Saturday, May 31, 2014

머리스타일, 놀라워 - Meolistyle: No, La, Woah!

JH got up from his end of the table and sat down again with his tray, right across from me.

"Talking is fun," he said. Boom. Day made.

Meanwhile, JM was eating with his eyes trained on the television show playing on the screen in the cafeteria. The show was some sort of reality TV filler that followed the members of one of Korea's most famous boy bands, Infinite. I like one of their members, Hoya, who starred in Reply 1997, but I don't listen to any of their music (1). As we watched them do vaguely interesting things, my eyes were drawn to their hair. All of the members have pretty flamboyant personal style and fashion sense (though I definitely don't think any of them has any control over his public image). One in particular (maybe SungJong?) was sporting a head of singularly unattractive bubble-gum pink hair. It made me laugh out loud, and I looked at JH.

"JH, would you ever want to have pink hair?"

"Never," he said.

"Well, then, if you could dye your hair any color, what color would you want?"

JH thought for a minute, and his eventual answer surprised me: "Gray! Like an old man."

I dig it. (from Pinterest)
I think that could work. Instead of gray, though, I told JH that he might want to go for silver. It's been done!

I also told JH that I'm thinking about cutting all of my hair off, shaving it really close, as it was when I first came to Korea two years ago. The reason is that my black belt test in taekgyeon is in a few weeks, and I'm getting really tired of having my hair in my face all the time when I'm trying to concentrate on my kicks or forms. I use a bandana or a headband to keep my bangs in check, but it's still 불편해 (inconvenient)!

Showing JH and JM my really, really long 앞머리, I quipped that it was so long I could almost braid it. "Do you know what a braid is?" I asked. They didn't. I very, very rarely see any Koreans with braided hair (땋은 머리). I'm not really sure why... it's just not a thing here, I guess. Women always have their hair down. And men generally don't sport long hair, anyway.

This reminded JH of an old Korean custom. He explained that in ancient times, Korean men and women both had long hair and kept it up: women had unbelievably elaborate braids and updos, while men had top knots (상투) (2). According to JH, people would never, ever cut their hair, because they considered their hair to be a part of their ancestral heritage. I find that idea very intriguing.

But then, so the story goes, the Japanese came and cut off all the men's top knots. It's more than a bit symbolic, as Japanese colonialism really did sever Korean culture from its roots. Ever since, Koreans have had more "modern" hairstyles.

The picture I showed my stylist.
And today, hair is big. There's no question about it. Hair salons are everywhere; there are four or five in a ten-minute radius around my house. It is extremely common for anyone to perm and dye their hair, no matter their gender or age. I've seen toddlers in barbershop high chairs and old ladies getting their latest ajumma perm. My taekgyeon master permed his hair last week; on Friday it was straight, and on Monday it was a tangle of loose curls. Of course, people my age like to follow trends, and as far as I can tell, right now dark brown is in, but simple cuts are not. For guys specifically, they're asking for something called 투블럭 ("two-block"), which is equivalent, I think, to an undercut. The sides are shaved close and the top is left to its own devices, sometimes with the help of a perm or wax.

Now, one year ago, I was pretty set against ever changing the super-straight, super black natural state of my hair. In a nutshell, I didn't want to be a trend-follower, I didn't want to possibly contribute to the stereotype that Asians prefer a look that is more natural for Caucasians, and I didn't want to send a message to my students that I was at all dissatisfied with my natural hair. But I did want to change my hair, simply out of... I don't know, call it an early-twenties desire to color outside the lines every so often.

In February this year, I dyed my hair brown. I was literally dragged into Punk Shalom by my friend Katelyn, who told the folks there that I wanted a change and that they could make it happen however they liked. It was, in fact, a very fun experience. When I returned to school the following March, I got double-takes and plenty of compliments.

Before, During, After!
So by last week, almost four months later, the roots were growing out and everything was just getting too long, and I decided I needed another haircut. But then I toyed with the idea of perming (파마) instead. It's another way to keep my bangs out of my eyes, and also... I won't deny it, it's popular.

Thus, I brought paperwork to a salon near my house that I'd been to once before and corrected my students' speech drafts for three hours while sporting curlers and a head saturated with chemicals. Yeah, a perm takes a long time. The result was, as you can see... wavy.

It's not pink or silver, but it's certainly crazier than anything I've ever done with hair -- and that includes bleaching it myself in the dorm bathroom three years ago.

Did I worry this time about compromising my values? No. Do I have qualms about how my friends, family, co-workers, or students will react? Not in the slightest. But am I now wondering about how closely hair is connected with identity, and considering how changes in my appearance may reflect changes in myself that two years of living in Korea have wrought? Yes.

And am I also considering letting my hair continue to grow out until I can make a respectable top knot?


- - -
1) This is one of Infinite's most recent music video releases, for a song called "Last Romeo".

My reaction: Eh... 별로. Unfortunately, this video is the epitome of what is popular in K-pop today: angsty, strangely-albeit-immaculately-dressed men pointing at the camera and dancing really well in dimly lit halls, reaching longingly toward the same forgettable girl only to have the entire library explode into confetti from a thousand fake books.

2) Speaking of top knots and taekgyeon, 관장님 told me that when taekgyeon players during the dynastic periods sparred, sometimes the winner would be determined by which man could hit -- rather than the face -- his opponent's top knot first. Illustrations of taekgyeon being played in bygone eras show men with very long queues in the ring, while those who watched wore their hair up. (Actually, he also said that only married men sported 상투...)

P.S. Title of this post comes from an Akdong Musician song, 가르마 (Hair Part): 머리스타일 하나로 다른 사람이 되다니 정말 놀라워. Translation: You can become a different person just by changing your hairstyle, it's amazing.

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