I went to the hair salon yesterday. And I felt like a barbarian entering a cosmopolitan, civilized world.
Okay, visiting a hair salon probably is a regular thing for some of you, but it was the first time I visited a professional hair salon by myself without my mom or aunt to decide everything for me. I mean, this is the girl who has had her hair cut by her mother in the bathroom for 22 years.
At least I had the smarts to make an appointment ahead of time. I found the salon I wanted on Yelp (a Korean salon called Itocco at Koreatown), and asked for a Monday afternoon appointment. As soon as I entered, the lady at the front desk took my bag and took me to the back to cloak me with a waterproof gown.
They washed my hair, then led me to the…uh, I don’t know what you call it. It’s the swiveling chair that you sit in front of the mirror and they start cutting your hair. Is there a special name for it? Someone educate me.
Anyway, I was assigned a hairstylist named Jay. A petite, pretty Korean lady who immediately sized up the condition of my hair. As she tried to drag a comb through my tangled hair, she asked, “What did you do to your hair?”
Eek. I guess the question is, what did I not do to my hair? I sheepishly admitted to her that I have not brushed my hair in months.
“Oh dear,” she yelped. “You really need to comb your hair, miss. Otherwise your hair will lose its strength and vitality. Look at this!”
She yanked out a small bunch of my precious hair from her comb which had been torn off my scalp as she tried to comb it. In my defense, it was a really fine comb! And who has time to brush hair anymore? Isn’t there an iPhone app to do it?
“I guess I’m not a lady enough,” I tee-heed.
Jay asked me what my occupation was, so I said I’m a journalist-in-training.
“Ah…I see,” she said, nodding an all-knowing gleam in her eye. After a painful hair-yanking session, she asked me what kind of perm I wanted.
I had to idea there were so many different perms, actually. I only know a straight perm and a curly perm. I told her I just wanted to revitalize the curls in my hair, but I didn’t want to look like an ah-jum-ma (아줌마). This is what an 아줌마 perm looks like:
Nooooo. I would die if I had the same perm as my mommy.
I also told Jay I didn’t want bangs, because I don’t know how to take care of them. And then I left Jay to do her magic.
I love Jay. She was just chatty enough to answer my questions cheerfully, and wise enough to just silently work when I wanted to read the NY Times on my iPhone. And I peppered her with a lot of questions. Dang, the things I learned from one trip to the hair salon!
First, I had no idea women have their “own hairstylist.” Like, I didn’t know women come to salon so often to a specific hairstylist they like. Why on earth do they need so much hair styling?
I also had no idea that Korean hairstylists need to undergo so much training before they can wield the scissors. In addition to the 1800 hours of professional training at a hairstyling academy, Jay told me that the in Korean hair salons at least, these newbies need to go through 3 years as an assistant before they can be a real hairstylist. Jay herself “graduated” from Vidal Sassoon and also assisted for 3 years to get here. She’s been a hairstylist for 10 years now.
I asked her why she did it.
“I love it,” Jay said, beaming. “It’s so much fun for me. I just love feeling the textures of different hair, communicating with the client, and making them beautiful.”
Turns out, not anyone can be a hair stylist. You can learn all the great techniques, but you need to have a great sense of taste, and be able to determine what style would work best for which client. You also need great communication skills (which Jay definitely has), and be able to work with your client to get what they want (or rather, encourage them to do what is best for their hair because some people have horrible tastes).
“You can’t learn taste,” Jay said as she snipped deftly at my hair like a pro. “We hairstylists are artists. And you can’t teach or learn art.”
And I guess I was her art piece. I left it to the expert to create a masterpiece out of my mane.
And man, can Jay sell things. She asked me what other products I used for my hair. I said I used Herbal Essence shampoo and conditioner. I had no idea there were other products to use?! Within 5 minutes she convinced me to buy some kind of hair lotion/serum. Yay I’m a legit lady now!
(iPhone pic via Instagram)
And all legit ladies have to go through a bit of pain in order to be beautiful. Yup, I can handle this.
2 hours and $200 later (including tip and the nifty hair lotion), I was walking out the salon with my newly permed head high and proud.
(iPhone pic via Instagram)
Yes, I just blew $200 on my hair. I’m so legit now: I have a hair lotion! I have a Korean high-heeled hairstylist named Jay! I try to remember to brush my hair! I’m a lady!!
That said, I’m also now a legit Asian mama because I know how to make freaking good broth from scratch. And not just your average celery-and-carrot chicken broth—this is good, legit 100% Asian broth, the way a legit Chinese ah-jum-ma makes it at home.
Campbells tried and failed. It tried to popularize canned chicken broth in China. Um. Hello? Why would anyone need canned chicken broth when it’s so freaking easy to make your own chicken broth? I used to make chicken stock with leftover Costco rotisserie chicken carcass in my slow-cooker, but I’ve now found an even better way to make pure, stick-in-the-bone chicken broth:
1) Get organic chicken: I’ve learned that when it comes to meat, I really cannot cheat. I need to get the legit organic free-ranging chicken for legit good taste. My beloved hotdogs and SPAM do not apply here.
2) Poach a whole chicken: I used to get mad when my mom poaches chicken. “The hell?” I would cry. “I want you to fry the heck out of that bird! I want K-Freaking-C!” But now that I’m older and wiser (kind of), I’ve realized that poached chicken > KFC. The flavors that come out of a whole poached chicken is so pure and intense that it’s just…a life-changing epiphany.
Clean out the whole organic chicken (I got mine from Costco). Dig out all the liver and heart and poop and whatever organs in there. Don’t be squeamish, because don’t you have heart and liver too?
Okay. Rinse your chicken, and leave it aside.
Next, roughly chop up onions, as much or little as you want (just don’t go crazy):
And then get your spices/flavor enhancers:
I used star anise, whole cloves, garlic and ginger. If you want, you can also add cinnamon in there, but I didn’t like the idea of cinnamon in my broth.
Bring all the ingredients in the pot to a boil, then let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then slowly lower the whole chicken into the pot:
Bring the liquids back to a boil again, simmer for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop up scallions:
And scatter them into the pot.
Then shut the lid, and let it sit for about 2 hours.
Yes! That’s it! Just shut the lid, and walk away and play with Angry Birds on your iPhone! The chicken continues to cook slowly in that hot liquid, releasing its awesome rich juices and just gradually steaming in that pot.
I was a tiny bit worried that the chicken won’t cook all the way through, but it did. It’s awesome!!! When I cut into the chicken, it was cooked all the way through—and best of all, the meat was extremely tender and sweet from the spiced broth it “stewed” in.
When I had my first sip of the broth, I thought I would float to heaven; it was SO good. It brings out all the goodness of the chicken, packed full of nutrients and flavor and ohmygosh it’s like the adult version of breast milk—it’s wholesome and seeps deep into your soul and makes you feel invigorated and healthy and loved.
I cooked some rice noodles in the broth, chopped up the cooked chicken, and served it with a light scatter of cilantro on top.
The most simple yet soul-warming dish ever. I was slurping so happily that I’m pretty sure I was grinning like a fool.
It’s just lovely to go back to the basics, because even though I do love my fancy modern dishes, nothing can replace a hearty noodle soup based from good homemade broth.
I chose thick rice noodles, the kind that you serve with Pho. Although I made a vermicelli dish with cold tofu the other day, I still much prefer thicker cuts of noodles because they have that much more chew. They make for louder slurping, too!
As for the chicken, it just melts in your mouth. The meat falls off the bone, glistening and juicy, preserving all its richness while infusing the complex flavors from the spices.
I can’t think of a better way to describe how much I. Love. Poached. Chicken. No more Campbells for me! It takes a bit more money to get good organic chicken, but value versus taste-wise, the few more dollars I spend is completely worth it. What’s more, this chicken lasted a long time! I spread it out into different dishes throughout the week.
For one of my dishes, I just slow-cooked rice with the broth and chicken into a lovely porridge. With a few strands of leftover rice noodles. Seriously fantastic.
So. I lied. I’m not a legit lady yet. I remember when my friend Jane came to stay over, and every morning I would stare in fascination while she touches up her make-up:
This girl seriously knows how to take care of herself. I learned about base and foundation and primers and anti-aging creams from her. I learned that you can devise ways to make your slanted Asian just POP.
I also learned that it’s freaking expensive to be a lady. And…that you cannot be lazy.
Oh. Hm. Well. Hmph. I guess I’ve still got a long ways to go.
But first, I guess I’ll start with brushing my hair.
Question of the Day: Do you go to hair salons? Massages? Facials? Manicures and pedicures? Uh…what else are there?