The Smoking Manicurist

It’s stereotypical, I guess, that I can’t be bothered to paint my own nails so I choose to find some little 中国美女 (Chinese lady) who I can pay $12 to paint my nails whatever colour I choose. So, the other day, after finding a cafe where I was finally (FINALLY) able to get the closest thing I could to a homecooked meal (I got roast chicken and roast vegetables and a green salad, and I can honestly say that’s probably the most uncommon thing here), I decided to get my nails done. It was pouring rain, but right across the road was a little nail salon, with four seats. If you think that some high-end salon in New York is exclusive, this knocks that right out of the park. You can’t make reservations. You just show up. I asked the lady, “我得等多少时间?” (How long do I have to wait?) and she told me 15 minutes. Fine, I’d wait 15 minutes. The street I was on (安福路, Anfu Lu) is kind of like the Paddington of Shanghai – beautiful streets, slightly too expensive shops, good cafes – so I really didn’t mind waiting 15 minutes.

There are also these beautiful clothing stores with completely real brands – but they’re not entirely real. They kind of have the tags cut off, look like they should be in a secondhand store, and I’m convinced they just take the not-so-great items off the production line and decide to sell them for just under retail price (sometimes a lot less) and everybody’s happy.

Besides the point. So, I come back after 15 (maybe 16 minutes, thought I’d be a little lenient) and they still don’t seem to have any free space. She glances at her other coworkers and then looks back at me and says oh, another三十分钟. Another half an hour. Because apparently I didn’t say I’ll be back. In that moment, I remembered there was a place around the corner, that I didn’t think would be this busy. I accidentally told them I’d be back – just in case the other place was busy as well – but headed to Mina Nail (米娜美甲).

Mina Nail was a little shop type thing, with a few couches, some plastic tables, three women filing their own nails and zero customers. But what the hell, I was already there. So I asked for a manicure, and this woman sat me down, and then proceeded to gossip with her two coworkers.

I finally had the realisation that my 中文 skills have improved to the point where I can understand when a woman is bitching about her co-worker, because she didn’t come into work today – apparently her mother was sick. This didn’t stop the other women in Mina Nail to say that she was lying, considering she was going out to eat hotpot (火锅) that night. I didn’t spend that much time actually speaking to the woman who was doing my nails, but I could listen, understand everything they were saying, and still pretend I had no clue what they were talking about. She then asked me if I wanted OPI nail polish, and I’m thinking to myself, there is no way Mina Nail salon can afford OPI at 中国价格 (China prices) – just not happening. Regardless, I said 对, and I got some fake nail polish.

Then, after she was done, she told me to just sit there and wait, and then, proceeded to light up a cigarette in the middle of her store. Ash on the floor a little. That’s sanitary. Then, after looking down at my nails, I realised that she had actually painted my fingers, as well as my nails and I had just wasted 60 块 on a really bad manicure. But I got a really good story out of it, so I guess it’s a win-win.

So, these are the types of things I see and experience in China. Just wouldn’t happen back home. Another one is that a few of my friends decided to piggyback on the back of a tow truck, instead of catching a taxi ride home. I think the man let them. If that’s not hospitality, I don’t know what is. But then you have the not so nice motorbike riders, who try to fling the stupid people holding onto their bikes, while riding a skateboard. To be honest, I’d probably do the same thing.

Unfortunately, I have 15 days left in 上海 (until August), but that just means I’ll have fifteen or so more stories to tell.

Bella 冯茵

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