There are moments when you are traveling that you realize getting what you want just isn’t happening. This can even happen when you are living in the culture you were born into. It can certainly happen when you’re navigating life in another culture. In both situations, there are four reasons I can think of that getting what you want is not in your immediate future.
- A. You don’t really know what you want
- B. You know what you want, but you don’t know the language to help you get it
- C. You know how to get what you want, but the person who can give it to you isn’t paying attention or has no idea what you are saying
- D. The person who can give you what you want won’t
When living overseas I find the reasons most often at work that cause me to not get what I want are B and C. In my experience, D mostly happens with the people with whom we live. We call those people family. In the case of A, counseling helps.
My tendency in the cases of A or B or C, particularly when traveling or living overseas, is to pretend that what I am getting–even if it’s not what I wanted, is what I want. Perhaps, when I ordered, I really did want the fish balls in my soup even though I’ve never been able to figure out what they are exactly.
While living in Asia, I often found myself making do with what came my way, as to not burst out in tears in the middle of strangers, and to hold onto my “Isn’t life grand?” determination. Or should I say delusion?.
When I told a Singaporean friend about my experience of not getting a haircut one day because I didn’t want to embarrass the hairdresser or myself, she laughed and said I must have been Chinese in a past life. Chinese people will generally go to great lengths to make sure no one is embarrassed, particularly due to a misunderstanding. Sometimes it’s when you don’t know all the information. Unless you ask very specific direct questions, you may find yourself receiving minimal, sketchy answers.
For example, if you happen to be walking towards the edge of a cliff, but don’t know it, you more than likely will not be told. If you notice people looking at you a bit nervously, ask, “Excuse me? Is there a cliff here?” The answer will be “Yes.” You need to follow this with. “If I keep going in this direction, will I fall off the cliff?” You will be told, “Yes.”
However, if you don’t ask these questions, you will not be told what would be helpful to know. People will feel sorry that you fell off the cliff, but won’t tell you that danger is a drop off away in case you might feel bad that you could be so stupid as to walk towards the edge of a cliff and fall off.
This may sound like an exaggeration. Okay, it is an exaggeration, but the idea behind it is true. We discussed the notion of saving face and helping to make sure that others save face with our Chinese friends in Taiwan and they laughed and agreed that this was so.
But, back to the Singapore haircut story. One day, feeling stressed out, thinking that I looked a bit shaggy at the edges, and knowing that getting a haircut is one way to relieve stress, I went to the hairdresser located in the apartment complex where we lived after I told my husband I was going out to get a haircut.
“That’s nice dear,” he said.
The Singaporean style of haircuts in a hair salon is simply divine. The hairdresser gives a head and neck massage as part of the haircut experience.
This day, the one I’m talking about, the hairdresser put the apron around my neck and said, “Shampoo and blow dry?”
“Oh, yes,” I gushed.
She put the shampoo in my hair and began to give me that wonderful massage. I could feel my blood pressure drop. Ahha.
Then she rinsed my hair.
So far so good.
Then she picked up the hairdryer.
Wait. I thought. Maybe she’ll cut my hair after she blows it dry. I didn’t want to ask her if this was the case in case it wasn’t the case at all. Since I had said “Yes” when she asked, “Wash and a blow dry?” and I hadn’t added more desires, it would have felt rude to say, “Excuse, me, but where’s my haircut? It’s what I came for.”
I hoped that perhaps there would be a turn of fate with each sweep of the warm air across my head and tug of the brush.
Nope, she continued to aim the blow dryer at my hair, that was still shaggily the same length, and expertly brushed it until it gleamed and was completely dry.
“There!” she said, holding up the mirror to show me just how the crown of my head caught the reflection of the florescent lights.
“Nice!” I said, running my hands over my hair, happy that it did feel much softer at least and that some of my stress was gone. That was part of why I came to the hairdresser anyway, and I could always come back in a couple of weeks when I could tell her very clearly that I wanted a haircut and also that I wanted it washed and blown dry, please. I assumed that when going to a hair salon, the basic purpose was a hair cut and the wash and blow dry was the extras. Nope. It’s important to be very specific.
Not only did I not want her to feel bad that she didn’t give me what I wanted, I also didn’t want her to feel bad that I didn’t know how to ask the right question. As soon as she picked up that blow dryer, we’d gone too far. Better to have kept going and talk myself into feeling swell later.
My husband did say, “Your hair looks good,” when I went back upstairs.
“Thanks,” I said. “I didn’t get it cut. I’ll do that in a week or two.”
“I thought you went to get it cut.”
Since he was living in Singapore as well, he understood–kind of. He didn’t use to be Chinese in a past life and would have said something.
If you’re in Singapore and want to get a haircut, one place I did have luck was Holland Village. I’m not sure if the place in the photo was where I went. Here’s a link to a list of hair salons and their descriptions. You can get walk-in haircuts, but for some hair salons, you need an appointment.