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.


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.


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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