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Learning to Trust Your Chinese Barber

Oct 30, 2010 By Andrea Hunt , Comments (5)     Add your comment Newsletter

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I have just learned in China to regain my trust in hair stylists. The funny thing is - I have invested my trust in someone with whom I can barely communicate. I am one of those people who normally fears barbers anywhere, but here in China you have the added issue of using Chinese to explain yourself. But most of all, in China, I fear the mullet. As a result of this long-standing fear, I have been cutting and dying it myself for the last 18 years except for one time before a wedding. The sad thing was that I paid USD 40 for them to take off 2 millimeters and it looked no different. Failure. It was further proof that going to the barber wasn’t necessary. I have long hair anyway so if I mess it up I just take off a few centimeters… or twelve.

girl in chinese barbershop

You may ask, “Why the distrust?” When I was thirteen, I went to the barbershop in Minnesota. While I told the stylist to just take off the split ends, she assumed she had free reign to hack off 8 inches of my hair. I looked like Debbie Gibson when all I wanted was something like Jessie from Saved by the Bell.

I swore off barbers and have since done it all myself whether it be henna or manic panic or layers, etc. But aside from dying it every color imaginable except blonde, the style has been the same. Years have passed and styles have changed, mall hair has gone, the Jennifer Anniston “Rachel” cut has gone, and perms have come and gone. But admittedly, I am no professional and my hair is like a massive curtain in front of my face and on my shoulders. My other “style” is simply wadding it up into a bun on the top of my head. So, one day a few weeks ago I could take it no more, I marched down to the Chinese stylists in the rain, thoroughly fed up with my hair.

I walked in there out of the rain looking like drowned rat and holding a box of my American hair dye which I have to get sent over from the USA. As I said, I am a creature of habit and I have been using this same brand and color for the last 10 years. My plan was to see how much it would be for them to dye it for me using a “BYOH: Bring-your-own-hair dye” approach. Then, they could dye it and cut it for me, thus leaving me spectacularly transformed. Except that they thought I was crazy and acted like no one had ever brought in their own hair dye before, I can’t imagine! They said it would be the same price with my own dye or theirs, and 180 Yuan not including the cut. Being the extremely frugal soul that I am I gasped a minute and thought of all the chuanr and clothes at Ya Xiu Market I could buy. I let them know that I deemed almost 200 kuai way too much money and decided that I would do it myself later. The problem with my hair dye is that you can’t immediately shampoo it beforehand or the dye won’t take. This made it interesting because I had to explain, “Yes, cut short a little bit, no use shampoo.” They blinked at me as if I had just told them I expected them to perm my hair using only pencils and tube of hair gel. I flipped through the magazine until I found something that would be layered yet not give me the Farah Fawcett hairdo. They agreed to cut it finally and sat me down in a chair.

barber shop floor hair salon china

Despite the fact that I told them they could wet it but not use shampoo they apparently didn’t want to. One unfortunate soul was given the task of combing my still damp rain-tangled hair while the other guy sectioned off the rest as he frowned, leading my chin side to side while holding pieces of my hair with his index and middle finger.

 He started to snip away. A lot. I felt like Edward Scissorhands was going to work on my head, but tried to remain calm as pieces flew everywhere and the other six unoccupied stylists came over to watch, snickering. I sat there, a bit worried but I couldn’t explain anything anyway, so I resisted my initial urge to protest.

He finished, over 30 minutes later. It looked way better! Despite my initial apprehension, I got a haircut and then went home and dyed it myself. Presto! I had a hairstyle! Nice! This is funny because I don’t even normally trust English speaking hair stylists in my own country and here I am simply pointing to a magazine and hoping for the best. Admittedly, I think I finally got to a point of desperation and frustration with my hair that I was willing to try anything. But that Chinese hair stylist was awesome - I swear he was telepathic. “I will go from now on,” I vowed to myself. After all, I don’t mind massage even though I am leery about people messing with me and my body in general be it hair, skin, feet, etc. But I am now a fan and I will be loyal, I might even branch out more. Maybe I’ll even get a…manicure? NO - that would be too far!

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5 Comments ( Add your comment )


You've been in China 18 years and still don't know how to describe what hairstyle you want? yeesh...

Jun 08, 2009 21:24
Andrea Hunt

No, I hadn't been to a barber in 18 years. I have only been in China for 3.

Jun 08, 2009 21:54
Mike Young

that's cool ! maybe the barber is a handsome boy ^^ and he likes you !
that's why there was a telepathic feel !

Nov 01, 2010 23:58

am in Ghana, i dont belive this is china salon

Oct 30, 2010 23:40

As a fellow holder of long hair, I can completely understand your apprehension about going to a stylist. My parents were terrified for me as I was growing up, so trips to the salon were out of the question - my mom insisted on cutting my hair for the vast majority of my young life. When I finally ventured out for something less sixties, I went to a beauty school because I was in college and a real salon was far beyond my meager budget. While they did an amazing job fixing my not one but THREE terrible attempts at going blonde, the girl made a mistake while giving me my first-ever layers and ended up having to have the instructor fix it, while I sat there crying as I saw foot-long pieces of my hair hitting the floor. It's now five years later and my hair still isn't as long as it once was.

In China, however, I grabbed hold of my fears and finally had a professional do my hair again, getting my hair both cut and dyed at the salon. Not only did he give me a color that was close to but even better than what I had pictured on myself, but the cut was the best I've ever received. At first he was polite and did exactly what I asked (basic trim), but then I became bold and asked him in choppy Chinese if there was any particular look he thought would work well on me. After studying me for a few moments, he ran off, grabbed a magazine, and flipped through it, searching for a specific page. He laid it in my lap, pointed, and I agreed to go through with it, my heart pounding.

It turned out amazing - to the point that, after being back in the states for a year, I visited the same salon within weeks of returning to China to ask for him specifically. Alas, he had moved on, but I have yet to suffer bad-cut blues in this country. Additionally, Chinese barbers seem more respectful of the idea that I want to keep growing my hair out, and will truly cut off the bare minimum. My experience at American salons was always one where I would tell them how much to take off, they'd say they understood, and then proceed to chop off one to three inches more than I'd wanted. And that I was with people I was capable of spoken communication with, not having to mime each step of the process supplemented with a few key phrases.

And Andrea is right - it does feel like Chinese barbers have mastered some sort of mind-meld while working on hair.

Nov 23, 2010 06:42

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