Home / The Shanghai Diaries – Miscellany

The Shanghai Diaries – Miscellany

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There are a few miscellaneous things I've been meaning to write about that never seem important enough to merit a column of their own. Here they are all bundled up together, for your reading pleasure.

Haircuts and massages

I have always found great pleasure in a good hair cut. There is something about the pampering, the attention being paid to me, and the redesigning of my look that entrances me. That and the head rubbing that takes place in the washing phase. I swear I'd give up sex for a good head rub.

In Indiana I had found a lovely woman who took care of me in ways I have always dreamed about. Well, if she was paradise, then China is some seventh level of heaven, for these stylist have ways not fit to talk about.

There is a little salon within walking distance of our apartment and it is the greatest of pleasure to go. When I arrive I am greeted by a bevy of beautiful women ready to do my bidding. With no Chinese skills to speak of I pantomime that I want both a head washing and a haircut and they get to work.

The shampooing takes place not in a bath, but at a regular chair. The girl dabs a little bit of shampoo on the top of my head then squirts in the tiniest amount of water – just enough to get a lather. She then works in a little more and a little more until my entire head is being cleaned.

Then the rubbing begins. They rub the scalp and the temples and the neck and the cheeks and it sends me into a relaxed coma. They take their time too. This is no rush job like you might get at Mastercuts, but a professional massage of the head.

Then we go over to a sink where I am rinsed and cleaned. It is back to the chair from there where they proceed to rub the shoulders, back and arms. Sometimes they get a little rough here, but usually it is another bout of heavenly relaxation.

After half an hour or so they finally send me to one of the men, who then proceeds to cut the hair. I'm not sure why the ladies are in charge of cleaning and massaging while the men handle the scissors, but it works out well for me and my hair.

Without decent language skills to direct my cut, I usually pull the hair on the top of my head and indicate just a trim while making buzzing noises around the sides in hopes he'll understand I like a closer cut there. Usually my stylist gets it right and I leave refreshed and looking good.

The price of heaven: About three dollars U.S.

The Bitter Cold

Most apartments I have come across in Shanghai do not have central heat and air. Instead the living room and bedrooms all have small wall units that work between a wide range of excellent and not at all. It doesn't help that the remotes are in Chinese and I have to play trial and error to figure out how they work.

The one in our bedroom works best of all. The remote is fairly simple with pictures of a snowflake for A/C and a fire icon for the heater. It is easy to set up a temperature control and it works amazingly well. So well in fact that I'm usually sweating sometime in the middle of the night.

The one in the other room is a complete bust however, and I have yet to get it to do anything helpful. Our living room unit works most of the time, but is also a source of irritation. I have mostly figured out the control but it seems to have a mind on its own. Though the heat is on, and the temperature set to something toasty, it periodically decides to blow out ice cold air as if just to mess with me.

It doesn't help that our living room, dining room and entryway are all opened up so that it creates a large, drafty space. We have bought a space heater, and extra blankets just to keep us from turning blue in the evenings.

The living room isn't even the biggest problem. Neither the kitchen or the bathroom have any type of climate control at all and they are perpetually icebergs in the winter. To try to keep the living area somewhat warm, we shut off all of the doors which means the bathroom receives no warmth at all. Let me just say that dropping your drawers when the temperature is something around 0 is not a pleasant thing.


Speaking of dropping your drawers, before we came to Shanghai there was some controversy over Chinese toilets. Traditionally, the Chinese use what are usually called squat toilets, and what I call holes in the ground. They consist of exactly that, a hole in the ground surrounded by a little porcelain. There is no throne, no seat to sit upon. Like the name implies, you must squat over the hole in order to use them.

My sister tells me that in Central China her squat toilet was located in her shower stall. There is also the story of a man who lived a year without buying a roll of toilet paper as he stripped, plopped, and showered himself clean.

We were quite thankful when we arrived and found our apartment had a regular, western style toilet. When we are out in the city I have found that most public restrooms have western seat toilets. At least in the places we tend to go anyways. This is a marvelous thing for Chinese food often does great and terrible things to my insides and I never know when I'm going to make use of the public facilities. On occasion I have run to one only to find it is a squatter and for the record that is a frightful occurrence.

I suppose the reverse is true for some of the Chinese as on numerous occasions I have used a pubic seat toilet only to find shoe prints on the seats where someone has stood upon the bowl and squatted anyway.

Toilet paper is also a scarce thing in the public restrooms. My wife has taken to carrying a roll in her purse as she doesn't know how to use the toilet without some paper, and the only possible solution is on the far side of gross.


I have now lived in Shanghai for five months. I have seen many strange and great things, and yet have marveled at how so many things are so familiar. It is a wonderful and peculiar thing how the exotic becomes commonplace so quickly. While I may struggle with the cold or find difficulties with the language, I can take satisfaction in a cheap massage and haircut, be filled by the warmth and deliciousness of a good meal, and that makes it all worth while.

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About Mat Brewster

  • mmullinz8

    Nice piece Brew.