Saturday, November 04, 2006

At the Barber

A couple of weeks ago, I was at this newly set up barbershop in People's Park. I went there to find one lady barber busy cutting and another one busy discussing with a customer. Oh, I thought to myself, a change of faces again. Unlike the old Fuzhou barbers where the same old faces (men) were there year in and year out, here the change is like every month. (^^)

From their accent, I gather that they must be mainland Chinese girls. This one was here only for a few months. She was flustered with this early morning customer who demanded money back for cutting his hair too short. "I thought he said that he wanted it short," she muttered to her associate. She was in a quandary if she should refund. The other was suggesting that she asked her boss. Finally, in the good new customer service of Singapore, a refund was made. I am not sure if it is from the till or from her wallet.

A lady popped her head in and asked in Hokkien, "Ka tampo esai bo?" Huh? The two girls looked at her in bewilderment. The other customer went to the rescue translating to Mandarin that she "wanted to cut a little, can or not". That lady wanted to know if the price would be less. Nope. Ah, the Chinese world in Singapore is changing. I couldn't help thinking that the "Speak Mandarin" campaign seems to work better for mainland Chinese working in Singapore. At least they have one putong hua (common language) to communicate with the local Chinese Singaporeans. (^^) In my halting Mandarin, I gave my instructions to the barber to cut my hair.

Letting her cut my hair (praying that she understood my requirements), I closed my eyes and drifted away. Away to my younger days when my Mum would bring me and my brother to a barbershop near to Grandma's place at Tanjong Pagar (where ST now stands). I hated to go to this barbershop because the barber would shave my face. I suppose I feared the shaving knife brandishing in front of my face, and each time inevitably, there were cuts. Those were the pre-AIDS days. Later, we managed to get our Mum to bring us to the Indian Barbershop opposite. At least they did not shave the face and they were friendlier. And yes, in an airconditioning room - a great thing in those days. I couldn't help wondering how was it that the Indian Radio seemed to have songs all day long, no matter when I went for my hair cut. Grandma opened a small kopi-tua, just across from the bus repair shop (Was it Tay Ko Yap?), and so, we had kopi after the having our hair cut. So, visit to Grandma and barbershop were part of our monthly routine and it meant that we could meet all the aunties. Grandma was strict and we had to call all of them when we saw them. Now, if we were to have lunch or dinner, it was to be the same, from Grandpa to Grandma, to first uncle .. right down to the last senior. The good thing for us boys was, we joined Grandpa and uncles for the meal first. The ladies came in second. For one, the table was not big. There was a joke in Hokkien about "Ta Paul Jia Toh, Cha Ball Chik Toh" (The male eat and the female clean).

Oh yes, and the Indian barbers did the trick on your head as if he wanted to twist your head and there was a "cluck" sound. Was fun having that done and being finished with some eau-di-cologne (Hokkien call it the Ko-long-chwee).

In the old days, female barbers are unheard of being in the main stream barber business. But of course, there were a few, two of which were famous at the "gao-lao" (9 storey) brick building (now it is gone) of the HDB flat next to Pickering St. I remembered the old men going there for their hair cut (we kids did not dare to venture into the barbershop and so we did not know if there were other activities) and some even bring their favourite barbers to Carpenter St for supper. In the 1970s, along the Carpentar St at night, there were two Teochew Muay (porridge) stalls serving great "hee-kau" (also known as Da Pan or Ikan Batang) muay and Pomfret muay. The stewed duck was also great. I was working then, and when I worked late, this was my favourite place to have my support. It later moved to Gor-Chan-Chiu-Ka (the old Esplanade) where it suffered a "slow death", overwhelmed by the steamboat stalls there.

"Hao le," said the lady barber, which woke me up. Without my specs, I could only have an outline of my hair. Looked good. Paying her, I went off. Only to discover that the cutting was a little off ... ah, a novice.