The Longest Journey Starts with One Step
Having been in Fuzhou three weeks and becoming more settled with daily life I felt ready to branch out and see some of the sights China has to offer. So I enquired from a couple of friends where the best place to go would be… to get my hair cut. The options seemed varied to say the least.
“You could get it cut by a man down an alley for about 3RMB” my fellow teacher Tom chimed with more than a twinkle in his eye. I had started to feel comfortable with being one of only about twenty westerners in the city, but not this comfortable.
At this point I would like to mention that 3RMB is the equivalent of 30p. I didn’t mind pushing the boat out compared to this and another teacher described a place not too far away that would give me ‘the works’. They apparently had an iPad as well to make things that little bit easier if problems arose.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Having decided on the establishment with the iPad over ‘a man down an alley’ I tried to envisage problems that might arise from my extremely poor Mandarin and the likelihood no one there would speak English. Other teachers had tried a few methods to get what they wanted. Gaining the help of a bilingual friend was one or taking a photo of your former self was another. I plumped for the photo.
Photo and phrasebook packed I found the place no problem. I stepped in and for a second or two the music stopped. About thirty people turned around, but instead of eyeballing me like in any good Wild West film, I was greeted with huge smiles and a blur of language I couldn’t comprehend.
The music came back on and I greeted them back as best I could with a cheery “Ni hao” and having not understood what anyone had said to me, I made the international haircut sign with my two fingers whilst looking for the translation in my phrasebook. I didn’t need it though as they soon had me sitting down, head back, washing my hair.
Every Person Plays a Part
Having been the focus of everyone’s attention as soon as I walked in wasn’t something I had banked on. As soon as one person started washing my hair another three would come over and stand over my face grinning and talking excitedly. I motioned that I couldn’t understand and after a short period they realised I couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin.
After one person had started washing my hair, another employee stepped in to give my head a massage. My hunch was correct – this was better than that chap down the alley! After about five people took it in turns to relax my hair, I was led to another section of the salon, plonked on to a seat, given some green tea and if I wasn’t already relaxed enough, a sixth person started giving me a shoulder and back massage, before enthusiastically trying to click my shoulders out of my sockets.
By now I started to wonder how much exactly this was going to be costing me. I’d already been there for about twenty minutes and received two massages as well as having my hair washed – something you would expect to pay around £40.00 for in London.
One valuable piece of Mandarin I had learnt was to ask “How much is this?” and it seemed to work as the seventh worker went and fetched a calculator. He started the price at 38, then it went to 66, then it jumped again to 93. He repeated the process and I smiled at the 38 number with my thumb up and hoped he understood but I really had no idea how much it would be in the end.
After the massages I finally got to see a hairdresser. A nice young man who seemed to be the sole occupier of the iPad for these very circumstances and I must admit having never used Google Translate it was extremely helpful. Although the picture I had was of me and my hair was shorter he still didn’t seem to realise how short I wanted as he tentatively cutting piece after tiny piece. I piped up and an iPad conversation broke out but not until I started making the ‘bbbzzzzzzzzzz’ noise of clippers did he realise how short I wanted the back and sides to be.
Value for money
With the Google Translate conversation carrying on for a while and every other employee coming up one by one to look and touch my hair, the main hairdresser had finished. Normally I would pay there and then after a brief dust off, but nope, it was back to the first man again for another wash, massage and dry. So far I had seen four different people; all with different roles and the whole thing took nearly an hour.
I had to see one more person, who would wax my hair, compare his haircut to mine and then asked me to decide who has the better haircut out of himself and his friend. I chose the person who was in charge of my own hair as the safest possible outcome as, during my time in there, I had already seen one irate Canadian who looked like he had not been afforded the iPad option of communication.
Finally I paid. 38 RMB (6 pounds) for an hours work by six different people including the massages and washes. I think it was possibly the best haircut I have ever received and also the cheapest. I love China!