How to Get Your Hair Done

I’ve watched many of my friends get haircuts at Viva Salon in Khan Shatyr (the yurt mall). I know that is weird but this is a weird city and you have to get creative with recreational activities. We make an afternoon of it and afterwards, go for lunch and shopping for groceries.

Hair cuts are 4000 tenge ($22) at Viva. It’s a steal for women who are charged the same as men. I think it’s because most women here have extremely long hair down to their waists with super blunt ends and no layers to trim or cut.

Men are given the KGB treatment of having their hair washed face down in the sink. There is generally only one sink for proper hair washing and it’s reserved for women, who are fussed over more. As with everything, a hair cut takes a very long time and even men should expect a standard appointment to take an hour.

My friend Kevin loves it when people get their hair cut, or “hairs cut” as he says in his Belgian way. Between his peer-pressure and the effects of going from the dank Pacific Northwest to the dry dry forever dry steppe, I caved. I was planning on holding out until going to Copenhagen next month but I’ve tried everything from mayonnaise masks to argan oil and nothing was working well. I had no idea it was possible for hair to be so dry and so greasy all at once.

I also decided to dye my hair because I no longer wanted to be a redhead. I dyed my hair shortly before a break-up and it was fine and whatever but that kind of thing is generally a bad idea and just ends with you spending time/money to get it back the way it was before. Which is exactly what I did here.

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Before

Also, Kazakh water is very harsh and unkind to brightly coloured hair.

Toni & Guy opened up on campus and I decided to give it a go instead of Viva even though I once had a bad experience. A stylist from the Vancouver T&G stopped me on the street when I was 18 to ask if I wanted to hair model for the salon’s look-book. While setting the dye on my hair, they showed me photographs of hair-models past.

“This one was sooooooo pretty!”

“See how the hair is covering her face? We did that on purpose because she wasn’t very good looking.”

The end result was a hot pink and purple asymmetrical bowl cut overtop of a mullet. How I have no pictures of this, I do not know. The salon phoned me the day of the shoot and told me the photographer had cancelled and they weren’t going to bother doing a shoot at all and that they would fix my hair.

They dyed my hair back to its natural colour and I tried not to think about what it meant that the shoot was cancelled outright – not even given the chance to be mocked by hair models future. The stylists didn’t have time to fix the cut and so I went from punk-chic to something reminiscent of 2009-Kate Gosselin (this was 2004, it was very ahead of the times).

But that was many hair modelling gigs ago and I’ve learned they are pretty much always terrible, except for the hair show that had free hamburgers, so I do not specifically judge T&G as an organization on this basis.

The T&G here entirely flooded (because, Kazakhstan) and so I had to wait a couple of weeks. Once it opened again, I popped by and had a consultation with a lovely friendly stylist.

“You really want to get rid of the red?”

“Yes.”

“So difficult.”

I appreciated her honesty and put all my faith in her dubious “I will try!” attitude. We spent five and a half hours together the next day to bleach most of the red out.

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Bantha.

“Did you say you wanted a haircut too?” the receptionist asked at 10:20 pm, my hair still wet, the salon having closed twenty minutes ago.

The hairdresser laid my hair against my back and cut in a straight line. It took less than two minutes and she didn’t charge me for it. And it looks surprisingly good! Or maybe I have absolutely no perspective after living here for three months. We’ll find out next time I travel.

I had to go back the next week to get a darker colour put on top to more closely match my natural colour. I was glad I understand enough Russian to know that the receptionist and stylist were discussing how nice they thought the end result was. Though I don’t know the Russian yet for, “Yikes!”

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Voila!

Overall, it was cheaper than it would’ve been in a western place but still a decent amount of tenge. Most of the cost was in how much dye was used and they gave me a very thorough breakdown. I’m happy I took the chance on KZ hair skills and I think I will be seeing my stylist again before the end of my time here.

Concluding thoughts:

  • Getting your hair done here is like everything else, if you’re not terribly fussy, go for it.
  • If you’re a bit hesitant, go to a standardized franchise like Toni & Guy.
  • If you are pretty particular, especially about hair dye, get your hair done next time you’re in a western lands. There are not as many hair dyes available in KZ as in other countries.
  • Keep in mind that layers are not common here and it may be wisest to stick with blunt trims.
  • Block off A LOT of time for any hair procedure.
  • Good hair products are more expensive here than western countries. It wasn’t until I left the salon and did the conversion that I realized I paid over $40 for one hair product (I think it was worth it? That’s what I tell myself.).
  • If you hate small talk with hairdressers, KZ is great because most hairdressers don’t speak English!
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How to Cycle in Kazakhstan

Aside from groceries, the first thing I wanted to buy in Astana was a bike. I knew it would make me feel more like myself than anything else could. Cycling has been my main mode of transportation for the last five years and I do long-distance rides on the weekends, as well as the occasional bike tour.

Before moving, I checked with my boss that decent bikes could be purchased here and he confirmed that sports stores sell them in the summer. Packing and moving all of my possessions within two suitcases was already such an arduous process that I decided to leave my bike with a friend. The bike was a very expensive purchase, has some customizations, and I know I’ll pick it up in the next year or two, so I opted to keep rather than sell it.

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I had read in expat blogs and heard from faculty here that Limpopo is the best store for anything bicycle-related in Astana so I headed there within the first week and purchased the biggest cyclocross bike available. It’s still smaller than I would prefer but it’s okay.

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New Bike

I was really surprised at how difficult it is to find a road bike and then someone informed me that it’s best to have a mountain or cyclocross for cycling the steppe. Also, the constant construction and road/sidewalk structure in general (or lack thereof) makes for some rough riding that’s better handled by a sturdier bike.

The biggest difficulty in riding within the city are the inconsistently sized, and sometimes gigantic (up to 2 feet high!) curbs. Even cyclists who are skilled at hopping curbs can’t manage some of them. One such cyclist I ride with recently hopped a high curb with a sharp corner and his tire popped with an explosion steppe dust. It was unfortunate but magnificent to see. My technique is to stop at the edge of curbs and waddle onto the road, then waddle back up over the curb on the other side.

There are also random obstacles like missing bricks, fallen trees, and open manholes.

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 Astana: City of Obstacles

You don’t see a lot of cyclists here but they’re around. I think many people are hesitant to buy bikes since they’re expensive and only usable for 5-6 months of the year. I paid $365 for mine, which was a sale price, since it’s the end of cycling season. The city just implemented an inexpensive bike sharing program last month, which may boost cyclist numbers.

Astana also has a very famous cycling team and on my way back from the grocery store, I occasionally see some of them leaving the training centre. They like to be a little flirty, which is fun, since those opportunities are few and far between here (as I expected).

There are a group of us from the university who cycle every weekend around the city and steppe. I’d never done any off-road cycling before and I really enjoy it. The steppe is flat in altitude but very bumpy, rocky, and full of sandy patches that always make my heart race while my back tire slips. Sometimes you see really cool things on the steppe such as dead falcons, a guy training eagles to hunt, and locals herding sheep. The plains of grasses look like an ocean and remind me of home in the nicest way.

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Team Awesome

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In Vancouver, I always did my bike rides solo. Road cycling generally needs to be done in single file and is more chaotic because of traffic and different cyclists having different approaches about which rules they choose to follow. It’s not only necessary to cycle with others on the steppe (for obvious health and safety reasons) but it’s also easier to be more relaxed and social on treks.

Despite liking my new bike, I’m going to ask one of the professors here from Vancouver if he’d be willing to bring mine back with him at Christmas time. When I decide to leave KZ, I plan on cycling from Almaty to Istanbul (or some similar route) and I’d like the bike I’m most comfortable on for those long distances.

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