In general I spend a silly amount of money on my hair. We all have our idiosyncrasies and this happens to be one of mine. I spend a lot of money getting my hair cut, colored, blow dried, treated… whatever. And of course I spend a lot of money on shampoo. I have tried most of the big names in shampoo… Keratesse, Biolage, Aveda, Joico, Nexxus, Redken, etcetera, etcetera. I occasionally listen to my hairdresser when he recommends something, but generally, for me, as most of you who know me well would guess, it is all about the smell. Now at this point someone always tries to tell me how some cheap shampoos smell real good. This may be true. So, I guess it isn’t all about the smell… but mostly.
About a month ago I was walking past a shop between Causeway Bay and Happy Valley and I saw that it had a brand of shampoo that I used to love and have not been able to get my hands on for ages at home. Senscience. Apparently it is made by Shiseido. I never knew this when I was using it in the States, but I loved the shampoo. It makes your hair super soft (I do not ask why because it is probably not something I want to know – and regarding this post, it may also have pthalates… again, I like it enough to exist in soapy denial) and it smells fantastico! So, imagine my excitement when I saw that I could get this long lost shampoo here, in the Kong!
Because I did not need shampoo at the time I had seen it I waited a little while, and then every time I managed to walk over to the place it seemed to be closed. I was getting frustrated but was not to be deterred. Last night I finally had a break at the office at a time that I knew the place to be open and so I headed over.
I walked in and was happily overwhelmed with the vast array of hair products for my perusal. The shop is quite small and there was only one other customer who was engaged in some discussion in Chinese with one of the employees. A corpulent Chinese grandma and a hefty younger man sat towards the back in what could probably be styling stations in a more clutter free time. No one came to help me (a huge bonus!) and I got to walk around and look. I had already selected my two gigantic bottles of Senscience and one small bottle of Joice for my yoga bag, but was interested in all the other things there were too look at. I considered getting a new round brush, hair ties, and any number of other products… but as this was a strategic mission, I stuck with my plan.
When the conversation between the other customer and the staff had ended, or nearly had, I walked up to make my purchase. In hindsight, I might have paid better attention to the situation that preceded mine, but alas, what good is hindsight? I put my items down and watched the lady walk out. There are some times I really wish I spoke Chinese, and that was one of them. As the shop girl, (Who was she? The owner? A stylist?) looked at my things she immediately looked at my hair and said, “Nooo, no no no…. This shampoos not good. You need special shampoo for dry hair.”
Now this is true, I do have dry hair. And chemically treated hair. And hair that really hates humidity. So, I listened. She immediately took me over to some other products and started to tell me why they would be better. I listened. And I sniffed.
“No,” I said. “Thank you but I really came here just for this shampoo and I really want it. You are the only place that sells it in Hong Kong and I came here especially for it.”
“But no good for you!”
“Well, I have used it before, I will try again.”
“Really bad for hair for you. You should use this one. Look, smell nice.” She shoved a gigantic vat of Redken Blonde protection shampoo in my face. It smelled okay. Looking at my unconvinced face she said, “You like smell of this but is supermarket shampoo. All have very strong perfume. Very bad.”
“Okay…” I acquiesced. I was now buying the shampoo she wanted to sell me that cost three times what the shampoo I had waited two weeks (and years, really) specifically to buy. I guess it is okay, she knows better, right?
I left the store and headed back down the street and I got more and more irritated with each step.
I rationalized: It probably is good shampoo and I need shampoo.
I justified: It is only money.
I vacillated: God, I really wanted that other shampoo…. but maybe I didn’t, maybe this is what I was meant to have.
Meant to have??
Give me a break. I went back to the shop.
I walked in and said, “Look, I really don’t want this shampoo. I came all the way here to get this other very specific shampoo and it is the shampoo I want. I feel like you made me buy something I do not want and I want the other shampoo.”
Chinese Shop Girl smiled at me and said, “Sure. Can have, no problem.”
“No, not in addition to, I dont want this shampoo, I want that shampoo.”
“Yeah, okay, no problem. You need find more things in shop for difference in price. Is difference in price, see?”
“But I do not want anything else, I came all the way here just for this one thing and it is all I want.” I felt myself starting to get upset. I tried to keep it together. In the meantime she is now having a conversation with her two large compatriots. Then he starts telling me what good shampoo I have purchased. “I realize it is good shampoo. It may be the best shampoo in the world, but I want the other shampoo. And she wouldn’t let me buy it!”
“She just make a recommendation to you. Like doctor.” Big Fella said.
“She is not my doctor. I bought this shampoo less than five minutes ago and I want the other one so can you please help me?”
“Cannot do refund because you pay EPS.” Says shop girl. “If cash no problem, but EPS. Problem.”
“EPS is cash. You can do the refund the same way. I live here. I am not a tourist, you cannot tell me that EPS cannot be changed.”
In trying to tell me again that she would not, could not do what I was asking I felt a very strange sensation come over me. I stood my ground. I did not yell. Or cry. Or apologize. Or take all the responsibility. I looked at this woman right in the eyes and said nothing.
Then I heard the door open.
Shop girl walked away to help the new customer. I continued to stand right where I was. Saying nothing.
Normally in a situation like this I would be overly apologetic for causing an inconvenience, positively obsequious. In fact, in a truly normal situation I would not have even gone back into the store. Ever. But for some reason, this night, I did.
Shop Girl completed her exchange with the woman who had just come in the store as Big Fella continued to heckle me. “You know what? You think you are helping this situation but you are not. This is terrible business and you know it. And I will tell everyone I know about this shop. Lying to me and telling me I cannot get money back from EPS like I do not know any better. really, you should be embarassed.” I know he understood maybe 25% of what I said, but I did not care… I continued, “All I want is this shampoo. I told you that. You are making me feel so bad I can barely stand it.”
I heard the door swish closed as the other customer left the shop.
Then Shop Girl came and put the shampoo I wanted in the bag and gave me the difference (HK$400!) in change.
And I left.
As I exited the shop I saw the woman who had been in the store with me. “What happened in there, is everything okay?” She was an immaculately dressed Chinese lady with perfect American English.
I practically started to cry as I told her what had happened, that I had felt pushed into buying something I didn’t want and so I came back in the store and tried to fix the situation but then they wouldn’t help me and it was so frustrating I wanted to scream but I knew it was my fault because I should not have bought the thing I didn’t want but I did and then I had to go back and I live here I should know better…. and the thing is, I know how she got me, she told me it was supermarket shampoo.
She smiled and said, “Don’t worry, you did the right thing, don’t let anyone push you into buying things you don’t want. It is the Chinese way. They think you are a tourist because you are a gweilo. Do you need me to go inside for you or is everything ok?”
I couldn’t believe this. She had waited for me just to make sure everything was cool. How cool was that? After telling her that I was fine we exchanged smiles and carried on in opposite directions.
The Chinese Way. I mulled the words around in my mind. Yeah, that was what she said, and that is the thing… the one thing I HATE about Hong Kong: that there is one price if you are Chinese and one price if you are white. I mean, can you imagine in the US if stores had one price for white folks and one for anyone else? And while I get it that there is a locals price in places like Cambodia and Thailand and Vietnam (and I am talking like a 95% reduction) it seems to make sense for the Third World when tourist dollars are what you have to work with. I certainly do not endorse scamming people, but I get it. But here, in Hong Kong? This place couldn’t be more developed or commercialized. Or could it? I have stopped dealing with a lot of the local markets where I am not a regular for this exact same reason, I can’t take the hassle of fighting to not be ripped off in Asia’s World City. I don’t know if I am making a big deal out of nothing, but the whole two price structure seems a bit Jim Crow to me.