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Despite having mentioned this on several occasions, I am most inclined to highlight the vexatious propensity of the locals to place western standards of beauty on a tinselled
pedestal, thereby subjecting themselves to some kind of visual inferiority. I think, this plagues me so because this very sentiment bleeds into my insecurities and I cannot allow myself to subscribe to this malarkey.

Attributing to the courtesy of my host mother, we were able to enjoy an indulgent Friday afternoon at a Chinese Beauty Salon. Most of us had facials and back massages; some even went to the sauna. The masseuses hailed from different provinces – Hubei, Henan, Sichuan etc. As the translator, I received my massage last. In that 2-hour wait, the masseuses kept commenting on my peers’ physical features: sharp, high noses, defined/ well-shaped eyebrows, smooth complexion, deep-set eyes … the shopping list seemed non-exhaustive. When it was finally my turn, my masseuse (who happened to be the store manager) began expressing her great adulation for someone’s exquisite facial features in Mandarin. She said it was most regrettable that she could not communicate her compliments personally, and requested that I do it on her behalf. I told her that China has many beauties too. But she scoffed and replied that “the oriental beauty is nothing compared to the exotic, refined western physical features”. “Well, in the West, we Asians are the exotic ones,” I pressed on. She sighed, “I’ve never gone abroad… All I know is, the Caucasian girls on television all look very pretty… just like your friends from Duke. However, I must say that some of them look like they come from China even though they say they are Americans… that’s quite weird, isn’t it?”

No, it isn’t. I am no authority to judge the identity of my peers. Further, I wonder how the locals would physically distinguish an American from a European.

I heard her sing praises of my friends for a good 48-minutes. And sometime later, I briefly considered going for cosmetic surgery – was my nose not high enough? Were my eyelids not pretty? Should I get a different sort of lips?

It is 9:02 pm on a Saturday night. My friends may be headed to some bars, or to the movie theatres. But I am compelled to go to the gym. The only thing I can hope to change for now is the repulsive numbers on the weighing machine.