Today has been a good day. We're pulling out of a prolonged cool spell (although still warm compared to the type of March weather we would expect in Canada). The forecast for the next couple of days (which I received from one of my teachers at the language school, so it must be reliable) is for sunny days in the mid-20s. But I won't believe it until I see it. Unless it comes out of John Sauder's mouth, it don't mean a thing.
A notable transition has occurred in my life. I've finally emerged from the awkward No-Man's-Land between Beard-dom and being clean-shaven (I found myself reading Psalm 23), and I no longer flinch when I don't see a beard on my face. In fact, I shave every morning, except Saturdays! This is big news for any of you who know me well. Facial hair found an unqualified welcome on my face sometime around my 18th birthday.
My attitude has always been, "If it grows, let it". Of course, fingernails are the exception, and my toenails never seem to grow. I think the last time I trimmed them was shortly before my wedding, when I felt obliged to do everything I could to 'spruce up'.
But for the last week or two, I was beginning to feel unduly slovenly. It had everything to do with my hair. In a previous post, Jessica alluded to the fact that I sometime wrestle with the state of my hair. Baldness, or shall we say 'the B-word', has chosen me. I am reminded of the short story, The Lottery, in which a woman receives a slip of paper with a black dot on it, and is therefore doomed to die.
Hang on a minute... baldness and death in the same paragraph? Comparing the two is, first of all, a heinous injustice to bald, balding and so-to-be-balding men globally, and secondly, is just plain melodramatic. I'm fascinated by society's obsession with thick, perfectly manageable hair, and my decidedly thin, unmanageable hair just doesn't fit the mould.
If there is a complaint to be heard from these lips, it is merely that in this in-between time, this hazy netherworld of sparseness, I would rather just lose it all, Daddy Warbucks-style.
The reason I got on all this is because today I went out and got a haircut. Heads are a bit like topiaries, if you think about it. Going into a barbershop is a bit like entrusting your precious bush to a stranger's shears. I picked a place that looked inexpensive (tucked at the edge of a neighbourhood that's all torn up with construction, and directly across from a worker's shantytown of sorts). The women inside were surprised to see me come in, but very nice.
I asked how much for a hair cut. 10 yuan, she replied, for a haircut, and 20 for a wash, haircut and scalp massage. I indicated that I only wanted a cut.
In the chair, it soon became apparent that my wishes had not been properly communicated. I got the full scalp treatment, a rinse, and a dry. Then the cut began. A different lady did the cutting, relying mostly on a large set of clippers. She was very meticulous, and her precision was really something.
One interesting feature to life in China is the much larger role that massages seem to play in daily life. You can see massage shops all over, and it seems that even barbershops offer massages. There's something about massages that make North Americans automatically edgy. I'm not alluding to the darker side of massages... the parlour side of things. I mean massages in general. Strangers touching you with for the purpose of giving you pleasure. I know people in Canada who have gone for massages, but it is generally because they hurt themselves at the gym, or for some specific purpose. Here, it is sort of a general past time.
I didn't get the full-body massage (it would have been an extra 40 yuan), but surprisingly, it didn't seem as though it would have been a big deal if I had gotten it. Of course, at some point I was forced to try to answer some of the many questions being directed at me. Where was I from, what was my name, how old was I, where did I work, how long would I be in China, did I like Chinese music? She knew a little English, but I was able to catch a lot of it in Chinese, and answer accordingly. It's one thing to have your language teacher ask you carefully scripted questions, when she knows exactly what words you know and don't know. It's another thing entirely when it's a total stranger! But it's way more satisfying too!
Here's the finished product. If I could provide you with a panoramic shot, you would get a complete feel for the militaristic quality of the haircut. Quite in keeping with a certain type of cut you see frequently in China.
In other news, I was asked by someone back in Canada how expensive groceries are. This is the first of two photos that I will put up (the other in a later post) that attempts to illustrate relative costs. All the food on the table was purchased with about $27. This was purchased at the grocery store. The other place we shop is a vegetable market, where prices are more 'flexible'.
However, a second, and more immediately available fact comes through in this photo. Everything, from the tiniest cracker to the biggest bag of rice has about twice or three times the packaging that it would back in Canada. For example, we bought one item that was packaged in individual bags, inside a larger plastic tray, inside a large plastic bag.
Ordinarily, we would just not buy something with that much packaging. But there are no alternatives. It's as if someone said, "Hey, we have a billion tons of plastic wrap sitting in the warehouse, and we need to get rid of it NOW!"
I'm sure that as time goes by, and we learn the subtleties of shopping, we will be able to reduce our waste. But for now, all our food has a slightly guilty taste...