You know what it’s like on the final day of a trip. There is the last minute buying of presents, finishing the packing and waiting for the trip to the airport. So I thought I’d go and have another haircut.
I asked the guesthouse manager where was the best place to get my hair cut. He suggested I go to the same place he goes. Well, his hair didn’t seem that dreadful. It was short, neat and tidy, so I followed his directions and couldn’t find it. I cycled further down the street and caught the attention of some ladies selling breakfast noodles wrapped in banana leaves. I made a scissor cutting gesture with my fingers in my hair, and they pointed me back the way I’d come.
There was a motorcycle repair shop and what looked like a normal house. Now I wasn’t expecting a red and white striped pole outside, but for a barber’s shop it was certainly well disguised. Looking through the locked gate I could see a typical barber’s chair in the front room, and a bench on the verandah – the waiting area, obviously. But no one was at home. I checked with the bike boys and pointed to my watch. He replied by drawing his finger across his throat. Although this gesture left some room for interpretation, it looked like I wasn’t going to get my hair cut at this establishment. It was a pity, because the guest house manager said it was only 75p.
So, I cycled off in the general direction on the backstreets where the Burmese barbers have those extravagant illustrations of windswept hairdos. But I couldn’t find them. I ended up in a part of town I have not visited much, but I found a barber’s shop. I peered in through the plate glass window to see a man with his face up to the stylist’s mirror, plucking hairs from his nose.
He wasn’t the barber; he was a watch mender with a stall in front of the shop. He let me know that the barber was on his way, using the universal symbol for revving the twist grip of a motorcycle. I looked around. Pretty seedy. Old tiles with brown spots of water staining, barely clinging to the ceiling. A photomontage on the rear wall featuring now retired Brazilian soccer stars. An original eight track stereo, with a fancy graphic equaliser, pumping out Thai pop songs. The chair was another classic, tubular chromed steel with red leatherette, but this one didn’t tilt backwards like Sweeney’s.
At last my barber arrived. He looked older than me and was really puzzled to see a ferlang (foreigner) as his first customer. I looked around for a David Beckham poster, but all I could see was a bald Rivelino with the other Brazilians (who all had Afros). Then I saw a photo of a nice Thai boy, with short, neat, tidy hair. “I’ll have that one!” I said pointing to the photograph. The barber cocked his head on one side, scrutinising my barnet. He seemed sceptical. Then he made a chopping motion on his index finger. “I’ll have it a bit shorter than that, please.” I think he was beginning to enjoy this, because he smiled as his chopping gesture came closer to the second metacarpal head.
We agreed on a length, and he gowned me up. After the electric shears, he started cutting the long hair on the top of my head. He stopped, cocked his head, but I wanted my money’s worth. More! “Ah, namba wan!” We’ll, not Thai military cut, but shorter. He kept swinging the chair around to use the natural daylight coming in the big window. The fluorescent tube on the ceiling was fizzing and popping, so I was pleased he had a well lit view of the task.
Finally, he said it was finished, and opened a drawer to take out what looked like a shoe polishing brush. He polished my neck with it in a futile attempt to remove the loose hair. Then he had an idea. Did I want the razor? “Only on the neck and sides, please,” I told him. Luckily I got the new blade of the day. He lathered me up and scraped away. Then he patted me dry and applied surgical spirit. That woke me up, but he turned me round into the breeze from the fan and it cooled the burning sensation immediately. He nodded with satisfaction.
He still had to do my eyebrows, nose and ears with small scissors, and then I was done. £1.50 the poorer and feeling much fresher in the humid heat. I cycled back to the office, and started rewriting the sexually transmitted infection guidelines. They still recognised me. I wonder if Andy in South Knighton gents barber shop will, though.