inside thoughts on China and beyond

Biasha Barber

I don’t know about you, but going to a hairdresser is just not my thing. I don’t know why. I was reminded of that during our recent Guizhou trip. No men in Biasha will ever see a hairdresser. Here in Biasha, a small village-on-stilts high up the mountain and hidden behind thick jungle and endless terraces of rice paddies, the people of an obscure clan of the Miao known for their men in shiny costumes and long guns and bald heads with one long knotted-up tail live their simple lives. And they live it without a hairdresser. Here, heads are shaved with a sickle. Try that.

In my early days in China, I would tour half the city in search for a barber that does not have orange hair and looks older than 16. And that’s not easy. So each time I would end up just around the corner, at the same dump barely half a garage box in size, where, last time I left it, I vowed not to come again. But at least no orange hair.

“Ni Yao sheme?”  What do you want? And together we would stare in the same mirror with a desperate look in our eyes. He, because of the hopeless state of whatever was on top of my head, surely different from a typical Chinaman-black-and-straight. Me, because it wouldn’t matter what I say, he wouldn’t understand but even when he did, it wouldn’t make a difference for the final product. Fatalism rules. And so, we would start the ritual  conversation that suggests that I have free choice, always ending up with a haircut I had not asked for. Once I even brought a picture of myself with a coup perfect. That was when I still had hope.

But what can you expect for 5 RMB? Fifty euro cents (at least with the currency rate of that time, before the Mediterranean balloon started to burst). This wouldn’t even get me the done-in-5-minutes dry haircut I used to have each half year, back in Holland, back in the previous century. All I would get is an astonishing look and a kick in the butt. My small Chengdu corner shop was clearly a good bargain.

Included in the price was a warming-up of washing of hair, massaging of head, drying of hair, scratching of head. Not bad a first time, but then this would be repeated 3 or 4 times, and could last up to several hours long. Several hours! And not a single hair had yet left my head. With growing desperation, I would think of the many good things I could have done with all that time.

This starter was usually done by some young lady with fingertips that could break your skull with one snap of her fingers. She would massage with one hand and SMS with the other. Sometimes I could feel that she got mixed up and I got coded messages meant  for her mother. The last time I went, they added a new service –free of charge; like it or not: a vibrating machine. Placed under my back, full power, I felt my back bones break one after the other.

Broken and with no strength to resist, I was moved to the barbers chair and the cutting would start. Hair was falling -always much more than I had thought possible- and I knew I’d lost a part of me. Looking at my hair laying all around me on the floor, I found it difficult to part from it.  And believe me, I’m not that emotional. I never have a problem leaving my things behind coming from the toilet, just to proof my point.

And then, when his final judgment comes, spoken after mustering as much courage as is in him, building self confidence obviously not based on competence, a hopeful “hao ba!” (“Good -finished!”) invites me to look in the mirror and face my future. And each time I wish I hadn’t. Next time, ah, next time I might just use a sickle.

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