China is full of opportunities to get lost and see many exciting things at random. It is easy to hop on a bus and find yourself surrounded by unusual smells and people unbashfully staring at you. Many think the idea of getting lost in a large city is courageous and thrilling, and, while it is, Dalian is a relatively developed city. If a person runs into any problems or is actually lost, the way back to the international dorms is always a quick taxi ride away. In my opinion, the most daring thing to do in China is to get a haircut.
The first problem of getting a haircut is the obvious language barrier. How does a person communicate what exact hairstyle they want? How do they say that they are not interested in those terrifying thinning scissors? There are many problems associated with the fact that I cannot speak Chinese (apart from the very basic travel phrases). The realization that my curly Latina hair differs widely from Chinese hair was the second problem I quickly understood I would have to deal with. Curly hair is a rare sight to see in China, and there was a good chance that the hairdresser would never have had the opportunity to cut wild and curly hair. Also many of my friends had told me that I should not get my hair done in China. One of my Korean oppa’s wore a hat for several weeks after his experience in a Chinese salon. Needless to say, I was a little worried to take the plunge.
After several weeks of waking up each morning to a head full of unmanageable curls, I decided to ignore all the dire warnings. I first discussed my idea with my Chinese friend, Crane (who, yes, is named after a bird). She is a lovely girl I met at the gym I joined, and we enjoy drinking tea and going to street markets together. Crane thought my hair looked good as it was, but she finally admitted that a trim could make it look better. She told me she could take me to her favorite salon, and I happily agreed because this would solve the problem of the language barrier. Crane and I can have conversations, but sometimes we have a miscommunication. Even though I was slightly worried that Crane did not fully understand my meaning of a trim, I decided to trust my delightfully crazy friend. When I announced to the Chinese class, at Missouri State University-West Plains in Dalian, what I wanted to do, I was faced with a Ms. Wong Tong Tong who profusely discouraged me to not get my hair cut in China. She told us about the bad reputations hairstylists in China have, and how she had ended up with several cuts that varied widely from the description she had given. Despite Ms. Wong Tong Tong’s misgivings, I made a date to meet up with Crane to commit the horrifying act.
The following afternoon on my lunch break, Crane and I met at our usual meeting spot and walked to the stylist’s shop which is located behind her dorm. We went hand-in-hand down crumbling concrete steps and inside a gated area. The shop had a flashing sign outside and rags drying on the step. There were two very young men sitting behind a desk that had been crammed inside the small, and slightly dirty, room. They were listening to a Chinese pop song and glanced up with obvious surprise that an American was in their shop. They took a quick look at my wind-blown hair, and Crane said a few words to them in Chinese. I smiled and walked willingly to the chair. I was ushered over to because they needed to wash my hair. Crane sat next to me as the first young man started the washing process. He was handsome and very cool, and Crane told me he was just 20 years old. He seemed mildly embarrassed when I commented on his baby face. When the relaxing hair washing session was over, I was taken to the one out of the two chairs in front of a mirror. The second man, with an Elton John t-shirt and ridiculously long pinky nails, wrapped a cape around my neck and started to brush my wet curls; Crane described, I think, what I wanted done to my hair. He nodded and started clipping away. Crane talked to me and took pictures as he worked. I was happy for this necessary distraction because it was better not to think about the disaster that could have been occurring.
I closed my eyes mid-way through because the ridiculous amount of hairs flying in every direction made me nervous. Thankfully, the hair cut and the stylist trying to unsuccessfully smooth my curls, ended sooner than expected. I payed my 15 RMB, and we left. I returned home to wash my smoothed, yet still frizzy, hair; I was anxious to get a good look at the damage done. Yet, as my curls later dried, I was happy with the overall outcome of a lighter and much healthier looking head. Later that afternoon, I went to Chinese class and proudly announced that I had received a haircut. Everyone turned around and stared. I was then informed that I looked exactly the same. Mission accomplished.