Dhaka Diaries : A visit to the salon

After spending one and a half months here, I finally decided to venture into a salon on the Thursday before last. I’d googled the ones close to home, read the reviews and eventually selected one. However, not too sure about how the salon would turn out to be, but knowing that I would have to try it out someday, we (my daughter and I) agreed to test out the bare minimum – shape our eyebrows. The saloon was crowded – I supposed it had to do with Friday being the weekend here. A narrow entrance between a lighting shop and a shoe shop, in a building on the main shopping street of Gulshan, leads you to a flight of fifteen-odd stairs. At the top of the stairs, a pink signboard says, ‘Persona saloon’.   Two female helpers in blue uniforms stood at the entrance door to open the door for us. They wished us ‘salaam- Alaikum and we replied, “Walaikum Assalam”, which is a standard way of greeting people here. It means, ‘Peace be on you.’ The saloon door opened to a world entirely different from that on the street- it was like the Victoria’s Secret of saloons – the Dhaka version. Pink doors, pink walls and women in pink uniforms.  The salon was busy with cosmetologists scurrying around providing services to women customers who looked like Queen bees getting their nails, face and hair done. It was women empowerment at its best. I’m not a feminist but with the recent trend of unisex salons in most parts of the globe and men doing pedicures, manicures and haircuts for women, seeing this all-women salon thriving, was satisfying in a strange sort of way. I walked up to the reception and asked for the charges for eyebrows. The charges were nominal. On the receptionist’s desk was a pamphlet providing winter beauty deals which looked rather tempting. However, I decided to wait and see how the eyebrows went before committing. The receptionist asked me if I wanted something more and when I said I didn’t, she handed over the receipt to me and asked me to hand it over to the floor manager. I turned around, feeling a little lost in a world full of women- where was the floor manager? A lady in black trousers and a jacket came up to us and said something in Bangla. I gathered from her outfit that she was the floor manager. The word, ‘eyebrows’ figured in her sentence, and I nodded. She collected the receipt from me and pointed to a row of seats. I think she said, “Wait!” or “Sit”. We took a seat. A few moments later, she returned and said a string of words. I looked around hoping someone would come to my rescue when I said, ‘I don’t understand Bangla.’ Blank stares met me (I’m not one quick to judge and I don’t want to say people here are unfriendly, but it sure felt like it.) The floor manager said something more in Bangla. In fact, a lot more… she had an entire conversation with herself in the language, and at the end of it, gestured that I rise and follow her. So, I did- into one of the many cells in the honeycomb. She doled out a bunch of instructions in Bangla to the lady in charge of eyebrows, while I took a seat in front of the mirror. The brow ‘specialist’ made me rest my head on the top of my backrest. No words were spoken. I pointed to my brows and said as humbly as possible, ‘Only extras. No thin,’ and smiled timidly.
I prayed she didn’t mess up. If she did, I had a contingency plan ready- I would use an eyebrow pencil until they grew back. I’m sure all women out there will be able to empathize with my predicament. After she was done, I looked into the mirror apprehensively.  My eyebrows were intact. Thank God! And all the unsightly hair that had grown around it had been removed. Pleased and feeling more confident about the salon, I went back to the reception desk and asked how much I would need to spend for a membership. The lady said, “3000 Takas.” I picked the pamphlet with the winter promotion and booked the one which said, “2884” taka (the balance was taken care of, by my bill for the eyebrows). It included a manicure, pedicure, detox facial, hair oil massage, and hair wash and dry. I asked if I could use it on another day. She said, “yes” and handed me a receipt. I was elated. In Mumbai, the minimum price of just a facial, at a saloon of this standard (I’m drawing a parallel based on location and clientele) would have cost me Rs 3000.00 (the exchange rate between INR and BDT is Rs 1 = BDT 1.25). Four days later, I decided to go back to complete the rest of the package I had paid for. I pulled out the receipt to book an appointment although the receptionist had told me there was no need to. What I didn’t understand from her statement, was that I wouldn’t be able to book an appointment even if I wanted to, as the only telephone number on the yellow slip was mine. Other than that, was a list of pending services and my name. So, off I went feeling doubtful again. It was around 3.30 p.m. when I reached the saloon. It was deserted. I was convinced my assumption of it being crowded just before the weekend was right. Anyway, I showed the receptionist the slip expecting her to question me. But she called the floor manager instantly, who handed me over to a young girl called, Lovely. No words were exchanged between Lovely and me. I sat on a chair Lovely pointed to and she brought in some warm oil. I have no idea what oil it was (it was as if my sense of smell was in a state of numb shock). Lovely, massaged my hair for a good thirty minutes, clipped it and handed me over to the floor manager, who escorted me upstairs and handed me to the floor manager of the second floor, who called a girl and said, ‘Detox’ facial. The girl gestured for me to follow her into a cubicle – she placed a dress on the beauty bed (I’m not sure if that’s what it’s called) and she closed the door after her. I gathered I had to change into the dress- a gown with no sleeves and two strings, which I tied around my neck to hold the gown in place. Then I opened the door. The girl came in, smiled and shook her head looking at the string rubbing against my neck as I sat. She said something. I smiled back. She untied the strings and tied them on the side under my arm. Then she asked me to lie down, and began the routine of cleansing, scrubbing, and applying the pack. I have no idea what products were used and yes, I was scared that I might develop an allergic reaction to them. But I reminded myself of the customers I’d seen, the previous Thursday and I told myself that people like ‘that’ wouldn’t come to the salon if they weren’t satisfied. The facial went on for an hour – I smelled cucumber and yoghurt maybe. I have no clue what else was used on my face but it felt organic.  It’s been a week since the facial and there have been no eruptions; so, it’s safe to say whatever it was, it wasn’t bad. The manicure and pedicure were equally satisfying. During the hair wash, I told myself that I would rate the salon as ‘Good’ if they managed to blow-dry my hair right because anybody can do a massage. Lovely went about drying my hair and brushing it without asking me any questions whatsoever. She didn’t care whether I wanted it straight, curled, or wavy. Not that if she had asked, I would be able to make her understand what I wanted. Twenty minutes later, Lovely had set my hair just like I liked it. I was thoroughly pleased. I wanted to tip them and I did- Lovely, the girl who did my facial, and the two who did my manicure and pedicure. All of them accepted the tip gratefully. It was 6.00 p.m. by the time I was done and the saloon was crowded with university students and others- I suppose, women in this part of the world visit the saloon, weekend or not. I stepped out of the salon, a happy and satisfied customer. The salon was definitely an up in my roller-coaster journey in Dhaka. Unlike salons in other parts of the world that I have been to, nobody tried to sell me any additional service. One reason could be the language barrier, in which case I’m glad about it. Secondly, I was made to feel like I mattered despite the crowds and irrespective of the amount I was spending (I saw some women come only to change their nail polish). I learned a lot more about the Bangla culture going to the salon than I did in the last month. Firstly, Bangla women take grooming seriously. Secondly, these women are discerning customers who know what they want and will accept nothing less. I have never experienced service of this nature before for this amount (it’s a shocker considering everything else is expensive here). While there were no fancy machines or gadgets for the services and no glitz, the service was far better than those I have experienced for the same or higher charges – I felt the beauticians here did their job with their hearts. They look different from the original occupants of Bangladesh. It got me reading and I found that most of the women working in the parlour belong to the Garo community. They observe Christianity and came thousands of years ago from Mongolia as refugees and entered Bangladeshi Tibet. They have lived here ever since. As per a news article I read, it is a Garo girl’s ultimate dream to join a salon (you can read more about it here). Thirdly, it was great realizing that there is no need for a common language when the person providing you with a service you need knows their job well.
I hope this post adds to the image I have created in your minds through my earlier posts, about Dhaka and the people of Dhaka. And I hope it provides information on what to expect should you decide to visit the place or happen to move here, like us. P.S. I have no pictures of the saloon for obvious reasons. Copyright@smithavishwanathsblog.com. All Rights Reserved.

11 responses to “Dhaka Diaries : A visit to the salon”

  1. Toonsarah Avatar

    This sounds like a fantastic experience and great customer service despite the language barrier. I confess I would be reluctant to go to a salon where I couldn’t communicate my preferences – good to you taking this latest challenge on!

    Like

  2. robbiesinspiration Avatar

    Hi Smitha, this sounds like a good experience. I don’t have treatments other than to my hair as I am highly allergic and I don’t do my nails because I’m always baking and cooking. My one sister does all these things and it looks very nice. I’m glad you’ve found something good that makes you happy. You will start picking up a bit of the language in due course which will make life easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smitha V Avatar

      Hi Robbie, it was a great experience :). Your comment on not doing your nails because of baking got me smiling- I’m not one of those pretty painters- so, I get paint all over my hands, nails and face sometimes. I admire pretty manicured hands (I used to have them once upon a time but not anymore). If you have sensitive skin then it’s a no-no here because they don’t tell you what they use.
      I’m bad at learning language but I’ll have to learn something here, if I am to thrive here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. robbiesinspiration Avatar

        Most people I know have pretty manicured hands. I admire them tremendously. Artists do end up with paint on their hands. When I use food colouring I end up with blue, green, and yellow hands and it goes under my nails. It’s difficult to get off. Arty people like us don’t worry about such things because we love our art.

        Like

        1. Smitha V Avatar

          I totally agree with you, Robbie. Three cheers to art and the sacrifices we have to make for it 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. rajkkhoja Avatar
    rajkkhoja

    Really true write, “whoever said money can’t buy happiness”….
    Very beautiful you share salon experience. Wonderful described for salon services & price difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smitha V Avatar

      Thank you for reading. Money definitely buys you services in a salon and that’s great. lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rajkkhoja Avatar
        rajkkhoja

        Yes, definitely right 👍
        Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. lynnfay73 Avatar

    What about a picture of YOU beautiful? I as hoping for one. Lovely description, though. It’s so interesting to hear about other cultures. Sounds like more pampering than we get. No idea how prices compare, of course. Your adventures sound really interesting, Smitha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smitha V Avatar

      Hi Lynn :), I’m afraid I did not take a pic of me after returning from the saloon. But I did feel clean and soft like a baby. Slept like a baby too (after all that massage) 🙂
      Definitely more pampering than in developed countries or even developing nations like India. Everyday is a learning here, Lynn, and it’s not always something that makes me smile. lol. But, you’re right- it is interesting.

      Like

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