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Long apprenticeship leads to lasting career

By XIN WEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-28 09:11

Editor's Note: To highlight the role of women in Chinese society, China Daily is publishing a series of stories detailing their work and achievements in different parts of the country.

Liu Haiyu prepares a hairstyle for a customer at the One Style salon in Chaoyang district, Beijing, in October.

When I first met Liu Haiyu, I found it hard to believe that she was an experienced hairdresser.

She was dressed simply and without makeup, which presented a striking contrast to the normal first impression of chic women who work as hairdressers in the Wangjing area of Beijing's Chaoyang district.

Liu began learning hairdressing skills in Liangang village, Suihua city, Heilongjiang province, when she was 17.

She appreciated the skills she gained from her first female mentor, and was also grateful for the encouragement of her peers and clients during those early years. In June, she opened a hair salon in Beijing with several other stylists.

The 33-year-old, who is co-owner of the One Style salon, rarely gives her own opinion of her customers' hairstyles. Rather, she uses her skills to satisfy their requirements.

"It has not been easy to achieve this," she said, recalling that her apprenticeship in Liangang in 2006 was anything but smooth at the beginning.

"Back then, hairdressers in rural areas washed their customers' hair on their own, and the apprentices had to heat up the water and hang up the towels," she said, "I didn't know how busy it was in the front room where the customers sat, but I just had one thought — to learn to cut hair. Instead, I usually stood in the backroom for the whole day, without sitting down."

That experience lasted about six months, until Liu decided to move to another hair salon. It was there that she met her mentor, an experienced female hairdresser named Xia Xiaoli, who allowed her to watch carefully so she would learn how to cut hair. Xia also encouraged her to try out her skills.

"In just a year, I learned some really good things from that lady. In 2008, I went to Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, to find more opportunities to cut hair," Liu said, recalling that the working hours were particularly long and she lived in a mixed-sex dormitory with several male hairstylists.

"There was one girl who helped me at that time. She invited me to stay at her apartment. I remember that during our leisure time, we usually played around and ate oranges near the Songhua River," she said.

At the time, some of her customers arrived at the salon at midnight, carrying bottles of beer. It was then that Liu decided not to dress up so she didn't attract unwanted attention. Later she opened her own salon in Harbin.

Liu was once questioned by some customers about her role as a woman working in a predominantly male field, but she chose not to make a big deal out of it.

Moreover, she uses her own name as a hairstylist rather than choosing an English one like many of her male counterparts.

"I have very little to regret, but sometimes I rue the fact that I haven't fully used my ability to help people who need assistance," Liu said. "I hope that in the future I can use what I have to help those who are in real need."

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