I have been a nail biter since I was a child. A nervous habit picked up and never laid to rest. I’ve had spurts of successful growth followed by stress induced rampages. Next to the vegetable stand down the street from my apartment building is an out-of-place professional illuminated sign reading “Khouvieng Nail Salon.”
My roommate Corey and I wandered in to enquire about manicures. The price was right, around $10 for gel. Out of the 3 people in the salon, only one spoke any English and evidently none of them were capable of doing nails. We were told the owner was at the market and to come back in 30 minutes. We did. She wan’t back. We were told to come back the next day. I was teaching, but Corey got a very cute coral and gold manicure. She reported that the owner spoke English pretty well and that it was a pleasant experience.
I went the following afternoon and was turned away and told to come back. I returned an hour later and the woman in the salon made a phone call, carefully ripped a pice of cardboard off a box and in perfect handwriting wrote 4 p.m. on it and handed it to me. I now had an appointment and a bonus reminder card. I left and came back at 4, however, the owner was not there. This time the woman made the phone call but put me on speaker phone. The owner was at the hospital with her diabetic uncle but would come in 30 minutes. I gave her 45 to be safe.
Bouy started Kouvieng Nail Salon three months ago out of her home. The shop is in the garage area and she lives above. She also has another nail salon near Dong Dock, the Lao national university where she studies business. I exhausted my Lao with her and she commended my efforts and taught me the word for boyfriend and I taught her the word proprietor. She was training her two friends to work for her as nail techs. One of them took photos of Bouy filing and buffing my nails. The other took 5 tries to pick out the exact right glitter that met Bouy’s standards. She was working off of a photo on her phone and wanted my manicure to match the photo exactly. So much so in fact that when I picked a light blue she said it didn’t match and urged me to choose a light grey. I insisted trying to explain that while the photos on her phone were very helpful in my selection, I didn’t need an exact duplication.
She was very thorough in her filing and polishing, though she neglected to push back my cuticles. She wants to improve her English and said that next time I should send her a WhatsApp or Facebook message to make an appointment in advance to avoid the run around. One of her trainees got me an individually sealed plastic cup of water that came with a straw. We talked about our families and her entrepreneurship. She was wise to open a shop so close to an apartment building filled with foreigners, though I struggle with the idea that this college educated woman’s most lucrative endeavor is in fulfilling the stereotype of the southeast Asian nail tech. I suppose I can take solace in the face that she’s her own boss.
I stopped by the vegetable stand next door on my way home. I am somewhat famous and somewhat the butt of a big joke because last week I asked to purchase 16 water buffalo (kwhai) instead of 16 eggs (khai.) The girls gawked bit and then one asked me in Lao how much I paid. I was so delighted to both understand the question and have the words to answer that I told her the truth, forgetting or perhaps not realizing that in her life she may never have the disposable income to spend 80,000 kip on something as frivolous as a manicure.
It’s been two days and I haven’t chipped, bit or nicked them yet. As long as I'm in the capital I’ll certainly be back every few weeks to practice Lao and try to quit my nervous habit.