Ruining my Hair on a Rainy Afternoon

The Psar Themi Market in Phnom Penh

In Cambodia, in June, it rains almost everyday. In Phnom Penh, like clockwork, each afternoon the clouds would gather and the sky would darken. Then the heavens would open up and it would pour. As my dad would say it was “Taint a day fit for man nor beast.”
 
Once I realized this was going to be a daily pattern, I stopped letting the rain keep me inside. Instead I just ignored it. I took tuk tuks in the rain, I visited the sights in the rain, I walked around in the rain. It actually wasn’t that bad – it was even kind of fun. But, on my first day in Phnom Penh I was still trying to avoid the rain. So when I found myself trapped inside the Psar Thmei Central Market during a storm I thought I had no other option but to wait it out. Plus, I was still in my work clothes and I needed to wear them again that week. So I waited it out. 
Women selling fried crickets in the market

Women selling fried crickets in the market

 The Psar Thmei Market is huge. Housed in a giant yellow art deco building, the market is organized around the central hall and sprawls outward form there. The middle hall, calm, cool, with high ceilings and glass cases, is worlds away from the busy crosed stalls that fill the outer ring. Food, clothes, home goods – everything is sold in these stalls. There was plenty for me to see and do. But, after wandering around for an hour: people watching, debating if I was going to eat a fried cricket, buying a few scarves as gifts, I was getting a little bored. 
Men playing chess in the market

Men playing chess in the market

 
During one of my laps around the market I had noticed a few hair salon stalls near the entrance. Not surprisingly, this salon wasn’t anything like mine back home. It was just three chairs in front of a stained mirror. There was nothing separating it from the rest of the market. It was completely open to the fruit seller across the aisle. Off to the side, one small sink sat in an alcove behind a sheet tacked the ceiling. The counter was crowded with tens of multicolored shampoos and squeeze bottles.
 
But it was still a hair salon. Woman sat in the chairs and chatted, reading Cambodian language magazines. Posters of highly styled woman hung from the wall above the mirror and woman in smocks ran around grabbing various styling tools. I was intrigued. This would turn out to be a mistake.
 
Since I spoke not a word of Khmer, it took a little while for me to sign out what I wanted. Eventually a Cambodian student stopped and offered her translating services. For $5 they would wash, blow dry and style my hair. There didn’t seem to be an option for what style I was getting. (Warning Sign #1)
 
I was seated in a chair and surrounded by young Cambodian women who lifted strands of my highlighted hair and chatted furiously. I obviously had no idea what the discussion concerned and I could only hope it had nothing to do with the poor state of my split ends. Then a woman began efficiently washing my hair using nothing but a water squeeze bottle. Little by little she squeezed water onto my head, adding in more and more hair on each squeeze. Even though I wore no smock, not a drop of water landed on me. It was amazing. Eventually my hair was completely wet and she added in shampoo and began to massage.
 
The massage quickly became a scalping as she used her nails to rake throw my hair removing every bit of dead (and possibly living) skin on my head. I fought to hold back tears and profanities and clutch my chair with white knuckles. The process felt like it took hours, but no doubt my head has never been cleaner. Unfortunately this new clean was almost immediately ruined when they took me to the sink-behind-a-sheet to rinse out the shampoo.
 
Once my hair was ‘clean’ and blow dryed, I was turned over the stylists. I had been at the saloon for about an hour and a half at this point, and in an effort to speed up the process I was given two stylists, one on each side of my head. (Warning Sign #2) Using straitening irons, they wrapped sections of my hair around the tool and twisted it upwards into tight curls. They would then pull it down tightly and release it so the curl sprang back. It was not unlike how people use scissors to curl ribbons when wrapping presents. At this point I could already tell this was not going to have an optimal outcome, but I was too embarassed to say anything. The younger stylist seemed to be confused by the process and paused to asked the older woman for advice several times. (Warning Sign #3)
 
At the end of this process, my head was covered in tight shirly temple curls. I assure it was not a good look for me and from the glances exchanged in the room I beleive they had also come to this conclusion. The older women from my stylist pair quickly took her fingers and began brushing out the curls. I start to help her and noticed that the more unexperienced stylist on my left had managed to burn several large sections of the hair framing my face. (I eventually had to get it cut out upon my return home)
 

My sweet hair style

My sweet hair style

After I paid I headed out into the now sunny skies to show my my new do. It actually ended up a lot better once the humidity hit it and killed some of volume.  Which was good – it was prett insane. 
Me the next day with some elephant on my way to work

Me the next day with some elephant on my way to work

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