Tools of the trade
My co-worker Tiffany suggested that I go to the Xing Tian Temple on Song Jiang Road to get a facial from one of the old ladies who work in the underground pedestrian passage near the temple. I had been to this area when I got my fortune told in 2007 by one of the many fortune tellers who have small booths in the passage, which is why there are large signs outside calling it “The Street of Fortune Telling.” I was slightly tempted to get my fortune told again, but I didn’t think it was necessary considering my last visit.
Entrance to the Street of Fortune Telling
On that visit, the fortune teller (who uses the 八字 method, for those who are curious) first told me some accurate things about my personality, most memorably that I’m quick to toss people out of my life when they disappoint me (which got laughs from the friends who were translating for me, since they knew me well enough to know that this was true). When it came to my future, however… Well, none of the significant years he mentioned have happened yet, so I can’t say whether or not I believe his predictions. If I get married next year (2011) as he claimed I will, perhaps I’ll become a believer and go for a follow-up. For now, though, perhaps I just need to wait and see.
Some of the fortune tellers you can try your luck with
Anyway, my mission was to get the kind of facial done with thread and powder, a somewhat painful means of removing hair from the face and sloughing off dead skin. In the US, this has become a seemingly exotic way of achieving roughly the same results as tweezing and waxing, though I believe it still isn’t very common. However, I had seen this done in Taiwan many times before, usually on random sidewalks. I wouldn’t have known where to get it done, but Tiffany’s suggestion implies that “The Street of Fortune Telling” is a reliable place to find people who can do it for you.
I don’t have any photos from the actual process, unfortunately, since I went alone, but here’s how it works:
First, your hair is tied back out of your face as well as possible to prevent getting it caught in the thread. Stray hairs will most certainly get torn from your scalp, which isn’t so fun. Then, you’re given a cloth to clean your face of any make-up you happen to be wearing, and the lady (usually an old woman – in my case, an old Japanese grandma) begins to use a block of powder to cover every inch of your face. This was the point at which I had to giggle, imagining how I must have looked to passersby as I sat on a very short stool in a dimly-lit passageway, having my already-rather-white skin being made more white by a woman pushing 80. I felt silly and was glad I didn’t have anyone to take photos, but the woman just smiled at me, showing her lack of a full set of teeth, probably wondering what I was giggling about.
The next step in the process is the painful part. This video probably gives you a better idea of the experience than any words I could come up with. The woman in the video had a slightly different experience than my own (no hair tied back, no powder that I could see, and mine was done sitting up), but I’m sure our facial expressions were the same throughout. Fortunately, I think I had less peach fuzz than this woman, which made the threading a bit less painful. The parts that were the most uncomfortable were when the Japanese grandma was doing my hairline and seemed to be intent on creating a receding hairline for me.
After the threading, there may be another round of powder and more threading, which is what happened to me. Apparently, my hairline was simply too unruly, since that’s where the lady focused most of her efforts for Round 2. When the treatment is finally done, out comes the aloe.
An extra piece of aloe my Japanese grandma sent me home with
The aloe is cut down the middle and rubbed all over your face, presumably to reduce the trauma to your face, and to counteract the dryness of the powder. It felt like someone was rubbing my face down with ice, which wasn’t such a bad thing, but it certainly felt sticky and a little like being covered in mucus. Finally, the aloe is wiped away, and you’re done. I was offered some foundation, which I used despite the fact that I don’t wear foundation. I had seen my red face in the mirror, and was hoping to cover it up before heading out.
The end result? Pretty smooth skin! I was surprised that, for the next few days, I didn’t experience the red cheeks that usually plague me. Taiwanese folks think my pink cheeks are cute, not realizing that it is in fact a skin problem that I’m always trying to resolve. I hadn’t expected that the facial, mostly designed for hair removal, accomplished something (temporarily) that dermatologists hadn’t been able to do.
My only complaint about the experience was that grandma got a little too zealous with the thread around my eyebrows, and left one side noticeably shorter than the other. To be fair, the side she over-threaded was already rather sparse due to a scar on my eyebrow, but I think the major reason for the eyebrow imbalance was that she didn’t put her glasses on until after she was finished. I had to use eyebrow pencil for a couple of weeks afterward, another thing I don’t normally do. If I were to do it again, I’d certainly ask in advance for the person to be careful with the eyebrows!
By the way, another difference between my own experience and that of the woman in the video linked above is that she spent about $39 USD in the US for the torture, while I spent the equivalent of about $9 USD in Taipei. In other words, if you want to pay someone to make you wince, it’s cheaper to do it in Taipei!
Here are some more photos from the Street of Fortune Telling and the Xing Tian Temple: