have the pudding basin haircut that parents here seem to often inflict
on their kids. The others sport styles ranging from relatively normal
to rather outlandish. Whatever their chosen style there is no shortage
of places where they can get it done. Within a couple of minutes walk
of my front door there are at least a dozen barbers. They range from
small rooms opening directly onto the street, with one chair and one
mirror to the rather more elaborate, and strangely named "HoBoy Hair"
salon. If none of those appeal there are also people who, armed with
comm, scissors and a folding chair, will cut your hair at the side of
the road with people passing by and staring at you.
All of which may go some way to explaining why the department store
here has no fewer than six wig shops, presumably to enable you to hide
the more extreme hairstyling disasters.
So when I looked in the mirror and realised I needed a haircut I felt
distinctly nervous at the prospect. All I needed was to have it left
substantially as it is but cut a little shorter and a little tidier.
The problem was how to communicate that to a barber without risking
any of the more ridiculous possibilities. Fortunately one of the other
teachers overheard me mention it and offered to take me to his barber
and stay and translate for me. Seeing the state of his hair I was
still a little dubious about the idea but on the whole it seemed
better than trying to go unassisted.
So this morning he came and showed me how to get to his barber. It was
quite a long walk and he kept up a running commentary on the town,
pointing out all sorts of things that I'd missed - the best noodle
shops and dumpling restaurants, various internet cafes (that by
Chinese law cannot be sited within 500 metres of a school) and of
course the dozens of barber shops that I wasn't going to.
Eventually we turned into a street and he stopped and said, "Oh!"
The barber shop (which I wouldn't have been able to identify as such)
was closed and shuttered.
"Don't worry." he said, "I will call the owner."
And he did. He actually telephoned the barber and asked her to come
out and cut my hair. After a brief exchange she apparently agreed.
"She will be twenty minutes." he told me.
Twenty minutes later, after a walk in the small nearby park, he called
"She is just cooking her husband's lunch." he told me.
Finally, after almost an hour she arrived and opened up.
Inside she set about cutting my hair. I was still doubtful because
without my glasses I am far too short sighted to be able to watch the
progress in the mirror. It was really quite surreal. She chatted away
in Chinese with the equivalent of "Been on your holidays yet this
year, sir?" My colleague translated into English. I replied just as if
I were in a barber shop in England. He translated back and she asked
another question. If she asked, "Something for the weekend, sir." he
neglected to translate it.
When she had finished and I had retrieved my glasses I was relieved to
find it looking as I'd intended but she hadn't finished. She then
insisted on washing it and when I said that, as it was a bright sunny
day, I didn't need to have it dried, they were both horrified. I would
certainly become ill if I went out with wet hair, I was informed, and
I might die. I let her dry it.
Then I asked the price. It was five yuan - fifty pence. As we walked
back down the road I was told that had I gone to one of the other
barbers it night well have been double that. Given that the cheapest
barber I know in the UK charges six pounds and most are much more
expensive than that, I couldn't help thinking I'd had a bargain.
I wonder what the roadside barbers charge.