--->Excerpt from "Half-Virgin"
Note: This article was featured in an abbreviated form in the August 2008 issue of Eloquence Magazine (South Korea).
They call me furry man, they call me gorilla, they call me King Kong, and they call me Hairy Pollack.
Some of my students think I'm a beast, not because I bare my teeth and growl, but because the black curls on my legs are, in the words of wily fifth grader Grace, "gruesome!"
"Don't wear shorts!" Anna pleads. "Mr. Pollack, Mr. Pollack!" Jennifer says, "can you please do me a little favor this weekend...and shave?"
My students regard my hair with a mixture of repulsion and fascination. At first their comments were amusing; now they're downright predictable. Everyday. Every class. When I walk past their desks, they sneakily brush my arms and remark "fur..." in the same way that Homer says "donuts." The other day, one girl drew a picture of me that made me look like a hirsute troll: it's now the background image of my cell phone.
My hair experience is not an uncommon one among foreigners in Korea. One Canadian wore shorts to work and enjoyed that privilege; that is, until his hairy legs caused a stir at his school. Thereafter, a meeting was called and he was informed that shorts were no longer appropriate work attire.
Due to the thick sweatiness of the Seoul summer, I've worn shorts every day since the end of May. And I haven't completely shaved my face since then either. My students' cries for me to clean up my "dirtiness" have intensified. I tell them it'd be weird if I'd shave my legs. "In America, no guy does that," I explain. "But you're not in America!" they counter. "You're in Korea!"
As I walk through Itaewon on a Sunday afternoon, I unconsciously gather anecdotal evidence about the relationship between hairy white foreign men and their Korean girlfriends. I notice two specific instances of Korean women lovingly stroking their boyfriends' stubble. Two months ago, I briefly dated a Korean woman who would inspect my sloppy beard as if she was an astronomer studying a moon rock. Taboo might be too strong of a word, but perhaps there exists a certain I-should-not-be-liking-this
Apparently I am the opposite.
On Monday I go to a jimjilbang (a traditional bathhouse filled with casually flappingly naked Korean men). I have not yet fully indulged in the jimjilbang experience, but I decide to use its barbershop because my electric razor is no match for my facial hair. Forty-five minutes later, I am a new man with a fresh complexion.
When I come to class that day, I expect to be greeted with gratitude. That does not happen. "Can I say something shocking?" says Ray, "you actually looked better with the hair on your face!" He then complains that I still, STILL, did not shave my legs!
Oh well. Hairy Pollack I am.
Hairy Pollack I will be.