Wash and wear in Myanmar
I didn’t take notice of whether there was a hairdressing salon in Nyaungshwe at Inle Lake in Myanmar when my guide and I were walking around. Next day I had no guide, but thought there would be no problem. I set off on the path beside the lake where boat drivers were longing to take me for a ride. But I wanted a shampoo, even though two days later I would be in Mandalay, where the best-ever hair treatments and head massages awaited.
I wandered around the main streets but couldn’t find a salon; I turned into a side street and saw a sign advertising “shampoo’’. I guessed it would not say that if it were a barber’s shop. True, there were many chaps sitting around aimlessly chatting, but this is what chaps do.
I mimed washing, not cutting, and an obliging barber (let’s call him Hair Wash) sped off to find the female hairdresser, or so I thought. But it was Hair Wash who returned with a bucket of cold water and guided me to a wooden chair beside a stained, stainless-steel sink. It looked so filthy, I closed my eyes.
Hair Wash pushed my head forward and tucked a dark green towel around my neck. Then came half the bucket of cold water tipped over my head and shoulders. But as the water poured into the sink, there was no plug or indeed no drainpipe so the liquid cooled my hands, knees and calves. Next came more usual hairdressing procedures — Hair Wash lathered my head in soapy bubbles. Time for the other half of the bucket of water. Satisfied he’d removed all the soap (and hopefully the grime), Hair Wash threw the dark green towel over my head and face. But he’d been using the towel to sop up some wayward water so as the towel landed on my head my face got a dousing, too.
I got up and walked haltingly, as you do with a wet towel over your head. I fumbled my way to a chair beside a mirror, where there was a complete surprise, a hairdryer. It was electric. And there was electricity. I snuggled down in the chair, shut my eyes as Hair Wash gently combed and dried to the flow of words from the three chaps still clustered around.
Hair Wash finished. I opened my eyes. In the mirror I hardly recognised myself. The wrinkles were still there as testament to my 71 years. But I had the neat parting and the smoothed-down hair of a primary school boy. Not what I expected. But, hey, you want something unexpected when you’re an intrepid tourist. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: email@example.com. Columnists receive a set of four Lonely Planet Make My Day guidebooks for London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, offering mix-and-match itineraries for morning, afternoon and evening. $99.96 ($24.99 each). More: lonelyplanet.com..