Week 15.21

Changing where you cut your hair is often a big deal; people will patronize the same place for years or even decades. When I started at my first job, I discovered a little salon in the same building which was very convenient — I see getting a trim as a bit of boring maintenance that can’t be avoided. It had seats for six to eight people at a time, but only one middle-aged proprietor who would actually cut hair — his wife assisted at the till and sometimes with washing and other procedures. Making conversation with the older ladies who came in for perms and dyes seemed to be part of her portfolio. So, it was effectively a small solo operation that had room to expand but no interest in doing it.

I continued to go there for years (close to a decade?!) even after I left the company, when going down after office hours became more inconvenient. As these things sometimes go, we had many conversations over the years and I learnt a bit about the couple’s lives, their family, and so on. It strikes me that these hair-related relationships are unique amongst the commercial/service interactions in our lives. You don’t know what your doctor got up to on vacation, say.

One evening in 2015, I went down to discover the store shut and called to find out if anything was up. Turns out they just decided to close early that day and do something else. Had I called to make an appointment, that could have been avoided, but I never did it because you were liable to turn up and find someone in the seat anyway, and you’d have to wait 45 minutes (he liked to take his time).

Betrayed, I walked the streets and came upon another place, which marked the beginning of another multi-year relationship. Another friend who still goes to the same place tried to guilt trip me about the switch, but I didn’t feel to blame at all because not staying open during opening hours effectively broke our contract.

The new place was a more regular sort of salon: multiple seats, multiple stylists. I walked in and was assigned someone who I had a good feeling about right away. This guy was younger, normally served much more stylish clientele than the likes of me, and on the whole it was a more modern and luxurious experience — someone would bring you coffee! One time, I went down without an appointment as was my custom and was served by another stylist. He did an awful job, and so I got into the habit of making appointments.

This worked out until COVID hit and we went into lockdown. After the first couple of months staying in, I bought a pair of clippers, watched a YouTube video, and tried trimming my own hair at home. I wasn’t going out, so what did I care if I made mistakes and got a lumpy haircut? I just didn’t want my ears to get warm so I was doing the back and sides with the comb attachment. When the rest of it got too long, lockdown was just easing up and I could get someone else to do it. But visiting the salon in town would be too much travel each way now that it wasn’t on the way home from work.

What I ended up doing was visiting the traditional men’s barbershop in my neighborhood, which cost $10 instead of $50, and was an experience virtually unchanged in 30 years. I used to be brought to similar places as a kid, just an uncomplicated, artless buzzing and a few quick snips. The fluorescent lighting, smell of talcum powder, cracked leather seats, explosive countertop clutter, disposable razor blades for the shaving of sideburns… it wasn’t the same as being served a coffee and having your head massaged, but it got the job done. Did it look very good? No, but neither did I anyway, and I was still mostly working from home and not going anywhere much.

That was the past 9 months or so. I wasn’t really satisfied with the idea of getting mediocre uneven haircuts from shaky hands for the rest of my life, but the money I was saving helped, and it was alright as long as I didn’t look in the mirror? Going back to a centrally located place for a haircut just seemed out of the question though, kinda like going back to an office five days a week is preposterous now.

So long story short-ish, this week I visited the barbershop on what must have been their day off, and so had the opportunity to try the other hair salon in the neighborhood, which I never had occasion to pass in the day when they’re open. I feel somewhat like how it felt back in 2015: like I’ve leapt forward and found the light. It was the first proper haircut I’ve gotten in the past year, in a clean, properly air-conditioned place, with professionals who know what they’re doing, and a price acceptably midway between downtown extravagance and the bare minimum. I think this may be the next chapter as long as we don’t move away.

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In other exciting neighborhood discovery news, my weekday lunch options have increased. A struggling (not great) Korean stall in the nearby kopitiam closed down, and the space was taken over by a sort of Japanese joint offering cheap donburi like oyakodon, gyudon, and katsudon, with unhealthy but tasty mentaiko mayonnaise and cheese toppings to make up for whatever they lack in authenticity. This change apparently happened a couple of months ago, but I never noticed while walking by because their signboard design looks similar to the Korean one’s from afar.

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Still reading The Diamond Age from last week, and have been grinding through about 200 levels of Tiny Crossword+ on Apple Arcade. The puzzles are exceedingly simple, and I’m hoping the boards will get larger and more difficult soon, or else I’ll start on something else.

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