I should have learned by now. I’ve lived in Asia for almost 8 years; I really should know better. But in the hustle and bustle of school life, it’s hard to remember the Golden Rule of Invitations – always find out exactly where you’re going, and if possible, what you’ll be expected to do there.
Repeatedly failing to remember this rule has lead me to among other things, teaching swimming lessons to Japanese 5 year olds (I don’t speak Japanese), leading a cooking class for the elderly at a Japanese community centre (I can’t cook), and going to a fish market at 5am in Seoul to pick out live baby octopus to eat (I do like octopus but not at 5 a.m.).
And so when a co-worker (let’s call her M) invited me somewhere a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t quite hear her, I should have said: “No.” Or at least: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, can we chat later?”
Instead, over the soft whomp-whomp of the photocopier, the beeeep of the microwave, the brrring of phones, the squeaks of remedial recorder lessons, the shrieks of needy children and the loud chastisements of angry teachers, I said: “What? Go somewhere with you? Where? What? Ok. Fine! Sounds great.” And then I promptly forgot all about it.
This note from M appeared on my desk Thursday morning.
There was a teachers’ dinner that night to celebrate the engagement of a co-worker. The menu was spicy fish intestines, a speciality of a coastal town to the south of Ulsan. Everyone was excited. I was not; spicy fish intestines look like brains in red sauce.
With lots of bowing, and many apologies, I made my escape.
M met me outside the Hyundai Department store, very excited. She had signed us up for a course on how to curl hair. Why? I had no idea.
We walked into a room that was clearly used for dance lessons; three of the four walls were lined with mirrors. At the front of the room stood 2 young women and … the hairdresser. I’m not sure if the hairdresser was male or female. It wore skin tight plaid capri pants, and an oversized sweatshirt. It had asymmetrical hair that flopped over one eye, and huge glass-less glasses. It also had an FBI-style earpiece. Who was on the other end? Was there someone on the other end, or was it some new style my students would soon be sporting?
I spent the next two hours watching the hairdresser work on two creepy mannequin heads. The grinning heads with huge Disney-style eyes, impossibly pointy noses, and improbably placed eyebrows were screwed onto camera tripods. They were reflected and re-reflected hundreds of times around the room; I felt like I was on the set of a horror movie.
As the entire lecture was in Korean, I pondered the heads. Why would they use Caucasian heads? Surely there were Korean mannequin heads? Was the hair real? Why did Koreans think white people had such huge noses? How did the hairdresser see with hair flopping over his eye like that?
Over the course of the evening, I watched the hair dresser give the heads hairstyles that bounced between 80’s Prom Queen, and Lost a Fight with a Weed Wacker. I made a mental note to find out where this person worked, so I could avoid getting my hair cut there.
The evening was not a total loss though, I learned the Korean word for bun: Ddong mori. In English that would be ‘poop head’. Koreans think buns look like poop on your head. How charming. What is with the Korean obsession with poop?