Saturday, March 21, 2009

Neighborhood Flow

How the Bum Bum Works:

Here is the Bum Bum in full swing on a Saturday afternoon. I am sitting near the opening getting a spa pedicure and manicure ($3 for both). When I first arrive, all the girls and the one hair guy are sitting against the back mirror; I am their only customer.

Within minutes, while my feet are just soaking, women wander in for washings, colorings, waxings, nail art and styling, no appointment necessary. The system at this salon is so unique - I assume it's shared by other salons but I'm not absolutely sure- each girl has a specialty (and there is always one man- as is customary in both Vietnam and China- who does the cutting and styling). Tran, of course, is the massage girl; however, she does everything else, too (except paint nails, she claims she is "really bad" at that). So if she is in the middle of a hair wash upstairs and someone comes for a massage, they pull her off of the hair wash and put her on her specialty. I get a massage at least once per week and only twice in the past eight months have they told me to "come back in an hour" because she is busy. Somehow, the system just flows. More than once, I have begun a hair wash with one Bum Bum girl only to realize that they have switched girls on me while the strips of cucumber blinded me during the facial.

The girl in the green shirt near the front of the picture is Hoa. She is Tran's sister and she is the nail and waxing expert. If she is washing hair, she will get pulled for her specialty. The woman in the back wearing the grey tank shirt is Chin. She is the eyebrow specialist, but every once in a while, I am lucky enough to get her for a hair wash. She is the best washer, for sure - her massages during the facials are very gentle (some of the girls tend to massage a little too rough around the eye sockets and cheek bones) and she is the best at hair straightening. We also love to get Tran for a wash because you get all of her expert massage techniques, too.

The second floor holds five hair washing sinks/tables and the third floor is equipped with a massage table and a waxing table. Again, the stairs leading up are very, very steep and narrow, made for tiny Vietnamese feet. I brace myself each time I come down these stairs.

This is Tran holding the baby on the motorbike (look at her muscular massage arms)- the baby belongs to the newest girl at the Bum Bum. The entire staff adores this baby and whoever is not busy plays with her. If everyone is busy, Bum Bum clients take care of her.

I have made it obvious how much I love this place, but I will say it again: I love this place. It's where this community of women interacts. Vietnamese culture is into beauty - every facet of beauty - and people in these neighborhoods generally do not have elaborate shower or toilet facilities (including, especially mine - right, Michelle?), so grooming becomes a community thing. Just once I would like to know what they talk about while all of the beautifying is going on, but I'm sure the topics are exactly the same as they would be in a salon at home: jobs, kids, gossip, problems, family, men.

When I come, they make me a part of it as much as they can, but they are accustomed to seeing me deep into a book, with the sounds of their talking and the video music playing serving as comfortable background white noise.

How the Seamstress System Works:

This woman is making my Thuy/Ms. Hoa shirt gift - I have not learned her name yet, but she sure laughs when I ask if I can take her picture while she sews my shirt. The girls and Ut are taking a break - something I rarely see at this shop.

When Ms. Hao gets an order, she also assigns it according to specialties. Ut generally does a lot of the cutting, while Ms. Lieu (here on the floor) does a lot of the seams on the machine. The woman doing my shirt always sits on the floor doing all of the hand sewing. They work from about 8 am until 8 pm, but they always have time for a warm wave or a hello whenever K, T or I pass by.

Ms. Hao always takes time to tell me I look beautiful in whatever I am wearing, whether she has made it or not. And Ut - he is such a sweet kid. Often I will hear someone saying "Maggie!" behind me as I walk through the neighborhood; when I turn, I will see a smiling, tailgating Ut, returning from running some kind of errand.

And Here is the Laughing Grandpa

with his lucky granddaugher, who here is caught in a rare, non-laughing moment.

By the way:

You didn't get to hear much about K's parents' visit because I really didn't get to see them much - they kept busy the entire time, going to islands, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, the Delta... K's mom, Joan, flew back to Montreal Thursday night, and K's dad, Tim, got on a (very low amount of speeds) bike to ride to Laos on Friday. Here is his blog if you would like to follow along:


SeattlePam said...

I am SO in for a half-day at BumBum! Add that to my list...I can't wait. These calloused feet could use a good pedicure. Oh, and the facial...for sure!

Michelle said...

You captured your neighborhood perfectly . . . what a great observation about why the salons are always busy. I still don't miss your shower but that's about the only thing.
SeattlePam, you're in for a treat!

Mungo said...

You have the coolest life...

Brian Bowker said...

The Bum Bum Baby is C U T E !