I decided that I needed to get my hair cut when we were in Chiang Mai as it was starting to approach 5mm and was getting unruly. I almost had to comb it in the morning and that just would not do.
I had noticed several hair places just up the street from the hotel we were staying at. A friendly couple said that a haircut cost 40 THB (about $1.25) from the Chinese barber up the street and I figured if Sharon cut my hair, a trained barber would have no problem. I walked into the 1st place thinking this was the correct one. 1st thing that I noticed was all the trophies all over the place. There was an oriental gentleman cutting a woman’s hair so I figured he knew how to cut men’s hair. He didn’t look excessively flamboyant but I couldn’t really tell if he was Thai or Chinese. His shampoo girl came over and I pointed at my hair, she smiled and pointed at the sink so that she could wash my hair.
The hairdresser finished with his 1st client and I asked the price. He said something neither Sharon nor I could understand and I assumed it was 40 THB. I give him the go ahead and the girl started washing my hair. When she wet my hair, I realized that there was no hot water, a bit of a shock to the system but it wasn’t too bad especially in the tropical heat. She washed and rinsed my hair 3 times and gave me a scalp and shoulder massage while doing it. After the 3rd shampoo and rinse, I started to worry that she had a scalp fetish but apparently 3 was the magic number.
She dried me off and then I walked over the main chair. I showed the barber how short that I wanted it and I expected him to start working on me with a pair of shears. Instead, he started cutting and thinning my hair. I was a little alarmed by the thinning process but he had the experience. With Sharon it was the barber shears, a roll of duct tape to keep me still and it was over in about 5 minutes.
For about 25 minutes, he went about carefully thinning and shaping my hair. He ignored the hair on the top of my head (at least what is left of it) until the very end where he proceeded to give me a comb over. With a flourish he announced that he was done and stood back so that I could admire his results. I tried to protest that it wasn’t short enough but a lack of communication hindered the effort. Resigned to loosing 40 THB, I walked over to the cash. When I asked him how much he put up 2 fingers. I pulled out 20 THB thinking I had the deal of the week but he pointed to the 100 THB notes and raised two fingers again. Realizing I had made a big mistake, I paid him and walked out not feeling great about the whole experience. I did have the cleanest scalp in Chiang Mai and the sun beamed brilliantly off it as a I walked up the street.
I told my sad story to Sharon and she said she would talk to the man. I said that I would get my hair cut somewhere else as the comb over was the last straw and I did try to explain what I wanted and that language as a tiny problem and sign language didn’t work.
The next day Sharon and her friend Julie went shopping. I went for a 2h Thai massage which was excellent. I asked the massage therapist where I might get a haircut and she said walk down the street for 5 minutes. I did as she said and found myself at a man’s barber shop that had the same look and feel as barber shops around the world. I saw that there was a large price list on the wall. A haircut was 90 THB ($3). After my last disaster, I wanted to know the price up front in something I could actually understand.
A woman served me with passable English; I asked for the price and confirmed it was 90 THB. I explained to her what had happened with the last haircut and she critically looked at my haircut and said that he hadn’t done a very good job and had given my standard Thai haircut. That might work if I had more hair but it really didn’t do much for me. She also said that he hadn’t shaved around my neck or side burns and it was very unprofessional. I told her I paid 200 THB and she was shocked. There as a rapid burst of Thai as she told the rest of the store about my experience and there were a few sly Thai chuckles around me.
I explained I wanted it short and she took to me with a pair of scissors and a comb and cut my hair just the way I wanted it. She then took out a straight razor and touched up my hairline and neck. I watched her carefully change the blade and then change it again when I accidentally knocked the razor to the floor when it was sitting on my shoulder.
She trimmed my ears, looked in them and then started rummaging around in a drawer for what looked like a dental pick. She poked it into my ear pulled it out and said that my ears were dirty and that she offered a full cleaning service for another 90 THB. This I had to experience and I told her to go ahead. She pulled a surgical light floor lamp over the side of my head, put a damp face cloth over my eyes and proceeded to put a towel over my shoulder and lay out a series of instruments. Since I was blinded, I didn’t really have a good idea of what was going on or what the instruments were. I did feel her very carefully shaving my ear with a straight edge razor and clipping at the longer hairs with scissors. Next thing I felt a wet Cutip being inserted into my ear and twirled around. There was some type of fizzing lotion on the Cutip and she left it sitting in my ear for about a minute while explosions went off in my ear. To experience this at home, take some Pop Rocks, pour into your ear and add Coke.
More dry Cutips were inserted and it started to feel like she was trying to clean my brain, they were going so deep. I felt something else going in and then with a triumphant flourish she lifted my face cloth and showed me a large glob of ear wax on the end of a vicious looking instrument with a large gleaming hook on the end. I looked more closely at it to make sure that it didn’t look like brain tissue, nodded sagely and let her go about her business wondering what type of damage I was doing to my ears. After more straight edge work, she switched to my other ear and repeated the same process including the fizzing Cutip. I wasn’t presented with the results of her effort this time; I think she understood that I didn’t really share her joy of ear wax discovery and extraction.
The whole procedure took about 45 minutes. When the face cloth was removed from my eyes and my ears dried very thoroughly with what I felt was little too much vigour, she pronounced me done.
As I was getting up to leave she asked how long I was in Chiang Mai for and that I should come back for a shave. I said I was leaving in a couple of days. I checked the pricelist and saw that a shave was 90 THB. My choices were to go find Sharon and Julie shopping at every market looking for house design crap or spend more time here. I opted for the safe bet and said I would take a shave now.
The last time I got a straight edge razor shave was on the day that I married Sharon at the Royal York in Toronto. It was great but my face puffed up for several hours afterwards and I was a little concerned about what would happen here. I was gently pushed back into the barber chair which was then reclined. Problem was that the barbers chair was designed for Thai men who are much shorter than me. I really didn’t fit well into the chair. I tried to make myself comfortable as she spread a meager amount of shaving cream onto my day old beard.
She changed the straight edge blade again (#3) and started working away on my face. She was very meticulous but appeared to be having a bit of trouble. I was also starting to feel that there wasn’t nearly enough shaving cream as the shave was started to hurt a bit. When I winced on a particularly strong side stroke, she stopped working, went over to the counter and proceeded to dab baby powder all over my face and then went back to work. I was a little shell shocked to say the least. I wasn’t sure what baby powder would do but was convinced this wasn’t a good turn of events. Much to my relief, it was good lubricant, the razor sharp straight edge gliding effortlessly over my skin. She would stretch my skin, shave it, and then run her hand over the area to make sure that no stray stubble remained. If even a hair remained, the area was done again. And again. And Again. This process went on for about another 10 minutes and it started to get painful again. With a sigh, she added a bit more shaving cream to my face and changed the blade and went back into the hair mines.
40 minutes after she started, she was finally done and patted my face dry. Since I didn’t have my glasses on I couldn’t tell how much damage had been done to my face and I was a little worried about cuts getting infected in the tropical sun not to mention the generally wonderful sanitary conditions of downtown Bangkok, our next destination (think open sewer canals and you’ll start to get the picture). She beamed down at me, very pleased with her work and said “Strong hair” and laughed.
I put my glasses on and checked her work. My ears hadn’t had this little hair on them since I was born, the haircut was well done and the shave was excellent. Total cost? About $9 and a good story for the blog.