Over the years, visiting the hair salon has become less frequent among the natural community as it has embraced Do It Yourself hairstyles and remedies at home. We’ve all heard the horror stories ranging from clients “accidentally” received relaxers, as an excuse for “easy hair maintenance,” to heat damage when getting a blow out or silky press. It’s no wonder that naturals have become so cautious about putting their precious tresses in the hands of a stranger.
Most naturals are pretty skeptical about getting their hair done at a salon in their hometown, even if the establishment has a proven track record with their most loyal clients. Bearing this in mind as a third time natural myself, I ended up getting my hair done at a salon. But not just any salon. I got my hair done by a hairstylist in Thailand.
To be honest, when the opportunity presented itself, I was overwhelmed with curiosity
horror. Would my hair fall out? Would they put a curly white women’s perm in my hair? If things went awry, would I take the ‘L’ and get the hubster to shave it all off ?
Naturally, my expectations of the Thai salon weren’t as high as a Black establishment back in the States. I didn’t expect a blow out, a silky press or a beautifully sculptured style like Teyonah Parris dons on the red carpet
where she slaysssss. I knew better than that; if I didn’t adjust my standards quick, I was sure to get my feelings hurt. Plus, I’m in Thailand- how could local hairdressers meet my hair standards with what I perceived as having little experience with kinky curls, let alone have an opportunity to serve frequent patrons.
I was up for the challenge and quite interested in how it was all going to pan out.
Let me tell you how this all got started in the first place.
As a long-term traveler, I rarely get the opportunity to indulge in the ’treat yo self’ moments that many of us would splurge on a regular basis back home. While living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, quite a few nomads were raving about a nail salon called Narin Nails. [Read: Just the thought of so many sistas in a Thai salon after months of not seeing any melanin folk was a beautiful thought in its itself.]
After perusing the Facebook page and falling in love with the nail designs, I contacted the shop and inquired about an appointment. She offered the spa package which included a manicure and pedicure, plus the added bonus of a hair wash. Cool. Wait, what? Since I arranged the appointment via Facebook, I was quite confident that my profile picture could not be overlooked with my voluminous afro with a fresh part on the side. For three minutes my eyes played bing-pong between my profile picture and the message. She clearly sees that I have thick, Black girl hair. Did she mention hair wash? After talking it over with my hair BFF (aka the hubster who considers himself a natural hair guru by association of a few YouTube videos) he said, What’s the worse that could happen?
The question haunted me all the way to my appointment. Nervously entering the salon, I was warmly greeted by the shop owner in the beautifully decorated space which resembled the set of an MTV Sweet 16 party. [Read: You know, the birthday parties who’s budget was more than my 200+ guest wedding.] The decor alone nailed the first impression.
I was immediately escorted to begin my pedicure and manicure and skimmed the extensive display of nail-polish colors. The attention to detail to the soles of my feet touched my soul as I had been traveling the world for close to a year! Yassss my heels need healing. Since the two ladies were working double duty on my mani and pedi, the spa portion was complete in record time.
Just when I thought I was in the clear, I was asked:
“Ready for hair wash?”
“Yeah…” which tumbled and morphed into “Yes.”
A funny thing happened when a Thai hairdresser did my natural hair.
After venturing to the second floor of the hair salon, I realized that I didn’t have my backpack with my hair essentials. You know, just in case I needed to whip out a comb or two to assist the hairdresser. Darn it. Considering the slight language barrier, the unfamiliarity of hair products and a set of new hands, I was terrified.
Hoping to appease my nerves, I engaged in a bit of small talk.
“So, have you done natural hair before?”[Read: The time to pop the question to a new hairstylist is not while you’re sitting in the chair.] Not entirely confident of my own grasp on Thai, I haven’t a clue as to what her answer was. Fail. Panic. Stay Calm. What’s the worse that can happen? echoed the hubster’s words. Darn him and his optimism. He better have the clippers ready.
I took the plunge under the cool water to start my wash. The chill of the water was a relief from the heat but also a reminder that low water temperature is good for natural hair for sealing the cuticles. Clearly, we’re off to a good start.
Though I was unfamiliar with the shampoo brand, that quickly fell by the wayside because it smelled like strawberry-bubble gum and Care Bears. It filled the entire salon and felt great on my scalp. She applied conditioner throughout my entire head but I barely even remembered because of her wash technique. If you know anything about Thai massages, you’d know that they are QUITE magical. Now imagine the feeling of ancient acupressure practices being applied to your scalp. Forget wash and go’s, I’m here for the Thai wash!
Next, I sat in the chair to get my hair detangled and dried. For some naturals, absorbing the excess water with a towel is an unpardonable sin, however I was completely fine with it. She couldn’t decode all of the secrets of Black hair care. It’s not that serious. She blow dried my hair on a cool setting which seem quite consistent with the water temperature for my wash. [Read: I purposely kept mum throughout the entire process to see how everything would unfold.] Just when I thought I needed to grab my book bag for my hair essentials (the same one I left on the first floor) she whips out the EXACT wide-tooth comb that I brought thousands of miles from home! How?! I had to do a double-take to be sure that it wasn’t mine. Clearly she wasn’t new to the game.
Between the moisturizer and the detangling, she was pretty gentle about combing through my curls. To be honest, she was more patient and gentle than the Black hairstylists and family members that I’ve experienced from back home. Shortly after detangling and drying my hair, she asked if I wanted a cut which I replied ‘No’. I was thankful that she didn’t take the liberty to cut first and ask later. At the same time, I was almost curious as to how she was going to cut it but I wasn’t willing to venture that far. What’s the worse that could happen? would have stopped right about…. here. This experience would have faded to into a nightmare if scissors were part of the equation.
Up until this point, my hairdresser worked like a professional throughout the entire process (she was a pro on the low) until it came to the styling. Since natural hair is not a common hair type in Thailand, I’m sure she lacked the tools to complete what would have been the next step in styling. With the absence of a brush and additional heating tools to stretch my hair, she used the wide-tooth comb to pull it back into the ponytail that I came into the salon with. She laughed nervously as she must have realized my incredible shrinkage and the slight challenge that it posed into getting it into a bun. Thankfully, she didn’t blow dry my hair straight as I was not looking forward to heat damage.
After a bit of combing, smoothing, and working her arms to the bone, we giggled together as she finished styling my hair. I’m sure she felt accomplished after finishing my hair because she ended with a ’ta da!’ in the cutest Thai accent. Bravo, well done! I screamed. Frankly, the styling was not important because I planned to do my hair in box braids later that evening. The wash and detangle was a complete time saver in helping me prep for my protective style before heading to Vietnam at the end of the week.
Overall I am incredibly grateful for the experience and the cultural exchange that took place between the two of us. Though little words were exchanged, my comfort level was their main priority from the moment I walked into the salon to the second I left. No one asked me any questions about my hair (which I would have gladly answered) nor did anyone treat me less than a human being by taking photos of me as if I was an attraction.
As a traveling Black woman, I’ve had my fair share of personal experiences with unwelcome advances on my hair and great conversations about its mind-bending texture. My hair is fabulous and I hope to share the image of Black self-love in communities that rarely receive the opportunity to interact with a woman of colour beyond the mere images seen on TV screen and YouTube.
If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai, definitely stop by Narin Nails for a hair and nail appointment!
Would you let someone in a different country do your hair?!
Thank you to Narin Nail Salon for your amazing service and hospitality! You ladies rock!