Last week, on my way to Germany, I had a transit in Abu Dhabi. After dealing with some banking stuff, I decided to pay my old barber a visit. This barbeshop was a Bangladeshi joint, where you are offered hot chai or Arabic coffee when you walk in. So, I sit down and get a trim. This isn’t any salon… No way. These guys are old fashioned barbers… They’ll trim any ear hairs, nose hairs, eyebrows without even thinking twice. I then ask for a shave. He wields it expertly like a Samurai, with a net effect of being closer and smoother than a baby’s bum. Scalp massage, face scrubbing with this horrid-smelling Indian balm… Total damage to the wallet of around USD 5.
When I was young and new to Chicago, I was befriended by an old black man where I worked, named “Johnny B”. Johnny was a good guy, and he taught me many things. One night, we were talking after work, and he told me, “John, you know, one of the first problems black folks run into when they move into a white neigborhood is finding a place to get a decent haircut.” I didn’t think of it much at the time, but there are differences between black hair, white hair, and asian hair… Physical differences that impact the way hair is cut. In fact, my ex-wife used to be a hair dresser at Paul Mitchell… She earned big tips from Asian women because she was the only one at her salon who could cut Asian hair. Long and straight, if you goof it up, mistakes are instantly noticeable.
When I first started to travel in Asia, getting a haircut proved challenging. For some reason, I always ended up looking like either Hitler or Moe from the 3 Stooges. In fact, my stop when I was in Abu Dhabi was to fix the terrible haircut I got in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago at a salon. I don’t like salons. Somehow, they are emasculating. I can almost feel my testicles shrink from the moment I walk in.I like BARBERS, with a pole outside, copies of Playboy and girlie posters on the walls. It’s also a good sign if they have liquor on their breath.
I’ve had some unusual incidents, too. I had a haircut in Balikpapan, Indonesia where the barber kept pouring witch hazel on my head. I think I looked like that kid from Home Alone when he did that. I also took a leap of faith once in India and got a haircut from a blind barber. He managed to cut my hair perfectly even!
Haircuts in the Philippines are a real bargain. I have seen prices as low as 25 pesos in the provinces. I have not yet found a real barber that I like in Manila yet. I’ve gone to David’s Salon a few times, under pressure from Becky, but it’s still a salon. Last time, the bakla hairdresser kept trying to mousse up my hair and spike it. I ended up paying 750 pesos for the “experience”.
Now, when I am in Abulug, I go to Charlie the Barber. Charlie’s shop is in Ballesteros, the next town over. No water. No electricity. Posters of Luningning and the other Wowowee girls on the walls. Of course, the TV is on showing some Kung Fu movie or something the whole time. My kinda shop! Charlie used to give haircuts to US military, so he knows western hair. Only 40 pesos, but he’ll appreciate drinking a cold San Miguel with you when you are done. Quite an experience… When I’ve gone there, I usually have 5 – 10 people standing outside watching the Kano getting a haircut.I also will usually get a shave there, but that straight razor could smart a bit in the heat… No worries though. I’m just going to have to try a few more little shops in Manila… I can’t run to Ballesteros every time I need a haircut.