The Hairdresser

My friend Bonnie has many theories about hairdressers.

“Every hairdresser tries the hardest to please a new customer, thus the result is always the best on the first visit. So you should never go to the same hairdresser twice.”

It may sound like an impossible task, but Bonnie is very good at hunting down the most popular hairdresser of the month. She travels a great deal for work, and manages to get a new haircut at every big city she ends up that month – New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid, etc. etc. etc. She is very fond of getting haircuts. Comparing to her, I’m the laziest person in the hair department. I stick with the simplest, most easy to manage style and can hibernate in it for years before I wake up one day and realize I¡¯m desperately in need of a new look.

Whenever that happens, all I need to do is to tell Bonnie that I¡¯m ready. The following weekend we would for sure be sitting in a new hair salon and getting our haircut together.

That¡¯s what happened today.

In the afternoon¡¯s brilliant sunlight, we pushed open the glass door at Ming¡¯s Salon located in Milpitas Square, the best Chinese mall in the entire Bay Area. Entering the salon, I immediately noticed the difference. It was the most stylish salon I¡¯ve ever set foot in. The d¨¦cor was very modern. Instead of simple plastic white (sometimes half broken) lawn chairs you¡¯d see at other Bay Area hairdressers, the chairs at the waiting area had pastel-colored translucent plastic chairs with shiny metal legs. They looked like hard candy, light pink, soft green, and lemon yellow. Neatly arranged along the wall and in front of the floor to ceiling windows, they looked like chess pieces on a chess board. Instead of pattern-less plastic curtains, there were semi-transparent velvety-colored fabric drapes hanging down from the high ceiling, seperating the waiting area from the hairdressers from the hair washing stations in the back. All the hairdressers had rather dramatic hairdos themselves. All customers were Asian, but no one¡¯s hair color was black. They were maroon, dusty blond, rusty brown, bright orange, to name a few. Music was techno and rap. It looked more like a trendy club in the City.

One young skinny guy with a boyish fuzzy mustache and an Afro style wild hair looked up, Bonnie asked him for the owner ¡°Ming¡± in Cantonese. They exchanged a few sentences that I couldn¡¯t follow. At the end Bonnie told me that we just need to wait for a few minutes. She swirled around before finishing her sentence, I followed. In coming from the door was someone very skinny, and looked shockingly like¡­ you won’t guess it…Andy Warhol!! The Asian variation! He was in his early-forties, wearing a pair of large tinted glasses with shinny metal rims, a semi-transparent polyester shirt with brownish orange swirls mixed with greyish white, tight blue jeans with a small leather tassel wrapped around his right hip, black leather boots with toe tips curved upward like Viking boats.

¡°Andy Warhol¡± first helped Bonnie choosing the color of the dye, then sat me down and started to fire rapid questions at me. ¡°What would you like?¡± ¡°I want to cut it short.¡± ¡°Short short? Or Medium short?¡± ¡°Not short short.¡± ¡°Layered?¡± ¡°Yes.¡± ¡°Okay¡±, he fingered the tips of my hair, ¡°How about I cut off this much and¡­¡± He was showing a tiny pinch of hair at about one inch long. ¡°Oh, no, I want much shorter than that.¡± I cut him off, gestured at around my chin. His eye brows rose, ¡°Are you dare? Won¡¯t you regret? You do have beautiful…¡± he caught himself and quickly changed his tone, ¡°Alright, how about an A-bowl. I will leave your hair hugging your chin at the front and layer layer layer like crazy in the back. It would be beautiful, you washed it and ¡®woff¡¯ you go it is all nice.¡± That sounded good, I happily nodded.

He sent me off to get a wash. When I came back, he was busy painting Bonnie¡¯s hair and wrapping her hair into tiny square of silver foils. It looked like a headdress from a Star Track episode. A few minutes later, he finished decorating Bonnie¡¯s hair and left the remaining paint job to his assistant, a silent young girl wearing a large black baggy dress that half resembled a kimono half resembled the Jedi robe from Star Wars. He came back to me, ¡°Have you thought it through? A-bowl it is? No Regret? Going once going twice oops there it goes… too late!¡± I laughed, ¡°Nop. Go ahead.¡±

His scissors were dancing around my head, my face, and my neck. For a few times, I had to close my eyes and held my breath, afraid that merely looking at it I might lead the scissors astray. Blood might come out somewhere and dirtied the white floor. I remembered what Bonnie told me in the car that ¡°Ming¡± considered himself a professional and an artist. He told Bonnie before that he had kept up with all the trainings till this day. In today¡¯s lousy economy of Silicon Valley, when the other hairdressers had to layoff staff, reduce operating hour, reduce rental space just to keep afloat, Ming¡¯s place managed a fully booked customer list and had to turn people away. On top of all, he charged handsomely and it was by no means a budget place. The decoration, the sun-filled salon, and the stream of customers on this Saturday afternoon said it all.

At the end, he suggested two threads of highlight in the front. I turned it down. Because I¡¯ve been forewarned by Bonnie that he would charge a full price($65+) for any coloring job regardless its scale. Besides I like my hair to remain its natural state even though I was the one and only Asian with black hair in the entire Salon that afternoon.

Three hours and many scissors kisses later, we ended up at the register: Bonnie¡¯s coloring + highlight + cut + perm came to $160 plus tip, mine was $45 plus tip.

I¡¯m happy with my new hair style plus the interesting experience. I¡¯m even thinking of going back for my next haircut. Will Bonnie be horrified?

A few more hairdresser tips from Bonnie:

“If you know the owner’s name, then always asks for him/her when you make an appointment. He/She tends to be the best in the shop. Most time the owner’s name is the same as the salon’s name.”

“If you don’t know the owner’s name and it is the first time you are visiting, then pay close attention to the hairdresser who is working on the station that is closest to the front of the shop. The owner usually sits the best hairdresser right in front of the window, like a showpiece for the passers-by.”

¡°If you are tired of the same look, you are due for a new hairdresser. Most hairdressers have one comfortable style and they prefer to stick with it. They will tell you it is the style they believe fit you best, but the truth is it is the style that fits THEM the best. You won¡¯t get much change out of them. So try someone new!¡±