I have an extremely close relationship with my coiffure. I used to have long thick locks of hair that I wore in a sort of white mans afro like Bob Dylan in his prime. Although I have recently tamed my mane, it is still a focal point of my vanity.
Due to this reality, I have put off getting my hair cut for the past two months that I have been in South East Asia. Unable to ignore the growth anymore, I decided to face my hairish dilemma and am currently sitting on a wooden bench, on the sidewalk of Ta Quang Buu, waiting for my turn to get a street hair cut.
At the moment there is an elderly grey-haired Vietnamese man sitting underneath a tarp on a makeshift barbers chair. With anticipatory interest, I watch the middle age street barber with thick black hair and a facemask carefully scissor away.
The barber has propped a mirror on the wall in front of the elderly man and utilizes a basket for his hair tools, amongst the clippings strewn clay tiled sidewalk. The only electronic tools he has are a trimmer and a vacuum, both plugged into an extension chord precariously perched on the wall under the mirror.
The elder gentleman got up and paid – a common interaction that I always watch closely to avoid being ripped off – and I plopped down in the barber’s chair. I separated the thumb and forefinger of my right hand to communicate the amount of desired shearing and he started cutting my hair at full speed.
As clumps of my hair rained down on my shoulders and the surrounding sidewalk, I decided to keep my eyes closed for two reasons. First, I always close my eyes during haircuts, a necessity to take in the full relaxation that can be gleaned from such an activity. Second, I did not want to look dissatisfied with his craft because after the initial plunge I had no concrete way to orchestrate a barber about-face.
In mere minutes, the snipping ceased and he began to vacuum my head and shoulders. He then suctioned over my ear, startling me and pulling my eyes open. I peeked into the cracked mirror on the wall and was pleasantly surprised by my new do, which was only slightly too short for my liking.
Now that my eyes where open I was able to observe the intricate comings of goings of Ta Quang Buu from a truly special vantage point. He finished his swift job by placing a new blade in his old fashioned straight razor and eliminating my rat-tail and unsightly neck hair. VND30,000 ($1.50) lighter, I gleefully walked down the street, paid a cobbler VND10,000 ($0.50) to reattach a portion of my loafer’s sole and headed home.
The street barbers, like all aspects of the vibrant street scene in Bach Khoa, Hanoi, vary in quality and price. They may not be able to handle everyone’s coif but for guys visiting or living in Hanoi, experiencing a street cut is a must. After all, there really is nothing similar to visually consuming the busy streets of Hanoi from a barber’s chair on the sidewalk.
Randolph Lovelace III (Hanoitimes)