my first Chinese haircut

Do you think it's red enough?
Do you think it’s red enough?

I don’t know when I became the kind of person who cares a lot about her hair, but I am. Maybe it was when I was lucky enough to encounter my Minneapolis hair stylist, Bri, who showed me that my hair can look great with a great stylist, and most stylists are merely good. And then when I went from blonde to red, I found I could stand out in a good way and still look like myself, not a Halloween costume. So I’ve been stressing about getting my hair done here.

I picked a place called Yes I Do in Shapingba, partly because I could see in the windows and it looked like a nice place. I also thought the English name meant they’d be a little more cosmopolitan. Maybe they wouldn’t expect me to have the thick lovely black hair most Chinese people seem to have, and that I would need a different approach in cut and dye.

I showed up around 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday, and most of the staff was just hanging around. A few of the stylists seemed to be washing and styling their own hair. This is something we definitely did at the spa I worked at, but not in full view of paying clients. My Chinese tutor had taught me how to ask for a haircut and color, but I forgot, so I just mimed finger scissors and said, “颜色,” which means color. I also showed them a photo of myself with a lovely Bri cut and henna color (reddish brown).

They had me lock my purse in a locker, and a guy I took to be a manager, since he wasn’t wearing a uniform, took me to a seat in front of a mirror and looked at my hair. He then passed me to another chair, where the Permist/Colorist (that is what her name tag said in English and Chinese) took a look at my hair.

Then the confusing part came. The manager showed me a book with a price list and was basically like, “Which one?” I don’t get it. The cheapest one, I suppose? The Permist/Colorist managed to get it through my head that the price would depend on which type of dye they used. So I just picked the cheapest one. Like I know which dye to use. She then had me put on a kimono, then a cape, then got to work applying dye. She also brought out a glass of water with a straw, which turned out to be hot and not ice water. I’m getting tired of saying “assume nothing in China,” but it is never not true.

I could tell she was an experienced colorist, but she left that dye on my hair a long-ass time. Some of the other stylists came up and looked at my head while she was working. I was blind, since I of course wasn’t wearing glasses, and that’s always disorienting and uncomfortable. Finally she guided me to the shampoo bowl. She washed out my hair and gave me a little scalp massage. Now, everywhere I’d read that Chinese hair stylists will stone cold give you a 30-minute chair massage. Not here.

Then the Permist/Colorist passed me back to the guy I thought was the manager in a third chair, and he cut my hair. I was a little stunned to realize that my hair color looks like the Heat Miser and was, I can’t lie, fighting back some tears. I think he did a fine job cutting my hair, but not great. He didn’t add any layers, so that shit is going to collapse under its own weight in a few weeks. (But I didn’t know how to say that.) Like I said, my hair is not like Chinese hair, and the same old techniques are not going to work. Also, he didn’t use any product, which I found odd.

So, the result is what you see in the photo. I’m getting used to it. I washed a lot of dye out this morning and added some product, and it looks a little more like me. It’s still insanely red, though. The nice thing about the henna was that it looks natural. People legitimately told me they thought it was my natural color. Nobody is going to make that mistake now. But it will fade, and it will grow. Meanwhile, I am thinking of a new strategy, maybe grow it shoulder-length and go back to (sigh) blonde.