Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ramblings about Hairdressing and Aunt Pearl

The only member of our Tiong Clan who took up hairdressing was Aunt Pearl. I would always remember that because as a child I was vain and a wannabe. I must have been only about nine when I persuaded my mum to let me go to Aunt Pearl for a new hairdo. I remember it was in the very colonial style named street , High Street, at the middle portion of my seventh aunt, Chiew Sieng's textile outlet Chop Ching Cheong.

So I had a permament wave done, using all the hot irons and the works. At that time, and probably today too, the Master's workmanship or service would cost very much more, so as a child I was given probably the third apprentice to work on my lush hair. It was quite an experience, sitting under the hot wave and getting all my hair rolled up in those little metal rods and paper soaked in permament hair lotion. The ammonia smell was intolerable actually. At the end of almost two hours of curling and uncurling, blowing, drying and washing again and again, I went home with a fluffy hairstyle which I thought was quite charming.

But indeed instead of a permanent wave,I had a permanent scar on the top of my head ,caused by the burning acid! (If you want to see the scar , you can when you meet up with me). There was no use crying as my mum told me with a very severe face,"Want to be beautiful, you have to suffer pain."

The same statement came floating over to me when I had my ears pierced using the traditional method. You will read this in a later posting.

In retrospect I have always held Aunt Pearl in awe as she was the first female entrepreneur I ever met in Sibu. She was very business like and her accounting was good. I still remember her later sitting in an office, reading her newspapers with a great aura of importance. And in fact for many years my siblings and I were terrified of her. However deep inside her was a great heart and a strong character which had sustained the throes of time and the chaos and changes that only life deal out.

Much later, when my aunt gave up her hairdressing salon, in the sixties, the Tiong ladies would meet up at the Palace Hairdressers' Salon. It was like the Sibu Joy Luck Club. All the ladies would sit under the gigantic warm blowers, looking like aliens, and they would sit four in each row. (Palace Hairdressers would serve eight customers at any one time in that narrow space of 12' x 25'.) They would discuss the latest news loudly and when they lowered their voices you would know at once that they were exchanging some very delicate gossips of the family. That's when you can hear heavy sighs, see a few hand gestures, and even a delicate brush of the handkerchief at the side of an eye.

In the seventies, when it was my time to go to the hairdresser's I realised how good a counsellor my hairdresser was. It was no wonder, that our aunts and cousins loved "visiting" the hairdresser's,besides coming home with a new perm or newly washed hair. I continue to hold the opinion that it is also a good two hour rest for women folk to be away from the family and ordinary chores. A good hairdo, or just even a hairwash would give them more self esteem and confidence.

And oh yes, I remember the magazines in the Palace Hairdresser's Salon. I loved the magazines there and I would volunteer to come with anyone of them when I was young. Then I would read the beautiful magazines about film stars, Lin Dai, Yu Ming, Ger Lan,etc.and I would be transported into another world.

Palace Hairdresser's Salon displayed the usual barber's blue, white and red revolving tubular sign. This revolving international sign originated in the French Revolution. In 1789, France experienced the successful although bloody overthrow of its monarchy.

The barbers' shops were often the secret meeting places of many of the French revolutionaries or rebels. One day, a rebel was chased by a troop of French Monarchist soldiers. He quickly went into a barber's salon and was immediately put on a chair, wrapped up in the towels completely. (N.B.This was later copied by many film makers whenever there was a need to give the protagonist a chance to escape from a chase. ) When the soldiers arrived, they asked for the rebel. The barber quickly told them that this particular rebel had left by the back door. So the soldiers gave chase and the rebel was saved.

When the new free French government was formed at the end of the French Revolution, it honoured the sacrifices and services of the barbers in their revolution , by commissioning the tri-coloured French flag, blue, white and red as the symbol of barbers' salons. Soon the revolving tricoloured sign of French barbers became a universal symbol for hairdressing.

I believe every aunt of ours had a French bun in their time besides getting fashionable, good permanent waves. They would also have their teased and sprayed to make the famous high standing or bee hive hair style of starlets like Lin Dai. You can check out hairstyles of the day by looking at old photos taken in the 1960's. Today the computer has taken over hair styling designs to match shapes of face, head, and even original hair colour. But at that time, it was the hairdresser who decided what style a woman should have. Life was so basic and uncomplicated then.

A new permanent would cost about 12 straits dollars in the 50's and 60's. Today with all sorts of hair waving magic, women and even men, have to pay more than 100 ringgit for a decent hairdo. That's modern day inflation and enterprise I suppose.

But nevertheless a small pair of scissors can still help many women earn a good living.

Hairdressers continue to be meeting points for grand ladies...and I would give anything in this world to see again, Aunt Pearl, Second Aunt (Ni Sing) and Third Aunt (San Sing) and my mum having their hair done at Palace Hairdressers...and I would sit again in the PVC chair just watching and watching while time passes by. Three cheers for compassionate hairdressers!

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