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Published: November 27th 2007
Before you go and visit the Tian'anmen Square or The Forbidden City, before you venture out to see the Great Wall, or go to the Temple of Heaven or Bei Hai Park or Tiantan Square, First go to the nearest barber shop and get a haircut. It is a truly unique experience.
On Sunday, my first Sunday in Beijing, I decided that it was time for me to get a haircut. I have lived with long hair (relatively long hair) for most of the summer and I've really liked it. But now it was time--I had moved on to another part of the world, I was hoping to get some basketball-playing in while I was here, and would need to get rid of the mop on my head.
John and Liu Lan dropped me off at the barber near their house as they were on the way to buy groceries at the store. As in all restaurants and small shops in Beijing, an employee was standing just outside the door ushering clients in. All of the employees at the barber shop were wearing matching jeans and colored T-shirts.
John came in with me, explained to the people there (at this point I was not clear who exactly was the stylist) that I wanted a haircut. John went into great detail explaining exactly what I wanted in my haircut as to not leave any confusion or doubt. I have grown accustomed to this type 'flying blind' of scenario, a situation that a year and a half ago, before I began my travels, might have seemed uncomfortable or nerve-wracking. But after 18 months of traveling and relying on others to be my ‘voice’ in both high-stakes and no-stakes situations, I was alright with it. I just smiled and nodded.
John explained that I wanted about an inch and a half taken off, but to leave the sides hanging just over the ears.
They headed off to the store, and I headed to the back where there were two hair-washing stations, one occupied and the other one vacant, waiting for me. I took a seat and leaned my head back into the sink, resting the back of my neck on the comfy lip that was cleverly built into this (and every other) hair-washing sink.
The shampooing began as she wrinsed and added the shampoo to my hair. I noticed that she was rubbing my head much more than I was used to in a professional shampoo job. It became clear that this was part of the package, so I just sat back and enjoyed it.
A half an hour later--I repeat--a HALF AN HOUR LATER-- I was still sitting in my reclined position with my head dangling in the sink. The lady had proceeded to shampoo my hair not one, not two, but three times, each time with an extensive head massage. From there it turned into a neck and shoulder massage, followed by an arm and hand massage. I was literally in the chair for a solid half hour before it was finished.
From there I was escorted to the haircutters’ chair and he began his work.
He actually gave me a pretty good haircut, pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Right length, a little layering on the sides, left my side burns and cut the front just enough to be out of my eyes. Once the cut was finished, I was then ushered again back to the hair-washing station to receive another head massage and what I think was an application of conditioner. From here, back to the haircutter again where I received a thorough blow-drying, something I never do to my hair.
There is a reason that I never blow-dry my hair, besides the fact that it takes too long and I have no patience. The reason is that my hair is already very thick and blow-drying makes it very puffy and appear even thicker. But I had decided from the get-go that I wanted to put trust in the barber shop and just be along for the ride.
I walked out of the barber shop with a poofy, well-combed, parted in the middle (well, slightly to one side) classic Chinese (male). I did not touch my hair the whole walk home, I simply grinned and smiled at the people I passed on the street.
When I rang the door bell and John opened the door to his apartment, he immediately broke into laughter. Then he called Liu Lan over, and she also began to laugh, saying ‘oh gosh’ and punching me (lovingly) in the shoulder, because that is what she does when she thinks something is hysterical or gets excited about something.
Did I mention that the haircut, including 30 minute massage and shampoo and blow dry, only cost 25 RMB? That is just over 3 US dollars.
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