Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bad haircut, bad karma

Getting a haircut in this country is a major ordeal.

The most competent, cheapest, and least hassle option is one of the white-coated roadside operators. For 3 or 4 kuai, they'll give you a nice short trim, and they won't waste their time about it. Of course, there are some serious hygiene issues about their equipment - but I figure if they don't draw blood, I'll probably be all right. In my first year here, I regularly used to use an old girl - I thought of her as The Nit Lady - who set up her up little wooden stool in an alley beside the Drum Tower. Alas, she disappeared. Indeed, most of these sidewalk barbers seem to have disappeared. There are still lots of white-coated freelance masseurs lining up in front of my local park, but a street haircut is getting harder and harder to come by. Perhaps this is another symptom of the 'civilizing' of Beijing that the local government is attempting to impose prior to the Olympics.

After considerable shopping around, I had found a large hairdressers' shop that seemed to be pretty reliable. It was a little more than 20 minutes' walk away, which was a bit of a pain-in-the-arse, but they were cheap and they didn't usually give me too much hassle.

Amongst the anxiety-causing quirks of a Chinese hairdressers' shop (this list does not attempt to be exhaustive - there are so many) are these:

1) They are unfamiliar with any kind of hair that isn't long, thick, straight, and black.

2) They want to wash your hair before and after the cut - because they can charge you more money this way. It is often very, very difficult to persuade them that you have only just stepped out of the shower and your hair really doesn't need washing again.

3) They really, really want to use masses of styling gel and mousse and colour on your hair, because..... well, it's just more fun for them that way. And Chinese kids love to experiment with naff, punky hairstyles - why are foreigners all so strait-laced?

4) They often want you to choose your style from a book. An enormous catalogue of magazine clippings of film stars. It doesn't matter how much you tell them you don't want a 'style', you just want a trim, like it is now but shorter..... Oh, no: they insist that you point at a picture. And the pictures are all horrendous. You search in vain for a younger George Clooney..... and eventually begin to wonder if you'll have to settle instead for a lank Brad Pitt or a piratical Johnny Depp.

5) They have no concept of urgency. Even a simple trim ("How many times must I tell you? No washing, no styling - just a trim!") can easily take an hour or more. No matter how obviously impatient you become with them. No matter how many other punters are waiting for service. Everything must happen in its own good time.

6) They love to work in a collective fashion - haircutting by committee. We foreigners are still such a novelty for many of them that everyone in the shop will want to gather round to watch. There will be frequent pauses for discussion amongst all the hairdressers. You may even find each of them wanting to take a turn at doing some of the cutting. See 5) above.

7) They are terrified of making mistakes (perhaps especially with foreigners), and so will typically trim your hair half-a-millimetre at a time..... pausing every few minutes to ask nervously, "A little more?" "A lot more!!" See 5) above.

8) They all think they're Vidal fucking-Sassoon: they're ridiculously perfectionist - even when they've finished, they will faff around for another 5 or 10 minutes making imaginary 'tidy-ups', snipping infinitesimal slivers of hair off here and there. See 5) above.

Oh god, I could go on. I have more than once been tempted to just shave my head completely (I have in fact bought myself a set of electric clippers for the purpose: they are ready and waiting for that moment when my patience finally snaps once and for all).

Of course, I have evolved my techniques for dealing with this kind of hassle now. I show them quite clearly at the outset how much I want taken off the top, off the sides, off the back; I tell them quite clearly what time I intend to leave; I remind them regularly of the need for a bit of hurry-up by pointing dramatically to my wristwatch. It seems to work.

And for the past 18 months or so, I have been loyal to the one shop. That's been a big help. They know me there. They understand my little foibles. They can comprehend my smile-and-mime approach to overcoming the language gap.

Well, they used to be able to. Over the past few months, all the staff there who recognised me seem to have left. Indeed all the hairdressers appear to have left. The last time I went there, there seemed to be only two cutters (and one pair of scissors!) for a dozen or more work-stations. I smiled-and-mimed for all I was worth. I pleaded. I wept. I even tried to speak some bloody Chinese to them (always a tactic of desperation, and never very efficacious). No use - I just could not get them to cut my hair.

So, yesterday, I tried out the hairdressers next door to my apartment. The one that is always worryingly empty. Needless to say, that was a mistake.

It seems there was only one - shockingly young - male hairdresser on the premises. And he was 'busy' (i.e., pondering, consulting, resting.... not actively doing very much) with another customer. So, the boss's wife thought she'd have a go. She was a rather clumsy and diffident woman. Left-handed - that was alarming in itself. Or maybe she just wasn't sure which hand to hold which implement in, and had decided, for some obscure reason, that the comb needed to be wielded with greater precision than the clippers and should thus be assigned to the right hand. Anyway, she did not appear ever to have cut hair before. It was comical, but also appalling: watching in the mirror, I became dangerously detached for quite a spell - enjoying the slapstick performance for a while, until I came to my senses again and realised that this was my hair she was butchering. I humoured them all as best I could, tolerated her ineptitude for a long time, hoping for a sudden improvement - but eventually I had to put my foot down and demand some remedial attention from the (at least vaguely) competent young man. He managed to salvage the situation, just about - but it's definitely not one of the better haircuts I've had in my life. And it's not very short, either. I'll have to go through this hell all over again in a couple of weeks.

I wonder, in fact, if the whole strange episode wasn't some kind of prank amongst the staff - perhaps they were betting as to how long I would put up with this totally unskilled woman fumbling around my head. Oiveh!

What have I done to deserve this??


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!

It'll grow back!

Time to resort to the buzz cut.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. Beautifully written (painted). I could see it all so clearly and it was FUNNY.
The funniest part was that your love of comedy actually got you watching something funny at your expence without being aware of it for a few moments. And I'm thinking of the culture difference and the difference in unwritten rules in societies; that someone not at all trained in something, would have a go at it just like that, in order to prevent the waste of your time.

God I look forward to reading the whole book on all of these funny "cultural episodes".
Don't you just sometimes think that they are from a total different planet? Especially with the language barrier you have, you must understand their ways even less.
I would have done all I could to learn the language as fast as I could, if I were there; but I guess it's hard to fit in that muchh effort in a very busy working life you have.
But one thing is clear to me, and that is that you know deep down, that you are not going to stay there long term, otherwise you would have attempted to learn the language.

Froog said...

I might well stay here in China until I die. Certainly for several more years, I think.

I'll probably never bother to learn more than a few words of the language.

It's sodding difficult; it's extremely unattractive; and it's just not of that much practical usefulness.

Many of my friends have devoted a year (or two or three) of full-time study to trying to learn Chinese - and even the best of them tend to end up having the same banal, stereotypical, pointless conversations with people most of the time. And for the purposes of getting things done day-to-day, for dealing with untrained hairdressers, obtuse shopkeepers, geographically-challenged cab drivers, it's very little bloody use at all. My Chinese-speaking friends often have just as much trouble as me - or even more - in these situations.

I probably have several posts in me on the shortcomings of the Chinese language and the lack of any very pressing reason to learn it.... but they need to be carefully written, so I'm biding my time. And they'll probably make me a lot of enemies....

Anonymous said...

haven't had the chance to read this yet but gather it's about the recent haircut.

I feel I should point out that I thought you looked quite dashing on Wednesday, all cleaned up. were you making an effort to get past the haircut "disaster"? cuz I don't actually think you got a bad hair cut.

Anonymous said...

Is that flirting? compliments on open media -the blog.
So what does Froog look like in real life tulsa? is he charming? do you like him? are you Madam X??

Look at me being all nosy. Well I can be as nosy as I like now that I have no blog to have the same done to me in revenge.

Froog said...

Tulsa is something of a cyber-flirt. Much less so in real life. She is not Madame X.

Pictures of me have appeared on the blog. Not very good ones, but they are there. Not too difficult to search for them (that's what the 'Labels' are for), particularly since - as you often complain, Earthling - I don't post many pictures on here.

I would like to think that I am charming - on occasion. But I am also irritable, opinionated, and a tad depressive. As you might have gathered from reading here....

And it is a very bad haircut - the horror of it becomes more apparent with every passing day. I am definitely going to have to try to get it 'fixed' soon. It may have to grow out at bit more before that is possible.

Anonymous said...

I am NOT Madame X.

I have no clue who Madame X is.

And what up with that about your blog? We miss your energy Earthling.

Anonymous said...

something of a cyber-flirt. Much less so in real life.

I didn't realize I was less so in real life.

I do tend to have several interesting stimulating friends of both gender and I imagine I compliment the single men amongst them as much as I would compliment others. When I see something I find beautiful, I usually say so -- And if I don't see it, I don't say it/write it. But for the most part, I imagine I am not seen as a romantic threat, so the compliments are safe -- just as Froog describes himself as "safe, I, too, would say that I am "safe".

Froog has discussed his "safeness" on the blog, but for you to hear about my "safeness", you'll need to come for a visit, first. I'm not likely to do a tell-all over at the Holiday Villa (or here at the Flat).

Anonymous said...

Tulsa, if I didn't know better, I would have thought you were indeed Madam X, even more now after your comment on it.

Just pulling your leg.

And I am sorry about the planet earth being closed down. I, unlike Froog, keep my worse experiences private and when I am going through difficulties, I cannot share these with the whole world.
I feel like hiding from the world all together when things are not going my way. So please don't miss the blog too much as I am still hiding. But I am glad that I am being missed, it makes me happy. Thank you for that Tulsa.

Anonymous said...

Froog, I know what you look like from the pictures which you have mentioned; I was trying to find out what a woman (Tulsa) thinks of you and read her description. And it's not just the looks that makes people, it's also the way they behave, the presence and charisma and as I mentioned, charm.