These Arms are for your Hair

His macho looks and muscled arm makes him seem more at home at a construction site than a hair salon. But that’s exactly where I met him. In fact, he is a hairdresser. I was surprised and intrigued at the same time. I would have to wait to find out more though.

When I stepped into this family-run, neighbourhood hair salon, I was expecting middle-age aunties to serve me. Granted there were two such aunties but they were cashiers and managers, not hair-dressers. The men are the hair-stylists here.

I arrived at the salon at 11pm but it was still doing thriving business, like many hair salons inGuangzhouand mainlandChina. I requested for a hair wash and was promptly whisked upstairs by a young girl. As I settled into the reclining seat at the wash area, a young man in his twenties came bounding up the stairs. He had thought it was his turn to do my hair. When he realized the girl had volunteered for it, he beamed and exclaimed, “You’re the best!” before disappearing again.

The girl who washed my hair was an eighteen year-old vivacious teenager, chatty and attentive at the same time. While washing my hair, she asked if the water temperature and pressure exerted was to my liking. She then commented that I was very tall and has such long neck. She sounded like a junior at high school, admiring a senior dreamily. How could I not be flattered? “But you’re very thin! “Well, yes, in fact, too thin,” I said. “How I wish I could transfer some of my flesh to you, “she sighed. “I wish you could too. That would be the perfect solution, isn’t it?” I chuckled. And I meant it. I am desperately trying to put on weight but without success. “Do you always knock off this late?” “Sometimes, but today I went shopping.”  (Yes, I was pretending to be a native. So far I had been convincing enough thanks to my pseudoGuangzhouaccent.)

After the initial chat, perhaps sensing that I wanted to relax, she let me escape to my land of fantasy. Leaving her to work her way through my scalp, I entered into a state of bliss. At that moment, I really understood why a visit to a hair salon could help one de-stress.

When she was done, I was ushered downstairs. While waiting for my turn, I observed the macho hairdresser patiently sculpt the hair of a lady, his sinewy arms guiding the hair with grace. His was definitely a masculine kind of grace unlike the usual effeminate gentleness of gay hairdressers. I wonder how he ended up being a hairdresser. Of course, his manly ways and muscular physique does not mean he’s not gay either. I guess we’re basically used to the effeminate type of gay hair stylist found in salons. The rest are straight men who are almost never muscular and not very good stylist either. Somehow this is more or less true anywhere in the world. That’s what makes this hair stylist’s combination so unique.

Understandably, I perked up my ears to listen in on his conversation. While advising his customer on what to do with her hair for the following day, he was chatting with the two aunties in the shop at the same time. They commented on how dirty his suitcase was and he told them he had made it grubby on purpose so as not to attract the attention of potential thieves. They chuckled uncontrollably at this. I couldn’t suppress a smile either.

“Hey, the konnyaku jelly you bought fromHong Kongtaste superb! The ones over here in MainlandChinajust aren’t as nice.”

“Have more then.”

“Join us for supper later on. We’ve got something to discuss with you. …Oh, but you’ve got that suitcase of yours…inconvenient, I know.”

“It’s OK. I can leave the suitcase here and collect it tomorrow.”

That piqued my curiosity, I wondered what they were going to discuss after they close for the night. Plans to renovate the shop or how to improve business or personal matters? My imagination ran wild too. Somehow the informal Cantonese expression for ‘discuss’, ‘jum’, has an air of conspiracy surrounding it.

When he finally moved on to serve me, he greeted me and got on with the job. We didn’t end up chatting much, so couldn’t find out more about him. I had let nature take its course instead of trying to force a conversation. So, I turned to observation instead.

He blew dry and styled my hair with both sensitivity and a briskness that indicated practicality. His was the manly type of sensitivity, very much different from a gay man’s sensitivity. After my hair was blown till it was half dried, he took out the de rigueur round brush from his kit and carefully wrapped my hair around the contour of the brush before styling it; giving my hair that lift which one only gets at the hair salon. In fact, he did a much better job than the young hairstylist from a bigger, chain salon the night before. His experience shone through in his deft hands and seemingly effortless styling. His muscled arm, toiled away with an artist’s grace.

Further away, the young girl who had washed my hair earlier on was now having her hair washed by another girl, who seemed a year or two older than her. They were fooling around and in the excitement; the girl washing the hair had accidentally splashed water onto the younger girl. She quickly proffered an apology in surprisingly, English, instead of her native Cantonese; “Oh, I’m so sorry!” to the squeals’ of laughter from the ‘victim.’ I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at her deliberate attempt to speak in English or was secretly delighted at having water squirted onto her. In any case, they both looked like they were having fun. I, as a spectator, enjoyed the scene too. And this is something which I would definitely not have witness at a chain salon. And mind you, a wash and blow here cost half the price of those at a chain salon. You can be sure I’ll be back the next time I visitGuangzhou. Meanwhile, I’ll keep guessing what they had discussed that night after calling it a day.

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