Just a quick disclaimer, this post is geared more towards those who are planning on spending a year abroad, as many of the problems raised don’t really affect those only staying for a semester. As explained in the title this post will be focusing on something we all secretly care a lot about, and that is our vanity, or in this case maintaining our beauty when away from home.
I have been living in Taiwan for about five to six months now; give or take. I’m going to start the discussion into vanity by shedding some light on a situation that anyone who is living abroad for an extended period of time will be forced to encounter. It was something that became apparent for me after about 7 weeks living here. Of course, the situation that I am describing is getting a haircut, unless you are going for the ‘hippie look’ whilst on your year abroad (frankly I wouldn’t blame you, I considered it myself especially since my mum would never see it, but through a combination of being cooked alive under it and looking like a goth I chickened out). Although finding a hair dresser isn’t at all difficult, there are literally hundreds of hair salons within a 20 minute walk from me, ranging from the pretentious salons with peculiar names like ‘plus’ or ‘divine’ to barbers which cost literally £1 and can be found in the MRT (train station). The issue is that despite the numerous options here unless you plan on going to the best of the best, you are likely going to be frustrated with your hair after getting it cut. Its not that hair stylists here will mess-up; its more that they aren’t used to cutting western hair. Believe it or not there is a very distinct difference between western and eastern hair. To be more specific; eastern hair tends to be more matted, straight and heavier compared to western hair. These differences are made especially prominent due to the weather because of the heat your hair is likely to frizz where local’s hair wouldn’t.
This means that your hair needs to be cut shorter in certain spots where a local’s hair wouldn’t. However, as much as you prompt the hairdressers here; they are likely to be very uncomfortable cutting certain parts of your hair away, just because they’ve literally never done it before as it wouldn’t look good on their usual clientele. It is also very unlikely that you will not know how to actually solve the issue, for instance I’m aware that they need to cut a certain part of my hair shorter; but I’m not one hundred percent sure what specific parts of my hair should be cut short. Sadly, this means that if you are particularly attached to your hair at present you are going to be disappointed when coming abroad. Don’t get me wrong when leaving the hair salon my hair does look very fly. But once my hair has had time to settle and grow in a bit, it starts to look like a pineapple is sprouting out of the back of my head. After asking around I hear the problem is far worse if you are female, especially for those with longer hair.
So, if I could pass on some wisdom, ultimately you have two choices, the one I settled on was buying a stronger matt paste and using more than I would at home, this keeps my hair more matted and heavier, making it more similar to the local’s hair, thus the desired affect that the hair dresser intended is maintained. The alternative which many of the western girls here have opted for is to hunt for a western hair dresser (they did find one). However, if you cannot find one I recommend trying hairdressers in hotel’s as they will likely be more accustomed to western hair.
The next thing to be aware of is something to do with face washes, moisturiser’s and makeup. Due to the way the fashion works in this part of the world; paler skin is considered more attractive, so for any of you who are frustrated at your lack of a tan, don’t worry, out here your pale complexion is considered desirable. However, be aware this fashion trend means that many of the creams, soaps, make ups, even most sunscreens will all contain whitening properties. This will likely not be an issue because it’s sunny most of the time and you are likely to get a tan just from walking around. This is just something to be aware of because it did become an issue for me. During mid-winter one of my local friend asked me why I had started to look like a zombie (I’m talking like sickly pale). I didn’t know any of this stuff about the whitening agents being in most hygiene products and so it turned out that the face-wash I’d been using was whitening my skin. Don’t worry it’s a simple fix, just ask for the non-whitening stuff when you go to the shops.
Finally, be aware of the dangers of mould. Unlike in the UK, in Asia mould is a constant concern. Whereas, in the UK mould is often the consequence of doing something wrong i.e. having a water leak. In Asia mould is a consequence of not doing something right. The climate in Asia is very humid, humidity increases the speed and types of mould that can grow, it also means that the mould is airborne. This means that your wardrobe can go from totally fine to completely infested within the space of a week. Although during the summer this isn’t much of a concern; as the hot sun will cook anything and everything (including you, wear sunscreen). During the cloudy, rainier spring, autumn and winter seasons, mould becomes a huge concern. Whereas in the UK where mould seems to primarily affect the walls first. Here in Asia mould will go for your clothes first. It’s just something to be aware of, when I first arrived I didn’t think mould was a big issue, I figured as long as I opened my windows regularly and didn’t leave stagnant water lying around I’d be fine. It wasn’t until I had to throw away my third shirt that I realised a more drastic approach needed to be adopted.
There are three main preventative measures that I recommend getting into good habits with. Preventative measure number one, is to purchase and use disposable dehumidifiers, most shops in Taiwan have disposable dehumidifiers for sale, buy a couple of these and place them around your room in your cupboards, wardrobes behind your desk…etc. This helps by just keeping the humidity levels low. Just remember to replace them semi regularly, as depending on humidity levels they can last roughly a month or two. The second preventative measure is get into the habit of every month to clean out your entire wardrobe and cupboards and any enclosed spaces being sure to wash everything where possible. Alternatively, at the very least wear, wash or use everything you have at least once a month. This will help stop any build-up of mould in your clothes and other such things (be sure to regularly flip or check the bottom of your mattress, they are specifically important to check on). Finally, whenever you shower, open up all your windows, this prevents steam from hanging around in the air, which again reduces the humidity of the air.
Overall the only reason I place such importance in taking head and looking after your clothes is because unless you’re quite petite (not me), you will struggle to find affordable clothes in your size in this part of the world. That’s not say you won’t find clothes in your size but they will be from big brands like Superdry which are comparatively more expensive here than in the UK. Even fakes/knockoff clothing isn’t really made with larger sizes in mind. Thus, unless you want to replace your wardrobe or for some reason you have a bunch of cash just lying around that burning a whole in your pocket, I would really recommend being wary of mould and get into a routine of cleaning.
So, those are my three main tips on how to maintain your vanity whilst abroad. If for some reason a person planning on going abroad reads this I hope it was useful, alternatively if the person reading this is currently or returned from a year abroad I hope you got a chuckle over reminiscing about your time abroad.