Cheorwon / living / Lost in Translation

Magic perm

*Update: I wrote this post in July 2013, and through WordPress stats, I see that people are finding it through Google. Although I was really happy with the results of Magic Perm for the first couple of months, and especially during the humid monsoon season, I don’t recommend this to anyone with thin or average thickness hair. Six months after the process, my hair is just too thin. It looks really lifeless and damaged. I think this process is best for people with thicker or curlier hair than mine. (Or perhaps going to a salon that deals more with foreigners and knows how to change up the chemical mix for different hair types.)

Monsoon season and humidity has been wreaking havoc on my hair. I had trouble with frizz in Nashville, but my hair here is a hot mess. I was asking my Korean co-teachers about their hair one night, and they could not believe that I straighten my hair with a flat iron daily and it is still so frizzy.

So, today I did something about it. I went for a magic perm. Although it is called a perm, it is not the scary perms you know from the 80s. This was a straight perm that should keep my flyways at bay. It was nerve-wracking knowing that I couldn’t ask any questions and trying to get my point across. I got a recommendation from Matt’s co-teacher of where to go. Two of the teachers at my school told me they are too scared to get their hair cut in Dongsong since it is the country, and so they travel to larger cities. But I decided to go for it.

The two stylists at the salon spoke no English. So there was a lot of gesturing. …
Here’s the “transcript” of my encounter:

Walk in and get stared at nervously.
Me: Anyeonghaseyo?
Hair stylist: Anyeonghaseyo? What do you want? (Or I assume that’s what she says. Even though I am writing English for this transcript, imagine she is speaking Korean.)
Me: uhhh hay–ee-cutuh. St-uh-rate pah-ma. I pronounce the English in the Korean way and make some gestures.
HS: Straight perm? Or Magic perm? Why do you want your hair straight? It’s already straight. ( I think this is the gist of her comments. But my hair is in a ponytail and still wet, from my shower, so its straightness is deceiving.)
Me: uhhh… Rain, big! Uhhh … Frizzy. I pull my ponytail and make some gestures. The other customer nods knowingly and I am ushered to a chair.

Later, after coming to the stylist’s chair and stumbling through some questions, she gets to work. My hair has now dried some and has some curls in the front and waves. She gestures to the big curl in front. “Why do you want your hair straight when you have this curl naturally? Koreans get perms to make their hair wavy,” she says. (I imagine this is what she is saying. Again, she may be saying, “oh you are right. Let’s get rid of this big thing in front. You poor thing.” I have no idea.)

She asks me where I am from, what I am doing there and how old I am. She is surprised at my age (as most people are when I answer) and later I hear her telling another customer my age.

I decline any coloring of my hair. Later, her assistant comes over and asks “color?” She scrutinizes my hair and roots like she can’t believe anyone would decline coloring when they have my mousy brown hair. … Or maybe she just couldn’t believe my hair was that color naturally since all Koreans have black hair. … Or, maybe she was checking for lice. You know I had no idea.

The perm took about three hours. First she cut my hair. Then she applied a cream, covered my head with Saran Wrap and put me under a spinning fan contraption. Then she washed my hair. Next she blow dried and straightened my hair with a flat iron. Then she applied the straightening cream again and let it set before washing it again. It may have been straightened once more, but I can’t remember.

While sitting, I took out my phone once to text. She leaned over to see what I was doing and exclaimed, “English!?” I’m not sure what exactly she was surprised about. Definitely not that I was typing in English since she had witnessed my Korean skills for the past three hours. I think it was that the features of my phone were listed in English. She reached over to go to the call log and dialing pad and saw that the headers were in English. She asked if I got the phone in the U.S. and was surprised when I said I got it in Dongsong.

After leaving the salon, I bumped into a high school student. He noticed my hair right away. “Oh, teacher’s hair beautiful,” he said. So that was nice. My hair feels a little flat now, and Matt pointed out that he never knew how thin my hair is till now. But I’m getting used to it, and I’ll say one thing: it is EASY! I can wash and go and not worry about it. Which, let’s be honest, I’ve tended to do that pretty often anyways, but now it actually looks OK when I do that.

That's what I call straight hair.

That’s what I call straight hair.


5 thoughts on “Magic perm

  1. Looks great! I actually wondered if you got some highlights. Must have been scary not to be able to communicate much.

  2. Holy Cow…are you ever a brave woman!!!! I have enough trouble trying to explain in English to a like speaking person what I would like to have done to my hair!! Your Korean speaking ability must be ever so much better than imagined. And it does look really good….Must save you a ton of time in the mornings……Great Job….

  3. Not gonna lie…I had a good laugh picturing you communicating with a stylist about what you wanted. That was classic, Alli. And, this is definitely a good idea no matter where you live. A way for my hair to dry straight without having to do anything? Brilliant!

  4. Wow…that took some guts to go in there and do that! It looks great though! Bravo. I’m amazed that you were able to understand even SOME of what she said. Enjoy!

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