Friday, May 17, 2019

Two French Girls and My Stop at a Beijing Barber Shop

It’s been quite a wild ride these past couple weeks. 

From losing my MacBook charger, exploring in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand with Maddie, to spending six days behind the Great Firewall of China (and hiking the real wall, too!), a lot has happened since leaving Provo. Finally, a week ago today, I made it to Taiwan! At the moment, I'm typing up today's post in a cozy little 7-Eleven in Dadu, Taichung, and am about to enjoy my second melon ice cream pop of the night. Not ashamed.

I’m just wrapping up the first week of the internship here at Magic Precision. I’ll save more of the details of living and working in rural Taiwan for a future post, but it’s sufficient to say that I am loving it here. The great local food, the welcoming atmosphere, the warm-hearted people, not to mention the humidity…think of it like a Tropical Tennessee. That’s the best way I know how to put it so far.

Q: Taiwan or Tennessee?
the live action Jungle Book movie was filmed!

Today I will share one of the most fun experiences I had while in Beijing. It was really not anything too exciting by American standards, but proved to be quite the adventure on my own. By now, you may have guessed today’s subject by the title of the post: getting a haircut.

The day started off innocuously enough — I’d arrived in Beijing the night before (I was grateful to have had Shirley, the travel guide, to be able to pick me up at the airport) and spent most of the afternoon and evening doing two things: The first activity, looking for a bank, was a result of not having brought the envelope of local cash with me. The second activity, sleeping, pertained to the fifteen hours of travel I’d done to get there. A 4am flight from Phuket, Thailand to Kunming, China, followed by the confiscation of all of my bike tools at airport security. Then a cramped afternoon flight to Beijing.

It was pretty silly of me to leave my bike tools in my carry-on bag,
but at least my experience with airport security in China 

I woke up and, having circled the block for about an hour and a half the previous night in my quest for currency, quickly located an ATM inside of a bank, and was able to withdraw some money to get a quick brunch at McDonald’s. I’d slept through the hotel’s breakfast! Later, I would learn that I wasn’t missing out on much. On my way from the Bank to the McDonald’s, I was stopped by the sight of a man with his car parked on the sidewalk — in classic Chinese “chabuduo” culture — who was cutting hair. I had the realization that, although not hippie-length by any means, the hot weather in Beijing had me wishing I had a little less mop on top. I thought that this could be fun. Seeing the hair clippers (with no edge guard) plugged into the cigarette lighter in his car should have been my warning sign.

Using one of the handful of ready-to-go Chinese phrases I knew, I asked him 多少钱? “Duōshǎo qián?” (How much money?) He just waved his arms, then held up his fist in the shape of a goose-egg. I replied 好 “Hāo” (Good), leaned over, and the man began to cut my hair. Only a light trim, I thought to myself. Just a minute or two of cutting was all I thought I needed.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I could finally feel the breeze again around my temples and on my forehead, which was amazing in the nearly triple-digit heat. The street barber’s friends wanted to take a picture with me (the first of a few of these kinds of occurrences in China), so I made a little pose in the picture you see above. Then, I put my hat back on, and turned my attention to getting some food. Luckily, the McDonald’s was just around the corner.


After I’d gotten my food, a double Filet-O-Fish (an Asian exclusive!), fries, and a Coke, I was just settling into my meal when I felt someone tapping my shoulder. I turned around and was greeted by a French woman and her daughter, and a mountain of luggage. I was able to gather that they needed my help.

With some gesturing and a little back and forth with the mother (her English was only a little bit better than my Chinese), I was able to gather that they needed to exchange their euros to Chinese yuan. They were trying to use the Didi app, which is the Chinese version of Uber, to get to a bank, in order to exchange their money, in order to get them and their belongings to the airport on a taxi. They asked if I knew where a bank was — oh boy, did I.

Within our block, I knew of these four banks 
(plus two more that weren't on the map)

I explained that I had spent a long time the night before looking for one and had just came from one that seemed to have good services. The daughter joined me and walked over to the bank where I’d just withdrawn some cash, somehow hoping that someone there would know French. I soon realized though that the daughter’s English was actually pretty good. She explained that she’d studied abroad in Australia for a year and this trip to China with her mom was on her way back to France. I hurried and finished my food and the daughter and I departed while the mom watched all their stuff.

It was a short walk and not much was said. The teller at the bank spoke perfect English and was able to help her right away. While she filled out the paperwork, I took a seat and had some time to stop and really contemplate my choice of haircut salon. After giving myself a look over using the forward facing camera on my phone, I knew what the French girl, her mom, and probably everyone else already did: my haircut looked like crap. I pictured the people behind all of the security cameras at the bank and on the streets laughing at the silly choice I’d made, and I could feel my newly shaved skin turn just the slightest bit scarlet.

I'm thinking the same thing you're likely thinking this very moment.

My heart rate rising slightly, I took a quick look on Apple Maps for a haircutting salon, and found one three miles away. I had nothing to do, no plans to speak of, but that was quite a walk, especially when I saw the price on their site of 180 yuan — nearly 28 dollars! Not quite knowing what else to do with myself, I sent a WeChat message to Shirley, the tour guide who had picked me up at the airport the night before. She had a good recommendation that was only a half mile away, and she assured me it would be pretty inexpensive.

At around this time, the daughter had wrapped up her currency exchange, and we were ready to go. We had spent nearly half an hour in the bank, her time spent completing paperwork and trying to communicate, and me mostly feeling sheepish while contemplating how many Chinese government officials were ready to censor my terrible haircut from their security recordings.

Two simultaneous interrogations: one from a bank teller,
and one from my own conscience.

The walk back seemed to take forever. I had my hat pulled tight over my head, but with nothing else on my mind, I spilled the story to the girl and she didn’t really seem to care all that much. I got the impression that she had seen some pretty crazy stuff in her world travels, and a hapless American with a bad haircut wasn’t really all that shocking. I told her I thought she was being too kind and took off my hat so she could see the damage. Her eyes widened a little bit, but she assured me that it wasn’t "all that terrible." So at least I had that going for me. Which was nice.

We arrived back at the restaurant and took a quick photo together.

They thanked me and I went on my way, right to the barber shop that Shirley had recommended. After finding the place, I was greeted by a few young men who looked like they belonged more in a pop band than at a haircutting salon. But it turned out, they ran the place. An old woman in the back stepped out to say hello, but the business itself was conducted entirely by guys who didn’t seem like they were any more than a year or two out of high school. One of them had green hair — I took this to be a good omen that they knew what they were about.

After again asking the fateful question “Duōshǎo qián?” I was happy to see that a haircut here was only 79 yuan, which was a little more than 10 bucks. Pretty similar to what I pay Johnny Gallegos, the Korean War veteran who cuts my hair in Provo. I said “hāo” and once again the work commenced. I was ushered to a reclining chair, where I was leaned back and my head balanced on a basin, where the most heavenly hair shampoo/scalp massage combination began. Seriously, it took what felt like a good 10 minutes, with good Tea Tree-esque shampoo. No one asked what chainsaw-wielding fiend had hacked me up enough to bring me into their establishment.

This shampoo/massage felt so good that despite feeling out of place, I snapped this photo
(I was already far beyond the reaches of my comfort zone, anyhow).

Then, the haircut itself. To aid my lack of adjectives, I tried to pull up a photo of Sonny Bill, the New Zealand All Blacks player who I sometimes ask a new barber to cut my hair like, but I didn’t get good cell reception in this part of the neighborhood. Realizing what I was trying to do, the guy holding the scissors and comb with a few teeth broken put down his tools and started tapping on his phone. I’m not quite sure who the celebrity was that he pulled up on his phone — perhaps it was David Beckham? — but he asked if that was good and I, feeling somewhat exasperated at the whole ordeal at this point, said sure.

Tools of the trade. Chabuduo!

He moved quickly and with skill, using mostly the comb and scissors, and a battery-powered trimmer now and then to clean up the edges. He asked to show me the back of my head in the mirror a couple of times, something I always appreciate, and before I knew it, I was done. At this point I showed him the picture from before, with the car-powered clippers. “Not good” was all I could think to say. A good laugh ensued but before I knew it, I was again being whisked back into the room with the recliner and the basin for a second session of shampoo and a rinse. I was grateful for the second wash! It felt really good.

Lastly, I was brought back into the barber’s chair, where the young man (I asked his age and he replied “er-shi” or 20, so only a handful of years younger than me) styled my hair with some light pomade and even busted out the hairspray to hold things in place. Before I left, they again wanted to take a picture with me (and took one on my phone with the camera angled all funky) and I was happy to, given their result. You couldn’t tell at all what I’d inflicted upon myself that morning!

The final result.

I sent the picture they took to Shirley, who replied with “handsome boy!” I guess I didn’t seem to be much older than a boy to her, which was appropriate, given the child-like aura of wonder I’d been giving off during the ride from the airport back to the hotel the day before.

Shirley and me!

It's her I really have to thank. And despite my expression here, I'm quite pleased!

Now I’ve gotten the question a few times in Taiwan, once from my boss, and once from a friend at church, if I got a haircut here. It has a distinct look I think. And I’m happy to tell them how it all unfolded, with all these details.

I think you could even say that I've given them the director’s cut.

Bonus Photos: Great Wall of China!

Since I took so long to get out from behind the Great Firewall of China and to get this post online, here's a few extras from our trip to a section of the Great Wall of China, not far from Beijing. Note the the footwear and colorful outfits of the Sichuan ladies, who kept calling 帅哥, 帅哥! "Shuàigē, shuàigē!" (Handsome dude, handsome dude!) after me. Also note: the steep, steep steps (two other fellas from my group are only two or three steps below where I am standing here) were a force to be reckoned with at various portions of the wall.


Thanks for following along! 

Watch for a new post next Friday!


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