November 26, 2009

In Defense of Telling Someone When They Have a Booger Hanging Out of Their Nose

While sightseeing at the Jagalchi Fish Market in 1997, I stopped to watch in amazement as a hard-working man deftly peeled the skin off eel after eel and then sliced them up into perfect cross-section circles. An astute fishmonger Ajumma working nearby noticed that both the eel slicer and I were lacking in the dome hair department. She cracked a joke about how he should teach me some knife skills and together we could start an International Eel Peeling Baldness Co-operative. I swear the earth shook that day from the ripple-effect of granny cackle that passed through that place.

Indeed, if I had a Man Won Jari (sp?) for every time some Korean made a comment to me--or about me--regarding my pate and its lack of fur, I could retire to the Hawaii of Korea and live out my days in baldness and tropical bliss. I’ll admit it took me some time to get used to Koreans with their frequent comments, the prying questions as to why and how, and their suggestions that I get a wig. And now that I am fully adjusted (well… almost fully adjusted), I have adopted a similar approach to celebrating the genetic pattern that makes my head shiny. I have also come to realize that such celebration is not a uniquely Korean thing.

My son went to a private pre-kindergarten. He only spent 9 hours a week there. I spent nearly US $220 a month on that. I didn’t begrudge him the money; I wanted to give him every opportunity I could, within my means. Even advantages I didn’t have. I mean, I didn’t even go to pre-school. I went to public kindergarten and public schools and look at me now.

One day I accompanied my lovely wife and adorable daughter to pick up our son from school. I rode shotgun. My son climbed into his car seat directly behind me. I asked him if he learned anything at school that day. He said he did and shared an interesting dinosaur fact with me. The conversation fell silent and we drove peacefully and comfortably toward home in our fine German-engineered SUV. Then…

“Daddy”? My son asks.
“Did you shave a circle into your hair”?

I know instantly what he’s referring to but I fight the thought for a minute until finally I laugh and sheepishly try to explain that I did not shave a circle; I just can’t grow hair there because that is my pattern. My male pattern. My male pattern baldness.

Now you’re probably thinking that my son is only five, and that I can’t really use him as a witness in defending the Korean practice of calling out any personal feature that is out of the ordinary. That is fair. But I haven’t rested my case yet. Let me provide you with the rest of my witness list and their non-Korean credentials.

My first witness is Philip. He is my French colleague who resides in Amsterdam. His not-so-subtle form of celebration involved gifting me a tube of L’Oreal Men Expert Pure & Matte Anti-Re-greasing Moisturizing Gel. It is meant to take down the dome sheen with its long-lasting shine control. He saw it and thought of me. He gave it to me at a team dinner. How sweet.

My second witness is Susanne. She is my Dutch colleague who lives in Portugal. She, along with Audrey (an American-born Korean who is married to a French Guy), jokingly congratulated me on an award I received. The award recipient and his photo were displayed on the employee portal website. When they saw him, they thought of me. Hardeharhar. In my opinion, the only thing he and I have in common (aside from both being white American males between age 40 and 60) is the pattern; we both have it.

My third witness: One time I was talking to a group of friends at a party, amongst which were a couple former NFL players. Up walks Lee Johnson. My friends introduce me to Lee who looks at me, and then at my head, and says: “What happened to you? Did you get into a batch of Bizarro Rogaine”? Everyone had a nice laugh at that.

It’s not that I don’t know what’s going on up there. I know myself to be bald(ing). It is a genetic fact of who I am and I am trying to live with it gracefully. So here it is: a call to action. Next time you see somebody, be they Korean or foreigner, and they have a lot of zits, or a speck of red pepper flake in their teeth, or loads of ear hair, or are more fat than normal, I say call it to their attention. Celebrate it. It really is OK.

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