October 8, 2004
I had a haircut and a shave today from my Uzbek barber Ellis, who I've been visiting off and on for 15 years. (he's on 2nd and 69th)
Getting shaves in barber shops is one of those arcane pleasures almost forgotten by the modern man. In the hands of an skilled barber with a sharp blade, the right tonics and hot towels, you barely feel a thing... and your face will be light years smoother than a do-it-yourself job. It's also pretty darned relaxing.
When I travel I find on-the-road shave to always be highlights of the trips.
For example in Amritsar I had an expert shave and haircut from a Sihk (Mr. Singh of course) in a shop simply titled "The Good Barber". Mr. Singh wrapped my face with hot towels soaked in boiling water and mint leaves. He not only cut my beard with a blade, but also cleaned up eyebrows, stray ear hairs and such. At the end of the shave he demonstrated his mastery of the blade by running it over my closed eyelid while chuckling. The irony of a Sihk in his profession was lost on him.
Not all experiences were good. In Siem Reap back in the early 90's I showed up at a barber shop much to the surprise of the locals who had, I think, rarely seen a foreigner close up. When I made it clear that I wanted my beard removed, a small panic went through the place. Eventually a trembling girl was brought in with a bar of soap and rusty looking old blade. I was terrified, the girl shaving me was terrified (sweating bullets), but felt obligated to stay. I think I made it through 2 swipes of the blade each of which drew blood, before I bolted out.
But the good experiences make up for the bad. In Danang visiting a barbershop meant sitting in a chair and being attended by no less than 6 woman. One each to wash and massage my feet. Another pair to massage my hands and arms and one to clean my ears (she used long sticks and wore a miner's helmet). A final one did the actual haircutting. I was in such bliss that the fact that my hair was being dyed dark went unnoticed until I was lifted up and shown a mirror. For about 2 weeks I went from being, raul to Raul! with jet black hair. Sort of changed my personality.
Today's shave was not nearly so memorable. Ellis and the woman who helps him with him hummed along to a Russian video playing on the TV as I was shorn. I left fresh as an apple.