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Diehard fans save Shanghai hairdresser

By HE QI in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-30 09:19
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Li Menghua, 25, was surprised when a group of foreigners helped him stay in Shanghai, the city where he has been living since he was 16.

Li, who grew up in a small county in Henan province, opened a hair salon-Martin&Jin-with a business partner in 2019 in a residential area downtown. It was the first time Li felt that he had a "home" in Shanghai after working as a hairstylist for a long time.

However, the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 challenged the salon's survival, especially the two-month lockdown that started in March. Therefore, Li and his partner were forced to make a painful decision-closing down the salon on May 23.

But what surprised him was that many of his foreign customers spontaneously raised more than 50,000 yuan ($7,200) for him, just to keep their favorite hairdresser in the city.

"The epidemic has had a big impact on business. I was going to go back to my hometown. But they gave me a lot of confidence and I finally decided to stay," Li told China Daily.

Martin&Jin are the English names of the two partners, of whom Li is Martin. After years of working in the hairdressing industry, Li set up his own "business model" by providing a reservation-only tailor-made service to customers instead of offering membership cards or discounts like other salons.

After years of self-study, Li, who only has a junior high school education, can speak fluent English. Combined with his hairdressing skills, Li attracted a large number of loyal foreign customers, accounting for 90 percent of the total.

Li said his WeChat account now has over 3,000 contacts and most of them are customers. Many of them not only became loyal customers but also good friends. The 40-square-meter salon, apart from being a workplace, turned into a social hub for expats.

Amber Leppard from the UK is one of them. She lives nearby and likes to visit the salon almost every afternoon, just to say hello and have a little chat with Li. In Leppard's eyes, Li is like her family in Shanghai.

When she heard of the news of the closure, she was very upset and worried about Li's future.

"Every time I spoke to him on the phone and every time I saw him after that, he was crying," said Leppard, a freelance writer.

Li said 40 percent of his customers had returned to their home countries because of the epidemic and his business was struggling to survive with almost zero income during the lockdown. He had to give up. He decided to close the salon and considered going home.

Arthur, a German, was the first to donate to Li, followed by other customers. According to Li, he has received more than 50,000 yuan from nearly 80 expats.

Meanwhile, a group of expats recorded a video to cheer Li up, hoping that he could continue to stay in Shanghai and do what he enjoys.

Although the amount of donations is just a drop in the ocean, Li decided to stay because of those warmhearted people.

"I thought this was something only my parents would do for me. They did not lend it (the money) to me, they just gave it to me. I've been working away from my hometown for over 10 years. I've met some good-hearted people but also have been swindled by others. But this kind of thing, I never expected. I am really, really moved."

Now Li, together with his partner and an employee, have moved to a friend's hair salon on Maoming South Road to restart their business, providing 20 percent of their income to the store owner as rent.

But Li knows that relying on others and staying in someone else's studio is just a temporary solution. A new Martin&Jin hair salon on Hongmei Road is being prepared and is scheduled to open in October.

"Whatever happens is a valuable experience. I am especially grateful to the customers who make me feel that my work is meaningful and valuable," Li said.

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