One of the best editors I’ve ever worked for has an amazing way to diffuse tension in a newsroom. Borrowed from conductor and inspirational speaker Benjamin Zander, he calls it Rule 52. Basically it is this: let’s not take ourselves too seriously, people.
I’ve been having a few rough weeks. So, in the interests of my own sanity, I am applying Rule 52 to myself.
I have decided to publish a piece I wrote some time ago, reflecting on an experience back in China. Because, if you can’t laugh, then why are we here? Besides, it is nearly Valentine’s Day – and the theme of this piece has some romantic angles, if you will.
To give a bit of context: Before I moved to China, my life in South Africa looked something like this. I spent most of my hours wearing away laptop keyboards in my study, while a wonderful woman called Letticia worked for me in the house and babysat my children when they got home from school (more about her, soon). My tiny study looked out onto Bantry Bay, quite possibly the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Cape Town, where I could see whales and yachts and the evening sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. From the other side of my home (in Kloof Road, in case you are interested), I could look up at the side of Table Mountain. Beyond the burglar bars and alarms, I drove a smart 2×4 with bullet-proof windows to the nearest shopping centre.
I took a lot of stuff for granted, like highlights and french manicures.
Flash forward: My life in China entailed living, communist style, in an apartment which looked identical to the homes of everyone else who worked for the organisation that hired my husband. The same couches, beds, tables, wok, Chinese cutlery, Chinese laundry room – and the same Ayi sharing her time (and gossip, it must be said) between apartments. There was no point reading any of the mail I got from a bank, or anyone, because I couldn’t understand it.
There was no communication via social media with the outside world because the government blocks all access. No western music. Very little English is spoken in China. As for transport: my preference was to snuggle up to the locals in ovecrowded buses and trains. Occasionally, though, I ended up on the back of a pedi-cab, which is basically a person-drawn cart, with western-style food piled up next to me on the seat and around my feet after a ‘Metro’ (or Med-a-long, as you would say in China) shop some distance away from home.
And, I could take nothing for granted. After my first visit to a hairdresser in Beijing, I was transformed from a sun-streaked blonde to orange-with-gentian-blue-stripes (basically a blue-rinse redhead). The young man who did my hair was very excited because he’d never worked on Caucasian hair before. My visit to a beauty salon proved even more memorable.
I hope you enjoy this little piece. But be warned: if you are squeamish about pubic hairs and stuff like that, or don’t like the sound of Rule 52, this one is not for you. Or, if you’d prefer to read something more serious, or analytical on China, please hit the ‘World Views’ tab on my blog instead. – JC
Here comes the hairy white beast
What’s a Caucasian girl to do to keep her bikini line trim if she lives in China? Jackie Cameron steps behind the pink curtain for a unique salon experience.
Ever had what Oprah Winfrey calls a light bulb moment? You know, a sudden moment of clarity, when you see a situation for what it is?
I had such a moment watching that famous scene in Sex and the City, the movie, when the Mexican sunlight catches Cynthia Nixon – aka Miranda Hobbes –along the bushy red shoreline of her swimsuit. You may recall that blonde TV orgasm queen Kim Cattrall let out a gasp of horror at the untidy strands of hair peeping out at her?
Miranda’s excuses that she was too busy in her career to wax were quickly shrugged off by her New York city girlfriends. There’s no excuse for not taking care of yourself in that department, was the resounding message to Miranda.
I felt for Miranda, really I did. In fact, the same problem was growing on me, though for different reasons, and I felt a hot twinge of emotional discomfort about it.
Heaven forbid my husband would feel compelled to make a similar admonishing remark to me as Cattrall’s Samantha Jones did to her hapless red-head lawyer friend. I had to do something about this, I thought, spurred on by the “Sex and the City” girl talk. I would make a similar, Cynthia-style clean-up operation my mission.
Come into my parlour…
After months of living in China, I had yet to make contact with a beauty salon that did waxing. Or, shall I say, a beauty salon that did some waxing in those parts for the usual reasons, and had some interest in selling such a service to foreigners.
I’d trawled through pages of glossy hard-backed menus at various, sweetly-scented spas. Face massages, foot massages, exotic anti-pigmentation procedures, road surfacing-like skin peels: you name it, you could probably have it done for you in China. All except a bikini or leg wax, it seemed.
When at last I finally spotted a wax advertised among the offerings at a 5-star city hotel’s salon, the lady on duty at reception mustered enough words in English to make it clear this service was no longer available. Didn’t women in China wax, I wondered? Maybe the local women didn’t have hair down there? I mean, what did I really know about the Chinese?
There was one last place I hadn’t tried, however. And it was for a reason. You see, Chlitina, I had been told amid a group of giggling ex-pats, was where women went for their jollies. It looks like a beauty treatment spa, but it’s really a front, a business that looks like one thing but is actually something else, Mrs Canada had said authoritatively.
It’s where you go for a full body massage that includes a “happy ending”, gushed Mrs Canada, scarcely containing her excitement. She knew, she relayed to a captivated room, because her unnamed friend had told her all about politely pushing away a vibrator at the end of a massage that very week. No word of a lie!
Chlitina – yes, that’s really its name and you pronounce it CLIT-EE-NA – advertises in the Chinese English media. They have “waxing services for people with too much hair. 180 yuan (about US$30) for one body area, like two arms, or two legs,” goes its local city listings’ guide, no doubt eliciting a few chortles from witty English readers.
Nudge, nudge; wink, wink
With an urban legend like the one that had come out of Mrs Canada’s lips, and the entrance of the local Chlitina situated not far from Mrs Canada’s front door, how could I dare pop in? What if Mr or Mrs Canada or one of the others who knew about what really went on in there spotted me in the vicinity of Chlitina?
What would they be saying about what I get up to while the children are doing their homework? Even my husband had given me a knowing look when, soon after Mrs Canada’s revelation, the old Chinese dear in his office let slip she was off for her regular Friday afternoon massage as we passed her in the corridor.
This massive national Chlitina chain, I had wondered: were so many thousands of Chinese women really being helped to climax daily in these little pink-and-white shops to be found everywhere in all of China’s cities? On one hand, such a conservative society; on the other, bringing new meaning to the “mass” part of turbation.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I finally entered the mysterious halls of the Chlitina group. I thought I’d come armed with my bikini bottoms so that I could accurately demonstrate the required area of operation if hand gestures were required for communication, as is so often the case for me given my limited Chinese vocabulary. There would be no room for error if they got the request, through my pointing and motioning, wrong.
“I mean, what if they think I want the vibrator service,” I had asked of my husband a little earlier. “Oh,” he replied mischievously, “just enjoy it.”
Yes, the five young uniformed shop assistants nodded in unison, they understood wax. Yes, they immediately understood bikini wax. Yes, that will cost….The elegantly-dressed manageress tapped out the price on a calculator so that we could all be clear on the number.
I hadn’t thought I was particularly hairy but the price was not an insignificant sum. In a nutshell, it would have paid for a nice dinner for four at one of the city’s smarter restaurants.
I baulked – but only briefly as the memory of Sam ticking off Miranda came back into my head. There are some things that have just got to be done, I reminded myself as I was ushered through to the inner sanctum and asked to put on a pair of slippers before being led up two flights of stairs into a dimly-lit, incensed suite complete with shower and luxury bath.
I felt nervous as I was asked to remove my trousers and get onto a massage bed made up with fluffy towels. A white towel was handed to me so I could cover my upper thighs, and then the two beauticians got down to business.
Pain first, then pleasure
It was a wax like no other I have had. First they brought in shiny interior decor magazines, and ripped out pages of beautifully-styled apartments and laid them around me on the bed where there was space.
Then, one attendant opened a jar of what looked and felt like cold honey and spread it using a flat metal nail file over the salient parts as though it was being applied to a piece of toast. Magazine pages, in turn, were placed over the sticky “wax” and the two beauty therapists got to work rubbing and rubbing the pages with their hands and until the pages stuck to me.
Finally, they ripped the pages off me, collecting very few hairs along the way. So they repeated the process, again and again. Occasionally they took a damp cloth and wiped me to remove the traces of sepia ink that had been left behind by the photographs. They did a bit of plucking with a tweezer, too, until more than two hours later I suggested we call it a day.
It’s painful to be beautiful, I’d remembered my grandmother saying as I nobly steeled myself for one magazine page after the next. I had taken comfort in the fact I am supposed to have a high pain threshold as the procedure moved on to progressively more delicate terrain. And I had wondered as I lay there, holding my breath through the worst bits, whether I was the only one at a Chlitina who wasn’t having a relaxing afternoon.
I don’t believe I was the only one. For, at the very least, if others were having more fun, surely I would have heard the tell-tale drone of battery-operated toys in full throttle from beyond the frosted-glass panel door of my cubicle.
Evidently not all services at Chlitina come with that so-called happy ending. Still, I reckon Samantha would have been proud of me for attending to some essential female business. As for my husband, his text message to me as soon as he got news of my departure from Chlitina said it all: “Shorn at last? Looking forward to an inspection later.”
You can catch up on the Miranda bikini moment scene here: http://youtu.be/jm8lWi5X73U
- Jackie Cameron lives in Scotland, where there’s no shortage of spas and over-the-counter hair removal kits. Her advice to China newbies? Only believe half of everything your fellow foreigners will tell you about the city and other expats. And bring your own waxing kit.