Unreliable Bangkok 6: Haircut

Photograph of Stilgherrian having a haircut in Bangkok

In the Old City of Bangkok, on the afternoon of Wednesday 28 November 2007, this barber (pictured) gave me the best haircut I’ve ever had.

It wasn’t because I looked particularly handsome afterwards, though it was an improvement. It was the meticulous care and attention shown.

’Pong took the photo with a proper camera, not a telephone. He’s got a better eye than me, too, and he’s certainly captured the mood.

I’m a dag when it comes to haircuts.

When I used to be cool (roughly 1990 to 1993), I’d go to a “proper” salon. Often it was the highly-fashionable Swerve Haircutters on Rundle Street, Adelaide. That’d set me back $40 — back then! I suspect my affection for Swerve was more about having my hair washed in a sensual scalp massage by a certain very attractive young apprentice. Lately, though, it’s all been about practicality: a #2 crop or a short back and sides at the local Lebanese barber.

On my second full day in Bangkok, I realised I needed a haircut. Badly. We stumbled across one barber in our wanderings near the Grand Palace, but as we entered the darkened shop an old woman chased us out again. “No-one here. Come back tomorrow!” Ah yes, Thailand is a superstitious country, and it’s inauspicious to cut your hair on a Wednesday. Nevertheless, a little further down the street was a less-superstitious barber.

So why was this haircut so good?

The neat and tidy shop was treat enough, with proper leather and cast iron chairs, and mirrors correctly placed to afford full view of the proceedings. But that was only the beginning. The green cape was clean and unworn. The barber’s tools were neatly arrayed under the Buddha’s protection. And the haircut itself was prefaced with the application of talc across my head to better lubricate the clippers.

Our local lad, bless him to the core of his Leb-boy heart, operates his hair clippers with a robust, masculine boldness. I’m sure that like many blokes he harbours certain fears of any gentleness with another male. There’s no such insecurity in Bangkok. With a light, almost caressing touch of his fingers, my Thai barber held a fine cream-coloured comb against the skin of my neck with one hand, using it as a guide while he operated the clippers with the other.

Those clippers had been cleaned and oiled immediately before use, too, and they purred. Nothing like the harsh buzz I was familiar with.

As he moved from the base of my neck upwards, the barber gradually shifted the angle of the comb, so the hair at the sides of my head was graded — short at the bottom, longer at the top.

After 20 minutes of careful work, I was the proud owner of a haircut just like any army officer. Or, for that matter, any Thai schoolboy. Except possibly with a little more grey hair showing. Price: 80 baht, or about AUD$2.60.

This post is part of my series “Unreliable Bangkok”. Why not explore the others?

3 Replies to “Unreliable Bangkok 6: Haircut”

  1. @’Pong: I guess that’s another reminder that the barber’s shop is still very much a men’s space — with adverts for things a man might be embarrassed to talk about outside this safe space.

    It was interesting, therefore, to see that women were there too — to collect the money.

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