From Madras to Manila

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Close Shave

According to an extensive, ‘no-holds-barred’ survey conducted among non-resident Indians from my family, one of the enduring issues faced by the majority of global travelers worldwide is the complete inability to find, afford or trust a barber other than the good ol’ Selvaraj (or Joe, Yoshihara, Chen, Mbangwa or Abdul depending on your nationality). The above-mentioned has been cutting our hair for the past two years, narrowly missing the ears twenty-three times in that period, for which we are grateful.

[We are not so grateful for the twenty-fourth attempt, which was successful, but that is another story.]

For years global citizens like me have got around this issue by the mere expedient of having a haircut immediately before traveling anywhere and then resolutely refusing to have another until we returned once again to our loving arms of our barbers.

[And wives! Wives! Ow! Ow! I said ‘wives’ didn’t I?]

Of course, this approach has its downsides, such as the time I was in Munich for two months in winter and my dangling locks combined with a bad cold and mellifluous intonations of broken German that would make people swoon when they’d see me in dark alleys and subway stations. The results were especially spectacular when I materialized out of the darkness to ask people the time. A typical dialogue would go like this:

Me (materializing out of darkness): Wie spat ist es?
Innocent Bystander: THUD
Me: Oh, all right then

There were several yeti sightings reported that year.

Anyway, to cut a long story short (and shampoo, condition and straighten it) the ‘cut before you leave’ option works for travel up to and including two months if you refrain from catching a cold.

But Now What? Two Years Without a Haircut?

Fearing the consequences of not having a haircut for two years - among other things ‘missing link’ and ‘Steve Tyler’ sprang to mind - I mustered up the courage to pay 220 pesos to go to a salon at the Astoria hotel in Ortigas.

The hairdresser was this rather short, effeminate man who bounced his way across the room towards where I sat.

‘Would you like a trim?’ he asked encouragingly while looking deep into my eyes.
‘No, a medium cut please’, I said, avoiding his gaze and thereby sealing the fate of my scalp.

A devout adherent of the post-modernist school of hairdressing automation, he had a passionate aversion to doing anything with scissors, as I was to soon observe. Blessed with an almost carnal knowledge of the automatic trimmer, that buzzing Device From Hell, he proceeded to lop off large swathes of my hair, brandishing and weaving the little instrument in a sort of airy, faraway manner like he was merely diverting himself while awaiting the call of the mother ship.

Before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’ – which wouldn’t really have helped because that wasn’t his name – most of my cuticles were on the floor and I was well on my way to becoming a member of the Hitler Youth (and feeling uncomfortably cold on the top of my head).

After he was done shearing, he announced it was time for him to ‘shave the edges’, and ferreted out a shiny new blade, which I found rather reassuring until I discovered that he intended to use it without a razor!

[This paragraph has been deleted in order to retain this blog’s PG rating]

“All right, we’re done now”, said the little man, stepping back to survey the carnage, “That will be 220 pesos.”

“Heil”, I said weakly.


  • Volcano...then Mall...then traffic...then barber...i see we are leaving tourist season behind.

    By Blogger Sumit, at 1:57 AM  

  • Heh, heh. Funnneee.

    For your info, the holiday season is just beginning here. Shops have been advertising the imminent arrival of Christmas since the beginning of September and there are actually three holidays next week when pretty much everybody will take off from Manila, leaving Sandi and me to starve to death.

    By Blogger Amit, at 11:23 AM  

  • Snaps ! Post some snaps.. of the 'before' and 'after' -Teenie

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:49 PM  

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