It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I color my hair. Those who know me really well know that I’ve been doing so since I started going gray at the tender age of 24 – I suppose that is the price of single parenthood, combined with genetics. Some of you may even know that I’ve had my share of dyeing disasters too: like the time I went too red and it looked like my head was on fire. Or the time that the dyes had a chemical reaction with the lead in the pipes in that old house I was living in and turned my hair a frightful black.
I do not look good with dark black hair, nor do I enjoy my salt-and-pepper look. OK, never mind! It is just sheer vanity that keeps me coloring my hair. I’ll admit it.
Matter of fact, I never realized how deep this streak of vanity ran until I was contemplating moving to China. Oh, I knew there were hair salons here, but the question was: could they dye and perm my hair properly after being used to only working on Chinese hair? There is a difference in the texture and resilience, you know.
I had thought that maybe, if I bought a wig before I left the States… you know, just in case? For anyone who has ever had to outlive a bad cut, a perm gone wrong or a frightful dye job, you know what I mean. Your head is the first thing people see and (supposedly) what most people focus on; in my case even more so because I’m so tall. Wearing a bad cut or color just does things to you: makes you want to wear a pillowcase over your head, for instance, and claim you just can’t get rid of that Halloween feeling. Or maybe wear a hat, if your hair can all be tucked under it and you look good nearly bald.
I just couldn’t get my nerve up to try dyeing my hair myself (as I had done for years) because of the water quality here, and the dye job I had done just before leaving the States was growing out to the point of being noticeable. I had decided against buying the wig – didn’t want to give into that level of vanity. So now I have to go have my hair done.
First obstacle: language barrier. I do not have the language skills needed to correctly say what I want done to my hair. Solution: bring along a friend/student who also wanted to get her hair done. Lucky for her: she’s Chinese and there is no dilemma about how to do her hair. Even more lucky: she backed out at the last minute on having her hair done… but she still went to the salon with me.
Next obstacle: the stylist working on non-Chinese hair. Nothing I could do about that, and I was rather comforted when he admitted that he had to find the proper mix of chemicals for my hair because he had never worked on ‘ethnic’ hair before. How I wish I could have told him that my hair takes color very quickly!
Third obstacle: becoming the star of the circus. Not much I could do about that as many people stopped by to watch the foreigner get her hair done.
All in all, it was not a bad experience and I certainly cannot fault the hair technician or the stylist for the way things turned out. After all, I’ve suffered through enough bad haircuts and dye jobs at the hands of well-meaning technicians to have learned to do the job myself, even while in the States. I don’t know what made me think things would be different here…
The dye only activated for about 20 minutes; maybe a tad bit longer. In any case, that is about 10 minutes too long for my baby-fine hair. I had a feeling, you know…
Strangely enough, there are not very many mirrors up in Chinese salons. On the other hand, the rinsing chairs are decidedly comfortable. It is actually not a chair per se so much as a table; one lays their full body down and your head is propped on a board. You only have to raise your head when the back of it is being washed or rinsed, and then the stylist supports your head for you. Strangely enough, I fit better on these rinsing tables than I did in the American salon chairs. I was always too long for those. I’d have figured that here, where everything from mop handles to couches is diminutive to my massive frame, I would have to contort myself to get my hair washed in a salon.
As the diligent color technician washed, rinsed, conditioned and rinsed my hair out I intuited by his hesitant manner that maybe the color was more than even he had bargained for. Nevertheless he was very diligent: washing, conditioning, massaging my scalp, maybe trying to erase some of the color…
For those of you who do not dabble in hair color, let me tell you: there’s color, and then there’s neon color. Color is complementary: it goes with your complexion, looks more or less natural and does not scream “I just escaped from a bottle and threw up all over her head!”
Neon color does exactly the opposite of coloring: it contrasts deeply with your complexion, looks more or less fake and does in fact scream “I just escaped from a bottle and threw up all over her head!” It adds the embarrassing taunt: “And I’m permanent: I’m going to stick around for months and months until your hair grows out so that EVERYONE can have a good look and laugh at you!”
I hate it when my head taunts me like that.
After the very comfortable wash and rinse session we were back in front of the mirror at the technician’s stall. I… uh…. Was… hmmmm.. shall we say I am exceedingly blond? Maybe the type that, if that color were natural I would have no visible eyebrows?
The poor stylist! He was concerned that he had done something wrong, had done a bad job, had gone overboard, was going to lose his job, was going to have his license to dye revoked indefinitely, was going to be decapitated. The poor guy just looked mortified! So, screaming in shock was not an option: I did not want the poor little guy to feel worse than he already did. I simply mildly commented that he did a very thorough job on my hair and it looks like the color will last for a very long time. THAT is an understatement.
OK, so the long and the short of it is: I’m now much more blond than I ever wanted to be, it is permanent color so it will stick around for a while, and I am now looking around for a satisfactory wig or maybe a hat. In the meantime I wear my hair with pride because after all, there’s not much I can do about it other than cut eyes out of a pillowcase and wear it.
But I can see it in the inscrutable Chinese faces: “My word but she’s blonde!”