You wouldn’t think that in Thailand – whose main industry, it seems, is lady boys, massage parlours and beauty salons, that it would be hard to get a wax.
It has taken me three days. Next time I will book my flight in accordance with the stage my hair growth is at so that I can get it done, pre-departure. I am on the island of Phuket where every third building is a salon and every third person is a Russian.
“You do waxing?” I speak in a semi-Thai accent, somehow thinking this makes my English easier to understand.
The three girls in the doorway to the salon start inspecting my legs with grave expressions and conferring in Thai. They point to different muscles along my legs as though they are discussing the planning of some magnificent feat of engineering. Whatever operation my legs require is obviously very difficult because they call a third girl over. She looks more senior. She joins them in stroking my legs. I rather enjoy it. The senior girl calls for an even more senior girl who eventually shakes her head. “No ca’ do. Too shor’.”
“No!” I wail. “This is four week’s growth.”
“Too shor’.” And I am sent on my way.
At the second salon, the same thing happens. “No ca’ do ma’am.”
She beckons for me to come inside communicating to me, somehow, that she has to see my bikini line before she can decide if it is waxable. It apparently isn’t. She can try but it will cost me 1,500 baht (which is about £30). I laugh. “This Thailand! That Lon-don price.”
“Same same.” She replies.
At the fourth salon, another gaggle of girls start stroking my legs and shaking their heads. I persuade them to accept my custom by somehow waving my arms in a big circle and saying, “Me. Lon-don. London always short hair.” I point to my legs. “Always wax. Same same.”
I’m guided in and onto a little mattress with a white towel over it. An old lady draws the curtain and we are alone with the wax pot. She looks at us (the wax pot and I) with unfeeling eyes. She pokes her head out of the curtain and says something in Thai. It seems like a question. When she returns she reaches for a scoop of wax and then leans her head out of the curtain again. Another question I think.
Next, she selects a fabric wax strip and – get this – she puts the wax on the wax strip!
She doesn’t lash it on either. She gets a pencil-thin wooden spatula and she spreads it on thinly, and s-l-o-w-l-y. So slowly that it dries quicker than she can spread it.
I wonder if she is doing a painting – drawing a favourite niece in gluttonous yellowy wax. Or a dot-to-dot maybe? But eventually, she places the wax-coated wax strip onto my leg. She rubs a bit – the opposite direction to my hairs – I notice. And then she tries to pull it off. The strip simply lifts off my leg as if there weren’t a dot of wax on it. Not one single hair came out. She looks puzzled. She peeps round the curtain again and soon another girl, comes in and laughs. She puts the strip on my leg, much more boldly, rubs it hard and rips it off quickly – as it should be done. Oh the relief to feel the roots of my body hair being ripped away!
Then she gives the hands of control back to the old woman, nodding as if to say. “Now, you try.” So I realise, The old lady doesn’t know how to wax!
Suddenly I want to leave. I want to leave right now. All I can hear is my inner voice saying ‘this was a mistake!” The woman tries again. She rubs harder this time so I feel the wax gluing to my leg. She poises to rip it away. Maybe…maybe…yes? No. The fabric comes away but the wax stays on my leg. It stares up at us both – this dull discoloured yellowy blob on my leg.
I point to where a watch would be on my wrist – if I were wearing one. I somehow wanted to indicate that, lady, you really need to shift it. She smiles. I say “Me. Late. Hurry. Hurry. Quick. Quick.” And for a minute I feel like the singer Alexis Jordan.
She gives a look of contempt and restarts a dot-to-dot on a fresh fabric wax strip. She spreads it with definitude, centimetre by centimetre.
It’s too much. I point at the wax pot and the spatula and make great exaggerated gestures miming the act of waxing. I look as though I’m bowling a game of cricket.
“Wax on leg.” I try. “Not this.”
She looks at me with a mix of puzzlement and contempt and continues spreading it onto the fabric. “No.” I say leaning forward and taking the god damn spatula from her hand. “Put the wax on my leg, like thi….” She snatches it away sending another blob of hot wax onto my other leg, and gives the sort of sulking look that my two year old nephew gives me.”
I point to my wrist again. “Me need leave two o’clock.”
The younger hears the commotion and appears from around the curtain.
“I get out my iPhone, and type in 2pm. “I go, 2 o’clock.” I repeat and point to my imaginary watch and then the door. It is now 1pm.
She says something in Thai and then says “No. no. impossible ma’am.”
I have to leave. I get up, apologise, gather my things, apologise again, throw them a hundred baht, and head out of the door with the blob of wax still sticking to my leg.
Two days later I after moving to a more commercial resort on a different part of the island, I try again. “You do waxing? Bikini? Legs?”
Again the girls at the door stroke my legs and call over a senior for a conference. They frown a bit. They stroke my calves again and they call for a third opinion.
“No see hair,” says the third opinion.
“Hair. Lots!” I proclaim.
We compromise. They say they can wax from the knee down but it is ‘impossib’ to do from my knee up.
I’m guided into a room and a young shy looking girl tells me to sit on a bed. “Uh oh” I think. She is the face of inexperience.
She brings the wax pot over, and puts a towel over it. Then she rearranges the towel. Then she puts a towel over me and smoothes it down. Then she smoothes it down again. Then she moves the wax pot around 90 degrees and then she smoothes the towel again. Then she lifts the towel over the wax pot and stirs. And stirs. And stirs. It is stirred so much now that it is mellifluous. I almost want to pour it over my porridge, But then she adds some more wax from another pot and stirs for another five minutes. Then wipes my legs with a wet towel fourteen times and then she leaves with no explanation.
After a long wait a different girl appears. She simply smiles and starts wiping my legs with a damp towel again and smoothing the towel over me again. Then she asks me to move beds. No explanation for that either, so we go through the towel smoothing process again.
Eventually she picks up the spatula and at last yes…nearly….maybe…. I am breathless with anticipation. But she blobs it back into the pot and stirs it some more.
Finally the hair removal operation begins. I lie back in an ecstasy of relief. But with every strip that is torn away, a scientific examination takes place. The girl scrutinises every one making multi-tonal ‘Ooooooh sounds.
“Thai people black. You, not same same.” She says squinting at my fine blonde hairs.
She doesn’t tire of this – quite the contrary. By the time we are on my second ankle there are two more girls joining in the delight of examining the used wax strips. It seems they are playing a game at how many blonde hairs they can spot.
When we get to my bikini they are even more surprised.
“Not same. Same.” They squeal in unison.
Two hours later it’s done – from the knee down anyway. I walk out into the sun look down at my legs and see three evenly-spaced vertical lines of hair where she’s missed. That’s my left leg. On my right is a patch just below my knee – a kind of isosceles triangle of overlooked hair.
“Not same same” I thought. “Not same same at all.”