Living in SE Asia for many years has been an experience I wouldnt swap for the world. However, one daunting aspect for a lot of expat women, and this includes me, is finding a good hairdresser.
I know it sounds a bit shallow, but there it is. Having a terrible haircut can not only ruin your day, but entire months of your life. If, like me you have fine hair, and colour it blonde, you are automatically in the danger zone of hairdressing in this region.
Not being able to afford to go home every few months for a cut and colour has meant many experiments, and although some of them have worked out for the best, many havent. Saying that, the best haircut I ever had was in Hanoi many years ago, when wondering along the quaint streets I made a spontaneous decision to enter a hole-in the-wall place with a tiny, wizened woman wielding a rusty pair of scissors. I told her to cut off my long locks and create a messy pixie cut. And this is exactly what she did. I loved it.
But a few months later I went to a posh salon in Ho Chi Minh City and made the mistake of asking for blonde highlights and a trim. I came out with a Princess Diana haircut in bright orange. My boyfriend at the time didnt understand my wailing for days or my attempt to rectify the disaster myself. Of course I only made it worse and ended up wearing baseball caps for the next six months until I could get back to Australia and have a horrified hairdresser re-colour it.
In Malaysia I found what I thought was a great salon in Kuala Lumpur. The hairdresser had been trained in the UK and knew exactly what to do. When he moved to Penang I naively thought that the other hairdressers would be equally as good. I ended up with frizzed platinum hair which was stripy all down one side.
This was when I took extreme measures. Not wanting to go around looking like a slightly deranged tiger, I went into another hairdresser and told them bluntly to take it all off. So quite a large trim? they said. No, a number one, I replied. After battling it out for half an hour they reluctantly got out the clippers and did as I requested. Unfortunately I didnt end up looking like my vision of Sinead OConnor and instead resembled something approaching a biker thug, with quite a few fascinating bumps and dents visible on my pinkish scalp. It was an interesting experiment but not one I have repeated.
In Bangkok I found the perfect hairdresser. She was French and even imported all her products. She was expensive, but for the two years I lived there I was happy with my hair. Then I moved to Myanmar.
Myanmar, possibly to your surprise, is not the ideal place for a cut and colour on a Western head. It was back to the old days of frizzed, burnt ends and old lady haircuts. This two year period was a dark time for my hair, in more ways than one.
Now, living on Koh Samui I have taken matters into my hands. A bottle of Sun-In keeps my tresses reasonably blonde, if not exactly healthy and magazine pictures and strenuous pointing accompany any visit to a hairdresser. Last time I went I took a picture of Scarlett Johansson and although I didnt exactly turn into her doppelganger, the result wasnt too bad.
So the moral of the hairdressing story in SE Asia is to lower expectations, have a sense of humour, a good store of caps and learn to smile rather than grimace at friends when they tell you how great your latest cut looks. Oh, and going back to your natural colour isnt a bad idea either.