Yesterday, Anne told me I really needed to shave and trim my hair. Normally this is not a problem as she is the one who trims my hair and I can pretty much handle the shaving part, but we are currently clipper-less – we left ours in the van in Australia after we realized we wouldn’t be able to use in countries with voltages other than 110 (everywhere we’ve been thus far). I have been rather impressed with the effort the Chinese put into some of the service professions, like massaging feet, so while on an errand to purchase food and a few clothing articles, including a second undershirt for Dax to go with his previously white, now gray one, I got my hair cut. It may sound strange coming from one as follicularly challenged as I am, but I love haircuts. I think this fondness started when I lived Japan. The Japanese gave great haircuts which include a 15-20 minute shoulder, neck and head massage. Don’t knock the head massage until you have had one. I found a decent looking barber shop in Guilin; they are easy to find in China, just look for the spinning barber pole. As I walked into the shop all eyes, both client and coiffeurs turned toward me. This was not unlike the last barbershop I went to in Roswell, Georgia. In both instances there were 15+ chairs, many of them busy, music was playing, and I was the only person of my ethnicity in the room. Fortunately in Roswell my barber had lots of experience with the shorter cuts, i.e., bald people.
In Guilin, I was not so lucky. We agreed on a price for a trim and a shave. It was a little over 2 dollars, which didn’t sound like too bad of a deal. Perhaps if I had been able to persuade Dax and McKane to join me we could have gotten a volume discount but they are stuck on their longer hair for the moment. I started out with a shampoo (stop laughing…stubble needs washing too), which was nice. When we moved over to the barber chair, my barber couldn’t find any clippers. He searched from drawer to drawer and ended up borrowing a battery operated pair from another barber. After two strokes he realized they weren’t going to make it through my hair and I realized I was in trouble. As I saw it, there were three problems: 1) He had probably never cut hair on anyone who was not Chinese; 2) there aren’t many bald Chinese; and 3) Chinese don’t really have beards. I started thinking about how I could explain that I changed my mind. As I didn’t know the word for changed or mind, I didn’t have a good place to start and I let him continue.
My barber went back to his clipper quest. He finally found an electric pair on the other side of the shop. He returned triumphantly, lit a cigarette and started trimming my hair. He didn’t do a bad job. He left me with what Anne called a “silly fade,” but for something far out of his comfort zone I wasn’t complaining. He showed me my hair when he finished. The main thing I noticed was the scabs on the top of my head from the many Chinese doors I had run into, and I started to get up. He pushed me back down and indicated we still had my beard to go. This will be interesting I thought. I am sure I have more whiskers on my face than he sees in a month. He adroitly applied the clippers and cut me down to a respectable stubble. He indicated for me to wait and went in search of something else. He returned a few seconds later with a straight edge razor. He started on my cheek when the person next to him bumped him. He jerked away from me and commanded the person, “Don’t bump me while I am shaving this large foreigner with lots of hair on his face. I am sure you can see from the way I am shaking that I do not want to cut him, and your inconsiderate bumps are hindering my ability to perform my job function,” or something to that effect. I’m not sure since it was all in Chinese. After about four or five painful strokes, he yelled back to another barber who quickly brought him a new blade for the straight edge. Around this time, I started thinking of a story I heard when I was younger. If I have it right, JIm Nabors was in India and somehow contracted hepatitis from a dirty razor. I don’t know if the story is true, a dream, or a cover up for some less savory way you normally get hepatitis. All I know is I’m glad they changed the blade. With any luck the second straight edge blade was right out of the box. The barber returned to my face and shaved the upper part of my beard but then hings got a little strange. I have no idea why, but at this point my barber started spitting. Did one of my many whiskers make its way into his throat? Did one of his friends put something in his cigarette? I really can’t say, but over the next two minutes he had to spit 20 times on the floor, each time rubbing it in with his foot.
By this time I was thinking more about getting out of this place, but he still had my neck to do. He shaved the left side of my neck and then went for the right. This is the trickiest part of my face. He missed. I could feel the blade scrape across my neck, nicking off pieces of flesh as it went. He knew it too. He quickly patted me off and pointed to the cashiers. I waited a minute and the blood started pooling on my neck. I gave him a bit of a “what have you done” look, but he just stared back and shrugged. I walked up to the cashier to pay my two dollars and signaled to her that I would like something to put on the bloody part of my neck. She reached into her purse and retrieved two band-aids. While not exactly the tissue paper for which I was looking, I made them work and went on my way, a little less impressed with the service level in China.
PS. I was gong to put a link into one of my friends from Yale’s site but either he has let it lapse or the chinese government is blocking him. It is pretty unrelated other than the name of his URL, badhairdos.com.