Friday, March 20, 2009

A trip to the barber

Going to the barber has always been a chore. But it is still a necessary chore, that is to get the haircut. Although, these days, the strict no-long-hair rules (for men and boys) are no longer in place. In fact, I have seen quite a number of guys in their fifties spotting pony tails with their hair in natural streaks - white, grey and less than black hair.

Last week, I took time to go to the barber - how much things I could do other than waiting at the barber. My regular was the Japanese named barber at Chinatown Point. Walking through the ever-changing routes of a constantly changing Chinatown, I passed this barbershop at the Old People's Park (well, this is the HDB's People's Park) Ah S$6 per hair cut and since the economy is not exactly doing well, perhaps, I could save S$4 by going to this barber.

Going to a new barber has always been an adventure, which could turn out to be a nightmare, not necessary for me. Once I thought I go to an upmarket barber (hairdresser?) in Orchard Rd and was convinced that my hair lacked bounce and the lady assured me that she could help make my hair more lively and bouncy. To cut the story short, I had my hair permed! The only time I had my hair permed was when I was five I think, and I suppose I was then the "victim" of an amateur homegrown hairdresser. I could see the shock faces in my family as well as my colleagues.

When I was much younger, I dreaded going to the barber because he insisted on shaving my face .. forehead, cheek, neck and ear. Then, I did not qualify for the ear-cleaning work, although the tools would send me running. My doctor used to tell me that the "dung" in the ear would come out naturally. There's no need to dig.

Then, we thought it might be better to go to an Indian barber. For one, there was airconditioning. For two, there was always Indian music and songs. I always wondered how come the Indian channel in the radio had non-stop songs and music. Never got the chance to ask. While it was shiok (felt good) it was also kind of frightening when the barber did the twisting of the neck until one got the "crak" sound from the neck bones.

When I started working, I thought it would be fun to try to Malay barbers. Indeed they were good but I had to seek them out, mainly in the Geylang Serai or Marine Parade area.  And so, it was Malay music this time.

Back to Chinatown as I gingerly stepped into this tiny new barbershop in Old PP. The other lady barber was reading the newspapers. She welcomed me, in Mandarin of course. I had to make sure I could speak Mandarin to go to one of these barbershops as they are staffed by mainland Chinese. Friendly and she did pick up a few local barber English like "slope"? I nodded.

Another lady came in asking if they cut lady's hair. Yes was the reply. Interestingly, this lady - rather direct - asked if they could cut and what if they did it wrong. Imagine the quiet hiss under the lady barber's breath. (^^) She then decided to check out other places. Wow, the lady barber came up with her indignations about the lady's comments, with comments of support from my lady barber. Interesting to hear two mainland Chinese speak. I thought I was in China. (^^)

The lady came back! And she asked again for reassurance that her hair cut would not go wrong. Sure sure must have been the indication. I was busy looking at my barber as she went round my head a few times. I could not help feeling that my hair was getting shorter and shorter.  Just as she was about to say that it was done, I told her to comb my hair the other way round to show the disarray as they hung over my ear. Years of experience told me that I need to confirm this with barbers whom I think are not too experienced.

I had my haircut in this family owned barbershop in Japan and it was interesting. Wife washed my hair and husband cut my hair. Mother or mother-in-law helped out. In broken Japanese I had my hair cut but I was always confident that they would do a good job.

When I was in Raleigh, USA, I went for a haircut by a Palestinian. Very professional! I did not see him using any vacuum cleaner on my head but there was not a single strand of loose hair on me after the haircut. Here, they had my hair washed first before the cut. I had to ask the receptionist how I should tip him, as is expected here.

Back to Chinatown, the lady patiently trimmed the jaggered hair look to make sure that it look good running over the ear in line with the sloping line. Satisfied, I paid her. Yes, it was S$6.

I guess, after another 100 heads, she would be good enough. By then, I am not sure if she would be happy with S$6, which I guess she would be getting less. But hey, if time is bad, with a little interactions, and with a spirit of adventure, this is a great place to go. If only my Mandarin is as good as my Hokkien. (^^)