In China, you can pay someone to do almost any task you don’t particularly want to do yourself. Due to the increasingly insufferable 99% humidity, the thought of washing my hair and blasting my head with hot air for an hour is enough to make me consider adopting dreadlocks. As such I decided to present a challenge to an unsuspecting Chinese hairdresser, justifying it as an excuse to practice my Chinese.
I went along to my friend’s local where I explained that I wished to have my hair washed and only washed. Since I do not possess enough vocabulary to communicate ‘give me a Rihanna Umbrella do’ I thought it best to not take such a risk on my first ever cut. I was lead upstairs to the hair washing area which consisted of a long row of massage tables with sinks attached to the end. The boss called to one of the several women sat chatting in a small room. I explained to her how to use the last of the KeraCare products with which I had loaded my suitcase before I left home and then lay down on the bed placing my head on the headrest that bridged the sink. Many of my Caucasian friends speak of the joy of visiting the hairdresser precisely for the head massage you receive that gently floats you into a calm slumber. Having afro hair, I only ever associate a trip to the hairdresser with either ferocious combing that feels like your skin may be separated from your skull at any given moment or scalp burns depending on what form of torture I have opted for on that occasion. However on this day I feel I crossed that racial barrier and had a taste of the good life for an hour or so.
The good woman set to work, lathering, rinsing and repeating, repeating, repeating. The massage however was not limited to the scalp. After a lot of motioning I realized that the hair wash included a back, neck, shoulder, arm and hand massage too. She placed one hot towel over my eyes and another behind my neck and then commenced the oil massage. She even threw in an ear cleaning as well! The entire hair washing experience lasted about an hour and by the end she had to shake me awake to inform me that it was time for my blow dry.
I descended to the ground floor where, interestingly, all the hairdressers were male. One tall fellow sauntered over, took the towel off my head, ruffled my hair in a confident manner and then grabbed the hairdryer like he was grabbing a pistol from a holster. I watched for about 5 minutes as he attempted to dry the encroaching Afro in the same way that he dries a Chinese person’s bone-straight locks. I noticed his arrogance slowly slipping as the ruffling grew less and less and he had stopped glancing around the room to actually look at the tangled mess in front of him. I gave him a hint before he lost all face in front of his colleagues and pointing to the brush draw I communicated how to attack this mop.
Once he was back on track we had a lovely conversation in Chinese about England, my job, my family, and the cost of getting your hair done in the UK of which I feel I painted a rather racially segregated picture. He nearly fell over when I told him how far I travel to get my hair done and how much it costs for Black people or people with black hair – I obviously meant the former but given his reaction and the hair colour of the majority of Chinese people, I think it may have got lost in translation and mutated into the latter. Intermittently, his colleagues would come over to touch my hair and provide insightful commentary such as: ‘Oh so dry, so dry! Mate come and cop a feel of this!’
Once the oldest and most senior hairdresser had finished with his client he took the reins of our small talk and proceeded to play subtle matchmaker: first question, do you have a boyfriend? Second question, this guy is fit right? You’re hot too by the way. Once he had ascertained that we were both of the same age a lot of eyebrow raising, winking, and laughing ensued peppered with several suggestions of which my favourite was: ‘You can take him back to England hao bu hao? LOL!’ Once he was satisfied he had found his young friend a potential wife – in China things move fast between couples. It’s entirely possible that him doing my hair that day would count as date number one – he tentatively asked questions I’m sure many have been too afraid to pose:
Cupid: So… you are from England, yes?
Cupid: And your friends that come here are from England too, yes?
Cupid: But you don’t look the same. Your skin is different…. Um…colour.
Cupid: But your skin is a different colour….
Me: Yes. My parents come from Uganda; a country in Africa.
Cupid: (Jumping up) I knew it! (Turning to my hairdresser) I knew it, didn’t I tell you mate?! Man I nailed it! (Now back to me following a brief jig of elation) But still you are from England?
At this moment words failed me. I had no idea how to say in Chinese that my parents had emigrated and I had been born in the UK. Drawing inspiration from Bridget Jones, I performed a small mime: Africa no baby, England mit kinder in here (pointing to my stomach). Bebe in here, me. On the second try he cracked it – the guy was evidently on top form that day!
30 minutes later, my hairdresser had just about managed to dry my hair. I paid my £2.60 and left with relaxed shoulders, clean flowing hair, and the hairdresser’s business card. However since he thought Africa was just one country, I think I’ll give date number two a miss. You however should not miss this.