Saturday, February 28, 2009

Courage Is...

Question: What is courage?
Answer: Courage is:
1. Taking your dog to a groomer in a country in which you do not speak the language, and using charades to explain that you would like his hair trimmed.
2. Going to a hair salon in a country in which you do not speak the language, and trusting once again in charades to explain that you would like a trim and a perm. Bonus points if you want layering and a specific type of perm.

Oh, you know this is building up to a good story!

I leave Korea in exactly one week from today, so I am positively dripping with things that need to be done. Fortunately, I have been uncharacteristically productive today. I finished all my packing, with the exception of the two carry-ons, which I will finish later tonight (after dinner). Two other important tasks also had to be dealt with today: Jasper and I both needed to get our hair taken care of. Jasper was beginning to resemble a hairy Sherman tank, and I needed another perm (they're way cheaper over here) and a bit of a trim. Even the simplest of tasks take on a challenging and amusing new dimension when a language barrier is inserted!

Jasper's turn came first, since I wanted to run a few errands while he was at the groomer. I had hoped that someone at the grooming shop might have picked up a smidgen of English from either their child's hagwon or The Simpsons (yes, it's popular over here, too). Naturally, I was completely wrong.

The three employees were very friendly, and happily chortled away to me in their delightful (but for me, largely indecipherable) native tongue. I, meanwhile, put on my best "completely clueless foreigner" face and decided to make with the gestures and hope for the best. I pointed to Jasper, then to my hair, and then made little scissor motions with my fingers. All three employees laughed and nodded (with loads more cheerful conversation in Korean, which I couldn't understand, although I pretended to) and then one of the women solicitously scooped up Jasper and headed for the back room. I pointed to the clock, asked how long it would take (I do know that phrase in Hangul at least), and was answered with three fingers, which I took to mean either three hours or three o'clock. I figured the latter sounded more likely.

After leaving my adorable and beloved companion in the care of complete strangers, in a country that still considers him edible (no, I wasn't worried about that, but it does make the story a little funnier), I walked off in the direction of downtown. I wasn't sure exactly how far it was from the pet store, but I figured it couldn't be too far, and at least I knew which direction to walk in. I was wrong about distance, but correct about direction. On the positive side, I'm sure the insanely long walk in shoes that clearly were designed by someone with a vendetta against humanity was, in some small way, character building.

A wave of dizziness reminded me that I had neglected to eat breakfast, and thus had low blood sugar. Since fainting has yet to make it on the list of my top one hundred favorite pastimes, I opted to eat lunch. This being my last weekend in Korea, I chose to return to CanMore, one of my favorite little restaurants. The bagel sandwich and dalgi bing soo, consumed whilst simultaneously devouring one of Bill Bryson's books, left a lovely imprint on my subconscious. Thus fortified against a blood sugar crash, I continued with my errands.

I needed a new bag to use as a carry-on, since the duffel that I used for a second carry-on on my trip out here has become stained (and was thoroughly loathsome to haul with me the first time around). I found a perfect one for a better price than I expected, and celebrated this victory by nearly getting mowed down by a taxi driven by a man whom, I can only assume, is a paid assassin on a mission to rid Gyeongju of excess people. I almost lost a shoe jumping out of the way, and in retrospect, I should have let him have it. Both of them. Not ten minutes later I almost broke my neck tripping in those cursed shoes, and upon arrival at home this evening, I learned that the vengeful creatures blistered my feet ruthlessly.

After stops at two other stores for a few things, I noticed that it was nearly three o'clock. Ignoring the pain and protests of my feet, I walked the entire way back to the grooming shop, congratulating myself on saving the two thousand won (about $1.30) in cab fare. Yes, the current economic recession/depression (depending on which news source you read) in my country has made me CHEAP!

They were not finished grooming Jasper yet (apparently three fingers meant three hours, not three o'clock), so I entertained myself by perusing the small shop, looking for a carrier that would meet the airline standards (with no luck). A very affectionate Yorkie attempted to assist me (that is seriously one of the cutest breeds). I noted, with a small amount of concern, the rather naked poodle gazing mournfully from an enclosure near the back room. Surely they understood that I wanted Jasper's hair cut, not removed...

Nope. When the lady brought out Jasper to me, I was placed in that emotional limbo that exists between laughing hysterically and sobbing. If Jasper has been entertaining any secret desires of joining the marines, he now has the hair for it. I would never have thought it possible, but apparently, a Shih Tzu can in fact be made to look exactly like a Chihuahua. I even pondered (with great hope) the possibility that I may have been handed the wrong dog. Once I looked into the very, very sad (even he knows he looks stupid) eyes of my poor, naked Jasper, I knew with shivering certainly that I had the right dog. I am so glad that one of my errands involved buying a few clothes for Jasper - they do help to cover up a bit of the disaster that is now my dog.

Now after an experience like that, I think most people would hesitate before going about the even more difficult operation of having their own hair styled (and in a style that goes beyond basic). I figured that as long as I have Jasper with me, I can't possibly be the stupidest looking creature in the room, so I dropped my boy off at home, changed shoes, and walked another long distance over to the hair salon.

It would take too long to relate all the many creative gestures I employed to make my wishes known. A team of four Korean hair stylists circled me, listening attentively, asking questions that had no hope of being answered, and eventually, smiling and nodding (that sent a twinge of worry through me, but I swallowed hard and rallied my courage). I reminded myself that hair can always be cut, and it does always grow back.

During this second Korean perm experience (my first being a few months ago), I found myself feeling a lot like an Indy-500 car. The four stylists apparently decided to share the madly-gesturing foreigner, leading me to compare them to a pit crew. One washed my hair, another dried it, another poked it, and after having me sit for awhile, the fourth one came to trim it (I was relieved to see scissors rather than an electric razor in her hand). Next, person number one came back and painted a smelly chemical on my hair and left me to marinate for about fifteen minutes (at which point I was mentally reviewing whether they might have confused my desire for a perm with a desire to change the color of my hair). Finally, I was apparently ready. Two people inserted the curlers, and the third person came back to hook me up to a machine that reminds me of a black squid hanging from a pole.

The "squid" cooked my head for a while, until the timer informed us that I was "well done." Then there was more painting with smelly chemicals, more cooking time, a little more basting, and finally, another wash. I was scared to open my eyes, for fear of what creature might be looking back at me in the mirror. Jasper's fiasco had really unnerved me!

Finally, the crucial moment could be put off no longer, and I had to look into the mirror. Half expecting to see the next winner of a Phyllis Diller lookalike contest, I let out an audible gasp at my reflection. The hairstyle is.....exactly what I wanted! Either I'm the next charades world champion, or those hairstylists were just really clever (maybe both). Either way, it's a relief that only one creature in this apartment looks like a shrunken rat tonight.

No comments:

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"