Postcard from Beijing… the trials of being a blonde in China’s capital
I’ve been a blonde ever since my mother frog-marched me to the nearest hairdresser nearly 15 years ago, after a teenaged disaster with Sun In – the spray hair lightener that turned my hair a spectacularly unflattering shade of orangey-yellow (not quite the sun kissed tresses I had been hoping for), and gave it the texture of straw.
The Italian hairdresser in my home town succeeded where Sun In failed: transforming me from a mousey brown into a blonde bombshell. It wasn’t a pain free process (in those days, highlights were administered via an agonising cap rather than through the much more pleasant foil technique we know today), but the results – a head of shiny, golden locks – were worth every minute in bleach.
I was hooked and subsequently the money earned from my Saturday shop job at Watford Football Club was spent at the salon– so great was my desire to be blonde. And for good reason: back home, I felt glamorous (for a suburban school girl) and fearless following a peroxide fix. In Britain, I can confidently declare, blondes definitely have more fun.
Not so in Beijing, as I have been learning to my peril ever since I arrived in China’s capital five months ago. It was fun to start with: light bulbs went off as I sauntered around Sanlitun Village (a hip hangout for Beijing’s trendsetters) as locals whipped out their cameras to take pictures of the unusual looking creature with the cropped platinum ‘do. On those occasions, I felt – albeit fleetingly – like a Hollywood A lister!
However I soon learnt that, in Beijing, lighter locks come with a price… my highlights easily identify me as laowai and I seem to face more trials and tribulations that brunettes in Beijing. From the local police station who kept sending me away when I tried to register only to then fine me for failing to do so within 48 hours of touching down in Beijing, to the vendor on the street corner who insists on selling me his egg based jianbing for 5RMB but will shave 2RMB off his asking price for the Beijinger in the queue behind me. I could go on… there’s the taxi driver who wouldn’t turn the metre on because clearly he saw my hair colour and thought “Ah ha! There goes a dumb blonde I can make some money off.” And what of the receptionist at my friend’s apartment, who promised to pass on a birthday present but then denied all knowledge of said present and laughed in my face when I confronted him about it at a later date? No matter how hard I try to master Mandarin, the experience (as a blonde) is always the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Beijing – partly because it is so much richer in local colour than its southern sibling Shanghai. But being flaxen haired in Beijing isn’t a barrel of laughs and for the first time in my adult life I am no longer dye-ing (pardon the pun) to be blonde, with its bleaching side effects.
I think this might be for the best for, apart from anything else, being blonde in Beijing presents a practical problem. Local salons aren’t happy when it comes to highlights (believe me, I’ve tried a fair few and it’s always been a bad blonde experience) while upscale ‘expatriate’ establishments like Eric Paris and Tony and Guy aren’t an option for anyone (like me) working for a Chinese company, and therefore on a local wage. Time, then, to go back to my natural colour and allow my intellect to outshine my hair shade…