May 2015


Is the number one reason to come to China. Uprooting one’s entire life to live a year in China definitely brings about changes. Finding your true feelings and realizing that you didn’t actually feel a certain way about some things and that you have opinions on subjects you had no idea existed is really interesting. Learning that there are times when there is no water and you have to rearrange your shower schedule also adds an element of adaptability. This is especially true when that moment happens right after shampooing and before you rinse!

But today’s blog is more about personal change, specifically how I began to realize that my outside image was not fitting my personality. What do you do when you feel more like 25 than 30+? My gray hair drove me nuts and my clothing while practical was not fitting the person inside. I began realizing this a while ago, maybe December, but since I was still working at the Kindergarten until March I decided to wait to take action.

Changes already accomplished include losing about 30lbs within 2 months of my arrival in China thanks to cutting out almost all meat and processed foods. My clothes don’t physically fit me anymore but I did just order some from online so we’ll see, maybe I’ll get lucky. My friend that helps me with ordering online really likes the clothes I chose and supports me in showing off my tattoos since China is more open about that now than before.

But before all the clothes needed changing I knew I needed to take more drastic changes. When I was 24 I gave myself the gift of not dying my hair anymore and let it slowly grow out. I’ve been gray since I was 14 and I felt at 24 I could accept my hair and let it have its dignity. Screw that! I scheduled a time with my friends studying here in Chengdu to go to the salon.

Here is what you need to know about salons before you hear about my experiences. Guys work in salons here, it is rare for women to work in a salon except as the wife of the owner. The guys are straight but their style is unique and frankly in a crowd you can spot them by their clothing and hair usually. They dress well and with flair, even in the heat which is now in the 70’sF but they are also practical and I find them adorable and fun.

There are no chain salons in China, at least that I’ve found. The owner also works in the shop but he is older and very noticeable as the owner. Sometimes he micromanages but is very polite about it. Ok, the guys and I make jokes about his micromanaging sometimes but we still like him and his wife who is just nosy which is normal when it comes to the foreign customers. Regarding foreigners in China…

Pretty much anywhere I go people stop to stare at me, some even say “laowai” or “waiguoren” when I pass by. Both those words mean foreigner. I think it got worse when my eye color changed from a medium blue gray to its current light green. I keep getting mistaken as Irish now. No, I don’t know why my eye color changed but it is noticeable in pictures and my fellow UW friends noticed the changed happened over time here in China. At the salon, people often stop to look and see what the foreigner is doing. Staff and strangers come over to look. If you watched the Penguins of Madagascar you know the drill, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Anyway, so at the first salon I went to my friend from Nepal came with me. She had used that salon before and liked the staff. We sat down and chose the brightest red they had on hand. I knew that it would mute out because of the gray and medium brown my natural hair color is. The guy dying my hair was super thorough, like anally thorough. He obsessed over the white hairs that weren’t taking the color the way he wanted. He kept coming back and picking out strands and applying more color to them, literally sometimes hair by hair. We didn’t talk much because my Chinese still needs improvement but it was a pleasant experience.

That was the week after I quit teaching, coincidently the day my sister from Germany came to visit Chengdu with her husband. I got to the airport with freshly dyed red hair. That was just the start of this project…

The following week I went to a different salon, one that I had seen by the coffee shop on campus that I like. This time I took a friend from New York. Her Chinese is pretty good and we have a lot of fun together. I talked to the guys about doing highlights in purple. They were down to do it and this time I had two wonderful men working on my hair for 4 hours! They were also incredibly anal about making sure the highlights were in the right places. They bleached my hair, which actually looked really cool with the red and then applied the purple dye.

Imagine all of our surprises when we saw the color turned hot pink! So freaking cool and unexpected! The main guy doing my hair was stoked and happy I liked it as it was by no means purple. We took a couple pictures with his camera as well. He enjoyed working with me despite the language barrier. He’s a total cutie and has a fun personality.

So a month of hot pink highlights and red hair go by. My roots are showing, it is time for another change… time to try that purple again. I went back to the same salon where we did the highlights since I really liked the staff there. This time, the guy that assisted last time was the main one working with me. Using my dictionary and lots of hand signals I managed to say I wanted to try for purple again and this time let’s do a more brown base color.

During my 4 hours in the chair, the guy from the first time kept helping out. I was sitting in front of the computer and speakers again. That was convenient since their song list this time was much better and I wanted to know the names of the bands playing. He kept watching me to see which songs I liked and by the middle of my visit he knew when I didn’t like the song playing and he would reach around me to change it to something that was more pleasing to both of us. He also likes EXO, and other Korean/Chinese groups that play pop and upbeat music.

The main guy doing my hair was super chill but attentive. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be surrounded by guys paying close attention to you and making sure you are happy. Sigh, totally going to miss that when I return to the states. So, during this visit another salon guy came up and started talking smack about me as a foreigner etc. I pretended I didn’t understand him, but honestly I understood more than 80% of his words and the meaning behind them so that was kind of hard. I’m pretty sure I glared at him, which is probably why the music loving guy began hovering closer to me and playing with the song list.

When punk boy walked away I typed on my phone a message to my main guy as the music guy took a seat to the side instead of almost in my lap. I wrote down that I did not like the guy in black and that I was very happy that he and the other guy were helping me because I like them both a lot. He gave me a look and then thanked me. I could have said this out loud but I didn’t want the other guy to hear me. Sneaky laowai move!

Skip to the end where we blow dry my hair, yep those highlights are definitely purple. Just what I wanted! But neither the guys nor I are impressed by the “brown” that developed into almost a gold color. It was while blow drying that I asked my main guy how he felt about next time doing all purple hair. He grinned and said “keyi” which is basically “sure.” I think he remembered that last time I admitted my age and maybe he thinks I’m a little nuts. I reminded him that I trust his opinion and expertise. I feel he is looking forward to going all purple either in May or early June. Dying my hair is cheap here and I love being fawned over by kind, interesting, and fun guys for hours on end!

My friends here in China are all wondering what came over me, but they totally dig this dye with the dark purple accenting the gold brown color. They also enjoyed the hot pink and red for its fun factor. One of my friends asked if she could take some photos as she wants to paint me in a couple of pictures. She is an art major at a college here in Chengdu. She is also from XiChang where I spent my time doing research.

Speaking of changes …I have spent more late nights partying in China than I ever did in my 20’s and I find it suits me well. I enjoy going out with my friends from all over the world, literally, and drinking, dancing, going to karaoke which is totally different than in America, and generally hanging out until 2am and then getting up at 6:30 to go to school for a couple of hours. Talk about a change from going to work, school, the gym and walking the dogs after dinner then going to bed around 9pm! Not having responsibilities is fun and has brought out some of the less conservative parts in me. I like this side of me, I plan on keeping it alive when I come back to see all of you.

I’m out of time, I need to practice for a huge test next weekend. I am also having issues with my laptop so the pictures might be funky. I hope you enjoy the pics and reading about just a couple of my changes.

Clothing style, late night partying, and hair color might just be the start, who knows?

I think Joe should become a Chinese style hairdresser, what do you all think?