Nuggets of Life: The Life and Times of My Haircut


"Teacher... head is... curly. Why?"


I have never had so many people so deeply invested in the ongoing travails of my hair. As discussed, its texture and whackness were a matter of considerable debate and conversation  amongst the many Koreans in my life, particularly those at my school. It became my calling card feature, other than the whole, you know, being white thing. People also became very, very used to it, thinking of it as a natural part of the landscape.

When I got a haircut, as I often do, I got it short. And thus when I wandered into school the next day, I got the usual question from the adults. “…Why?” They look upon full, crazy-ass curly hair and see hours of strenuous work and thousands of won worth of industrial hair products, and thus its professional removal seems careless, whimsical and destructive. It is still difficult to convince many of the teachers that it actually grows out of my head that way.

The students basically went insane, some nearly falling over in shock that I could have done this to myself. I expected the casual, “Teacher… hair is… short!” that I received from every other kid, and was prepared for it. But as I walked through the lunchroom, I literally generated a domino effect, as dozens of grade sixes nudged each other in my wake to gesture at my shorn dome. Students whispered quietly in Korean, and gestured to the missing curls above their own heads with raised, curious shoulders.

The kids began to ask if I was going to army. I suppose the finer details of Korean conscription rules haven’t been quite explained yet, as they see a male in his 20s with a nearly-shaved head and assume that he’s off to bootcamp. That I am both white and would clearly die if expected to do any form of military service does not cross their minds. They approach my co-teachers with concern, and inquire if I am leaving to defend against the North.

The default celebrity comparative also changed. As a white person, the point of reference for who and what I look like is pretty much narrowed to white celebrities, despite how outlandish and unlikely the doppelgänger chosen may be. When I possessed curls, it was Tom Hanks. Now that the head is clear, I shockingly received a Korean celebrity, who I look like about as much as I look like Tom Hanks. (It was Won Bin, mostly because he apparently also shaved his head in a movie.)

"Head is cut! Why? Do you go army?!"

Considering getting full sleeve tattoos or shaving off my eyebrows, just to actually cause mass hysteria. On another note, never did I expect to have any of my physical features so regularly discussed (and so hilariously) that I would need to talk about it to you guys, endlessly. (Also also sidenote, above photo taken so that I can reproduce this haircut a barber without having to try to describe my desired haircut in Korean words and mime.)

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4 thoughts on “Nuggets of Life: The Life and Times of My Haircut

  1. I remember that about South Korea and Japan alike. I loved how (in both places!) I was asked in amazement, almost daily, about my “new hairstyles.” Things like moving between a ponytail, twin ponytail, a braid, middle-part, side-part, or a headband were fodder for hours worth of conversation and assessment. :p

  2. my hair is curly, too. sometimes i straighten it with a straightening iron, and every single time, the students are amazed. “magic!” they say. in the beginning, they could NOT believe that my curly hair wasn’t permed. they were, in fact, shocked. my hair is also the catalyst for much conversation on school grounds. amazing.

  3. lol, asians don’t have naturally curly locks unfortunately, they end up being miserable waves you need to go to the salon to either straigten or curl

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