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Day 127 – Good Hair

July 8, 2010

Dateline: Sapa, Vietnam – Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Monday Bec, the Aussie girl on my trek, complimented one of the Black Hmong girls on her long, lovely hair. The girl replied that it was how girls in her culture were judged. If her hair was long, healthy, and clean, people determined that she would make a good wife because she’d take care of her household like she took care of her hair. If a girl’s hair was damaged and dirty, presumably she’d do the same to a home as a wife.

I looked around and realized that every girl had long, shiny, clean hair. Considering they were also out pounding the paths chasing around trekking tourists just to sell a couple of souvenirs, they’d all probably make excellent spouses.

Sihn, our guide, noted that before she got married, her hair used to be a lot longer. That’s a surprise, considering her hair, when unraveled from its bun, came down almost to her waist. Guess some things run across all cultures. Once a lady’s got a man on lock, she eases up a bit–puts away the slinky lingerie, starts farting under the sheets, and cuts her hair short.

When Bec asked about what the men had to do, her Black Hmong companion said, “He has to cut his.”

At that moment, I became conscious of the poofy mess on my own head. I started this trip cleanly shaven and kept it that way for most of it. It’s the easiest, cheapest, most low maintenance way to live. When I hit Vietnam, I decided to grow it out. I was bored of the bald look.

Unfortunately, that meant enduring the in between stage—the period where my wiry hair is too short to be formed and too long to be clean. During this time my head looks like it’s out of focus with hair growing at different speeds all around my skull.

Just look back at some of the pictures of me over the last few weeks. Pretty it ain’t. It’s been a month since I visited a barber. I would not make a good husband.

In spite of my ambivalence to marriage, I decided to cure my current look. I might not be looking to get married, but I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the fuzz tickling the back of my ears.

I dropped in on a barber shop I’d noticed while out riding yesterday. Instead of a guy running the shop, I found two women asleep in the chairs. Bad sign. I woke them and asked about the price. Once they got over the fact that I spoke English, I learned that it’d cost me 70,000 dong ($3.75). That seemed steep, but I was too lazy to argue.

You know how sometimes you just know things are about to go really really bad? The front wheel starts to wobble. Or while on the public pooper you realize that there are only two sheets left on the toilet paper roll. Or you walk into your living room and notice that the shotgun isn’t where you left it. It’s the feeling you get when your life’s soundtrack has turned to a minor key.

This lady stylist was the score to a Hitchcock movie. She started by putting a guard on the clippers, then tentatively poking at my head. I’ve cut hair. This is not how you use a guard. The guard is there to let you safely jam the clippers into someone’s head and know that you’ll get an even length. You jam the clippers into someone’s head accordingly.

As if that weren’t bad enough, she asked me how high she should cut in the back. Uhhhh, in all the years I’ve been hair cut, never has a barber asked that question. I can’t see back there. Isn’t that the call of a professional?

At one point, it looked like I was going to get a bowl cut, except instead of the bowl being level, it had slipped to the back of my head and was tilted up. The whole time, the lady giggled and dabbed at my skull with the electric shears.

I resigned myself to reshaving my head if it all went to hell. It’d suck to have gone through two uncomfortable months for nothing, but at least I wouldn’t look like an Asian conehead.

That’s when the guy walked in. Thank. God.

He was the same one as I’d seen the day before. The lady stepped aside and laughed and (I think) apologized to the barber. Then she watched as the guy remedied the whole situation.

He worked confidently with the clippers and a comb. He reworked the upward slant that started behind my ears. He did not ask how high I wanted the back. He did right.

I still may not look like husband material (a net positive for the world in general), but I do look better than I did (and would have) before.


GALLERY: No pictures today. I spent the day changing a train ticket and, after the haircut, falling ill. You’ll have to use your imagination.

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