China

Beijing life – post-Spring Festival quest for a haircut

It would seem that this blog was on holiday since I haven’t posted anything in almost 10 days but it was the opposite – I was busy coming back to work. The Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, holidays ended last week for me however, for some Chinese, their holiday is only just ending this week. It was a little surprising to me, especially since I know some people went back to their hometowns before the Spring Festival holiday began, so it seems that some of them got a break of several weeks or even a month.

One consequence for me is that I had to wait an extra week to get a haircut. This was because my usual place was closed the weekend before last, and it was closed again when I went back last Wednesday, after the official Spring Festival holidays had ended. On Thursday, they were open but only had one guy cutting hair. “You’ll have to wait an hour,” the two receptionists said. Yes, the receptionists outnumbered the barbers. “Tomorrow, we’ll have a few more people, and Saturday should be ok,” they said. I went back Friday and indeed there were two barbers but they were busy. I was told I had to wait half an hour and as I had other things to do, I didn’t bother to wait. To be honest, I was quite annoyed by the hair salon’s post-Spring Break staffing shortage since they are a branch of a big chain. Pretty much all of their employees are from other provinces, but you’d think they could have a proper schedule to ensure enough employees.

Yet getting a hair cut at hair salons like this one is actually one of the few times I experience excellent service in mainland China. First, they wash and shampoo your hair, maybe even give a scalp massage, then you get the haircut, and finally, they wash your hair again. At every hair salon I’ve gone to, I’ve gotten this treatment and it’s always good. The staff are usually decent and I’ve had a few decent conversations. They all come from other provinces ranging from Shanxi (just SW of Beijing) to Hunan in the far south to Heilongjiang, the most northwestern and northernmost province in China.

Finally, on Monday this week, I went to another place that was close by, more expensive but slightly more fancy, and I was finally able to get my haircut. This place was itself closed during the previous week and had only just reopened on March 1 (Sunday). When I went, I was actually the only customer and what’s more, I had my hair cut by a woman, a petite girl from Inner Mongolia with bleached blonde hair and trendy glasses. Not only was it the first time I’ve had my  hair cut by a female in Beijing but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a female hairdresser in Beijing, period. The girl confirmed that by saying that few girls cut hair in China. Which is unlike Taiwan, Canada or Trinidad, where many women cut men’s hair, including mine of course. Usually, in Beijing hair salons, there are lots of girls, such as at my usual place, but they mostly wash hair or man the reception desk.

I may return to the first place since I usually go there and they are slightly cheaper. However, their closure and subsequent staff shortage made me glad I didn’t buy a membership card, which is something their barbers, and staff at other establishments, always do. It’s very annoying and I always refuse, politely but firmly. While you can save some money from getting a card, I feel hesitant about putting down a lot of money, even if it’s just 500 yuan (about $83).

I actually had an even more extreme experience with trying to get upsold when I went to the second, fancier place back in January. The guy washing my hair noticed my scalp was quite problematic.
“You should get it checked by our expert,” he said. “If you don’t get it treated, you might start losing your hair in the future.” When, I asked. “In about six, seven years” was the reply. Well, I have six or seven years to try to prevent my predicted hair loss. Anyways, the scalp check was free so I agreed to do it.

But the guy wasn’t finished: “And you should get your hair dyed by us.” “Eh, what color?” I asked, wondering if he was suggesting a random coloring job for me. “Black, your hair’s turning a bit white,” he replied. In reality, I do have a few more white hairs now than back in Taiwan (not surprising). But even still, 99% of my hair is black and there is no way I’m going to pay anybody my hard-earned renminbi (other name for the yuan) to dye my hair the same color it actually is.

The “scalp expert” smelled my hair, determined I had a bit of an oily scalp (which is true), used a machine to check my scalp, which then showed up on a monitor as a heavily-magnified image that vaguely resembled those closeup microscopic image of bacteria writhing about. The guy showed a picture of a healthy, non-oily scalp and compared mine to it, showing the supposed clogged follicles and so on. “Your scalp’s got oil issues. We can give you a treatment, for just 300 yuan. Usually it’s over 1,000 yuan but we’re having a special today,” said the expert. Me: “Thanks, I think I’ll pass since I didn’t plan n getting a scalp treatment today.” “OK, then we can give you a reduced treatment, for just 150 yuan. The original value is 450 yuan,” countered the guy. “Hmmm, well I wasn’t planning on getting anything other than a haircut. I’ll think about it,” I said. “What’s the matter? Why don’t you want to get this treatment?” said the expert, smiling in bemusement that I’d turn down such a great offer. “I just don’t want to get it done today,” I said and that was that.

Anyways, I then found out earlier this week one possible reason for the long post-Spring Festival break taken by the hair salons. A traditional Chinese superstition for Spring Festival says that one shouldn’t cut his or her hair in the first month after New Year’s, since it would lead to the death of one’s maternal uncle. Damn, that is one bleak custom. So apparently, I’ve broken a tradition and I’ll need to check on my maternal uncle to make sure nothing happens to him for the rest of this month. As if that wasn’t enough, there is another belief that one shouldn’t cut his hair within the first 15 days after New Year because that signifies cutting your luck. So not only should I worry about my uncle but I should also worry about myself too.

Well, there is one good thing about the post-Spring Festival holiday lull period. Traffic was very light and my commute to work by taxi only takes about 15 minutes. But this is only expected to last until Friday, when pretty much everybody who left will have returned to Beijing, according to a taxi driver.

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6 thoughts on “Beijing life – post-Spring Festival quest for a haircut

  1. I also enjoy the Chinese barbers, the hair washing and scalp massage is something we just do not get much in the States… Also, I remember so clearly when many people in my office wanted at least 3 weeks off for Chinese New Year and I could not believe (they were office workers) and their argument was that factory workers took a month off so they deserved it… I told them a month off over the span of the year is fine, but just not possible in a global economy 🙂

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    1. Yeah, I remember that getting a hair washing cost extra in Canada when I was in university whereas here, it’s included in even the cheapest haircut at the salons.
      One month or three weeks’ leave is pretty extreme. Having said that, a lot of service staff, at least in Beijing, like restaurant workers and real estate agents work 6-days a week so perhaps that’s the tradeoff. Your reply is much more reasonable though – better to take time off throughout rather than in one giant chunk of time.

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  2. Now that you mention it I haven’t had a haircut in a while!
    I hate when they try to sell me their membership card… I hate membership cards when you have to put money inside them first, you never finish them and lose the money!

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    1. Haha, that may be a good thing since this is an unlucky time to get one.
      I also hate when they try to sell membership cards. I don’t mind a polite question but some of them keep persisting and seem offended or disappointed when I refuse. They often stress that there’s no expiry date to these cards, but even then I never want to put up a lot of money up front here.

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