A Tour of The Barbershop Dorm

Posted in Barbershop at 8:35 pm by Benjamin Ross

I’m nearing the end of my current 3 month stay in Fuzhou (I’ll be back in fall for more fieldwork), and as usual I’ve fallen behind in my blogging. But one thing I did want do blog about was my living situation. Since the Red Sun Hairstyling Academy has a dearth of students in the winter months, they rent out their dormitory (where I stayed last year) to a third party. So instead, Li Wen Zhong and Sister Xie put me up in their salon’s dormitory, where their employees live.

Generally speaking, free housing is a fringe benefit expected by hairstylists. Housing prices have grown astronomically in recent years in Fuzhou, and eliminating the cost of rent is a crucial way to increase their real wages. The accommodations are never fancy, as the aim is mutual cost cutting (both for employer and employee). Usually they consist of bare apartment without 装修 (interior finishings), and with employees crowded together in rooms sleeping on bunk beds. The housing is optional, but usually the only employees who forego it are those involved in long-term sexual relationships (both married and unmarried). Since stylists typically work 10-11 hours a day, with much of that consisting of dead time, the salon functions as their primary social and living space. The dorm on the other hand is where they sleep, shower, and do laundry.

Li Wen Zhong’s salon (and his dorm) is a special case. It’s a “simple business model” as he describes it. He employs only 4 stylists, and no assistants or clerical staff. One of his stylists recently got married, and the other has a girlfriend, so they both rent their other housing. Two of his stylists are single, and thus are the only ones who take advantage of the free housing benefit. Because of this, Li’s dormitory is especially roomy by industry standards.  It is not uncommon to have 6 or 7 stylists sharing a room together in a dormitory.

Li’s “dormitory” is a typical 1990’s apartment in central Fuzhou, just across the street and around the corner from his salon. There are three bedrooms, a living room, a balcony, and a bathroom. When I arrived in Fuzhou, one of the bedrooms housed the two stylists, one was rented out, and the other was storage. Li converted the storage room into my temporary bedroom. “You can have your own room until Spring Festival. After Spring Festival, I’m not sure. You can definitely stay, but you may get a roommate,” he told me.

So this is where I have been living for the past 2 months. Let’s take a tour…


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Our living room, which has been converted to the de facto storage room since I moved in


There really isn’t much “living” done in the dormitory living room anyway, so nobody seems to mind that it’s now essentially an oversized closet of random goods. Mattresses, cleaning supplies, weights…I’m not even sure who some of this stuff belongs to.


The balcony where we wash and dry clothes. That’s a washing machine on the bottom right.


My roommates’ (the 2 stylists) bedroom. It’s actually quite large. One of them sleeps on this bottom bunk


The other sleeps on this side of the room.


One of our 2 communal sinks. It isn’t fancy, but does the job. Since hairstylists spend 10-11 hours a day in a salon, very little grooming activity takes place at home. In fact, when I moved in, I noticed there wasn’t a single mirror in the entire apartment. The only activity the sink ever gets used for is brushing teeth.


The essentials: shoes, sandals, and washing basins


Here’s my solo bedroom. By dormitory standards, I’m living in Caesar’s Palace.


My makeshift workspace. We don’t have wifi in the apartment (plus I can hear the echoing sound of my neighbors yelling at each other in Fuzhou hua most hours of the day) so I end up doing most of my work at a nearby coffeehouse. There is wifi in the salon, so the lack of wifi in the dormitory isn’t a major issue for the stylists.


Tools of the trade, belonging to one of my temporary roommates.



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