On our way to see the haircut aunties a week before Chinese New Year, we run into our little friend Miss Hu (who the kids say should go to medical school so that she can become Doctor Hu). We take a picture together and tell her to come with us to see the haircut aunties, just a block away. She laughs and shakes her short hair, “No thanks, I already got my lecture this year.”
A week before Chinese New Year, we all pour into the little shop with the hot pink awning to see the haircut aunties. To me they ask, “Are you going to New York to see your boyfriend? Or to catch a new boyfriend?” They lecture me on how I need to dress up better and spend more time doing my hair in the morning and, please, put on some makeup for once. They blow out my hair so big and glamorous I do not recognize myself.
A week before Chinese New Year, the haircut aunties tell my daughters to find a nice Chinese boyfriend with a good job. Preferably an engineer. “Look for the nerdy boy who works hard and makes lots of money. Not the shiny boy who knows how to talk all romantic—shiny boy is OK for boyfriend but not for marry. Don’t be like your mom.”
A week before Chinese New Year, the haircut aunties tell us about a lady they set up with another customer. I ask, “Hey, how come you never set me up with anyone?”
“Oh, she gets her hair permed, so she’s in here all the time. And for a long time. So we sent him in to keep her company while she was under the hair dryer.” And now they come in together to get their hair cut. So that’s the cost of love: an old Asian lady perm.
Years later, in college, my daughter tells her new roommates that she would like to try bangs, but she knows that the haircut aunties would never allow it. “You know how you tell the haircut aunties how you want your hair cut and then they just do whatever they want?” Her new roommates from New York City say no, wide-eyed.
Excerpted from Wang’s new prose poetry and lyric essay collection, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids.
Wang, who will be reading at the AADL on April 26, says that any resemblance to an actual hair salon with an Asian staff and a hot pink awning is purely coincidental.