Seung Ngaan Pei

Saturday morning. I’m working my way through some of the day’s gossip tidbits written by the intrepid Leih Baat Fong  reporting team in Apple Daily when suddenly I spot one item that almost makes me choke on my coffee.
長毛傳做整容代言人

Long Hair Face Lift Promotion Spokesperson

What!?! I read on. The article says that Leung has been offered a gig as the spokesperson for a chain of plastic surgery clinics. Quotes him as saying he would consider the job if they paid him 10 million HKD, so that he could donate it all to his new party, the League of Social Democrats, which is in need of funds. Of course he would have to go under the knife, so there could be “before” and “after” shots. Leung tells the reporter he wouldn’t have a face lift. But that he wouldn’t mind having some skin treatment to get rid of his teenage acne scars, and perhaps have the surgeon cut his seung ngaan pei.

雙眼皮

It’s strange that none of my Chinese dictionaries has a translation for “double eye skin”.  But I can easlily guess what operation Long Hair is talking about. It’s called “Asian Blepharoplasty” in medical English, and it is the number one plastic surgery proced
ure in Asia, even more popular then liposuction (the number one plastic surgery procedure everywhere else). Even if there weren’t so many troublesome political and cultural issues surrounding the operation, I can’t imagine why Long Hair would consider doing such a thing. His narrow eyes fit his face, and light up with charm, especially when he’s smiling; “Westernizing” them would make him look very odd, indeed.

So this must be one of his pranks. He likes to play with the press. The reporters love it because it gives them something to write about. This article is a good example: Leih Baat Fong is able to get another two column inches of copy out of the item by interviewing various HK “Image Consultants” about how they would makeover Long Hair.

The makeover responses depress me, because they reinforce all the narrow aesthetic and beauty standards that now dominate Hong Kong’s popular culture. Long Hair’s skin, according to these guys, is too dark, of course. His nose is too flat and broad. A fashion designer sums up the consensus of the Canto-image makers: “The way he looks now makes people feel hung san ok saat. Ferocious spirit, evil deity.

Is this a face that only a mother could love?

Anyway, after I finish reading this stupidity, I’m absolutely sure that Long Hair is just having the reporters on. So when I run into him later Saturday afternoon at the pub, I joke and say to him, “Ha! When are you going to have the plastic surgery?”

I expect him to chuckle and tell me how dumb the reporters were to believe his tale-spinning. Instead, he gets a bit testy. “It’s a secret. Mr. Shiu and I have a plan.”

What! You mean you weren’t kidding around!? But this is crazy, you can’t really be thinking about getting your face cut!

He shoots me an irritable look and says, “I don’t want to talk about it any more.”

And that’s when I know, and it hits me in the gut: He’s not joking.

“Mr. Shiu” is Shiu Yeuk Yuen, a friend of Leung’s, and the fellow behind the pro-Democracy internet radio station, People’s Radio of Hong Kong. I’ve interviewed Shiu, he is an interesting bundle of contrasts. He hosts a three hour radio talk show that reflects his varied interests–from European History to Chinese poety and contemporary international politics. He’s a man of culture.

But also a scrappy businessman, and his projects have been varied, to say the least. He was a film producer, mostly of B and C grade Hong Kong movies. He had a cyber company that made a lot of money then went bust in the dot.com crash. Then he opened a chain of slimming salons that morphed into beauty salons, and lately he’s expanded them into a chain of laser and surgery clinics–Botox, injectable fillers, cut-rate nose jobs. Last week in the SCMP, there was an article about the plastic surgery tours to Korea that Shiu’s promoting.

As soon as Long Hair mentioned Mr. Shiu, I figured out the deal.  Shiu needs some publicity for his rapidly expanding plastic surgery clinics. Long Hair, his good friend and political buddy, is one of the most famous faces in Hong Kong. Famously “ugly” by local standards, he’s a perfect makeover boy to be Shiu’s spokesman.

Long Hair is very loyal to his friends. I’m sure he sees this scheme as a way of not only helping Shiu, but making some needed cash for the LSD to boot. He’s making a very pragmatic, Cantonese assessment of the situation: Yat Geui Leung Dak. One sentence accomplishes two things. Or, “Kill two birds with one stone.”

What happens to his face, and what kind of disturbing message cutting his seung ngaan pei might send to the impressionable, self-conscious teenagers of Hong Kong, probably is the least of his concerns.

But it should concern him. It certainly concerns me. Yesterday, at the Queen’s Pier demonstration, I couldn’t stop looking at his face as he was standing there waving a big Che Guevara flag. Yeah, it’s craggy, and pockmarked and his nose is big, but like the most unique personalities in every society, his appearance is an extension of his character. It really is the map of his life’s path. If he’d been born looking like Andy Lau, would he have ended up as Long Hair?

Long Hair’s face may be wat dat, ugly, according to the Cantopop image makers’ standards. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The photo editors at the New York Times Magazine, for instance, had a completely different reaction; they found his face ruggedly compelling. When I wrote the profile of Long Hair back in 2005, they flew one of the best and most famous photographers in the world, James Nachtwey, to HK, to take his portrait.


Really, this guy’s mug is an icon. As much of a piece of Hong Kong’s cultural memory as…well, as the Star Ferry or the Queen’s Pier. Taking a page from my dear friend Leung, I intend to launch a campaign to make sure he doesn’t demolish it. Clean it up a little, maybe some facials. Okay, a light laser peel if he really wants one. But don’t mess with the tower. Leave the seung ngaan pei alone.

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