The Bald and the "Strong"

Mr. K and his wife, the owners of the Mokdong Branch of the "Strong" English Institute, were anxious to come over and meet me--their new substitute teacher. I was confident and ready. I had taught English before at a 학원 in 부산 so I knew the ropes. I also taught English composition for two years at university in the States, so compared to JT and his brother I was way overqualified for this three-week stint.

Mr. K and his wife came in. Mr. K didn't say anything to me, just stared briefly, walked into JT's bedroom and shut the door behind him. A minute later he called JT in and closed the door again. JT's brother looked at me and shrugged. Mr. Kim's wife--that would be Mrs. H--smiled, giggled, and sat down at the kitchen table. She silently fidgeted with her bangs, which had been sprayed to stand almost straight up like some wall of fear.

Five minutes of hushed conversation passed in the bedroom. Mr. Kim came out, extended his hand for an unfirm shake, curtly introduced himself and left. His wife dutifully followed.

"What was that"? I asked half afraid of the answer.
"Oh, nothing really," JT said.
"Then why did he snub me like that?"
"Well, he's got this idea of what an English teacher should look like, he's really into image. I told him not to worry and go out there and be polite."
"Didn't work," I said. "If he doesn't like me he can find someone else if he thinks he can." It was a semi-bluff and I knew I didn't mean it as soon as I said it.
"It's going to be OK," JT assured me. "He was just surprised that you were a little balding up top there. That's all."
"I can't help it. You know it's not like he's flawless or something. He's short. I don't like short people. You know what else? His English sucks. I hate Korean institute owners whose English sucks. And he can help that, it's called studying. It's not like if I studied harder I'd grow more hair or something. Know what I'm saying? The punk."
"Mellow out man, a little touchy about the dome or what?"
"No, I just, how about a chance first? Ya know? I mean I can't help my genetic physicalities now can I?"

That night, a tall, fully bald-headed Australian fellow named James met us at the Omokkyo Station underpass to show us the way to the foreigner-only party.
"James, are you teaching English here in Seoul"? I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"But you're bald..."
"I know," he said with a look on his face that spoke volumes.

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