Price, too, is what attracts foreign patients—mainly from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong—to Apkujong, a section of Seoul with over 400 surgery clinics. Here, on a busy avenue nicknamed "Plastic Surgery Street," Park Chan Hoon pulls up in his sedan and leads three female passengers into a softly lit lobby decked out in black leather and chrome. A few years ago, the 38-year-old engineering Ph.D. quit a research job to start a travel agency offering plastic surgery tours for the Japanese. Packages include airfare, hotel, sightseeing and, say, a boob job—all for the cost of the procedure alone back home.
Park jokes in fluent Japanese with Satsuki Takemoto, who has traveled to Seoul for shopping and liposuction. The 34-year-old homemaker from Hiroshima pulls out a snapshot of a stunning woman in a red kimono. "That's me 10 years ago," she says. She once weighed 40 kilos; today, after having two children, she's 75 kilos. "My husband says he doesn't care," rasps Takemoto, exhaling cigarette smoke, "but when the kids are mad at me they'll sometimes yell, 'buta'"—pig. Over the years, Takemoto has tried prescription diets, spa treatments, specially-designed slimming underwear—all of which were expensive and none of which worked. Surgery, especially at a decent price, seemed the smart solution. "We told the kids, 'Mommy's in Korea getting her fat sucked out because we don't want her to drop dead from heart failure,'" she says. She takes another drag on her cigarette. "Yeah, they're a little scared."
I've strolled down said plastic surgery street, but I never realized how infamous it actually is! Yeowzah.