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Shave and a haircut…6 kuai

Sometimes the cost of living entails more than just money…

Getting a haircut has never been one of my favorite activities…an event to be tolerated, yet I usually left (mostly) satisfied with the result back in the states. After several years in China, though, it has devolved into a particularly frustrating process.

For no matter how you try to explain what you want, even if you bring a native to speak for you…it won’t happen. Yes, you can get a haircut that includes a wonderfully relaxing massage of your scalp, neck, shoulders and arms…all for about 20-25 kuai. But you will still leave the barbershop with your hair style (if not also dyed jet black) looking like Hu Jintao.

The first time I got a haircut here, I explained I wanted it short. After six months, it was on the long side of shaggy and, besides, it was heading into summer. Time for a cooler do. Using sign language (thumb and forefinger) as I was alone and my Putonghua minimal, I showed the laoban (boss) that I wanted my hair about half an inch long, everywhere, not just on the sides. [Cultural aside: sometimes the laoban will cut your hair to give the foreigner “face,” or mianzi.]

Ta shuo, “Haode, haode, haode. Mei wen ti.” He said good, good, good. No problem.

I sat back and closed my eyes being, after all, quite relaxed from the massage. Snip. Snip, snip, snip. A few more snips. Something was wrong. I opened my eyes to watch. Snip. Snip, snip, snip. A few more snips.

“Deng, deng,” I said. Wait. He was cutting mere wisps from the shag hanging around my head.

“Wo yao duo jian dian.” I want more cut. “Zai duo dian.” Cut much more. And again with the sign language.

“Haode, haode, haode. Mei wen ti.”

Snip. Snip, snip, snip.

I would have needed a micrometer to measure the length of the cuttings dribbled around my shoulders. We went through this process four or five times. About an hour later I left with my hair somewhat shorter around the sides and a titch shorter on top…but visibly poofy, pompadourish…and looking suspiciously like the previously mentioned political leader of the Middle Kingdom.

I later decided my sign language meant one thing to me, but the complete opposite to him…in that “this much” meant merely a trim, not the whack job I had wanted.

The overall experience and the ensuing result hasn’t changed much over the years. It has been a grit your teeth, grin and bear it endeavor each and every time. Or, as the Chinese would say for this (and most every) situation, “Mei ban fa.” Nothing you can do.

C’est la vie. That’s life.

It being the height of summer now and another six months past the last fiasco, I decided it was time for an end around tactic, similar to what I sometimes did back home…drag out the horse shears, set it for a buzz cut and do it myself. I’m also painfully aware that I’m sorely in need now of a comb-over (not!) or a rug (never!), so it’s finally time to switch, permanently, to avoid ring around the pate.

[Historical aside: the first time I went home for a visit, now thoroughly “re-educated” in regard to Chinese hair fashion, I culled through my belongings in storage, found the horse shears and packed them for the return trip to China. Only to discover, much to my dismay, they powered up in a scary overdrive on the current here…even with a voltage regulator/converter thingy. On my next trip back to the states I donated the shears to what’s left of Legacy Farm.]

During the recent and rather hectic move by plane, train and automobile (taxis) from Guangzhou to Xiangfan, via Wuhan, I tried shopping several times for shears. Including going to Gome, the Chinese version of Best Buy, where they carry only one model, a Phillips brand, that looks and handles like a toy, but costs 350 kuai. I passed.

We haven’t had time yet to find the barbershop supply shopping street here in Xiangfan. (FYI, if you want some kind of thing in China…be it clothes, cloth, motorcycles, bicycles, furniture…there’s a street where that’s all they sell, in every shop on the street.) But I still wanted that cooler do, so I dragged Jenny to the nearest and cheapest barbershop. Man or woman. Long hair or short hair. A haircut is five kuai.

Before we went, I told her exactly what I wanted. So that there could be no misunderstanding, I said I wanted my hair cut like a heshang, a monk. A Buddhist monk. A Daoist monk. In any language, that’s short. Very, very short. The next closest thing to a shave, dui ma? Right?

“Keyi a,” she said. Okay. “Mei wen ti a,” she said. No problem.

Which is a sure fire omen there will be a problem…

To make a long hair story short, my hair is short now. But not monk short. I knew there was a problem when the young man started using a comb to keep the cut even, instead of simply running the shears along my scalp. I mentioned this to Luo Ying and she spoke to him. After a five minute dialogue too fast for me to follow (and there’s no such thing as a quick answer in China), he simply shrugged and said this way, his way, was better for the laowai.


Finally, if you’ve been paying attention, I said haircuts at this barbershop are five kuai, yet the title of this post suggests six kuai…for a “shave” and a haircut.

Over the past 10 years, my toufa (head hair) began migrating from the top of my head…to my beard (much heavier than in my youth), to my chest, to the inside of my nose, the inside of my ears, the lobes of my ears and (uggh!) the small of my back. And likely other destinations unknown and they can remain unknown.

The barber used a straight-edge razor to shave the hairline on the nape of my neck. He also shaved my earlobes. Definitely a first, which cost the extra yi kuai.

After we left the barbershop, despite the heat and the humidity of the night, we went for a walk in a nearby park to watch the women dancing. (More on that another time.) Jenny commented that it was the first time she’d seen me in a good mood after getting my hair cut.

I smiled and told her, “Shi ya, dang ran le.” Yes, of course. Because it was the first time in China that I managed to avoid leaving the barbershop with a “Hu do.”


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