Hand Gestures and a Driver’s License Photo: How I Got My Hair Cut in Korea

I love long hair. It looks so feminine and gives you so many styling options. I don’t, however, love long hair on me. Every now and then I grow my hair out and then I’m reminded of why it doesn’t suit me. It gets dry, flat, and clogs up my tub drain. When I set out on my trip around the world this fall, my hair was well past my shoulders. I blame the drugstore dye I had used in the spring for the especially dry, tangly nature of my hair this time. Rookie mistake.

Dealing with my fine hair in a new climate without my usual shampoo or styling tools was driving me to the brink of madness. One day I finally snapped and woke up thinking, “I have to get it chopped off today.” That would’ve been fine except… I was in Korea. Not only that, but I was in a small city in Korea. I don’t speak Korean.

I tried to Google for local salons but couldn’t really make heads or tails of the map results since the place names were all in Hangul. I did learn that you can spot a salon by the spinning barber shop style pole outside with a picture of a cartoon girl on it. If you see two striped spinning barber shop poles, keep walking. It’s not what you’re looking for. Trust me.

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My plan was to just walk around town and keep an eye out for the cartoon girl. As I was sitting in Dunkin Donuts having my breakfast I happened to look up through a window and bingo! Salon! Well, that was easy. I tentatively went inside and saw that there were two women working but no customers. Hmm… sketchy? I decided to go for it anyway since I only wanted a simple bob.

I pulled out my friend’s battered Korean phrasebook and awkwardly said “heokotu?” The two women seemed confused so I started miming cutting my hair using my fingers as scissors. Oddly enough I had been having a good hair day on the day I renewed my driver’s license so I pulled out the card and pointed to it as the example of the cut I wanted. They looked at the photo and back at me, still miming cutting hair with my finger scissors. Eventually they figured out what I wanted, smiled and said, “Ah! ok! ok!”

Now I was committed. Maybe I should’ve been committed instead. I just sat still with a small nervous smile plastered on my face while they draped me in a cape and started spritzing water on my head. I really hoped they wouldn’t butcher my hair. I got a bit nervous as more and more hair fell to the floor but it was too late to change my mind. In the end, it was a good cut, if a little shorter than I wanted and a bit blunt. No more tangles! My head felt so light.

I had neglected to find out how much they charged before I sat down so I was really pleased when one girl rang me up and the total was 10,000W (about $9.30 CAD). This cut lacked some of the finesse and layering that my guy back home does but it was also about $50 cheaper. I bounced out of there, swinging my hair with a big grin on my face. I felt sassy.

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It was a small thing but I was so proud of myself for managing such a pedestrian task despite the language barrier. Sometimes it’s the small victories that matter when you’re traveling abroad. If I can get my hair cut in a Korean salon with no English, I can do anything!

I think the best advice I could give for someone else in the same situation is to have a photo of you with the style and length that you want. Next time you get a haircut that you like, take a few photos from different angles and store them in your phone. That way you’ll have a reference if you’re in need of a trim while overseas.

Melissa Hogan is a web designer by trade, a one-time amateur bellydancer, a shoe lover and a travel junkie. The travel bug has only hit her hard in recent years but she’s attempting to make the most of it while still working 9-5 and making St. John’s, NL Canada her homebase. Melissa blogs at www.suitcaseandheels.com, tweets as @avalonmel and does all things Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SuitcaseAndHeels

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