We’ve all been there. Your passport photo is taken - and then you put on weight, change your hairstyle or have the temerity to age. When it comes to passport control, it's usually alright.
But three women, said to be Chinese, got into a spot of bother this week after travelling to South Korea to have plastic surgery. The women were left stranded at an unnamed airport in the country after surgery had changed their faces so radically that the authorities were unable to confirm their identity.
One onlooker, Chinese TV presenter Jian Huahua, posted a photo of the women to her Weibo social media account and joked that even their mothers would be unable to recognise them. In the picture - which appears to have been removed from her account, but not before going viral - the women sit, passports in hand, faces swollen from the surgery and heavily bandaged.
The picture is said to have been taken over the recent Golden Week national holiday in China, an eight-day period when many Chinese – said to be six million this year – travel abroad. According to Shanghaiist, the women were not allowed to take their return flight, and were instead held for questioning by the airport authorities.
South Korea is notorious for its enthusiastic, and often controversial, approach to plastic surgery – particularly major facial surgery, which aims to make clients look more “Western”. Up to half of women under 30 in Seoul are estimated to have had surgery.
Graphic advertisements of before and after photos are strewn across the metro system billboards, and the chi-chi Gangnam district, where many clinics are based, is known as the "Improvement Quarter”. More than 500,000 Chinese residents a year are said to make trips abroad for medical tourism. It is not known what proportion is for plastic surgery.
Although South Korea used to be the top destination for Chinese tourists during Golden Week, according to Shanghaiist, this year’s political events have seen numbers drop by 70 per cent, with Thailand becoming the new hotspot. This isn’t the first Golden Week travel problem, either; last year, 100 Chinese tourists spent up to five days of their holiday stranded in an airport, having been denied entry to South Korea’s Jeju Island.