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Healing with art

Various forms of jewellery are designed for different kinds of body piercing.
Jennifer Zhang

The hole story

by Pauline Chu

Five years ago, when Vivian Luk Hiu-man got her belly button pierced on her 16th birthday, people frowned and asked why she did that.

Luk, a fourth-year university student now, is pleased that most people's reactions have changed. ¡§Now they just ask if it hurts, probably because they want one too,¡¨ she said.

In recent years, while ear lobe piercing stays popular in Hong Kong, other types of body piercing are also becoming commonplace. More people want to have one and fewer treat it with bias.

¡§There are more customers than before,¡¨ said Kenny Leung Fai, a body piercer at in Tsim Sha Tsui. ¡§We have about 200 customers a month.¡¨

The piercing business is flourishing, he said.

About eight years ago, his shop was one of the few places offering a well-rounded piercing service in Hong Kong .

Leung considers he has more competitors now, but his business is better.

Body piercing is not only popular among young people who want to show their rebellious attitude or make a special identity statement, but appealing to various customers.

¡§Many of my customers are indeed teenagers or people in their 20s, but actually there are all kinds of people coming for piercings,¡¨ he said.

From middle school kids to a 70-year-old cross-dressing man, from straight guys to homosexuals, from those who only want a tiny ring in their belly buttons to those who already have piercings all over their faces, people who get piercings are of different backgrounds.

¡§They are here for all kinds of body piercing,¡¨ Leung said.

The most popular type is ear lobe piercing, which is a traditional practice in China and the most acceptable one in Hong Kong .

The next top choice is belly button piercing, a practice rejuvenated by the fashion world. Considered sexy and trendy, it attracts many women customers, Leung said.

Putting a ring on other unusual places such as the tongue, eyebrows, nostrils, lips and nipples is also in demand.

Amy Yuen Ching-man, a first-year university student, considers that people are more accepting. ¡§They don't make a big deal about where the piercing is, but they look at whether or not it looks good.¡¨

Agreeing with Yuen, Leung said that fashion is one of the major factors that affects the piercing trend.

¡§It's quite common for pop stars to have piercings in their belly buttons, tongues or some other places,¡¨ he said.

Celebrities who usually are considered fashion icons may help promote the subculture.

¡§Actually, many local stars such as Cecilia Cheung (Pak-chi), Stephanie Cheng (Yung) and the singing group Cookies are our customers,¡¨ Leung said.

According to Tracy Yan Tsui-sze, Leung's colleague, emotional needs are another reason why people get piercings.

¡§Some people get it because of a breakup while others use it as an emotional outlet when they are unhappy,¡¨ she said.

People do get piercings simply because their friends have one.

¡§But usually they would hesitate a lot before finally deciding to do it,¡¨ Yan said. ¡§Those situations can be pretty amusing.¡¨

Another situation is that many people come in groups to get ¡§friendship piercing¡¨.

¡§I don't think it's because of peer pressure though, as each one of them has different choices of piercing.

¡§So basically it's all for looking good. But I guess they feel at ease when their friends are around,¡¨ Leung said.

Yet, some people are not ready to take the plunge.

While the physical pain scares some away, most people are still afraid of being judged by society, Yan said.

Eric Lau Hon-chun, a third-year university student, is always interested in getting his eyebrow pierced because he wants to look cool.

¡§But I can't because I'm currently applying for a job and it's not a professional image,¡¨ he said.

Although many have similar worries, some employers are open-minded.

Connie Woo Wai-fong, the human resource administrator of Tidetime Sun Limited, a media production organisation, sees that a person's professional image is determined by multiple factors such as his way of speaking, talents and overall dressing style.

¡§When we decide whether to hire someone, piercings in unusual body parts won't really matter as long as the interviewee has a positive attitude and what it takes to do the job,¡¨ she said.

In some schools, there are rules prohibiting students from getting piercings.

¡§I wish I could get an ear cartilage piercing, but my school is strict with its dress code,¡¨ said Choi Siu-ying, a form four student at True Light College.

¡§We're not allowed to have piercings other than our ear lobes. Otherwise, we'd be in trouble with the discipline mistress,¡¨ she said.

In St. Mary's Canossian College, the school handbook states that when it comes to ornaments, students can only have ¡§one studded earring (plain silver or gold in colour) with diameter not exceeding 2mm on each ear lobe¡¨.

As for Luk, she chose to have her belly button pierced partly because it can be concealed by the clothes so that people will not find out in school.

Problems with their parents add to young people's concern.

Daniel Kwong Wing, a form six student, said that he had yet to tell his parents about his ear piercing.

To avoid troubles, he takes his earring off before he goes home.

¡§Even though I think it looks good, they won't agree,¡¨ Kwong said, adding that his parents have a ¡§very traditional way¡¨ of thinking. Piercings to them are associated with people like school dropouts.

¡§I wish people would stop being so judgmental. Who I am is not defined by my piercing,¡¨ he said.

Tang Oi-ping, a 53-year-old mother of three, does not understand why young people want to get those types of piercing like that in their noses. ¡§It looks so improper,¡¨ she said.

She considers it gives a bad image and impression such as that those people like to party all the time or that they are in a gang.

¡§Why do you want other people staring at you and thinking you're a bad guy?¡¨ Tang asked.

For men to have earring holes, sometimes it can be controversial though.

Yan explained: ¡§It's a common misconception that men who have piercings are gays. This is not always the case.

¡§Some men just really care about their appearances so they spend a lot of time and effort trying to make themselves look good.¡¨

In Hong Kong, men are coming for various piercings in spite of the bias.

A 24-year-old man with a nipple piercing, who declined to give his name, agrees that although local society has become more open to body piercing, not all piercings are viewed in the same way.

¡§Only my friends know that I have it because they know me and accept me for who I am. Strangers would just think I'm weird or there's something wrong with me for having a piercing there,¡¨ he said. ¡§But I simply like the way it looks.¡¨

Photos and additional reporting by Jennifer Zhang

Photos by Jennifer Zhang