make inroads into the booming Chinese market,'' Kim said in an operating room, talking to Reuters while performing eye and nose surgery on a client who will also receive liposuction.

''Unlike South Koreans, most of my Chinese patients come with photographs of a Korean actress and ask me to make them look like her,'' Kim said, citing two popular stars -- Song Hye-kyo and Kim Tae-hee -- as having the most mimicked faces.

Kim's Shanghai clinic, Beauty China Medical Center, was the first South Korean-owned plastic surgery clinic in Shanghai approved by the government. Now, about 10 more South Korean clinics have opened up in the increasingly affluent city.

BIG EYES More Korean plastic surgeons are expected to rush into the world's fastest-growing major economy, whose 1.3 billion population is more than 27 times that of South Korea.

Chinese government officials estimate that 2.4 billion dollar was spent last year on plastic surgery procedures, with 1 million operations taking place, a figure still well below the nearly 11 million procedures performed in the United States.

China and South Korea both attach little stigma to cosmetic surgery, which is seen as more than just a vain indulgence.

Looking better can help with job or marriage prospects in their highly competitive societies and a recent South Korean survey said three in five people would be willing to have surgery it if would help their chances at work.

The most popular surgical procedure in Asia is so-called ''double eyelid surgery'', which adds a crease to the eyelids to make the eyes appear larger. Many patients also seek to make their noses slightly bigger and more defined.

Beauty wannabes seek Korean surgeons because of the experience they are are believed to have garnered at home: A survey showed 60 per cent of South Korean women in their 20s had cosmetic surgery at least once.

While medical students in China can begin performing plastic surgery immediately after finishing five years of education, South Koreans need six years in school and four years' residency at a hospital before they can operate in private practice.

''It's well-known that South Korean plastic surgeons are much more skilled ... My friends who've already had surgery told me to go to South Korean doctors,'' said a 26-year-old woman who asked to be identified by her English name, Evan.

Eye surgery by a Korean doctor typically costs 1,500 dollars, more than seven times the 200 dollars that Chinese surgeons usually charge. But for many wealthy Chinese, money is no object.

''No matter how expensive it is, I want to make sure I will get the best doctor,'' Evan said. ''I want bigger eyes and a bigger nose. My friends are all telling me now they will come to get surgery if I become prettier.'' REUTERS SBC BST1455

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