Sitting in the barber’s chair the other day, the inequality about the number of posts requesting information about good places to eat and where to get a decent haircut struck me. Personally I have always found getting a haircut overseas pretty stressful, especially when you don’t speak the local language. After all, if you order a duff meal you are only stuck with it for half an hour so. Order the wrong haircut though, and it will be with you for a month and half.
I’ll never forget my first haircut in Singapore. A number of us had arrived in August/September and were due to go home for Christmas but that was too long, just, to go without a trim of the old Barnet fair. We were working in Albert Complex, pre-OG days when it was the place to buy a watch. On the upper floors there were a few ex-Blanco Court stationery shops and on about the 4th floor I think a couple of hairdressers.
After about 6 weeks into the job, we started asking some of the other more seasoned expats but recommendations were hard to come by. One old lag told us about this place he had been sent to in Taiwan. On arrival he noticed that there were lots of purple velvet curtains and the chairs were lined to match. No one seemed to understand what he was asking for so he started to mime haircutting which was met with stifled giggles. Eventually someone arrived with a pair of scissors and a scantily clad bint removed some of his locks before trying to do the same with his trousers. Turned out the hair dressing was a front for the local knocking shop. Gosh we wondered, would the same fate befall us and if so would that be a good thing or bad?
When finally the time came that we could no longer put it off, we asked the local boss’ secretary where we could get our hair cut. She told us the place, so after work we ventured to the 4th floor. As mentioned, we were fresh, single expats so our ‘yellow fever’ was still virulent and all I remember about the hairdresser was that she was very petite with bee stung lips. They spoke English and me and my mate sat side by side, explained what we wanted and all went ok. Alas, or thank goodness, haircuts were on the menu – extras were not.
Then it was the time for the wash followed by my first experience of the head massage. I had never experienced anything like it. As they did the vinegar strokes with the detergent and that bit where they scrape it all up into a sort of soapy ice cream cone, it was an experience like I had never had before. The back of the neck, temples, eyelids even my nose got the treatment. I can honestly say it was the best feeling I have had with my clothes on. I have no idea how much I paid but I know that I was gushing with my thanks and probably tipped like money was going out of fashion. I well nigh floated onto the bus home such was the resulting rush of blood to my head and started willing the hair to grow again so I could go back for another helping.
I couldn’t get over it and for some reason spouted about how sensual it was to the girl who I had just started seeing and got a bollocking for being quite so graphic. I was ok getting my hair done in Singapore after that, although when we moved on from Albert Complex and I went to place where the hair washes were done by a man, I always felt a tinge of guilt about enjoying it.
Years later moving to a new country, this time not even talking the local language, the same trepidation emerged but after one false start I have found somewhere that does it to my liking. Here however men cut men’s hair and women cut women’s. This time I took my son and I acceded to my son’s request that he have a haircut like the locals which is a sort of mulletted Mohican and long sideburns. I want him to fit in and look like his mates and I thought he looked pretty cool.
Alas when we got home, the wife clearly did not agree and I got another roasting over hair dressing from ‘er indoors. Ah well, plus ça change.............