A hair cut in Korea is a precision process

15 years ago

To the editor:
    A hair cut in Korea is an experience. Having reached the point where the ends were splitting faster than I could grow new ones, it came time to enter the realm of the professional hair cutter. I survived. 

    Being as large as I am a bit bigger than most Koreans. With trepidation I went into a hair establishment on a Saturday morning. One thing you learn within hours of arriving in Korea is that there are hundreds of hair salons of all types in every village. If you are willing to risk it, you can sit on a stool with a sheep wrapped around you while your best buddy wields the scissors all in the out doors. It is a little cool for that.
    A hair establishment of professional standards is filled with people. The experience is like being on the operating table in a major educational hospital. There is the stylist, the chief of surgery if you will. Around him are various assistants tasked with obscure but necessary tasks for the procedure. A hair cut is a precision procedure involving at least five people and observed by a variety of others.
    You begin with the receptionist. She sits behind a bunker-like wall with a shelf and counter; before her lie a variety of calendars for the various stylists, procedures, and personnel to be dispatched. She hands you off to the locker girl. You are divested of coat and bag, all is locked into a locker and the key given to you. From the locker you are then guided to a chair where you sit as the chief stylist, the shampoo girl, the assistant, and others gather for an impromptu briefing on the operation that is about to take place. The chair is a bit on the small side for my 6-foot 4-inch frame. But it looks no different from the chairs at home.
    The chief stylist approaches with all the solemnity of a senior surgeon and begins to look at the hair. I stare in the mirror as the stylist issues orders to the staff. One assistant runs to the mobile tray. A cloth is wrapped around my neck. Then a sheet is draped over my shoulders. The stylist asks me in Korean how do I want it cut. I speak no Korean. I show a basic indication of a little off the sides, a part on the left and hope that my instructions are followed. A snapped command and the assistant to the chief leads me to the washing sink. Positioning myself like a trout on the cleaning board I get the wash. This is a vigorous rubbing of every square inch of scalp. I suspect that each hair is pulled, and twisted to within an inch of its life. Finished and meeting the approval of the shampooer I am pulled out of the chair and dragged back to the cutting station. Covered as I am in a sheet, they still give me a cup of coffee and a magazine. The magazine is in Korean. The assistant rakes a comb through the hair and preps me for the approach of the master stylist.
    The instruments of the stylist are laid on a small table. Scissors, comb, and brush. She begins all the while talking to me in Korean. Her assistant stands ready to wield the brush. As strands of hair fall on my face the assistant sweeps them away. I have not even sipped my cup of Joe. Snip, snip, and comb and snip again. Soon there is a pile of hair, enough to give a Chihuahua a sweater.
    Satisfied that the cut has gone well, The assistant and the Chief stylist haul out the hair dryers and proceed to duel around my head! All this is under the observation of an attentive audience of other assistants and stylists. With a final snapped command, the dryers are put away, the reverse mirror is held up to the back of the head and much expressions of enthusiasm are made at the success of the stylist.
Pay the bill and leave, I survived.

Orpheus Allison
Sun Chang, South Korea