A WRINKLE IN TIME
By Andrew Biggs
We are in the middle of a intense meeting discussing commissions and profit margins and project viability.
My eyes are trying to focus on a sheet of figures but my head is swimming, my forehead creased and weather-beaten by my sales team’s demands.
I look up and spy Au, one of my Sales Executives (as they prefer to call themselves replete with capitalization) tapping her left cheek and pouting in my direction.
This is not a pout of displeasure, nor does she wish to kiss me. Thais point with their lips; did you know that? They make a pouting movement in the direction of where they want you to look. And currently Au, my sales girl — I’m sorry, Sales Executive — is pouting at me while tapping her left cheek.
“Your face,” she says.
I immediately go to touch my own left cheek, figuring a remnant of pad thai is dangling there, but I am wrong.
“No, no,” she says. “Your face.” She pauses. “You look … old.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Your face,” Au, the dominatrix, replies. “You are starting to look old.”
Apple, my Senior Sales Executive sitting across from her, leans in to me: “It is time for you to baby-face.”
Time for me to what?
I feel like the skinny guy on the beach who gets sand kicked in my face.
“’Baby-face’ is not a verb!” was all I could blurt out. I throw down my pen for effect, because that’s what they do in Hollywood movies when somebody wants to make a point.
“You should do something to your face,” says Au.
“I heard you the first two times,” I answer.
“No need to be upset,” says Au.
“I’m not upset,” I answer.
“These days we all get baby face treatments,” says Apple, whom I had always, up to that minute, assumed was beautiful thanks to Mother Nature.
Au is nodding. “It is time,” she says with genuine concern and accurate conjugation.
The sales figures have gone to the wind. I have officially farewelled my youth, and am now on the precipice of that next phase of my life.
Goodbye, natural beauty and Aussie Bum. Hello baby face and Botox.
How I want to tell my Sales Executives that I experienced a terrible night’s sleep the night before.
I ended up switching on the light and whiled away the hours reading, doing logic puzzles and surfing Buddhist dharma websites until sleep finally came, explaining my panda eyes and pallid complexion during that meeting.
It is of no use. I am helpless against the tide of modern Thai social values.
Not long ago my school occupied space at Major Ekamai and on the way to work I was invariably gridlocked right next to a massive billboard for a place called Wuttisak.
Wuttisak is a beauty clinic that has been wildly successful in Thailand. I love the slogan: “Wuttisak … because you can’t hang around waiting to be beautiful.”
They even have a slogan for men — “You can create being handsome” — which is manna from heaven for any zit-faced Chinese-Thai desperate to look like a Korean teen.
Basically you go to Wuttisak to come out looking like skinny white Korean pop stars. It used to be Japan. Before that it was America. Who’ll be next? Australia? Not unless beer guts and cellulite become a fashion statement.
In traffic, looking down at me, were the smiling faces of three Korean male pop stars who were as huge in 2010 as they are now forgotten.
These three young men with their spiky haircuts and lily-white skin smiled with teeth so virgin-white I could have sworn they were castrati. So this is the destination modern society has arrived at; men looking like women, and women the same shade as porcelain toilet bowls.
And indeed, the quest to remain youthful and white is now a national pastime in Thailand. There are Wuttisak clinics in Bangkok everywhere. I remember when massage parlours were so prevalent, but who cares about sex when you have to stay young?
There was a time when cosmetic surgery wasn’t the big deal it is today in Thailand, a gentler time when people grinned and bore their smallish noses and darkish skin.
I always thought that was what made Thais such an attractive group of people. Clearly the same thoughts weren’t shared by the Thais.
“You have a lovely nose,” I remember a student of mine telling me in my first month in Thailand. I had spent two and a bit decades on this earth without ever hearing anybody compliment me like that.
I remember the first time I saw a Thai with a nose job, and it scared the living daylights out of me. It was in the linen section of Robinson Ratchada. She was a pretty young girl of 20 or so, but as I brushed past her on the way to the bargain basket I did a double take.
She had a nose like the bunny slope on Kitzbuhel. It looked so bizarre, so out of place on that delicate face, that it verged on macabre.
Did she go into surgery thinking she would come out beautiful, only to emerge as a freak with a strange snout and elongated nostrils?
Some sleepless nights I lie awake thinking about that girl. Did she get further surgery? Did she go through life having to put up with people saying: “What’s wrong with your nose?” as the Thais, oft-times devoid of subtlety, are wont to ask?
In two decades “plastic surgery” has changed to the more acceptable “cosmetic surgery”, a branch of medicine now so hotly sought after and lucrative in Thailand you need a phu yai to help you secure a place.
Do I have a problem with that? Yes, I do. The customers going in for skin lightening, nose jobs and botox injections are not just crinkly khunyings and ageing male advertising executives hoping for one final year dancing at DJ Station; they are teenagers, as evidenced by the models selected for the billboards and TV ads for cosmetic clinics.
So let’s get this straight. We more mature folk go to beauty clinics to look young. Meanwhile, young folk go to beauty clinics to look … young? Either the clinics are amazingly clever, or we the general public are amazingly stupid, or both of the above.
“You need to look young again, Khun Andrew,” says Au with the best intentions, of which I am having none of.
How I wanted to tell her of my recent trip to Australia, where one night over dinner my siblings and friends got onto the topic of cosmetic surgery in Thailand.
“It’s cheap and it’s very good,” I boasted. “We have royal families from around the region flying in for their nips and tucks.”
“Well just look at your face,” cousin Susie said. “How else would you explain your lack of wrinkles?”
Her comment threw me.
“But I’ve never had any work done,” I said, to which my siblings, cousins and close friends all broke into unbridled guffaws.
“What!?” I screamed.
“Come on … you live in Thailand and you’ve never ever once had a Botox injection?”
The more I protested, the more guilty I sounded. And that’s where I leave you this week, dear reader. Your columnist, sitting in a Brisbane pub surrounded by those he loves, the center of derision, with siblings pointing and laughing at my not-so-wrinkled face.
Stick that in your pipe, Nong Au, and smoke it.