SIDEBURNS & STRAIGHT RAZORS
In Korea, I would bring a schematic of my head, complete with measurements and Korean text detailing the short-on-the-sides, unruly-on-top style I prefer, to to the barber shop with me. No matter how I tried though, I would come out with a fluffy three-quarters part that I would then have to muck up with scissors at home. The beauty shop I went to had several aquariums filled with turtles and they alone made the trip worthwhile.
My first trip to the barber in Thailand went more smoothly. I perused two fat volumes of possible hair styles. The books had thousands of pictures of punky looking Japanese kids with multicolored tresses and cuts that would embarrass show poodles. Flipping between several pages I showed the fellow a composite of what I wanted and he succeeded more or less with it using only the electric clippers.
In Rajaburi I also found a good barber named Neensen. For US$1.50 I got a fine cut from a man who didn't speak one word of English. With gestures I explained what I wanted and he checked in with me frequently during the process. I liked the result and decided to visit that shop again. They have plastic flowers preserved in water in old whisky bottles on the shelves and pictures of the king everywhere.
I went to see Neensen again today, in dire need of a cut to combat the rising heat. As I sat in the chair I discovered that he did in fact know an English word. "Skinhead?" he asked me, laughing.
"No," I said, laughing along, feeling comfortable amongst friends. Pointing at the sides I said "Neetnoi," which is Thai for 'a little bit.' With a set of nonspecific hand gestures I explained the rest of the cut I wanted to Neensen and requested a shave too. I've never had a shave in a barber shop and I wanted to try it once. I sat back in my chair, angling myself so I could watch kickboxing on TV in my mirror. The men in the shop gossiped around me and about me, but I didn't mind. I felt like an old man in a scene from a different time.
I glanced back to my own reflection and broke out in a cold sweat; Neensen had shaved off my right sideburn and was ready to commit further hari-kari when I stopped him. Everyone in the shop tuned into our conversation, as I tried to explain the 'tapered sides theory' to him. When I said "Neetnoi," I meant cut a little bit but he interpreted it to be 'leave a little bit...' or none. He brought me a scrap of paper and I drew it our for him, the other waiting customers gathered around my chair to see what the trouble was. Usually cool with language mix-ups, this time I was panicky. I kept glancing at my reflections and the white spot where my hair used to be, wondering if I'd have to use magic marker as I did in high school when my homemade haircuts went awry. I briefly considered running for it, but discarded the idea as impolite.
Neensen, to his credit, listened carefully and studied my scrawled pictures of well coifed heads that vaguely resembled my own. I drew a big ear and hair growing short above it, then longer and longer to the top of a square head. When Neensen started cutting again we both paid closer attention, making minor adjustments as we went along. It was a collaborative effort. The panic passed, though I asked him to leave the top alone. I can muck it up pretty well on my own now.
After the trim was done he powdered my head and then brought out a straight razor with a disposable blade. He meticulously shaved over my ears, around the back of my neck and the area where my sideburns used to be. The damage wasn't as bad as I had first feared.
Neensen brushed me off and then set the chair back. Sitting was comfortable enough, but laid back my long limbs no longer fit the Thai sized chair. A hard cushion set against my neck, pushing my throat up, exposing it to the cruel blade. Neensen lathered my face with a menthol smelling soap that made my eyes water.
I was aware of each hair on my face being cut. One by one they stung with each tiny swipe of the blade. Inside my head it sounded like an angry man sandpapering a steel drum. I comforted myself with the notion that I would have the closest shave of my life.
Periodically I would look up at myself in the mirror and laugh. It seemed absurd to me to have some strange man cutting at my throat with such a sharp blade. Neensen would laugh too, though he never said why.
In fact it turned out to be the worst shave I've ever had. I can't figure if Neensen was too gentle in response to my wincing or if the blade wasn't so sharp after all. Perhaps Thai barbers are not accustomed to that much facial hair. Thais, like most Asians, cannot grow a decent beard, though they do have the odd habit of cultivating mole hairs. I commonly see men with five scraggly hairs, sometimes ten inches long, growing out of their cheeks. It looks as if they have daddy-long leg spiders smooshed on their faces.
After he finished my upper lip, a slow and nerve-wracking process for us both, Neensen shaved my forehead and my ears. This caught me off guard and made me laugh, though I fear for the future when the hairs grow back darker and thicker and shaving my forehead becomes a habit rather than a hobby.
After he had put the dread blade away, Neensen offered me the bottle of rubbing alcohol. I accepted the challenge and soon had the sweet sensation of my head being stuck in a cooling fire.
I paid the man his $1.50 (60 baht) and gave him a tip.
Then I went home and mucked up the top just the way I like it.
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