The subculture of black hair in Korea

Koreans and their fascination with black hair 

Koreans have always been fascinated by my hair. For many, interacting with a black person was an entirely new and unique experience. I arrived in Korea in May 2014 with the box braids my Canadian hairdresser did prior to my departure. I drew crowds at the grocery stores, festivals and (of course) the school where I worked. At first, I simply could not understand their fascination with my hair. People would even walk up to me and pull my hair in an attempt to make sure it was real–something that is completely socially unacceptable in my home country. In retrospect, I handled all the attention pretty well.  They referred to my box braids as ‘reggae braids’. I corrected them but was confused as to how that term came about.  I was later told by a friend that a member of the K-pop group 2NE1 had box braids, so the term ‘reggae braids’ mus have been incorrectly adopted into Konglish through the K-pop music industry.

At my school, I taught a lesson on box braids and black hair. I constantly received questions on the topic from my students, my colleagues and the people in my town.  People were very curious and clearly had a lot of interest in the subject. I frequently showed people YouTube videos at work outings or even festivals. People would often ask to take pictures of me or with me, too. Sometimes, they didn’t even ask and would just start snapping away. The attention was overwhelming at times, but I learned to ignore it with time. When you live in rural Korea, becoming a local celebrity is unavoidable!
  

May 16th,2014-This was taken during my meeting with the Office of Education, the same day I arrived in my town. It was my third day in Korea and I was incredibly nervous!

My first Korean salon experience

I remember my first visit to a Korean salon like it was yesterday. Desperate for a conditioning treatment and new style, I went on a hunt for a hair shop that could  cater to my hair needs. A friend of mine actually told me about a place called Family Hair Shop in Itaewon, so that was my first shop. I paid approximately 60 to 80 thousand won for a conditioning treatment and full styling with a straightener. The shop owner is Korean, but she speaks English incredibly well.  Her shop was clean, and she also sells wigs, and braid extensions, can do a variety of braids, and more. I had such an amazing experience, that I actually went there multiple times. However, I really wanted to find a black hair shop because I wanted someone who was better able to understand and manage my hair long-term. However, I would highly recommend this hair shop, and below is the information. The prices do range obviously based on the style you want to do.

Family Hair Shop Itaewon
Address: 57-4 Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea
Phone Number: 010-9054-3806
My first conditioning treatment and style in Korea by Family Hair Shop, June 28th, 2014
The hunt for a Black Hair Shop In Korea
 
Determined and desperate, I began my search to find a black hair shop in the Seoul area. I scoured Google, YouTube, and Facebook, and after weeks of searching, I finally came across a life and travel Vlog by Charly Cheer. SHE SAVED MY LIFE. She had a YouTube video about an African woman named Mary, who had a hair shop in Seoul. I excitedly e-mailed and called her numerous times and booked an appointment for July 29th,2014. I felt like my dreams were finally coming true. The wait to finally start my hair was a bit long, and when the moment arrived I spent hours sitting in the beauty chair. It was all worth it though, because I was just happy to have a new style and to have found a new hairdresser. In total, I paid $250,000KRW, which is roughly about $279 CAD. It hurt my wallet to pay that much, but desperation leads you to do some crazy things. I kept this style for three months before later deciding to wear a wig for a bit.
I want to provide Mary’s contact, but I honestly do not have any way of contacting her. She is a bit difficult to get a hold of. I do know where her shop is, so if you contact me directly I would be happy to give more detailed directions. I do not know the exact address, but it’s in Itaewon near McDonald’s. It’s a bit hidden, so I can personally take you there if you are interested in her services.
My First hairstyle in Korea, July 28th,2014
September 23rd, 2014

I had my first wig in Korea shipped to me from Canada. I began alternating between braids and wigs as a way to save money. When I was ready for a change, I found it was easiest and cheapest to order two wigs from home. I did not trust the wigs I found online or in Korea.

My first custom WIG EVER!

My birthday was coming up and I didn’t want braids or to wear the current wigs I had so, so I began to look for someone who could make a custom wig for me. I was looking for wigs on Ali Express and a friend of mine from back home told me that was a bad idea. Thank God I listened to her! She put me in touch with someone she knew in Canada, and the rest is history. I contacted her friend, ordered hair from my supplier, and had the hair shipped directly to her house. Below you can see the finished product. God bless this woman and her talent! She is amazing with her hands, and as I type this post, I’m wearing one of her wigs. She is also in the process of making me a new wig, too! You can see her work and follow her on Instagram @HAIRBYJESSYOHH. You’ll be thanking me later, I promise.

Celebrating my first Birthday in Korea, November 15th, 2014
Custom wig by: @HAIRBYJESSYOHH
  The Same Wig on May 24th,2014
Wig by: @HAIRBYJESSYOHH
Changing Hair Dressers again

Unfortunately, getting a hold of Mary was a headache. Her number frequently changed and booking was sometimes stressful, so I once again began searching for a black hair shop in Seoul. In the process, a friend directed me to a woman named Nelly. I was very worried and nervous that she wouldn’t be able to meet my hair needs, but I took a chance and was glad that I did. The first time I met Nelly, I actually didn’t make an appointment. Initially, I felt loyal to Mary, but after waiting and waiting and receiving no response, I took the information my friend gave me and went to Nelly. Nelly’s shop was clean and she had helpers–THANK GOD! My hair took under 4 hours; wash and braids. I paid 200,00KRW, which I felt was a good price for taking out, washing and braiding a new set of braids. It also included the price of the extensions themselves.

In all honesty,Nelly is my hero.  She is amazing at what she does, and she replicated the style I wanted exactly how it was in the picture I brought. The service was fast, the shop was clean, and she is now officially my hairdresser until I leave Korea. I highly recommend for  all hair needs, and you can purchase Mary Kay products through her as well. Unfortunately, the only service she does not provide is wig making, so contact Jessica for that. Below is the style she did for me on March 1st, 2015. I actually kept this style for 3 months but I’m now proudly wearing my wig until further notice.

Nelly’s Hair Contact information
Facebook: Nelly Hair Braiding Itaewon 
Telephone number: 010-5820-1654 
 

 

                              Hair By Nelly

                                         Hair by Nelly

If you have any questions on black hair shops,black hair products, custom wigs, teaching English, Clubs, shopping, restaurants or anything else about life in Korea, do not hesitate to contact me at semeerah_a@hotmail.com. I’m also happy to answer questions or receive feedback about my content. I am at your service! God bless you all, and until my next blog post….smile and be blessed always cheers!


Thank you to NomadicMadda of NoExcusesJustTravel.org for proofing and editing this article.

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