LA Koreatown rising as new plastic surgery mecca for Chinese

July 30, 2015
A Chinese patient consults with a Wave Plastic Surgery employee in Koreatown, Los Angeles. (Korea Times)

A Chinese patient consults with a Wave Plastic Surgery employee in Koreatown, Los Angeles. (Korea Times)

By Park Ji-hye

Chinese looking for new faces have found a new mecca in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

Famous for their precise technique and safety, plastic surgeons in South Korea have attracted flocks of Chinese tourists for years. But concerns about the lack of regulation and a rise in illegal surgery brokers and medical mishaps in Korea is driving more and more of the population — both Chinese American and Chinese — here, according to local clinics.

Koreatown, where handfuls of plastic surgery clinics dot the map of the roughly 2.7-square-mile community, houses American-trained Korean surgeons.

In the past few years, clinics have discovered that Chinese-speaking employees are now necessities.

“At each clinic, there’s at least two employees who speak Chinese,” said a source at a local clinic. “Employees who can speak Korean, English and Chinese become scouting targets.”

At Wave Plastic Surgery, Chinese and Chinese-speaking employees number 20, about 40 percent of all workers. Three years ago, they numbered four.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in Chinese customers since last year, and each year before that,” said Kim Ji-ae, Wave marketing head. “They make up about 40 percent of all our patients. We’ve brought in more Chinese-speaking employees and strengthened our marketing toward China.”

Sources said Chinese patients mostly comprised international students in the past; nowadays, parents visiting their children in America visit for a touch-up, as do those who fly from China through word-of-mouth.

In response to the boom, Korean clinics have begun placing ads in local Chinese-language newspapers, TV and on social networking sites.

“We get good feedback from ads we place on Chinese-language TV,” said Marie Jung, head of David Kahng Plastic Surgery. “We have a steady flow of Chinese patients.”

“Chinese patients put a lot of importance on word-of-mouth recommendations,” said Chris Lee, head of CK Plastic Surgery. “If one patient’s surgery goes well, then that one person will introduce the clinic to several others. It’s very effective.”