Back in Beijing

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”I’m home”,Jung Lee hummed to herself. She hadn’t been back in the province since she was a baby girl. Her family moved to the states in ‘96 and now it was 2017 in the heart of springtime.

The young woman arrived at her hotel and, after a good night’s rest, decided to explore the city. She put on a white, button-up shirt and jeans in the classic American style. Her feet were fitted into black, Chinese-fashionable walking slippers to offset her western look. All that long, black hair of hers was pulled back into a ponytail. Jung Lee teased her wispy bangs with a comb and headed out.

Beijing is a beautiful city. Jung Lee took her time while walking to appreciate the architecture and style. The streets seemed to have no end in sight. As the woman made her way downtown, a potential path caught her eye. It cut straight through an interesting neighborhood. Curiosity filled Jung Lee’s mind. Her path started to go in this new direction.

Jung Lee had never seen anything like the neighborhood. As the young woman took in the scenery, she came across a tea cafe. Four, elderly women were sipping tea at a table in the front of the shop. They all eyed Jung Lee intently. In hushed tones, the women started to note everything about Jung Lee’s body.

”Young lady”,a woman at the table called out to Jung Lee. The young woman turned to look at her elder,”Oh, hello aunties. How are you”

”We are fine”,the auntie replied,”You come here and talk to us now”

”Oh, okay”,Jung Lee nodded innocently. She made her way over to the shop and sat in a chair another auntie brought out for her.

”You have a husband, no?”one aunt asked quickly.

”No”,Jung Lee shook her head,”I, unfortunately, am still looking for the one”

”Ah, worry no longer”,the aunties started to rise up from their seats,”Let aunties find you a man. Ladies”

Without warning, two aunties grabbed one of Jung Lee’s arms and walked her into the tea shop. Jung Lee’s began to beat fast as her aunties brought her into the back of the shop. Behind the tea shop was a bath house. The aunties wasted no time undressing Jung Lee and getting her into one of the tubs.

”What are you doing?”Jung Lee asked frantically as her body was turned and stretched to get every nook and cranny of hers cleaned.

”No worry”,an auntie told the young woman,”Let aunties make you beautiful for a husband”

After Jung Lee was dried off, her aunties put long undergarments on the young woman and then slid a long, heavy dress over them. The dress covered almost everything and was very modest: like something a grandma would wear to church. Jung Lee had her feet inserted into new slippers that looked ancient and were a tad too small.

”We deal with this hair first”,an auntie took a strand of Jung Lee’s hair and held it out in a dissatisfied manner,”And then makeup, no?”

Jung Lee was led like a puppet out of the bath house and down the street on the other side of the tea shop. The young woman felt like fainting but her aunties prevented her from doing so, saying,”You must be awake for your husband”

The encouraging words kept Jung Lee conscious as she looked at the shops passing her by. Her aunties brought her to a shop on the corner. Its blue, white, and red pole didn’t disguise what it was. Jung Lee’s beat ever so faster as the aunties escorted her into the barbershop.

A woman in a white shirt, black, striped pants, and loafers stood behind the lone barber chair. Her hair was short but thick and shaped into a sphere of white curls engulfing her head. The glasses on her face were very thick and couldn’t hide the thought that she looked blind.

”Ti Fei”,the aunties called out to the woman very loudly as if she had trouble hearing as well. The woman jumped a little in place before looking at the aunties who had Jung Lee.

”Oh, hello deary”,Ti Fei waddled over to the group and grasped the young woman’s hands tenderly,”My, you are beautiful my dear”

Jung Lee couldn’t help but blush at the compliment,”Not at all, grandma”

”Oh, yes yes sweetie”,Ti Fei took the young woman by the hand and lead her over to the chair,”Come, come sit”

Jung Lee Daintily but reluctantly sat in the styling chair for her grandmotherly hairdresser. Ti Fei looked over to the other aunties as she tucked a towel into the collar of Jung Lee’s dress and said,”Like the other girls”

All the aunties nodded approvingly while Jung Lee was oblivious to the plot unfolding. Ti Fei flung a striped cape over the young woman’s torso and secured it with a hair clamp. She then started to brush through the long, black hair. When the hairdresser grabbed her scissors, Jung Lee resumed her nervousness. And like that, all of Jung Lee’s hair was snipped off and tossed to the ground. The elderly hairdresser didn’t need good eyesight to take it all off and only stopped to exchange her scissors for the clippers. There was a whir and the short was sheared even shorter.

Jung Lee didn’t know what to do. She just sat in the chair and had her head sheared almost to the skin. The whirring stopped.  She couldn’t believe who staring back at her in the mirror.

Ti Fei hummed to herself as she felt around Jung Lee’s scalp. Her frail hands then had a bit of shaving cream poured on them by a dispenser. She mixed up the cream in her hands and then spread it all over the young woman’s head. Jung Lee’s head was caked in shaving cream before Ti Fei washed her hands in a nearby sink. With her hands dried off, Ti Fei opened a box on the counter and took out a straight razor. She unfolded the blade and sharpened it on the belt attached to the chair.

The aunties watched in awe as the elderly hairdresser, with surprising speed, took off all the shaving cream from Jung Lee’s head. The young woman was shaved smooth in five minutes.

“You are beautiful”,Ti Fei stroked Jung Lee’s scalp tenderly,”I just wish I could see you a little bit better”

Jung Lee slowly nodded her head. She was bald and still at the mercy of her aunties. What was to come more?

Ti Fei removed the cape and towel and presented Jung Lee to the aunties’ delight. They started to dote over the young woman, stroking her head tenderly and asking and telling her things: fumbling over each other in the process. The aunties took their shaven beauty out on the streets again and arrived at an auntie’s house where the young woman had her face caked in makeup. When the aunties finally gave Jung Lee a mirror to look at herself with, the young woman was conflicted. She was beautiful but missed her long, black hair dearly. A few final touches and inspections and Jung Lee was walked down the streets.

Turning a corner, Jung Lee was astounded at what she saw. Young women and ladies, all with shaved heads and caked in makeup, were paraded around while being accompanied by their elders.

”Now”,an auntie declared,”We find you a husband”

The hunt was on. A lot of suitors browsed the street and met with many a girl before choosing one to be his bride. Jung Lee was betrothed in seconds: to an American, no less. He was a surfer bro and wanted to know if the bride sale was up to snuff and was smitten by Jung Lee’s beauty. The American and Jung Lee were married within the week and after conceiving a child, they headed back to the states.

Jung Lee birthed a baby girl. When the girl turned eighteen, the family went back to Beijing. A calm stroll through the city later led Jung Lee and her daughter to the fateful street. The aunties were waiting, drinking tea and anticipating the arrival.

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