When you have Asian hair, you don’t let just anyone cut it. Before I knew this, I had had my fair share of bad haircuts, done by stylists who weren’t used to cutting my hair. And then one day, it dawned on me that that we tend to have hair that is a little thicker, a little straighter, a little more slippery, and that stylists are not one-size-fits-all. Since then, I’ve pretty much only gone to Japanese hair salons, and about 6 months before I left New York, I found someone I loved who didn’t charge an arm and a leg.
And then I moved halfway across the world. (And she was planning on moving back to Japan.)
While I’m sure I could go to any hair salon here in Joburg and walk away without a complete hack job, I don’t know that I would want to risk it. So I’d been holding out, letting my hair grow out into a shapeless mop of a bob (calling it a bob at this point was pretty generous). One day I came across a few expat blogs documenting getting successful haircuts in the Chinatown in Cyrildene. The pro? It was less than R100 (~$10). The con? The stylists didn’t speak a lick of English. However, the bloggers all seemed happy with how their cuts turned out, and couldn’t stop raving about how they were able to get a quality haircut for a fraction of the price you would pay at a regular salon.
After a short debate in my head (what if I came out with a mullet or crew cut? but it’s so cheap! but I could end up with terrible hair that takes months to grow out!), I hiked up my big girl pants and decided it would be worth it to give it a try. Hair grows, after all, and while a bad cut is hard to deal with, it’s not the end of the world. I found a bunch of hair styles on Pinterest that I could show to the stylist as examples, and hoped that the old saying “A picture says a thousand words” would hold true.
This past weekend, I went out to Chinatown and found a salon right on Derrick Avenue that looked busy, and had both younger clientele and stylists. I asked a woman standing there how much it would be (R100), and then sat down to wait for an open chair and stylist. This place was basically a small room, the doors opening straight out onto the sidewalk. There were about 6 chairs, black hair scattered all over the floor, and slightly faded pictures of Chinese hair models plastered along the wall, the edges on some of them curling up from age.
After about 5-10 minutes, a young guy came and beckoned me to a lone shampoo chair in a corner. As he washed my hair, he started speaking to me in Chinese…to which I responded apologetically “I’m sorry, I don’t speak…”
He nodded and then finished washing my hair in silence.
I followed him to a chair, and as he went to hand me a thick magazine of hair styles, I pulled out my phone and said “I have photos!” He flipped through the photos, l made a few hand gestures to show him how short/long I wanted to go, he nodded again in understanding, and started snipping away.
At first I watched him carefully and nervously, just to make sure that he really did understand how I wanted my hair, but was soon put at ease by his careful and confident cutting. Not too long after, he started blowdrying my hair, made a few adjustment snips, looked at me in the mirror and asked “Good?”
I nodded, smiled, and replied “Good! Thank you!”
And without another word, I was whisked out of the chair, and just as quickly, another client sat down and the stylist turned his focus to him. I found the woman I originally spoke to, handed her a 100 rand note, and went on my way.
There was no fanfare, no awkward small talk with the stylist, no preening, no up-selling of products. While I’ve enjoyed occasionally splurging on salon visits before (2 hours of pampering! massages! free coffee! discussing in detail what exactly I want done to my hair!), I’ve always hated having to chit chat with the stylist. I really don’t like small talk, and it’s always the one part of going to get my hair cut that puts me off. This Chinatown experience was quick and efficient, I only spoke a total of 11 words, and I still got a pretty decent haircut out of it. For under $10? I’m sold.
If you live in Joburg and need to get an Asian food fix, definitely take an afternoon to check out Cyrildene. You can find all sorts of rice (I bought a 2 kg bag of Jasmine rice for R32), fresh veggies, Asian groceries (Kewpie mayonnaise, rice crackers, fish sauce, pickled and fermented everything), and teas that will cure everything from a low libido to high cholesterol. There are bakeries if you’re craving something stuffed with sweetened bean paste, and restaurants if you want to have lunch. The best part? Everything is so inexpensive (as Chinatowns around the world are).
There’s still so much exploring to do – I’m sure I haven’t discovered many of the hidden gems there – so I know I’ll be back again soon enough.