Friday, March 13, 2009

The Hair Job II: Nothing Much Happened Again Today In Vietnam: VII

Berlin, David Bowie, Hair job, Humor, Humour, L.A., new york, Nothing Much Happened Again Today in Vietnam, Rod Stewart, Stylist, Swiss Army KnifeI was originally attracted by the price. As things get tougher the world over, saving over 50% on a hair job can be a big deal, especially for a guy. Previously I had gone to the same hair shop for over two years - the criteria being that they had trained salon stylists, as opposed to the bowl-over-the-head oriental barbers, and that they had a competitive price. My price for a haircut and highlight (streaks of lighter colour as opposed to a complete dye job) had been 250,000 Vietnamese Dong (vnd), or around US $17. To get the whole thing done for just vnd 100,000 (more like $7 US) seemed a bargain too good to be true - and probably any woman, with a sixth sense regarding beauty purchases, would have known that it was. But I, in an effort to maintain a tight budget, trundled on and into the shop at the appropriate time. I had visited a few hours earlier to meet the staff and inquire about price. With minimal English (they understand perfectly, the words "haircut" and "highlight") I was assured by an attractive seemed-to-be-owner that the job could be undertaken upon my return.

Once back in the shop, I found two females sleeping in the barber chairs for lack of customers and was ready to get to work. A male stylist was summoned from the back of the place and once surveying that he had the proper gear
(holdster with professional shears, combs, clips, whatever) I proceeded to be draped in silk and appropriately sprayed down for the shear. And a fine job he did. With a little instruction, just here and there, he proved to understand not only the mechanics of the work but the values of design, pyramidal composition, layering, lift and drape. He was good. Maybe too good for this place. Cutting finished we were now ready for the "highlight" part of the job - and that's when the trouble began. Failing to find the previous owner-to-be- there was absolutely no understanding whatsoever amongst the now remaining staff that I had requested the second procedure, but with yet more encouragement I managed to find a hair sample book on my lap and proceeded to riffle through the pages in search of blonde. As you might imagine, the colour palate for this hemisphere is radically different from that in the west and an almost dizzying array of Auburn to Chestnut to Mahogany takes up over 95% of the book with "Madonna 101", the standard bottle blonde colour, occupying just one sample - so I picked that one. Pandemonium ensued.

The universal Vietnamese symbol for
"We don't have that", "We're out of that", "We have no fucking idea what you're talking about" is an inversion of the palms skyward, elbows bent, and a rotating of wrists that produces a blender-like motion in the air in front of the communicator's mute piehole. Translation: "You're fucked". It was then, just as nicely explained as they were capable of, that they didn't have the blonde colour and I would have to choose from the remainder of browns in the book. "But that's not a highlight", I protested to deaf ears, "Highlight means lighter and yadda, yadda, yadda" - as I went just so abso-fucking-lutely nowhere. This job was over. And I would have to find my highlights in another shop. I paid for the haircut, a more than fair 20,000 dong, and was dejected onto the street like a pinball through the black hole of hell in a game of flipper-the-foreigner. "Go fish dude". That's how it works sometimes.

Now on the street I was essentially like a car which had had bodywork, bondall and primer but no primary paint job. A half-baked job now looking for completion on a budget of 80,000 dong. Good luck.
A survey of shops in my not-so-large four block radius neighborhood will reveal no less than 30 hair shops. They're everywhere, as are the customers, and apparently have not seen yet fit to establish a local business organization that will help them get some handle on proper pricing and services - prices vary wildly. From an arguable 80,000 dong tint job at a shop who didn't have my colour I was now wading through a plethora of the joints with estimates going all the way from 150,000 dong to 280,000!

One thing's for sure, they know how to spot a foreigner who's got a big fucking problem. I didn't see anyone else walking the streets with a 1/2-done hair job, that's for sure.

Berlin, David Bowie, Hair job, Humor, Humour, L.A., new york, Nothing Much Happened Again Today in Vietnam, Rod Stewart, Stylist, Swiss Army KnifeAfter a flurry of unsuccessful negotiations with more than five shops, in an effort to get something close to 80,000 dong, I settled on a place for 100,000, after getting them off their original quote of 120,000. I'm convinced I met every gay man in the neighborhood after this ritual and was more than happy to check my head in with what seemed to be a family of stylists - a woman, her husband and two cute sisters - either one of which the male owner was proffering for me to be interested in romantically. I chuckled that off and sat down for the cap. The device with which one administers a highlight job is a rather unattractive shower cap, tied beneath the chin with a little lip of a visor at the forehead and about a hundred holes covering the hairline of the cranium through which very small chunks of hair will be pulled by a crotchet-like hook, producing sort of a mad scientist look before the colouring solution is applied. That done, the solution, a pasty blue goo in a bowl, is painted, with a paintbrush, onto the hair sticking out of the cap. It smells caustic and you look like a complete idiot during the process. Only a person of true unadulterated vanity would submit to the procedure holding a vascilating uncertain hope that, somehow in the end, they would actually look better for it. It takes a real suspension of disbelief to do this.

20 minutes with the goo and you are almost ready to have the stuff removed - thirty minutes in my case as she sits me down in the chair for a final moving about of all the hair with the paintbrush and a hand-sign that says
"five minutes". After that one is ushered to the shampoo section and given a thorough washing, scrubbing and massage from which you do emerge, I would certainly say, refreshed and then ushered back out to the front room for a blow-dry, gel and style - but this job was 1/2 done at one shop and 1/2 done here so the stylist is at a bit of a loss as to what she thinks I was going for in the first place. For my assessment, I'd say I was going for Bowie, but ended up with Rod Stewart instead - and that, as even all my veteran friends of the 70s will attest, is not a particularly good thing.

The big shock of hair that sprouts from my widows peak in front had become a neon sort of balloon yellow and the spikey roostery things in back were more of a platinum. I have no idea how this happens but with me as the stylist, uh, creative director of the job at hand, had no one to blame but my budget conscious self and proceeded to thank the staff, pay them and go on my merry way. Bad hair jobs are almost a hallmark of foreigners here. As the prices are so much radically cheaper than those of most western countries, the entire foreign population seems to go around getting themselves transformed into the likes of exotic endangered bird species on a daily basis. For the likes of the hair and nails on the women of the majority of the foreign influx, they are, for the most part ... horendous - and none of the Vietnamese ever seem to notice. They think all foreigners look like this - they've seen them on TV.

The rest of my evening was spent trying to figure out quite what to do next. I had dinner and having not been noticed by anybody yet, went home to hide.
The Swiss Army Knife, given to me by my ex-mother-in-law, has yet to see a problem it can not handle. It's little saw has tackled rose bushes at my overgrown lakehouse - the corkscrew, tamed any number of wine bottles and the auger, bored through a number of leather objects, including belts, to produce holes where no holes had been before. The little scizzors have come in handy as well, and tonight would be a test of their true fortitude. Could they swim their way through a virtual forest of oddly colored hair and cut out only the portions I didn't like? Could they master the intricacies of 21st century hairstyling to birth a Bowie from a Stewart? Could they? Could they?

Over the next few days, a number of you will see me. Do not be kind. Be honest. Brutally honest. One friend saw me recently and didn't even understand I had had my hair done, but truthfully, he doesn't know fuck all about these things. A few days ago another friend asked me if I was going for the LA Bowie or the Berlin Bowie. I said, "LA when I'm sober, Berlin when not". He thought that was backwards, but appropriately Bowie-esque. All you will need to do is figure out whether I have been drinking or not to tell me if I have succeeded.

Maybe NY Bowie is somewhere in the middle - or maybe just me.
Again, nothing much happened in Vietnam today.

For more in the "Nothing much happened" series, check below:

VIII People Are Just Dieing To Get Out of Here
VII The Hair Job
VI Happy New Year! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
V The Vietnam sNews
IV At The Center of Miss Universe
III My Walk in the Park Today
II The Stevie Wonder Post
I Ear Cleaning


  1. David, Real photos of you before and after please!

  2. Yes, pics, please!

  3. At least you didn't get the Flock of Seagulls singer cut...

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