My affections for this city are probably due in no small part to the friendliness and warmth of the locals here; whether chatting to the lady at our favourite little café serving baozi or asking a passer-by the directions to the subway station, all the while trying hard to decipher the gruff Beijing accent, we have always been made to feel incredibly welcome here despite our lack of any great competence in Chinese. It didn't take long for me to go from feeling a sense of fear and bewilderment upon arrival to realising that Beijing isn't really anything to be scared of and feeling that I could go wherever I wanted alone without being scared.
One evening a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my room feeling at a bit of a loose end and mindlessly playing with my hair when I realised it could do with another splash of colour. I ambled down to Watson's (the Chinese equivalent of Boots) and came back with a packet of L'Oréal hair dye named something like Creamy Mocha, not having taken heed of the fact that the lady on the packet seemed to be of Chinese origin. After having put all of the strong-smelling dye into my hair it crossed my mind that maybe this product wasn't designed for fine, light-coloured caucasian hair but I decided to wait and see what the end result would be. Unfortunately upon washing the dye out my fears were reaffirmed as my hair seemed to be peculiarly lighter than before, and when drying it off I looked on aghast as my hair went from a dark auburn when wet to a fierce shade of amber when dry. It had also become dry as a bone and hideously static, which now means that stepping out of a car or taking off my coat and subsequently touching something results in myself or anyone involved getting a mini electric shock.
A few days later, after having tried and failed to learn to like my brassy mop, I plucked up the courage to make a trip to the hairdressers' on campus, thinking that my hair had probably suffered the worst already. I explained as best I could to a delicate-looking assistant what had happened, to which he smiled knowingly and asked 'do you know why the dye didn't work?' I nodded gravely and said that I'd realised it was designed for Chinese hair and he looked at me sympathetically, told me that he could help me and tried to talk me into paying for the most expensive hair colourant they had on offer. After telling him I was short on money, I settled for a more reasonably-priced colour and shortly after was whisked into a chair by a lady who told me a lot of things that I didn't quite understand and, probably before I could change my mind, was having another bottle of pungent dye painted into my hair. Whilst I waited nervously for the colouring process to take effect, a number of other employees of the place came up to me, either telling me more things that I didn't understand (I have become rather adept at the 'smile-and-nod' response in these kinds of situations) or trying to get me to pay for further lotions and potions to be put into my hair. When the time came for the dye to be washed out I was feeling more than a little dazed and my mind was racing as I wondered whether my hair could in fact have become even worse than it was before. Luckily the lady had done a fairly satisfactory job and so with a smile on my face I waved goodbye to Mr Delicate Hard-Sell and breathed a sigh of relief as I stumbled back out into the chilly Beijing twilight.
Lastly I thought I'd share with you this little beauty of a cake- for six kuai (about 60p) you can buy a masterpiece in the medium of icing and, although the sweetened cream to cake ratio was probably about three parts cream, one part sponge, I still managed to polish the whole thing off.