Helen Grange
Helen Grange

As Shanghai locks its citizens down, Helen Grange recalls some fabulous hair treatments and more, in China’s beleaguered city, back in the day

My hair guy does drag on the weekends and asked me to look for a long blonde wig while I was there. The Chinese can knock off anything. It’s why I belong to a ‘blow-dry club’ in Joburg, where once a week the mane gets cruelly tamed. Muzzled for a week in an elastic band while I did a China travel junket, it sorely needed attention by the time I hit Shanghai, so in I trudged to ‘CC Hairdresser’ in fashionable Huashan road.

Hair salons, like massage joints in China, seem to be populated with effete young boys, which I don’t mind at all since they’re culturally conditioned to defer to middle-aged women. Well, the aged in general.

I detect a faint murmur among them as I enter and I’m guessing it’s about who’s going to draw the short straw. Because even tethered, it’s obvious this hair is no slinky panther job like they’re used to. More like a woolly mammoth on a leash.

There’s a “menu” for shampoo and blowdry. You can opt for a ‘stylist’ or a ‘director’, who is pricier. I choose ‘stylist’, and a dude in a snakeskin-motif T-shirt starts washing my hair. Now he’s squinting, his mouth slightly agape as he picks through the strands like you might sort seaweed. I suspect it’s the “director” draped in his chair with an almost imperceptible smirk, thumbing his Samsung while snakeskin man slays the dragon to Michael Jackson’s Heal the World playing in the background. Hats off to him, because he gets it right, and ends off confidently whipping my mane into shape like my stylist back home, no longer lost in hair gene translation.

My hair guy back home does drag on the weekends and asked me to look for a long blonde wig. Well, I know the Chinese can knock off anything including blue eyes and a taste for Mcdonald’s, but this is one Western attribute they seem to just not care about. And good for them. The Chinese love their own hair and the most they do is curl it or add colour. My personal best is little boy hair, cut short into an inky, maintenance-free, fuzz.

Still, my own, er, ‘blonde’ hair came in handy while overheating in the midst of the Forbidden City, as one elderly woman grabbed my arm and told her young daughter to take a picture of me next to her. “She’s from the countryside. It’s your hair,” explained our guide. So I might be in a picture frame in Donglu village, all because of my messy tresses.

Anyway, back to effete boys in salons and parlors. My other little indulgence was a foot massage in Beijing. There was no saucy reason for me being there other than a foot massage, but that didn’t stop the massage boy from venturing, ‘you older?’

“You mean am I old?” I replied, half dreading what he’d say next.

“You like young?” he said.

Ok, so I wasn’t lost in translation now, but I admit I was rendered mute. In my mind I was mouthing, “just get on with my feet for the Lord Harry’s sake!”

I focused myopically on the Chinese soapie on the flatscreen as though I was thoroughly immersed in the plot. I felt about as sexy as Maggie Smith in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The Maggie Smith feeling never really passed while I was in China. The Chinese are petite and despite my beady eyes covetously seeking fat people everywhere I went, I never saw any.
“Westerners are bigger boned than us,” intuited our kind guide, trying to soothe me as I fawned over the pretty frocks on young women and blurted ungraciously that ‘I wouldn’t fit into something like that. So I brought back a tin of green tea. I thought it would help me lose weight. But I’m already back to old habits, and happy to have my hair guy back again – even with all his cheeky irreverence and prices double those of his Chinese counterpart!