Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Approximately Four Ounces Lighter on Top

What's the longest consecutive time someone has washed your hair for? I just broke the 10 minute mark yesterday, and my scalp is still a little sore.

Just after a few days here, I have come to a sad realization that the humid air here has left my dreams of long, luxurious, rock star hair looking curly, unmanageable, and Nathan Lesser-esque. So I hung my head, faced reality, and headed to the barber shop.

I let my hair grow last semester partly because I didn't know when I'd have a job that I could look however I liked at, but partly because of anxiety of trying to explain to the barber in another language what I wanted my hair to look like. I brought a friend to help translate, but when he explained to the barber what I wanted, it turned out I knew how to say everything he interpreted for me.

When we walked in, there were about six workers sitting around the shop, waiting. When I told them I wanted a haircut, they said the person who cuts the hair isn't here right now, but they could start washing my hair. So one of the guys wets my hair down, and then goes to work with the shampoo. He starts raking my hair back into foamy rows with his fingers. He keeps raking and scrubbing my hair back until all the suds are at the back of my head. He would then grab a handful of the suds, slam it on the top of my head, then start raking it back again.

This continued for a while. So much longer than I could have dreamed was necessary. So long it was comical. It felt good at first, but about half-way through, my scalp began to hurt a little. As a man who will most certainly be bald or at least quite thin in just a few years, his scrubbing began to worry me a bit. I started to wonder if this length of time was normal. I thought about telling him we can be done, but I started laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing, and wanted to see how long he would keep going.

He finally did stop, and asked me to go to the sink to rinse off. This is when he sat down, and another one of the girls got up to rinse my hair off. It turns out, his job was only the beginning scrub, and the girl's job was the rinse. The man who would cut my hair arrived and cut my hair about an inch shorter than I expected. When he finished, yet another man stood up to do the post-cut wash. Lastly, a different woman rinsed my hair off. While she rinsed my hair, I was laughing out loud at the fact that it took five people to cut my hair!

This kind of thing in this country isn't really all that new to be honest. They didn't have five people cutting my hair because of the super efficiency of an assembly line style barber shop. It's really that there's just so many people here in this country. For example, the first time I went to Beijing, it made me very uncomfortable that when you go to a restaurant, you have your own personal waiter. They seat you, hand you the menu, and then just stand there. They watch you look over the menu. I was with Cat at the time, who I've always impatiently thought had always had a chronic difficulty in making decisions on menu items, so I was squirming in my seat as the woman just stood there patiently as Cat poured over the menu. When we asked her to come back in a few minutes, she just smiled and stayed. After you order, they don't stand at your table anymore. They stand a few feet back, maybe between two or three tables. It's less common in our city here, but it still makes me very uncomfortable.

The concept of overpopulation really reaches into more aspects of life than you would initially guess. The concept about employment is simple. Hire them all but pay them little, thereby eliminating unemployment. But the longer I stay here, you see how it affects attitudes and world views. At this point, I still don't feel like I have enough understanding in the matter to fully describe these attitudes and world views without making blanket statements or being unintentionally offensive, so I won't go into detail about them now. But it does remind me how difficult it is to see things in the same way as someone who has lived here their entire life and knows nothing outside of this place. It's so easy to unfairly judge based on my own culture and circumstances without ever putting myself in their shoes.


Anonymous said...

I totally understand about the hair washing procedure and was laughing so hard and loud at your story that Dave thought I'd flipped out. I can just picture the whole thing!

Send us a picture of you with the new "bald" hair cut, please. :)


Amanda said...

Alas, my sympathies for the humidity's denying you of your Nate Lesser-esque tresses... And wow, having a waiter hovering nearby would bother me a lot, too.

Strange, that somber situations often manifest themselves in such a comical fashion that we can easily be diverted by the humor and miss them if we aren't paying attention.

I feel your pain with the hair :o/ One afternoon, I was attacked by a wee girl (who, incidentally, did not speak English) who spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes yanking on - I mean braiding - my hair, and after more than five minutes of braiding and re-braiding the same square inch of hair right at the hairline... it just hurts to think about it....

nancy said...

We need a picture of the new Doo.

Anonymous said...


I thoroughly enjoyed your story and wish that I had the satisfaction of having so many people involved in the cutting of my hair although (just in case she reads this) Trishelle does an outstanding job. I'd even say she does the job of 4-5 people.

I look forward to reading more about your thoughts on the impact of overpopulation. Thanks for your updates. No need for any more appologies about the frequency of posting. I think we all understand. Then again, your mom might feel differently about the need for more information. I guess birthing someone does impact these things.

Chad E.

Simon Lesser said...

Wow, Chad. I had no idea Trishelle cut your hair. I must agree that she does the work of 4-5 people, as I thought it was professionally done.