Thursday, February 07, 2008

Worst Haircut Ever

This is in reference to a previous post, Best Haircut Ever, which was the last time I had my haircut done in a foreign country.

I needed a haircut a few weeks ago, and so I decided to go to the market centre of the residential blocks here in Singapore. Singapore is a very small place, and so the government subsidizes these housing estates, large multi-story buildings, where families can buy a flat, but with a 99 year lease from the government. These flats can be bought and sold for money, but they're somewhat subsidized. Back when Singapore was first founded, there was massive problems with homelessness, and the government's approach was to create these housing blocks, which are remarkably efficient. At the center of most housing blocks, there's a traditional wet market, where you can buy fresh groceries like meat, vegetables, fruits, etc, then there's a hawker centre, where you have vendors selling all sorts of cooked foods, and then various "support stores", like a 7-11, a family run shop selling everyday things like toilet paper, soap, etc, a video store, a very basic hardware/electronics store (nothing fancy, mainly just cables, power converters, etc), and hair salons / barber shops. It's remarkably efficient, instead of having to walk/drive/bus to a shopping centre, you walk downstairs and head to the market that's at the center of your housing estate.

So, that brings us to the topic of my haircut. There were 3 places that offered haircuts, and so I went into the one where there wasn't a line. First mistake - because the lady who was there, asked me if I wanted a haircut.... in Chinese. That's when I realized that I knew very few words about haircuts! That was interesting - because most Singaporeans speak some English, but then she was confused whether I was not Chinese, and then I'm trying to speak some Mandarin to make her comfortable, but then she starts using words I don't know. Second mistake - Chinese people believe it's unlucky to have a haircut after Chinese New Years, the theory being something like cutting off your hair after CNY is like cutting off your wealth. Due to this "holiday season" the prices were increased. (not that it was so bad, it went from S$8.90 to $9.90, so about US$7.50.

So, decided to give it a try anyways just to see what would happen. I could only use simple words like "shorter here, flat on this side, don't take too much off, etc". The first round - whoa, not so good. She gave me this Chinese pop star look, where everything is long on the sides - not so good because I like my hair cut a bit closer. Finally after a few rounds, we got to something that looked a bit better, but was probably going to be the closest I'll ever get to my original haircut.... then, finally mistake 3. All I had was a $50 bill, and there was no change in the cashier's box. Completely embarrassed, since there were people now waiting behind me and probably laughing at my broken Mandarin, I had to ask people in line if they could change my $50. Luckily, this old lady was very kind and helped me out. But this lady was a bit crazy - seems like they exist in every culture. She was simply talking to everybody about everything... at first I thought she knew everybody in the shop, but after hearing her tell some things, and people's reactions, I think she was just either crazy or extremely talkative.

In the end, it was definitely a great experience, and although my haircut wasn't the best, it was totally worth it. As they say, the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut.... is about 2 weeks.

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