Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of the Hairdresser

For those of you who have been patiently waiting for the latest installation of Debbie's Hair Adventures in China, the wait is over. For the rest of you, move along. There's nothing to see here.

Today I ventured out to the salon, the place where formerly Justin and Serena would lead me through the process of coloring and cutting and all kinds of other beauty procedures that I don't care to detail here. One might think that with the departure of the two last English speakers, I might try another place. But there were two reasons for me to go back. First, the salon had close to 500 of my RMB, money I had prepaid to get a discount on future services. Granted, the services were cheap enough, with a haircut at 20 RMB and a wash and styling another 20 RMB -- BUT 20 total if you got both done at the same time.

Hard to beat. And I knew I had to be quite diligent about my visits to spend down that 500 in 20-RMB increments, or I might never get my money spent.

Plus, I honestly don't like Julie's, the place where most of the expats I know go. Julie may speak English but she almost never smiles and I feel as if it's not a happy place. And she charges about six times what the other salons charge. I wouldn't mind paying extra if I felt I got extra value and a little friendliness -- I mean, this is China, after all, the place where most shopkeepers and restaurant owners act like they've won the lottery if you walk in their door.

Another small obstacle is that the Salon Formerly Known as Justin's was undergoing some kind of renovation. A couple of weeks ago, I ventured by and saw nothing but chaos. I thought, there goes my 500. But one of the friendly guys there said "three days" in Chinese.

Three weeks later and it was still a work in progress.

But today it was open and much fancier looking.

I walked in. There were a couple of faces I recognized, so I pointed to my gray roots. That usually does the trick in terms of communication.

But here's where it got interesting. About three of the shop guys held a ten-minute consultation about the right color brown to dye my roots. (I hedged my bets in insisting on having them dye only the roots and not the entire head, figuring that brown hair with a black stripe at the roots is better than Party Member Black all over.)

They pointed to several prices, and I bravely pointed to the very highest amount, figuring that this would give them the message that I wanted a high-quality dye job. And remember, I had money to burn.

Salon guy number one mixes up some dye and starts to apply it to my roots. As I sit there, about four other salon guys come over to check his progress and I look up my from iPad to see that a small crowd of salon workers is standing about three inches from my head, staring at my hair. There is discussion. There is poking at my head with glove-clad fingers, with combs, with brushes used to apply dye.

After he supposedly finishes, there's more conversation, more poking, and salon guy number one starts re-applying the dye to my roots. This does not inspire confidence. Have they never colored hair before? I think. There are more moments where young men are peering at my scalp as if the answer to life might be found there.

Every three minutes someone else comes by and pokes at my head. I'm trying to read my New Yorker, trying to make sense of the role of Hezbollah in Libya in an iPad that is rapidly running out of battery life, but the blaring pop music, the head-poking, the rain outside increasingly making puddles that are getting deeper and deeper all serve as a big distraction. Joanna calls my phone, and I hold the phone about two inches from my ear. "I'M AT THE HAIRDRESSERS, AND I CAN'T HEAR YOU," I say. She answers something. "I'LL CALL YOU LATER," I say. She hangs up. Even though I'm not wearing glasses, I send emails to people, fervently hoping that auto-correct hasn't caused me to say something obscene or looney.

Finally, I'm ushered to the sink. My hair is washed. It looks the right color. So I decide to roll the dice one more time and ask them to cut my hair. This time I get another guy, a guy I'll call Bad Skin Guy. He's very sweet and smiles a lot, and takes an impressive amount of time to cut every strand of my hair individually and possibly a tad shorter than I wanted, and then to blow dry it so straight I look like a boy with a kind of bowl cut. But it's fine, really.

I pay up. I've gone through almost 200 RMB, or around $32, but for that amount I've had my hair colored, cut and styled. Not to mention the entertainment factor.


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