台北でジャッキーが入った美容院 JACKIE HOFFART PHOTO
I'm a bit precious about my hair. It's my biggest concession to vanity, probably because it's the one thing on my body I feel I can easily control. I always strive to have a haircut with a bit of attitude, but usually this just means I look like a blond Astro Boy.
When I first moved to Japan to teach English, I was reluctant to go to the hairdresser's until I spoke enough Japanese. Not being understood by the stylist was a source of great stress. Once I even cried at the salon because I was so frustrated! It was a nightmare.
The other day, when I was passing through Taipei on my travels, I found myself in an area with many hair salons. I suddenly thought, "This would be a great challenge. What if I got my haircut here, where I don't speak the language AT ALL?" It was an impulse decision, but I needed a haircut and thought the experience could be worth a column.
I picked the biggest salon on the street with the funniest name: Crazy Cut Hair Salon. The woman at reception didn't look frightened to see me, which is the reaction I would expect in Japan, so right away I felt more confident. I approached her, smiled and said: "Cut?" And just to be sure, I tugged on my hair and asked, "This hair, OK?" (i.e. "Do you have someone who can cut blond hair?")
She shouted up at someone upstairs, who hollered back in the affirmative.
After a short wait, I was ushered to the lift by a slight young man with a stylish, sort of typical Taiwan-boy haircut, who turned out to be the brave stylist who would cut my hair.
He sat me down and brought over some Japanese men's hairstyle magazines — a genre I am familiar with. I felt comfortable that he correctly assumed I wanted that style of cut. So far so good.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture that was exactly right, so I tried to describe with hand gestures and really simple English: "Front, like this. Back, like this," and so on.
Then he walked away and came back with his mobile phone. He'd phoned someone who spoke English to translate for me. How very generous of him.
To my delight, the "phone-a-friend" spoke very good English and was quite helpful in communicating to the stylist what I wanted.
After the call, I thought I was going to get my hair washed, but the stylist put a big haircutting bib on me. "Wash hair?" I asked, gesturing the action of hair-washing.
My stylist looked anxious. He hollered something down to the receptionist, who quickly came upstairs.
It turns out shampooing costs extra, but the fact that I was very willing to pay was difficult to make clear. After another quick call to the English-speaking friend, in which we confirmed that I was happy to pay extra, we were finally ready to get on with things.
The stylist washed my hair and the cutting finally commenced. I don't like the normal hair-salon chitchat, so I reveled in not being able to have any conversation with my stylist while he was cutting my hair.
But then, about halfway through my haircut, the English-speaking guy on the phone turned up at the salon! Despite my normal reluctance to have salon banter, I was quite happy to chat to him.
Wayne, the English-speaker who was the stylist's roommate, and I talked quite frankly. I enjoyed his openness and curiosity. When I asked him for recommendations for places to eat good beef noodle, the famous Taipei dish, he exchanged a few words with Baso, my stylist, and said that the three of us could go out to eat beef noodle at their favorite local place, if that was OK with me.
I said, "Yes, of course!"
As for the haircut, I liked it. It suspiciously resembled Baso's own haircut, but I felt happy to emerge out of this potentially stressful situation with a fairly-good-but-maybe-not-amazing haircut. I was also quite excited to eat with these sweet guys, so it became less about the haircut and more about the connection I made with these strangers.
The boys — bless them — paid for my dinner! I tried to refuse, but they wouldn't hear of it.
Throwing yourself into a situation like this on your travels is a great way to start unusual conversations with local people. And you never know, you might even get a free dinner out of it!
Next time: What if I ... go backpacking?