Get in the Cut

It was that time of the month; when it’s been too long since one’s last haircut. I’d like to point out that my hair was already not looking it’s best because of how humid the air is over here (Shanghai means “on the sea” and is at sea level). Add to that the fact that I have to be really stingy when using my hair products due to their unavailability in China, and you can only imagine how unkempt my hair looked like. If you know me well enough, you probably know how vain I am and how the state of my hair can possibly have me emotionally compromised. Which is why I decided to just go somewhere and get a haircut because after all, it couldn’t get any worse… right? Wrong.

I chose to go to the hair salon right across from my gym. As I approached the place and [struggled to] read the sign, 3 girls grabbed and hurled me into the salon. Before I could even explain what I wanted, I was getting my hair washed and my head massaged in the process too. It felt great. I thought, “this is nice” (that was probably the point of the hair wash/head massage). The girl was smiling and giggling the whole time. I’m assuming it had something to do with the color of my skin and/or the texture of my hair. I was then directed to what seemed to be a private VIP booth for the actual haircut: I was separated from the other customers by a very nice color glass wall with designs of all sorts; my chair also looked different and was very comfortable. I’m sure I was charged extra for all that… Oh well, “YOLO”.

Then, what seemed to be the oldest stylist in the salon came and asked me what I wanted. I explained to him that I wanted my hair trimmed to half the length of what I currently had. He told me “OK no problem”. This is where things went downhill: he proceeded to form an island of hair at the top of my head by shaving the sides only, as well as the bottom half of the back. He proudly asked me what I thought of it.

At that point there was a little crowd surrounding us, fascinated by the whole event. How do I know? Maybe because they kept taking bits of my hair that had been cut off, and feeling them between their fingers as well as blowing them off their hands. They were overall just really intrigued by this texture they had never come across before. Imagine discovering a new color: that’s how fascinated they were.

I explained to him that I wanted the same thing he did on the sides, all over the head. He said “OK”. 5 minutes later, my sides were completely shaven and the island at the top of my head remained untouched. Needless say I was extremely pissed. He noticed that, and when I asked why he wouldn’t shave the top he said no because it looks better like that. I was flabbergasted because 1, I looked like a total idiot (pic related) and 2, and I couldn’t believe what he just said: he clearly knew and understood what I wanted but decided to completely disregard it because he thought his vision was better.

He asked me to pull up a picture of what I wanted on my iPhone, which I did by showing him Kanye West on one of my album covers in iTunes. He deeply apologized for his mistake and promised he’d do better next time.

I decided to just go ahead and have my whole head shaved. I don’t particularly like doing that but it’s better than the monstrosity on the left. Using state of the art technology (Photoshop), I was able to recreate what I looked like before the clean shave. I know you probably would have preferred an authentic shot, but I was absolutely not in the mood to take a picture of myself at that moment. If you’re wondering about the Bane mask: I have frenemies and therefore cannot afford to have the original picture circulating online.

I couldn’t be mad at him: even though he understood what I wanted and did otherwise, I still feel like had I been more fluent, things would have gone better. And while his actions would have been intolerable in other countries I’ve lived in, I’m now I China. I have to come to terms that occurrences that initially seem outrageous to me are considered normal here. Still, I’m the last born and a little more spoilt than my 2 elder siblings. Having someone go against my will is always a little hard to swallow. I mean, who likes to be forced into things right?

This led me to think about gentrification, here in Shanghai. The first time I ever gave thought to this phenomenon was when we visited Yuyan Garden, what used to be a powerful Lord’s house/domain/villa, and is now a tourist spot.

As you can see, the buildings are very traditional. I really enjoyed observing the details in the murals up to the very tips of the several roofs. Then, I noticed 2 skyscrapers in the background, one of which was still under construction. I also noticed how they both cast their shadows over Yuyan Garden. It seems like nothing but it spoke a lot to me and brought up issues of social inequalities and gentrification:

Yuyan Garden represents traditional China while the skyscrapers in the background symbolize development and industrialization as they cast their shadows over traditional China, in effort to embrace [state] capitalism. While I highly doubt historical sites such as Yuyan Garden will be razed in order to build a mall, there are still a lot of old buildings and homes that are sacrificed in order to further develop Shanghai. While the government isn’t [always] responsible for such, it is always one of the major actors.

Indeed, the government fosters an environment conducive to gentrification by mobilizing the resources necessary to overcome fragmented property right issues, and by investing in infrastructures and embellishment policies, all of which benefit the goals of gentrifiers. So what happens when those ends are met?

Fancy malls everywhere that wow even a Chicago girl like Shanel. Shanghai looks great but at what cost? How are the people doing the jobs no one wants to do (mopping floors, keeping the streets clean etc.) expected to live in Shanghai where there is such a huge denivelation between their income and the cost of living? Some have no choice but to leave Shanghai. Those who choose to stay are subject to very low life conditions: I’ve seen several street cleaners (they’re easily spotted because they wear uniforms) spending the night on their carts on the sidewalk.

That was just one example that underlines essential questions: are we witnessing reckless development? If so, how long will it be sustainable? How long before Shanghai becomes another Washington D.C. or New York City where (by my West Texas or Charlotte, NC standards) life is ridiculously expensive? What will become of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve delicious food but whose revenue cannot match the cost of running a business in a continuously more expensive financial environment?

The only hope to see those issues solved in a positive light (for the common man) lies in the hands of the government. Indeed, China’s state controlled capitalism is the only thing capable of slowing down rampant classic capitalism and the negative externalities associated with it, such as gentrification.

Thinking about the victims of gentrification helped me feel better about my [traumatic] experience at the hair salon. While I was forced into something I didn’t want, my hair will re-grow. Unlike me, displaced Chinese don’t have the option to just wait and start over. I personally find it ironic that they have to turn to the government, which is both the cause and the solution to their problem.