Trust me on the sun-cream.

05:21 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

An occupational hazard of travelling across exposed mountain ranges is sunburn. I woke up to find my nose flaking like a dead Christmas tree. It was red, peeling and not a happy sight.  On my way to buy a baozi breakfast, I stopped into a chemist to buy some moisturiser. My Chinese studies haven't yet reached Cosmetics and the shop assistant didn't speak English. I begin trying to explain my situation and pointing to my noise  - she probably wondered what this raving loon was doing in her shop and hoped my nose wasn't contagious. Eventually we were on the same page and she told me her colleague had a suitable cream and that I should come back in 30 minutes.

An hour later I returned and her friend still hadn't arrived. I made small talk with the assistant to kill the time. I hate small talk in English but I quite like practising the same repetitive conversations in Chinese. She was from Xi'an and had moved west because of the numerous work opportunities. This is a result of the Governments 'Go West' policy to develop/gentrify the western regions. Xining appears to be prosperous. You get an impression by the number of car showrooms and tinted-glass window stores in Xining. It is clean, there are lots of coffee shops and the locals are cold - just like Shanghai. The shop assistant didn't enjoy living there though, she said there were too many outsiders.

Her friend arrived, armed with a bag of cosmetics. She handed me a box of fancy cream that cost 238RMB (£24). I couldn't afford it and had to explain I just wanted something cheap, not a full-on make-over. The assistant's friend whipped out a cosmetics catalogue and the three of us browsed the pamphlet of imported potions. Every single product would have cost me a small fortune. The situation was becoming farcical and I tried to escape. I felt bad for not buying anything when the assistant had been so helpful, but I could see myself perusing this catalogue of cosmetics, and I must have looked like a total sap.

I made for the door and the assistant chucked a packet at me, smiled and waved goodbye. The packet contained a soggy tissue in the shape of a face. By principle, I'm all for trying new things but I didn't think my embryonic street-cred would survive being spotted with a cosmetic face-mask on. I barricaded myself in the bathroom and put the mask on. I forgot to take my phone with me and had no idea how much time had passed. After what felt like an embarrassing eternity, I decided that I was bored and gave in. I peeled the mask off and hopefully looked in the mirror. My face was moist, shiny and still peeling.

Rubbish.

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