Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Simple, Be Proud, Adventures in Black Hair. . .

So, the reoccurring question I received before I flew off for my Asian invasion was,
"What are you going to do with your hair?"

Thankfully I am pretty artistic in all areas of life. I've had practice "playing" with my hair since the second grade. I knew I would have to do my own up keep while living in Asia, because I did my own hair in Chicago. The only time I went to the hair salon was for a trim. However, there is the bigger question of, "Where will these hair products come from, so that I CAN do my hair?" When I arrived in Saigon spring of 2010 I had kinky twist. I made the mistake of leaving them in too long, so upon untwisting the kinks, I also took out my fine hair close to the forehead. *Sigh* Won't be doing that again. Afros, extreme heat, and motor bike helmets do not work well together. I resorted to my method of flat twisting. Dividing my hair into sections, and twisting it back, in a cornrow-like fashion. Again, I know I'm one of few that actually knows how to do their own hair. But, ironically one of the best things you can do to your hair is nothing. Do not over process it with chemicals, do not over comb it the wrong way, do not dry it out with blow dryers and flat irons, do not stress your scalp with tight braids and extensions. Just let it be.

Charlotte Hess, check her out at
I could not not remember my friend, knit wear designer, Charlotte Hess who taught me two lessons on the fashion design trip in South America: BE SIMPLE, BE PROUD. "Usually when I do nothing to my hair it grows", stated Charlotte as she used my Carol's daughter hair oil for the first time. Charlotte rocks a "Straight-Up"afro. I call it "straight up" cause it sticks straight up off her head. On this particular trip to Brazil and Argentina, Charlotte rocked the "straight-up" with long dramatic chunky necklaces, one of African amber, and big Coco Chanel type sunglasses, simple and proud. Did she care that the yellow amber and her deep chocolate skin produced a stark contrast, or that her hair sort of resembles a space ship and caused serious stares from the Argentinians?? Nope. Perhaps being one of artistic taste helps, but the point was she was doing her thing, rockin her style. It didn't matter that she was in Argentina, New Zealand, Florida, the moon, etc. She didn't let American racist ideals or European standards of beauty haunt how she will wear her hair. She let her natural beauty shine.

"Kareem Abdul-Jabar-Baha" of KL can do my hair any day!
Back to my adventure of tending to my locks. After being in this part of the world for a year and a half I found Kuala Lumpur to be a source of African hair types. On my black girl expedition with Kia we spent a weekend in KL, shopping and getting our hair did. Kia manage to pay only $30-$35 for a shampoo-wash-blow dry that took 4 hours. (Mind you the woman servicing Kia was Malaysian, not Black) I got cornrows which took 45 minutes and paid double. Such is life. I also experienced an African hair braider from Hong Kong who came to Ho Chi Minh to work on some clients heads last year. This lady works in the only official hair braiding shop in Hong Kong called Zucoma. If you're in the area check it out, but they are pricey, for Hong Kong. I had a hard time remembering the url, so instead try this:, they seem to have professional products and a Black man handling a blow dryer. Coming back to Ho Chi Minh I was determined to find a hair braider. With all the African men here, there has to be a woman somewhere doing her own hair. I mingled with the Nigerians at church and got in touch with a Nigerian lady in District 10 of HCMC. She did a great job with braids and has healthy techniques to minimize breakage. No salon for her, I talked to people who know people and met in the room she is renting. But my main concern while living here was getting my ends trimmed. Trimming the split ends minimizes breakage, and minimized breakage = longer hair. Well little did I know my hair adventure was about to take an interesting twist. I decided to try the steamer machine at a local nail salon. In the back of the nail shop is a small hair station with the steamer machines and further back in another room is an area where you can get your hair washed. I used my own deep conditioner and everything was going good until it was time to blow dry my hair. I literally had 2-3 people in my head. The owner of the shop came and asked, "Is this natural???" me,"YEAH this is MY hair!" It really perplexed them to know that someone could have hair as curly as mine. I must say I had fun teaching the ladies at Nghia Beauty how to do my hair, and l loved that they were all eager to learn, and very careful. As I'm sitting in the hot seat (literally with two blow dryers on my head) I notice a Black lady is getting her pedi/mani and looking over at me with a "What-in-tha-world" expression on her face. Once I am finished, they even flat ironed my hair, I'm about to leave, but decide to get a mani and just happened to sit next to the Black lady. I was not going to be social because she "looked" Brazilian. There aren't too many Black American people 'round these parts, so why bother? Well I decided to bother anyway. Turns out she's an American stewardess from Texas, she has been living in Asia for 16 years, SIXTEEN YEARS. Whoa, back up. 16 years. In Hong Kong to be exact.

"I had to go natural because I did not trust anyone to use a relaxer on my hair, and I couldn't find the right products. I noticed you were getting a blow out. There are a few places here that can straighten our hair pretty well, one is real expensive but good, the other cheaper and decent."

Kia explains, "Straighten, with Ce-ram-mic, not Metal!"
Like an angel that had fallen out of the sky, she just increased my HCMC experience by a thousand. I couldn't believe it. She had stop overs in Ho Chi often, so after SIXTEEN years of being over here, I guess I would've discovered and chosen the right salon as well. I should host my own personal training session. I checked out the salon the stewardess recommended, and it is legit, and they definitely know how to work a blow dryer, lol. It's YKC on Dien Bien Phu St. Of course their styling skills need some work, but for a good condition and trim, I don't mind paying 800,000 dong to get my hair right. Below is the result of the scavenger hair hunt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Big Thanks to Tarek for his Algerian connections!

"Kareem's" salon is male-only, he calls his braid lady. . .
We find another lady, she was okay.

Kia gets a blow out . . .

. . .4 hours later, turns out nice!


  1. Umm, yeah, he can do my hair any day too!

  2. Wow I just moved to KL and the aircon killed my hair...
    I am looking for a good hairdresser to cut my hair, I miss my hairdresser in London but also determined to be able to do it myself...
    Well done on going to downtown KL I will definitely give it a try!

    1. Thank you for reading the blog. How are you liking KL now? Did you manage to find a salon and trusted stylist? You may want to take a TranStar bus ride to Singapore to get some good products. I absolutely love Malaysia. I think it is the best Asian destination for ex-pats of African descent.

  3. Okay somebody please post a name/location contact number something for the Mall with the African Hair salon or Mr Kareem I am going on a trip to KL really soon just for a few days. Help!!

  4. Let me do some research and get back to you. But honestly it shouldn't be difficult, there are African men standing outside the salons handing out flyers for hair braiding. But let me find out the exact street, so you can at least be in the right area :-)

  5. Hi, Do you know anyone who does braiding and weaving in Hong Kong? And where to buy product to use at home for African/black hair? Thanks!

  6. Hi!
    For Hong Kong, I found the link below when I wrote this blog post: - they have a Black stylist, I'm sure he could hook you up, or point you in the right direction.

    For Malaysia, again, get to know the local African / Middle Eastern folk, I'm sure they have a cell # to some lady who knows some lady who does braids. The guys we linked up with were on an "Arab" street/strip with a few "hidden" beauty salons located on a 3 or 4 floor of some random bldg.
    But the salon we visited was located in a shopping center, that has a ROBINSONS department store attached.
    Try this address for the shopping center / Robinsons:
    Lot G-211, The Gardens, Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200 Kuala Lumpur

    1. Thanks Tiana Denine for the HK info! I have a friend who went to him, he is good but quite pricey. Was hoping to find an alternative stylist.

  7. I also found this on the FB Page "Black People in Hong Kong"

    "Try to call Marie (Yawa Marie) at 9753.7397. She is from Togo and works with natural and relaxed hair styles. I have not been able to contact her recently which worries me! There is also JP, if he is still here, at Ken Robinson Salon. Happy hunting and for the quick blow dry style try Sean Ng at La Belle Salon (2527-7178) in Central...nice Chinese kid, who is fearless enough to give it a go! Bon Chance!"