How Bad Hair Gave Me Best Friends
“If you’re going traveling, you’re going to have bad hair,” Alice told me. “You have to prepare yourself for that now.”
Alice is slender and elegant. She is so stylish she has a white leather jacket. Her hair is longer at the front than the back, swooping in and out and around in just the right way. Alice wears heels and dresses and jewellery.
In short – Alice is the opposite of me, who has never really graduated out of the weekend t-shirt and shorts style I developed during high school in a totally unstylish town on the edge of the Australian desert.
I can’t imagine Alice having bad hair. But she has travelled the world and so speaks with the voice of wisdom.
I shrug off her warning. As an adventurous 30-something heading for exotic Asian pastures, a crooked fringe or two wasn’t going to get to me.
But it did.
A month after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City I began to wonder what to do about my hair. I wandered around Saigon’s backpacker district looking for something hairdresser-y. I found a place that could have been suitable and within no time I was caped up and helpless as a Vietnamese hairdresser pranced around, snipping and foiling and talking loudly to the six non-busy staff members who were now the audience.
The result – not too bad. The cut was ok, the colour was a little yellowish but I could ignore that. The price – holy hell, the same as an Australian do – US$80! I needed to find a cheaper alternative. Preferably one who knew the difference between yellow and blonde.
A few weeks later I boarded a bus full of crazy people heading out into the Vietnamese countryside to run through the fields chasing mounds of shredded paper. The Hash House Harriers have chapters all over the world. I’m not a runner but I’d turned up because I’d read in a local expat magazine that walking was acceptable.
At first the venture seemed doomed. Most of the other bus passengers were older and male. Everyone on the bus knew each other and were busy insulting each other and swearing. It didn’t look like a bunch of potential friends to me. The few women I could spot were deep in conversation, out of reach at the front of the bus. I stared out the window, feeling out of place and lonely.
The bus arrived at its destination. Bossy organised types herded everyone together and yelled instructions. The older men hitched up their shorts and ran off, one carrying a bugle.
I followed the walkers, who set off down a dirt track beside a rice field. I unsuccessfully tried to start conversations, then gave up and trudged along, alone.
I caught up to a group of ladies and it seemed natural to overtake them. Then I noticed one of the women had some beautiful ash-blonde strands of hair escaping out of her cap. I pulled up beside them.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me where you get your hair done?” I felt like a complete idiot asking this, but I felt like a complete idiot on this bust of a friend-finding mission anyway.
The blonde lady started telling me about a little hair salon close to her place with a hairdresser she’d “trained” to do blonde. She was friendly. I asked if I could walk with them.
And so I met Jennifer. And Linda. And Linda’s mum.
Linda and Jennifer were part of an informal group of teachers who met for Sunday lunch. They invited me along and soon that Sunday lunch was a regular part of my schedule.
At one of those Sunday lunches, I met Leigh and Sarah, a nurse and a massage therapist, who lived in the same building in Ho Chi Minh City’s expat “ghetto”.
Through Leigh and Sarah, I met Daria, a Canadian powerhouse, her hilariously funny compatriate Adrienne and Australians Julie and Sam.
I met Natalie, who worked with Jennifer.
I met Nadia, another Australian, who got addicted to salsa while in Vietnam.
Four years later these amazing women are still my friends. They are scattered all over the world and we keep in touch by email, Facebook and Skype. They continue to astound me with their adventurousness and their love and support.
We are all so different – different ages, from different countries with different likes and dislikes and beliefs. The only thing we really have in common is that we were all adventurous enough to go to Vietnam to work for a while. And I would never have met them if I hadn’t stopped on that dirt track in the Vietnamese countryside and asked someone to recommend a hairdresser.
Let me fill you in on what and where my friends – my own world of inspiration – are now.
Jennifer and Natalie are both back in Australia, finishing off their university degrees. Adrienne is in Canada doing her masters.
Sarah and the Austrian boyfriend she met in Ho Chi Minh City are back in Vietnam after six months in Argentina and another six months in Austria.
Daria is back in Canada, loving her new kick-arse challenging job.
Leigh is back in Australia, loving her new kick-arse challenging job.
Nadia met the man of her dreams halfway up a Malaysian mountain and went to live in Germany with him. They are now on their way to start a stint in Shanghai.
Linda surprised the hell out everyone by getting married at her 50th birthday party in Australia last month.
Julie, who just become a grandmother, is still in Vietnam loving her teaching job, posting annoying Facebook updates like “I love Mondays because I get to go back to work”.
And Sam is in the process of moving to Japan. Next week some of us are having a reunion of sorts. Those who can make it will be in Adelaide for Sam’s wedding to Jun, the most handsome man Japan has ever produced and great mates with Sarah’s Austrian boyfriend.
I’ll be there with Darling Man, the most handsome man Vietnam has ever produced, and our beautiful baby.
Unfortunately, at the moment my hair is slightly ginger and it’s too long on top and too short in the back. It’s not the worst hair I’ve had over the past four years but it’s definitely not the best. I’ll definitely be paying a fortune for an Australian hairdresser to fix it before the wedding.
So Alice was right, after all. Traveling does mean bad hair. But travelling also means amazing experiences and wonderful new friends. (Most days I don’t care about the bad hair but sometimes I do.)
And Alice? Alice is in Switzerland semi-enjoying her kickarse job. We hope to visit her next year and I’m sure her hair will be perfect.
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This article was written for the Most Important Word in the World series, a collaborative project to inspire people to step outside their comfort zones and find adventure and friendship. Other contributors to the series are: Wandering Earl, 1 Year Sabbatical, Nomadtopia, Disrupting the Rabblement, Beyond Norms and Do Something Cool.
10 years ago