Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy Hair-o-ween!

(Full disclosure: This got really long . . . like really long.)

So, you’re thinking about getting your hair cut in China. Hahaha. Reconsider all of your life choices that led you to this moment.

Getting your hair cut anywhere, even at the place you’ve been going to since you were two, is a harrowing experience. You never know what’s going to happen, even if you bring in fifty pictures and a Barbie with the exact hair cut you want, you’re still not the ones with the scissors and whatever happens is going to take a month to grow out minimum.

Still. China is a whole other realm of hair cutting danger. It’s like a hair cutting horror story, and not even because your hair is doomed to turn out wacky looking, it’s just the sheer impossibility of you communicating with your hair stylist.

But, you’re not just going to let your hair grow out infinitely, you’re not Cousin It from the Adams family, you do have some standards when it comes to hair and length. So you suck it up and you take your pick of either the ten to twenty hair salons on your block (and that is not a joke, hair salons are like CVS and Rite Aids in the USA – they are everywhere) or you try and google a decent foreigners hair salon based on blog entries from two years ago.

One and the same. 

 Let’s say you go with some place on the block. You walk in and there are at least five guys in their mid-twenties in preposterously tight black skinny jeans, wearing uncomfortable looking shoes with super pointy toes, and with an orange toned hair that is sticking way up and super frizzy. You are, shockingly, not instantly instilled with a sense of belief and hope in their abilities to cut your hair.
Imagine this



 Side note, none of these guys are doing anything. They are just chillin’ about. Because, apparently, at some point during the day, there will be a bum rush to the hair salon and they will need all five hair stylist, even though there are those other nine to nineteen hair salons on this block each with five hair stylist lying in wait.

You go up to the counter where the only female works. She stares at you in disbelief. You can see her mentally forming the word ‘laowai’ in slow syllables. You point to your hair and ask for a cut. She drags her eyes away from you to the board of nonsensical prices with Chinese words next to them. She asks you a sentence regarding this board. You point to the lowest number. She nods. She then calls a hair stylist using her ear piece and cord microphone.

Remember. These five guys are, at max, ten feet away. They are all staring at you. There is not a possibility on this earth that they haven’t seen you and don’t know you want a haircut. Still. It’s the ear piece and microphone we use to communicate because hair salons in China are just that dope.

As wicked cool as you imagined it, I'm sure. 
So one of these guys comes strolling over, refusing to make eye contact with you. He communicates with the woman who is presumably relaying your request for the cheapest hair cut.

Finally, the guy gives you a curt nod, and leads the way towards his station. There are five guys and fifteen stations. None of this makes mathematical sense. Neither does the ear piece and microphone, just accept it and move on.

So, you’re seated at the guy’s station and here is where our real life examples come into play.

A) Let’s say your name is Christine and you are an absolutely lovely person who Michelle totally adores. You are living in Taiwan at the moment and are in need of hair cut. You have gone through the above steps. You are in the chair and the moment of truth has arrived.

You had your friend translate that you want two inches off and being the caring, thoughtful person that you are, you say that you want it all the same length, naively believing this will make things simpler for the hair stylist. By the look of terror he is shooting in your direction, apparently not. You’re willing to bet it’s because he’s never cut curly hair before; your confidence in the situation swiftly deteriorates.

The hair stylist approaches you with the skittishness of a new born colt, a lone comb in his hand as his sole defense. You eye it nervously. Combing your hair is in the bad realm of things, in the oh god never do that realm. Possibly, you think, he has special abilities with the comb you’ve never experienced yourself. Your optimism is sorely misplaced.

To your horror, he descends upon you with the comb, spending ages strenuously combing your hair. And not just plain combing, but combing it up. You watch in utter disbelief as your hair is slowly transformed into a static lump that stands straight up from your head, defying all laws of gravity. You’re staring at it in the mirror in abject terror because, holy god, this man is seriously going to try to cut your hair like this.
100% accurate. (Or almost)
 This is serious business and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s sort of like those chose your own adventures books except you’ve got zero choice over this. The next thing you know the hair stylist is pulling out his scissors and cutting clear across the ends of your hair. Just a straight, even cut. All of your hair is now shorter by exactly the same amount. You briefly ponder if this is actually the most efficient way of cutting hair. You reject this just as quickly because, no way, hair needs to be cut more delicately than that, for sure.

As it falls back to you shoulders like a man desperately lost at sea finally washing ashore again, you see the awkward unevenness of your hair. The way it seems like it was hacked at with garden sheers instead of scissors.

Still, you politely thank the hair stylist who is beaming at you with pride, go to the counter with the lone female who is complimenting you profusely in Chinese, and pay for the cut. Then, you proceed on a walk of shame back to your apartment where you quickly jump in the shower to tame your hair back to a more natural state, hoping against hope it will improve the damage.

You have been traumatized. Your hair has been traumatized. You vow never again, which really just means, try the place a block over next time.

B) You’re name is David and you are super awesome and Michelle is super glad you work together because you tell some of the funniest stories ever. You’re living in Taiwan and your hair has gotten curly to the point of looking like you stuck your finger in a light socket on a daily basis. You make the decision that it is time for a haircut.

You’re thinking quick and easy, because it’s a trim and really you can’t mess that up that badly. So you go to the place that’s right across the street from your apartment. You’re seated and you’re hair stylist commences his business.

And by business, you mean he takes you into the wash room and begins massaging the hell out of your head. Like seriously, this is a really, really, intense head massage. Like you are getting uncomfortable. Like we probably should have stopped massaging five minutes ago. Like you’re beginning to wish you had come in straight from a shower so you could have by passed the whole hair washing thing to begin with. But the guy is excited, he is pumped to cut your hair, like way more than any other hair dresser before. So, you go with it, you keep your eyes closed and pray that the massage comes to an end soon.

When it eventually does, you’re led back to his station where you patiently wait for him to pull out the trimmers, because like you indicated with some pretty awesome hand gestures, if you do say so yourself, you just a need a trim. A little off the top, like they always say.

But today is not your day. Because even though you went to the place across the street because it is close and therefore should be a quick in and out, that is not what your hair stylist has planned for you. Oh no. Because he doesn’t pull out trimmers, not even close, he pulls out scissors.

You blink. You blink again. They don’t turn into trimmers. Instead, the hair dresser plays happily with your hair, stroking the strands, parting sections with his fingers, delicately dragging your hair upwards, and then, snip snip. Snip snip and two locks of your hair fall meaningless to the floor. And you’re thinking, okay, it’s been kind of weird so far, but hey, just snip snip away and we’ll be done soon.

Oh no, dear sir, oh no. Your hair is lovely. Your hair is luscious. Your hair is foreign. So instead of snip snip galore, the hair stylist stops and there is more stroking, there is more running of fingers through your hair, there is the uncomfortable look of bliss on your hair stylist’s face.

Snip, play, repeat. For two hours. You know that Christine is sitting in your apartment wondering if you’ve died. If you tried to cross the street and got struck down by a vehicle. She has no idea you’re on the edge of being kidnapped by an overzealous hair stylist.

So finally, finally, the haircut is completely. Your hair has officially been played with more than it ever has in your entire life, even when you were a baby with cute downy curls that your relatives couldn’t help but tousle and coo over.

You’re thinking freedom. You’re thinking explaining all of this to Christine is going to be crazy. You’re thinking time to pay and leave.

You’re hair dresser is thinking, time to put on the moves. He hands you his iPhone with google translate pulled up. You read “Date, with me?” 
Recreation of text message.
Suddenly the whole hair cutting experience comes resounding back to you in terrifying Technicolor HD as some sort of overly touchy seduction technique. The massage! The hair playing! The look of bliss.

“No, thanks,” you politely decline before making a hasty exit and vowing to try the place two doors down next time instead.

C) You’re name is Tommy and Michelle is elated that you’re married to her because she thinks you are for real the best thing since sliced bread. You hate when your bangs start creeping into eyebrow territory and you’re even willing to brave the Chinese hair salon to remedy the situation.

You go to the place a block over. There are three hair salons on the block and you’re sure, like 65% sure this is the place you went to last time. Last time you got an okay cut, it wasn’t as short as you wanted it, which is why you are back again so soon, but at least it wasn’t awful.

You’re lead to station and you take a seat. Suddenly, you are surrounded by four people. One is the stylist, two are the women from the counter, and one is a dude who could literally be getting his hair cut as well.

With great uncertainty, you show a picture of yourself to the hair stylist. You figured it was the safest bet to use a picture of your self with a hair cut you deemed acceptable. That way there can be no confusion over facial structure or anything else that might throw the stylist off.

He nods rapidly, too rapidly in your estimation, it’s doubtful that he had time to take in all the subtleties of the picture, the nuances that made it worthy of the good hair cut stamp. But that was your only chance, it’s over now.  You are already being robed and the two women are taking over. They start massaging your head. You’re really doubting that this is in their job description, you’re suspicious about everything now because they said it was going to be a fifteen yuan cut and no way is dual person head massage covered under the umbrella of fifteen yuan.

But it’s too late. You’ve already committed by walking in the door. The hair stylist comes over and begins fussing with your hair, taking out his scissors and doing a few preliminary snips. You’re nervous, but not overly worried yet. Then he pauses, pulls out his phone. Then he’s showing you a picture of David Beckham.
uhm . . . no
You stare at it. It looks nothing like the picture you showed him not even ten minutes before. You pull out your picture and point to it. He points to Beckham. You ‘bu yao’ Beckham. He says ‘oh, oh.’ You severely doubt you’ve won that argument.

The snipping commences once more. The dude from earlier is on your right and the two women are on your left. They take turns at five minute intervals to tell you ‘beautiful’ and ‘so good.’ Your concern grows.

Forty minutes later, you’re eyeing your reflection dubiously. The hair stylist pauses to accept a calculator from one of the women. He shows it to you. That is definitely not fifteen yuan. That is definitely ten times that amount.

You flat out refuse. The calculator disappears. The hair gel appears. It is worked vigorously into your hair. You are exceptionally concerned now. Then the blow dryer comes out. You watch in fear as your hair is transformed into a q-tip. An honest to god q-tip. The size of your head, already slightly larger than average by your fiancé’s approximation, has doubled in size.

You’re heart seizes up in terror. You have become that which you’ve always dread. The Chinese q-tip. An exceedingly popular hair style in China for male twenty-somethings and one you and your fiancé have been ridiculing mercilessly since you first arrived. And now it has happened to you. You. Are. The. Q. Tip.
Human Q-Tip.
Do you see how sad he looks?
 When the calculator is pulled out this time, you blindly reach for your wallet. What does it matter what you pay now? They’ve already ended your social life. No one will want to be seen with a q-tip.

There are very few things that make you cry. You don’t cry over adorable puppies or Steel Magnolias. You don’t cry when the Tigers blow the play-offs or the Red Wings lose in overtime. You don’t cry about sketchy cockroaches sneaking about your apartment or almost breaking your ankle off in a pot hole you’d been glaring at every day on the way to school.

No, no. None of those things has the ability to make you cry. But this? This might break you. Staring into the rearview mirror of your e-bike, looking at the horrific way in which you hair just poofs around your head making it appear twice the size, you feel an unfamiliar stinging in the corner of your eye. You’re ugly. You’re fiancé might not be able to look at you without being blinded. You’ve been China-fied. It’s horrible.

You suck it up, refusing to again make the mistake of looking in the rearview. You keep your eyes on the horizon and ride back to the house. You thank the stars above that Michelle isn’t back from work yet, and you jump into the shower. Twenty steamy minutes later, you emerge, and towel dry your hair within an inch of its life. And then it’s time.

It is time to face the music. You hold your breath. You squeeze your eyes shut. You lift your head to the mirror. You exhale quickly and open your eyes.

MIRACLE! Your hair is not as hideous as it was. Now free of the product and influence of the hair dryer, you hair looks almost fine. Yes, the cut is kind of jagged, and no you don’t think you’ve ever had that many layers in your hair before, but hey! By god, you are most definitely not a q-tip!

D) You’re name is Michelle and you wrote this blog entry. You’ve waited ten months before getting your hair cut in China. You are seriously that nervous. You’ve got a wedding coming up, you can’t just have people hacking away at your hair and damaging it without time for it to grow out for the wedding. You have plans for your wedding hair, plans! Still, the time has come, the time is now, it’s time to get your haircut, Marvin K Mooney.

You’ve decided to go in a different direction from your friends. You’re not willing to trust the local hair salons. No way, no how. A man has only cut your hair once, his name was Sebastian, you were four, and he came highly recommended by your mother. So no, you are not starting up a new trend of male hair cutters not named Sebastian.

You decide to ask your friend at work, she’s Chinese, and her hair isn’t reaching the floor so you decide she must be getting it cut somewhere. She’s delighted to help you. She tells you that one of the student’s parents cuts hair and that he would be happy to cut yours.

So you’ve already lost that battle. Your hair is getting cut by a man and his name most assuredly won’t be Sebastian and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your mother has never heard of him. Your mistake for asking your co-worker instead of looking for a foreigners salon.

Your friend tells you that after school you will go together. Knowing it’s going to be a harrowing experience you call up your fiancé and ask him to meet you at the school. When school ends, the three of you wait at the school gates. Apparently, someone is going to pick you up and rive you to the hair salon. You’ve chosen to go with not asking questions and just rolling with whatever comes your way.

A completely ordinary black car stops at the curb. You friend peers at it expectantly. The window rolls down and your friend begins chatting with the driver who is leaning across the passenger seat. Your fiancé stares at you incredulously. You shrug.

Your friend, Susan, opens the passenger door and hops inside. You obediently follow behind.

A winding five minute drive later, you enter a complex of apartments that Susan explains are connected to a company. There is a basketball court and a section of two story shops in the center. You get out here and are led past the shops which are all closed save for the hair salon with just the hair stylist parent working in it and the milk tea shop next door.

Susan gives a long explanation to the hair stylist who is very pleased to have you at his establishment. He ushers you over to a seat. Susan pulls up the picture the two of you had looked at earlier. She shows it to him. You remind her you don’t want the shorter sides that are in the picture. She relays this cheerfully to hair dresser, he nods most understandingly.

You are feeling pretty proud. You’re pretty smart. You brought a Chinese friend who can most definitely communicate with the Chinese hair stylist and you even have a picture. This is going to be good. This is totally going to work.

And because of celebrating too soon, you’ve completely forgotten the point. You’re in China. There is no way in hell this is going to work out how you think it will.

The hair stylist begins cutting your hair and you are like whoa, hang on, no washing it first? But you don’t say this, just dart a nervous look at Tommy who is watching apprehensively from the couch next to Susan who is chattering amiably away with him and the hair stylist in equal measure.

He takes off the first inch of your hair and your confidence is restored. Yep, that is definitely what you asked for. So far, so good. And that’s when things get wild. The cutting gets fast and furious. Your hair is pulled back and snipped, you hair is pulled up and snipped, your hair is pulled to the side and snipped. Hair is dropping faster than flies and Tommy’s eyes are growing wider by the second.

For some reason, there is a brief intermission. The hair stylist stops cutting and explains to Susan that the he has asked the milk tea place next door to give you drinks. He breezes by next door and returns with a menu. Susan encourages the two of you to select a drink. It’s all in Chinese so you ask for coconut milk tea and Tommy gets plain milk tea.
My favorite part about China, in general. 
The hair stylist is very pleased. The woman who works at the store next door is very pleased. You attempt to pay for you drinks. You are told this is impossible, that there is no need, that it is fine, please sit back down.

So you sit down confused, but happy that your milk tea is good. The hair cutting resumes. You stare at your reflection, resigned to a haircut fate you had not anticipated. So far it’s about two inches shorter than you asked, and the cutting is still going.

A half hour later, when you’re finally, finally, certain it’s over, the kiss of death comes. Tommy is leaning forward on the couch, hands clenched around his milk tea, eyes as big as saucers. For the past half hour he’s been assuring you that it looks good, that it looks nice in a voice just slightly this side of panic that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you hair looks completely awful.

The hair stylist pulls the front sides of your hair forward. With several artful snip-snips, you’ve been doomed to the horrendously awkward short side bangish things you had desperately pleaded not to have. Tommy’s jaw drops. He recovers as quickly as he can, saying “Wow, really good.”

You force a smile. Susan claps her hands and says it looks fantastic, “you look much younger this way.” You can tell if that is a jab at you apparently looking old as the hills with your previously long hair or if she honestly can’t come up with a better compliment because it looks that bad.

She and the hair dresser speak animatedly to one another. She translates that the hair dresser says he has accomplished the impossible, you hair looks exactly like the picture you showed him. You know this is an impossibility. You would never have chosen a picture that looked like this.

Still, you extend you praise to be translated by Susan and ask for the price. Instead of answering, the hair stylist hands you a bottle of product. Susan explains that this a gift. You express your gratitude. You ask for the price. The hair stylist hands you your unfinished milk tea. You ask what to pay for the milk tea. This is waved off again. You ask the price of the cut.

Finally, Susan translates that it is five yuan. This is ridiculous. In no place ever would an hour long hair cut with free milk tea and product at a store that the owner opened after hours just for you, be free. Tommy swoops in to save you, grabs thirty yuan out of his wallet and presses it on the hair dresser. The hair dresser pushes it back at him.

Tommy expounds all of the reasons you agree that it should be more than five. He reluctantly accepts after lots of translation with Susan and some back and forth. You are led out of the salon, back into the mystery car.

Tommy side-eyes you the whole ride. His eye still wide with shock, his hands nervously patting your knee. He is clearly expecting a break down at any moment. You assure him, quietly, that you are fine.

Once you’re back at the school, you get on your e-bike, and Tommy reassures you once more that it looks fine. You tell him you know it looks hideous and it’s wonderful that he cares, but you don’t. It’s hair, and it’s cut horribly, but it’ll grow back before the wedding. In the meantime, no pictures.

E) You’re name is Taylor and you have an adorable puppy named Mason who drives you absolutely crazy and Michelle is so so glad you work together because you’re too fantastic for words. You’re also way too smart for any of this crap. You are not getting your hair cut in China because you are not dumb enough to try. You hop the subway to Hong Kong, go to a nice place where everybody speaks English and get the exact haircut you were expecting. Then you get back on the subway, show up at work on Monday, and show off your hair cut to Christine, David, Tommy, and Michelle and laugh raucously as they lament about their own hair salon stories. 
Mason is a husky.
 This isn't Mason, but I think he'd definitely wear the scarf. 
These are you options, dear friends, chose wisely.