Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bad Hair Cut

Recently I mentioned that my son had his hair cut by an exuberant Asian hairdresser and I also mentioned that I am a little frightened by exuberant Asian hairdressers.  So here is my explanation...

As you may or may not know, in 2005 Ryan and I lived in China.  We were teaching English at Wuxi Foreign Language School (WFLS) in Wuxi.  Wuxi is considered a small city of 4.5 million people and it's about 130km northwest of Shanghai.  It's known for it's Huishan clay figurines, Yixing teapots and ceramics, Taihu Lake, it's Grand Buddha at Ling Shan, it's portion of the Grand Canal, it's various gardens and it's Wuxi cuisine (yum yum) - ball-like oil gluten, honey peaches and white fish - etc etc!

On our first morning in Wuxi, Ryan and I were snuggled up in our sleeping bags - sound asleep.  Suddenly we were awoken by banging, like bombs going off.  Everyone was still a little tense about 911 in the US, including me.  All I can remember thinking was oh no, not here, not on our first morning.  We struggled out on to the floor to peep out the window to investigate.  We couldn't see anything, except red and white paper falling from the sky - (ever so) slightly reminiscent of 911.  After maybe a couple of minutes it all stopped.  I'm not easily frightened, but when you are in a foreign country where hardly anyone speaks English and you don't speak Mandarin... you start to second guess the wisdom of taking such a job when you think you are under attack.  Later we questioned our Chinese best friends (the Chinese teachers, who taught English at WFLS) about the "incident", only to be told it was probably fireworks as part of the Chinese New Year Spring Festival.  As time passed we learnt that the Chinese use fireworks regularly for many occasions such as weddings and the opening of new restaurants - to ward off evil.

But I digress... we had been living in China for about a month, when I started to notice that many of my Chinese besties were coming to work with new short hair... Lucy, in particular went from drab shoulder length hair to fab with a short pixie-like haircut.  I had been thinking that my own hair needed a trim, so I asked Lucy where she had hers cut, and as luck would have it, it was a salon in the new and flashy Baoli Shopping Centre across the road from our apartment.  I figured if the hairdressers could cut Lucy's hair into such a cool style, then they could surely cut the layers of my shoulder length hair.

On the weekend, instead of waiting for a Chinese bestie to accompany me... I eagerly dragged Ryan to the hairdressers.  It was brightly lit, with white fixtures - magazine worthy.  I didn't have to wait long before I was seated and a cape lavishly thrown around me.  All the hairdressers, mostly males gathered and handled my hair.  Then a young man, who looked like one of Ryan's senior students, stepped forward from the throng and asked me what I would like to have done, in his sketchy, barely there chinglish.  I said I would like a trim, perhaps about this much taken off - indicating at most 5cm with my fingers.  The throng parted and another man appeared... he looked to be in his 20's, but I was assured that he was the owner of the salon and he would be cutting my hair.

I flicked through a magazine - how very trusting of me, when the cutting began!  Ryan was seated behind me.  Snip, snip, snip.  Snip, snip, snip.  I noticed that there didn't seem to be any clips deployed to hold my hair out of the way or hold it in sections.  But hey, I'm in China, right - they do things differently - in this case, freehand.  Mr Hairdresser-Owner moves away for a second and Ryan pipes up, he seems to be cutting a lot off.  My reply was, it looks that way because they are doing the layers. Instead of putting my nose back in the magazine - which was fully in Chinese anyway... I pay some attention to what is going on.  And yes, indeed, he did appear to be cutting off a lot of hair! 

Of course by this stage... there isn't much I could do.  My top layer is probably 3cm long and Mr Hairdresser-Owner is still happily chop chop chopping away.  Soon I have the proverbial mullet - long back and short sides.  Every so often exuberant Mr Hairdresser-Owner, steps back to admire his work.  The pièce de résistance was an asymmetrical fringe.  I'm pretty sure, at this stage, I was screaming on the inside.  It was probably a good thing for Mr Hairdresser-Owner that he couldn't ask me if I liked the cut and he was clearly oblivious to western mannerisms and body language as he smiled and bounced around, while I stood there utterly deflated and on the verge of tears.  What’s worse, I had to pay for this highly stylish and current monstrosity that was on my head and surrounding my face.  If you have ever seen any of the Japanese Harajuku girls with their stereotypical Asian hair styles - that is how I felt minus the wacky costume! 

As soon as we left the salon, I told Ryan I was coming back tomorrow to get rid of the mullet.  He cacked himself and quickly took a photo - the one and only piece of evidence that this was the original bad hair cut of many to come while I lived in China.  Chinese hairdressers, just don't seem to get that Westerners and Chinese do not have the same hair.  Chinese have dead straight coarse hair... while I have thick hair that will go all fuzzy if cut too short. 

It wasn't a shock to have short hair, as I'd just spent the last 2 years growing out a short style I'd had for 5 years.  I was thoroughly annoyed that I'd regularly spent $70 to have my mane cut so that it didn't grow out and look like I was growing it out!  I was also very upset that I didn't wait for a Chinese bestie to take me to the hairdressers.  I did wait for one to take me back to the salon a few days later and explain to Mr Hairdresser-Owner that I really didn't love the cut and would he mind lopping off the mullet.  I can tell you, that unless my body language read was off, he was not happy!

I still wasn't clapping my hands for joy with the result.  I wore a hat when I could.  My husband grew his hair for the year we were away that year.  Most Chinese people we met asked if he was an artist... because long hair on men is common among the artistic clique in China.

So what went wrong???  Were my instructions lost in translation?  Did the 5cms I indicated with my fingers translate to 5cm left on my head?  Or did Mr Hairdresser-Owner get a little too exuberant and excited for his own good?  It’s open for discussion, but I guess I'll never know...


  1. Or did Mr Hairdresser-Owner play a joke for his staff at your expense? Not a very nice thing to do.

  2. Well I never thought of that... perhaps Mr Hairdresser-Owner thought, silly laowai girl you need a real haircut! LOL


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