Nuggets of Life: Mop-top


Koreans are pretty image conscious, and as a foreigner, I get a lot of comments on how I look, usually re: how fucking bonkers it is. Many of my individual features Koreans find wacky, or worthy of imitation, or something to aspire to. Occasionally, some will decide that this assortment of bizarre features is apparently handsome (I think this is more out of confusion and bedazzlement than anything), but usually they will stare in wonder that such a cavalcade of oddities can actively exist on a human head.

I get the usual comments: I’ve been told that the utter smallness of my face is pleasing, and something others would willingly shave millimetres of cheekbone off for. That my eyes, a murky-brown puddle colour, are dashing and beautiful. That my protruding ears are masculine, and speak to my great stature and likelihood to bear many male heirs. Students spend great deals of time looking deep into my face before declaring whatever they’ve been looking at to be fascinating and asking if there were any professionals involved in its installation. (The best remains the comment of a former grade six: “Teacher, you look a teddy bear.” “…I look a teddy bear?” “Teddy bear. You look.” She nodded solemnly and wandered away. At the time, she was wearing a headband with large, protruding cat-ears.)

The best is the repeated inquires about my hair. I have experienced multiple whispered, in-depth conversations between my co-workers and my friends, in hushed, susurrus tones. Whoever has the best English (or the slowest Korean) will then pipe up, the vox populi, to transmute unto me the matter of such grave discussion. “Michael, they want to know,” this interlocutor intones. “Your hair. It is curly.”

I scan this statement for an interrogative, and come up with nothing. I respond in kind. “Yes, it is.” At this point, the other party usually nods knowingly, as though I have actually divined what the true aim of the conversation is. After I stare dumbly for another moment or two, they feel compelled to ask me plainly. “We want to know. Natural? Or permed?”

Every time, every time, I say that it is natural, the other people look at me with awe. Some reach to their own heads, longingly.

[Sidenote: home internet on the fritz. Posting possibly sporadic and pictureless for next few days.]

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13 thoughts on “Nuggets of Life: Mop-top

  1. In Central Europe I get similar questions, not about my appearance, but about what I’m wearing.
    Things like, “Professor, you’re wearing sandals.”, followed by a look of totally confusion, when it is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Or other teachers will say, “Aren’t you cold?” when I wear a skirt without stockings. Or I’ll wear a knitted sweater and they say, ‘Did you…do that…yourself?” as though it is beyond imagining.
    I actually got asked a lot about whether my hair is permed when I was in high school, though…but the idea of a male teacher getting his hair permed while in Korea is a little bit odder to comprehend.

    • I get similar things on temperature. First, why don’t you tolerate cold better, you are Canadian? Well, you see, back home we have weather stripping, and also we close the windows in winter. And then today, when it was about 60 and I was outside in just a sweater, I got a look as though I was an alien, and that surely I would soon die.

      It would be in another country, but getting permed is quite popular in Korea, across gender boundaries. When the most recent iteration of this conversation occurred, two of the questioners had perms, one a female teacher, and one a male.

      • I guess male perms make sense if everyone has naturally straight hair.
        As for windows, my students are almost always closing them, not opening them. “But professor, it’s so cold!” Or they’re closing the blinds. “It’s too bright professor!” Yes, because fluorescent ceiling bulbs are much more pleasant.
        It makes me wonder what’s weird about my own country’s school system.

  2. I get:
    Student: ‘Anna teacher? Perma? Perma?’
    Anna: ‘No. Natural. No perma.’
    Student: ‘Touch-ee!’
    Anna: ‘OK.’
    Student: (whispering to other students) ‘*Korean Korean Korean* RAMYEON! *Korean Korean Korean*’

  3. Pingback: Nuggets of Life: The Life and Times of My Haircut « Stupid Ugly Foreigner

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