CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
This is me in July. Don’t be fooled by the smile on my face; it was because I’d just had my first Korean waffle. My hair situation in 80% humidity was no smiling matter. It was literally growing bigger by the second. And I am sure people weren’t staring because I am a minority here, but because they had never ever seen hair that BIG. On ANY human being!
To most women hair is very important, and I am no different. Within my first week in Songtan, I needed to know what my hair options were. There isn’t a very big black population in Korea, let alone Songtan/Osan AB area, so the market for salons and stores catering to curly hair just isn’t there. Nevertheless, there are some options available to keep us curly-haired girls looking good.
Being a “naturalista” (hair not chemically processed), braids are my go-to for a protective style. If you have curly hair and have walked down the main Sinjang Mall shopping strip in Songtan, chances are you have been handed a business card by a braider. The first time it can be a little startling to have a business card jammed into your hands. But don’t worry, it isn’t because you hair looks bad (well, mine kind of did). Many of the women are of African descent and are offering you their braiding services.
I recently stumbled upon a salon in one of the alleys in the Sinjang shopping area outside the Osan main gate. The exact location is rather difficult to describe (see photo), but it is a small braiding salon which some of the same ladies who hand out the cards work. They do have some hair extensions, but not a very big selection.
There is no shortage of great braiders available in Songtan so if you are on the strip long enough, chances are that a braider will approach you. Many of the ladies do singles, tree braids, kinky twists, cornrows and a variety of other styles.
I have only used one braider named Yvonne, and she is great – affordable, friendly, fast and neat. The first time, I showed her a Pinterest picture hoping and praying it came out like that, and it did. She didn’t pull at my edges so I didn’t lose any hair. Whew!
Salon Hair treatments:
Straightening (Keratin, Japanese, thermal):
As I mentioned above, my hair is currently in its natural afro state, so I haven’t tried any of the treatments, but I have asked about them. A girl has to have a back-up plan! I used to have a keratin straightening treatment done on my hair and liked it, so I was curious about what was available here and if it could work on my hair type. I asked my Korean coworker to ask her stylist about whether they would do my hair type. Her stylist reluctantly said yes it would “probably work”, which makes a bit of sense since all hair is made of the same material regardless of ethnicity. BUT the price (based on how long it would take and how much product I would use) and outcome was not guaranteed. I decided my hair will not be the salon experiment of the year.
Hair Supply stores (“beauty supply stores”, as they are called in the US):
I have found three reliable hair supply store options in the Songtan area.
- The Base Exchange (BX): This has a large selection of all the basics such as shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, oils, gels, and some tools. However, they don’t carry hair extensions or 100% natural oils. The commissary would be the place to go for coconut and olive oil.
- Honey Hair store in Pyeongtaek, just outside Camp Humphries: They have an online store at honeyhair.com that shows what they carry and their prices. It is a good option for where to get natural oils like coconut or avocado which may not always ship to APO because they are liquids.
- Online hair stores: Many ship to APO. I use Hairsisters.com, Ebay.com and the ever-reliable Amazon.com. Shopping online will probably be your cheapest option for most specialty supplies.
And one fun option that works more like a treasure hunt, hence me not listing it as “reliable” or consistent, is the traditional market for hair tools like combs and rollers. Ajummas (older Korean women) love their perms. So if you need rollers of all colors, shapes and sizes, the market is the best place to find them!
And if all else fails…..
Wear a hat. In the shopping area outside Osan AB there are probably enough designs for you to be able to wear a different hat every day for a year. Or make a new friend. Stop someone in the street with a hairstyle you like and ask them where they got it done. I now have a new hairstyle thanks to someone I met and now we regularly share cocktails and “afro-care tales”!
Editor’s Note: This post originally contained information about a salon catering to African and curly hair, but we have been informed that this salon has since closed in its Osan location and reopened near Camp Humphries. We have moved this information to its own post; you can find it HERE.