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China, May 15, 2000

Nothing Like a Good Haircut

Smile as they give that intense scalp massage before your Chinese haircut

Now if she would only smile as she ripped out my hairs at the roots
Getting the scalp scrub
This must be where the up and coming yuppies go for a cut
This is the swank street-cut
I hope I am never this poor, or at least I'd have hairstyling friends
And the low-budget option
Today it was time. Time for me to take my shaggy head in for my monthly haircut. Actually, I've had more fun in the last year with my hair than I ever did before. When I was younger, I hated getting a haircut so much, I grew my hair long, and as I was a student and a surfer, no one cared. My first real job changed all that, and I've been short haired ever since.

The countless number of haircuts didn't stop me from hating them, Russian winters did. Since I had to wear a hat eight months of the year to stay alive, I didn't have much time to enjoy a hat-hair free style. That and the horrible haircuts on the Russian men around me gave me the freedom to experiment.

Once I started traveling, I got into a rhythm that demanded I get a haircut in each country I visited. I do have to say that haircuts in China are definitely the most labor intensive, if not the most skillful, but you might be expecting that in a land of 1.4 Billion.

Today, with Jingmei along to photograph, I gots my third or fourth Chinese haircut. This time, skipping the small and incredibly busy shop I usually go to downtown, I wandered to a little place around the corner from where we live.

There, they first led me to a washing station, but unlike the West, they wash your hair before your haircut in a normal chair, not the bed & sink numbers you're used to. Sitting up straight, scared they'll soak your clothes along with your head, the first time is an experience. After you realize that they only add enough water to get your hair wet, and that they're constantly massaging your scalp as they scrub, you begin to relax.

You can't go to sleep completely, though, cuz the cleaning is a bit rough, with good scalp scrubbing and skull massage thrown in. Oh, you could opt for the full head, neck, upper back, and arm-to-fingers massage if you want, but I'm always jinxed by it. The times I've had such massages, I was too spaced out to notice I was getting a bad cut till it was too late.

Once the scrubbing is done, they put you in the sink to wash out the suds. I, following the custom I experienced all over the world, put my back to the sink and started to tilt my head over the sink. With laughter erupting around me, I quickly realized something was a miss. Seems that here you face the sink and tilt you head forward & over the rim. After that episode, it's off to the chair and the routine your familiar with.

What can shock you is either the straight razor they use to clean those random back of the neck hairs or the location of this whole process if you wanna save a few quai. Looking at the photos on the left, you can see there are cheaper ways to have your haircut, but do note it's an electricity & running water free environment, even if the scenery is more interesting.

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