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Dare to Dye

By Quynh-Nhu Le

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam—I have had plenty of adventures in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—or, as the locals (and I) call it, Saigon.

I could tell you about foreigners I know who are allergic to the most absurd stuff. A Korean who breaks out into rashes if he drinks any bottled water that isn’t Aquafina. Another who eats mangos every morning because it’s the only fruit to which he doesn’t have a reaction.

I could tell you about sitting on plastic stools around tiny tables on the sidewalk chatting with friends and drinking “cà phê sữa đá.” (The bland translation is milk coffee with ice. The truthful translation is a blast of chill in contrast to the humid heat in the heavenly form of espresso and condensed milk on ice.)

I could even tell you about my research internship, and the way Vietnamese bureaucracy intrudes here. Perhaps I could recount the despair one of my coworkers felt when, after waiting two weeks for permission to do her research from the local government, a phone call to one of the authorities pushed her start date back another seven days. I could talk about wasted trips to research sites.

But the most daring thing I’ve done in Vietnam: I dyed my hair.

I am 19 years old, and up until now, I had never dyed my hair. I like to tell people that’s because my parents forbid it. But really, I can sweet-talk my parents into a lot of things. It’s mostly because, up until now, I was too much of a wimp. I mean, they do say nature gifts you with certain things for a reason, right?

But I was staring out at the salon doors while waiting for a trim, and thinking to myself, “I am so very, very sick of my hair.” I also thought about how cheap it would be to get it dyed here (because a cut and a dye with highlights for less than $50 is definitely cheap). Finally, I thought, at the end of the day, it’s just hair.

So I went in and dyed it purple-red, with auburn highlights.

Maybe it would be more daring if my hair weren’t stereotypically Asian. Or if I dyed it purple or blue or something super exotic.

But it looks good, if I do say so myself. And I’m not the only one—I’ve gotten quite a few compliments on it. One lady actually even stopped me on the streets to take pictures to bring to her hair colorist.

It’s funny, the way getting my hair dyed reminded me of the things I love about being abroad. The way your mind grows soft, open, and vulnerable, and the way your judgment and vision gain crystal clarity.

Sometimes, being abroad isn’t so much about experiencing new things. It’s about being daring enough to do all the things that you didn’t let yourself do when you were at home.

Quynh-Nhu Le ’17, a Crimson news editor, lives in Eliot House.

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HighlightSummer Postcards 2014