Hot Pot Column

Finally braved the hair salon, to come out 'dry washed'

By Nancy Matos (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-02 10:14

Getting a haircut can be a nerve-wracking experience, as you're left wondering whether your wishes are going to be interpreted correctly by the stylist.

Finally braved the hair salon, to come out 'dry washed'

Now imagine relaying instructions when the person wielding the scissors only speaks Chinese and your zhongwen is limited to taxi Mandarin, and you have a whole other anxiety-ridden scenario.

I knew I couldn't go a whole year in Beijing without getting my hair cut. But memories of bad haircuts in Canada where the stylist understood perfect English yet managed to screw up my requests haunted me - how could telling a Chinese stylist how to cut my hair when neither one of us can speak each other's language not end badly?

An American friend said he waltzed into a barber shop with a photo of some guy's haircut he wanted. Easy for him though, as it's hard to screw up a buzz cut.

Determined to do it on my own without translation help from my Chinese friends, I entered a hair salon in my neighborhood recommended by a local. I could make out on the window two sets of numbers among several Chinese characters - which are still just mini works of art to me, rather than a language - so I assumed they were prices for haircuts.

I did ask a Chinese friend what the Mandarin is for "layers" - cengci. At least this way I could make a direct request for the style of cut I desired. I figured for everything else, I would just resort to body language peppered with words like zhe ge (this) and dui (right/correct) that had gotten me by in China so far.

When I entered the salon, I was immediately greeted by several staff members. Like a typical tourist who doesn't know the local lingo, I began to make scissor-snipping motions with my hand, prefaced with wo yao (I want). Then I added my newly learned word cengci and was met with nods of understanding and some bemused grins.

I was ushered to a salon chair by a young male who tied the standard cape around my neck, which I found odd as the first step at a salon in the West is to head over to the sink for a shampoo. Maybe, judging by the small-scale and unpretentious dcor of the salon, shampoos weren't part of the treatment?

Finally braved the hair salon, to come out 'dry washed'

But to my surprise - and confusion - he began to squirt a clear liquid mixture from a small squeeze bottle onto my scalp. I didn't know what to make of this until he began scrubbing and a foamy substance formed. I realized that the shampoo portion of the salon experience would be performed right then and there.

What I was getting was a "dry wash", or ganxi, I later learned. A ganxi uses less water and is therefore deemed environmentally friendly. But as he scrubbed my scalp and the mixture (which I found out was simply shampoo and conditioner mixed with water) began forming more suds, I was curious as to how the froth on my head would be rinsed off.

Turns out a sink would be used after all, as the shampoo guy led me to a tiny back room with a low sink and instructed me to lie on my back on a low, cushioned table. Not quite the set-up back home, but it worked.

After getting rinsed off, the stylist, with hair resembling a manga character, began gingerly snipping away. After he had done all his trimming, he began shaping my hair with his fingers, without using any hair products or a blow dryer.

In the end I didn't quite get the layered cut I was looking for, but the dry ends were gone and the overall appearance was neater. And for $3, how could I complain?