Monday, 23 June 2014

For The Writer's Tower Facebook page: June's Theme is "Mirrors"

A 'Saloon' Full Of Mirrors

Image, Denise Jaunsen
Four million square feet of retail space in an Egyptian Pyramid-themed mall with an attached water park? Oh, yes, this must be Malaysia -- and I'm having my hair done in one minuscule corner of it.

The recently-remodeled 'A-Saloon' (no, not "A Salon") now feels like a carnival fun-house where things happen to both perceptions and hair. Mirrors, divider walls, designer angles, more mirrors, black floor tiles, walls of mirrors, silver countertops…all turned this way and that. It should be too small to get lost in, yet all the mirrors and angles make it feel cast. In fact, it's enough to challenge my ability to arrive at the shampoo station in the back without a guide and a trail of crumbs to follow back.

Image by Sinopaperart
I'm early, so I can practice taking deep aroma-therapeutic lemongrass-infused breaths whilst waiting for Desmond, who's Chinese Malaysian and has begun his day seated at the back counter. He is intent on moussing and fluffing his own voluminous red-blonde Liberace-meets-Lyle-Lovett hair. The mirrors replicate half a dozen confident roosters duded up in black and rhinestones.

A "Director-level stylist" with impeccable posture, Desmond speaks five languages with an endearing lisp. He's close to six feet tall with the addition of the upswept cockerel head-piece, and everything visible is pierced. When he flirts in the mirror, my chagrin is palpable. Did I mention I could be his grandmother?

I've struggled to keep a hairdresser since we moved to Malaysia nearly four years ago; they always seem to change salons. But Desmond says he'll always be here for me. "Cannot leave, my uncle own da' place."

By 10:15, Desmond has finished preening. He runs his fingers through my hair now, tsk tsks over the silver roots and says "Why so long you not come?", then leans close and communes with the offending split ends. He summons someone called Aziza, and a small brown woman in a white layer-ruffled tunic -- Carmen Miranda without the fruit -- shimmies toward us. 'Des' shares his conclusions and demonstrates his command of the Malay language, then disappears to work some "Caramel Mocha" magic with the tubes of hair dye. Aziza preps me with a towel around my neck, a black nylon cape with SHISIEDO in big white letters across the front, and Chinese tea in a oh-too-stylish square white cup with an also-square lid which doubles as a coaster.

Des raises the chair -- fwup, fwup, fwup -- with a hydraulic pedal. He and Aziza divide my head into right brain and left, then section off and paint the offending silver roots with broad, flat brushes coated with Caramel Mocha goo. For a while, I watch in the mirror through half-closed eyes, but the preparation is icy on my scalp -- and I succumb to the urge to doze. The world goes dark as Aziza's delicate apprentice fingers pull delicately on one side of my head, while Des's stronger, journeyman hands tug at the other. My head is pulled this way and that as they section and paint, section and paint.

Then, I feel only just one pair of hands, the soft ones. The energy around me is gentler. Aziza pats and massages, pats and massages, then stops. I hear the sound of cling film being ripped off an industrial-sized roll. One eye flies open and, there in the mirror, a scree, scree, crinkle, crinkle, Aziza wraps my head round three times, then twists it tight, front and back, and tucks the twists under. She pats me on the shoulder, "Twenny minit," she whispers, then nods and smiles at the me in the mirror, then disappears.

I go to sleep.

With thanks to Lee Yoong Shin for the invitation to "The Writer's Tower".

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