The Kind of Updo You Get for $8 in China

Hair styling, like most other things that fall into the “artistic category” is outside my narrow field of abilities. (Music, drawing, dance…all other artistic things that I long to be good at, but hold out very little hope for.  Being tone deaf and spastic will just about kill all artistic aspirations. But, books, now there’s something we can chat about!)  Knowing that I have the hairstyling skills of a four year old with a basket full of scrunchies and barrettes  who has conned her babysitter in to being a head model, I knew drastic measures would be needed in the weeks leading up to the Marine Ball.

Other than the aforementioned lack of styling skills, the fact that my hair pretty much refuses to hold curl without an entire can of Aquanet and being well-aware that Chengdu’s humidity isn’t going to help matters at all, I thought it might be time to call in the professionals.  I started with an hours long search of dressy hairdos on the internet, scrolling through page after page of Google search results, creating a personal hair portfolio that would rival Tyra Banks’ wig/extension collection. Eventually, I narrowed it down to a few fancy looking braids, again, because curls are really out of the question. (Although, the crimper that Santa brought my sister and I when I was in elementary school is still kicking and always a great option for when I feel like a bit of poodle-hair in my life.)

Knowing that my lack of styling skills still rates far higher  than my Mandarin hair vocabulary, I enlisted the help of one of the officers who lives in my complex and who has a trusted hair-guy in our neighborhood and together we set out  to chat with him, pictures in hand.

Since the Marine Ball really is one of the biggest things going in Chengdu, I didn’t want to leave the hairstyle to chance, so when the salon said they had time to do a trial run, we both jumped at the opportunity. Not only would we spend a Sunday afternoon getting fancy hair, but we’d get a twenty minute shampoo/head massage to start it all off.

As my scalp was being massaged with a heavenly coconut conditioner, the washer asked me what level of stylist I would like. The options were “trainee,” “advanced student” and “master.”  After having trusted my hair to what could only be termed a “trainee” in Gansu a few years ago, I wasn’t taking a chance on pink hair this time around and opted for the “master.” (Considering that the triple shampoo, head massage, and “master” styling came to a grand total of $8USD, I figured I could splurge the extra dollar for the good guy!)

The picture I brought in was a rather complicated braid that swirled from the front on the model’s head, around the back and into a bun in the middle. I figured they wouldn’t be able to replicate it exactly, but something along those lines would be great. Post-shampoo/massage, I was escorted to my chair in the smack middle the salon (better for everyone’s viewing pleasure) and handed my printed out page to the stylist. He took one look at it, gave me an “okay” and started to work. There was no plan considered, no plotting or hesitation. He instantly went to work with his comb, parting and braiding and wrapping. Within fifteen minutes he had a near perfect reproduction of my example, using a single rubber band and a handful of bobby pins.

As his fingers wove in and out of my hair, creating a swirling braid, he did stop occasionally to answer the questions of the curious onlookers who had gathered around his station. There was a long discussion about my natural hair color (uh, who even knows at this point!), about the length of my hair, about the texture of blonde hair and then, after all of this, whether I understood Chinese.

Wow! (On so many levels.)

Will I be going back to him on the day of the Marine Ball? You bet! (No appointments necessary. It is strictly walk-in, but this is one time being the foreigner is an advantage, as I am sure my blonde hair will bump me to the front of the line, as it creates entertainment for all.)

Hair, make-up, dress….this is the fanciest shindig I’ve been to since my own wedding over fourteen years ago. I think one of my criteria for weighing in on our next post (bid lists come out in the spring) will be whether or not the post has a Marine detachment. I could get used to a once-a-year dress-up day!

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5 thoughts on “The Kind of Updo You Get for $8 in China

    • Thanks!

      I actually have quite the horror story from when we were living in China with Peace Corps. Needless to say, I am willing to get updos here, but no one is touching my blonde hair with chemicals in this country. (Long story short- wanted highlights, got a full bleach, looked radioactive, decided to dye it brown, brown dye had a red base, brown washed out of stripped hair, I had pink hair for an entire summer.)



  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday, Marine Corps! | In Search of the End of the Sidewalk

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