Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hair Do's and Don'ts

The bashful sun had been hidden behind a cloak of smog for almost two weeks, but today the air above Beijing finally saw some improvement. And along with it, my cold and my mood also improved. What better day than today to get a haircut? Googlemaps revealed a plethora of barber shops just up the street from my apartment building. Not knowing where to start, I went to the one place nearby that I was sure I had seen a barber shop before. What made it so memorable was the one weekend morning I biked by to see all of the barbers outside the shop doing what seemed like an aerobics class, with music blaring.

Sure enough, a little exploring uncovered one more barber shop on the floor right above in the same building, and on the floor above that, two more barber shops. Price comparison was never so easy. But apparently, just because it's easy to compare prices doesn't mean it's obvious to do so, since even in this building the shops aren't operating in perfect competition. One store wanted 40 RMB, the next 50 RMB, the next 80 RMB, and the last one said that a haircut there would either cost 30 RMB or 60 RMB. When I asked what the difference between the two haircuts were, the attendant responded, "One of them is 30 RMB, and the other one is 60 RMB." I'm sure something got lost there by my less than ideal Chinese skills there, but not willing to take my chances, I settled for the 40 RMB one on the ground floor. True, not as cheap as the 10 RMB cut one of my classmates said he got at a university shop, but that place was a bit far, and this shop did aerobics.

I entered, was seated in the barber's chair, and was immediately offered a drink. That's the first time I've been offered a drink at a barber shop. Admittedly, though, it wasn't as surprising as what I was offered during my one barber shop experience in Mexico city two summers ago. When I sat down in the barber's chair that time, I was asked if I wanted to read a magazine. I was only used to reading magazines before getting a haircut, not during, so I politely declined the opportunity to keep my eyes distracted while the barber waved his scissors around my head. "You like girls, don't you?" the barber asked a few minutes into the cut. "Sure, girls are nice," I replied. "What's your favorite type of girls?" he insisted. "Um, the nice ones." I didn't realize what he was getting at until a local middle-aged man sat in the seat next to mine, dutifully accepted the magazine, and began to page through what was a full-on porno mag. I couldn't believe my eyes, but was also astounded at the ingenuity of sneaking naked ladies into one of the few 15-minute increments where men probably won't be anywhere near their wives.

Anyway, back to China. The haircut started with a "dry" shampoo that came out of something like a hand-sanitizer bottle and was lathed into my hair with an accompanying scalp massage. This being China, they apparently didn't give up the chance to sneak in a massage. Then I was ushered into a darker room where I laid down and put my head into a basin and they washed my hair out. It was then that the attendant asked if I wanted an actual massage. The experience so far, coupled with my previous experience in Mexico, reminded me of a story one of my friends here had told, about how a teacher of his had come to a small city in China, wandered into a less-than-reputable looking hair salon, asked for a hair cut, then got what had to be one of the worst haircuts ever from a person who clearly had no idea what she was doing. It was only later that she learned that the "hair salon" was actually a front for a brothel in the back rooms, and that that was probably the first haircut that that "stylist" had ever given. I couldn't think that a brothel-cum-hair salon would ever have its employees do aerobics on the street, so didn't suspect my current barber shop too much. But just to be safe, I still declined the massage.

Next I was taken to my third seat within ten minutes. This is when the actual haircut started, and it was performed by a completely different person than the shampooist. Once that was done, another new person took me back to the basin to re-wash my hair (why did they wash it before I got the haircut if they were just going to wash it again afterwards?), then back to employee # 2 and chair #4 for a blow dry. Paid at the counter, and that was that. All-in-all, a pretty decent haircut and a pretty unique experience for $6.


  1. Before and after photos?

    Btw, the pre-shift early morning exercise is pretty common at service industry businesses... if you are out and about early enough, you'll see it in front of most restaurants, too.

  2. Such thorough service!

    I love getting a peek into a whole world through your stories.