Chapter 1 - Me, Myself and the Thai Girl
by Zoe Popham
I stomp around the streets of London with a large hunk of Thai girl, stuck to my head.
Why stomp? Well, it’s hit me that a pair of perfectly-fitting shoes will cost my monthly Thai salary in this city, and the insatiable appetite which I’ve developed in Asia isn’t aided by the absence of food stalls in central London.
And, the part about me having a Thai female attached to my head?
I twist a strand of soft blonde hair around my index finger and pull out a memory of my life in Bangkok.
I first remember the horror on my Thai boyfriend’s face, on my return from the hairdressers last month.
“Extensions??!” Boyfriend had exclaimed in an almost attacking tone, as he’d surveyed my hair and spun me round like a pottery wheel.
“All the Thai girls at work have such long, silky hair,” I’d whined. “And Khun Yim said her friend could do them cheap…”
“Why can’t you be happy looking English?” Boyfriend had spat. “I just don’t understand why you want to change yourself!”
“Improving myself, not changing myself totally!” I’d reacted defensively, thinking back to the hairdresser’s words that evening.
“I’ve had to use a Thai girl’s hair to create your extensions,” she’d announced abruptly, “And, as there’s not enough bleach in stock, you’ll have to come back tomorrow so we can lighten her hair to match your colour.”
Owing to the lack of long Caucasian hair for sale in Thailand, it appeared my head would spend one night in multi-cultural turmoil; its top half blonde, its bottom-half black. The sight was bizarre, to say the least.
Boyfriend hated my new look despite any amusing observations that it was, in some way, symbolic.
He wouldn’t even sleep beside me in bed that night, saying he didn’t want to touch ‘the Thai girl’ by mistake. At the time I’d arrogantly believed he was threatened my new ‘outer beauty’, but it became clear the next morning that his resistance was linked to ‘Old Thai Wives’’ tales.
“Are you sure the Thai girl was alive when the hairdresser cut her hair?” he’d asked over my shoulder as I brushed my teeth. “Because I heard they use hair from dead people” he’d continued, leaving me to obsess at my two-tone reflection.
Tentatively combing mine, then the Thai girl’s hair, I promised to keep all doubt a secret between myself and the mirror alone.
Cold and alien, the dark hair before me was figuratively, and literally, a foreign body. Attached to my roots by molten plastic glue, the black glossy extensions flowed beneath my paltry, straw-like offering.
I’d headed straight to the hairdresser’s that morning, to be met by my personal ‘emergency-hair’ team – a gaggle of women who sighed heavily with frustration after each ineffective bleach application.
“This Thai girl’s hair refuses to go lighter,” the head hairdresser had lamented, to which all heads shook and hands proceeded to mix more chemicals for my red scalp to absorb.
Four hours, eight applications and twelve washes later, ‘the Thai girl’ finally relented, and allowed her hair to morph into a seamless golden blonde.
“Your Thai hair just didn’t want to be English!” my Boyfriend had joked that night, then froze mid-stroke, realizing he was touching the very hair in question.
Looking for the reassurance I craved, checking that I didn’t secretly want to be a Thai girl, I turned to Khun Yim – hair-extension fixer by night/ Thai receptionist by day.
Khun Yim, known for her impressive knowledge of Thai beauty secrets, ironically carries round a Caucasian body part all of her own. Sick of her “ugly, flat Thai nose” (her words), she’d saved up for rhinoplasty with one of Bangkok’s best surgeons, and a higher nasal bridge was created for her from a thin piece of thigh bone.
Having no similar identity issues with her personal portion of foreign body, Khun Yim went so far as to claim her bridge was created from a piece of “very cute American guy”.
No further self-consciousness seemed apparent as she showed all and sundry the dog-eared Catherine Zeta-Jones clipping which the surgeon had used as a reference. “The doctor said he’d give me her nose and, you see?” she’d gleefully exclaim. “Isn’t it the same?”
When I tell Khun Yim of my Boyfriend’s reaction to the extensions she’d so carefully tracked down for me, she is equally self-assured, “Just because we want something from another culture, doesn’t mean we want to be that culture” she calmly states.
Good point, and relevant I feel. I may want the long, silky hair that my female Thai colleagues possess, but it doesn’t mean I want to be Thai.
Armed with this advice, I’m ready for battle: “Khun Yim understands what I’m saying!” I’d barked at Boyfriend that night, after my hair flicked his shoulder, and he belatedly flinched.
“Well Khun Yim has the bone of an American in her nose,” he answered curtly. “And probably a dead American at that!”
Stopping briefly at a shop window filled with high-numbered ‘Pound’ signs, I take a rest from my heavy bags, cold rain spitting down.
I look at the skinny body of a fashion model and know there’s a limit to wanting things you can’t have, reminding myself there are also things that I don’t actually want. But isn’t it human to want what you think you can’t have? And, as long as you know who you really are inside, surely superficial parts can never intrude into your identity.
When I return to Thailand, I’ll be sure to remind my Boyfriend of this.
Although, for the sake of an easy life, I may just promise to avoid using dead body parts in any future beauty options.
Regardless of my mixed-blood hair, I no longer feel the same way about the Thai girl’s hair as I did back then. For the past month we have bonded in more ways than one. I’ll miss her warmth and protection once I return to Bangkok and it’s time for my appointment to remove her.
‘Not long now,’ I murmur as I jump on a Double Decker and head to the airport. Not long until I’m collected in warm Bangkok by my Boyfriend and friend with the celebrity nose.
I twist a strand of soft hair around my index finger with repressed excitement, getting off at the stop for the airport.
I can’t wait to return to the land of cheap clothes, food stalls, warm rain and possible future hair donations.
(End of Chapter 1)
The Bangkok Women’s Writers Group
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