Thursday, October 11, 2007

Papua New Guinea: The Barber Shop

A few weeks into my stay in Papua New Guinea, the time for my monthly haircut rolled around. Against the advice of my colleagues who recommended the barber shop at the Ela Beach Hotel, I decided to try Brad's barber shop which was around the block from the Embassy.

It was drizzling when I made the walk over, but there were still several men, all locals, who were getting haircuts or waiting for a turn.

There were four or five barber chairs, but one was out of commission because of a water leak directly overhead. There were more barbers than chairs, so when a barber would finish with his client, they would both vacate the chair, and the next barber would take over with a new client. Then the just-relieved barber would wait in the barber queue for the next open chair.

When my turn came, the barber that I drew was a skinny guy with a mustache. He asked me what I wanted, and I told him that I wanted everything shortened and that the top should be short enough to spike. He supposedly understood, and we were off.

He started in the usual way, by using clippers to trim the back and sides of my head. Then he came in with the straight razor and straightened the sideburns and the back.

Once he finished the clipper and razor work, he pulled out the scissors to tackle the top.

He started cutting with a pair of thinning scissors. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, thinning scissors are scissors that are usually made of one normal blade and one blade that has slits cut at regular intervals along its length. When you cut hair with thinning scissors, half of the hair that is captured in each scissor stroke goes into the slits in the blade and doesn't get cut. This has the effect of thinning the hair while not necessarily affecting the styling, hence the name.

So, my barber started cutting my hair with the thinning scissors. I didn't think my hair needed thinning, but I didn't really care.

Then he kept going and going with the thinning scissors.

When he had exceeded by far all normal parameters for thinning hair, I asked him, “Do you not have regular scissors?”

“Oh, yes, I do!” he told me, as he proudly pulled out a pair.

“Good,” I responded, “Are you going to use them?”

“No, sir. These [the thinning scissors] are better because if I make a mistake, they only take away a little bit of hair. These [the regular scissors] will take away all the hair if I make a mistake.”

The logic was sound, I suppose, but I wasn't sure that such caution was warranted.

“You can just use the regular scissors,” I told him. “I trust you.”

“Don't worry!” he responded. “This will only take a minute.”

Then he continued on with the thinning scissors.

I decided to stop interrupting, and I let him do his thing.

He was going at it like Edward Scissorhands, and my hair was coming off millimeter by millimeter. It was such a waste of time.

Besides the inefficiency of it all, his decision to only use thinning scissors was a painful one for me. Thinning scissors have a tendency to pull hair, especially when the barber is working quickly, so each cut was accompanied by a sharp pain.

In about 40 minutes, my barber reached what he felt was the conclusion of the haircut, and he held up the mirror for me to have a look.

It was still too long, but I had exceeded my lunch break as it was and I couldn't wait around for him to gradually whittle the rest away. It looked OK, though, and it seemed like it would last me the usual month. And at 20 kina (~$7.30) it was half the price of the last bad haircut that I had gotten in Tennessee.

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