Sunday, October 14, 2007

Haircuts,hairstyling and hairdressers in Sibu

The Chinese, and perhaps the Foochows viewed haircutting as a very personal and sacred rite which needed to be perform at the right time.

My father sported a very short hair cut although both my great grandfather and grandfather wore the Chinese queue or pigtail for some time. We were never told when they cut off their queues, although we knew that for Chinese men to keep their pigtail was a symbol of servitude to the Ching government.

When my father was a young lad,my grandfather would decide when he and the other brothers would get a hair cut. With 8 children, my grandfather had a handful and when he married again, my father's step mother, whom we all called Grandmother Wong, was overworked with child caring, cooking and all the household chores. So it was not fair to get her to cut the older boys' hair as well. Photos all show that they had a coconut hairstyle and if they wanted their hair combed side ways with centre parting, they had to use lots of oil. At that time, barbers were itinerant and they would called at my grandfather's home from time to time and accept a very very small fee. Some parents paid in kind like a kati of bananas or a kati of beans.

Later,in the village , Ah Nan Chong, or Lower South Village, where I grew up, having a hair cut was like going through a ceremony. A man would even announce his purpose, " I am getting a hair cut tomorrow in Sibu."

A man would have his hair cut for his birthday. He would say aloud, "I must get a hair cut for my birthday next week." Perhaps that was all he had for his birthday, a gift to himself , to spend money on his simple grooming. I really liked the idea then.

My uncle had to decide who should cut his hair when he was about to get married. And a cousin was choosy about which barber he should see. And I could remember a young relative who was so happy that he had to announce, "I am to get a haircut before seeing a potential bride in Sibu next week with the matchmaker!"

There were a few favoured barbers in Sibu whom the villagers went to when they had the money for a haircut after selling their rubber. The most favoured ones had Catholic priests and a few colonial officers going to see them.

When my brother Hsiung, was born, times had changed and my mother was allowed to cut his hair. My young brother was not at all in favour of having his hair cut and for years, my mother had to cut his hair when he was asleep, one snip at a time. So we actually saw the damage on his hair as the days went by. Each cut was a sign of the snip made by my mother using an ordinary pair of scissors. We would all laugh and say, " A rat had come in the night to eat his hair." And he would squirm and squeal with fear and sometimes laughter.

The small hair dressing scissors were not invented then. Even the old fashioned hairdressing "snipper" was not easy to come by at that time. My brother went for his first hair cut professionally when he was able to understand the meaning of a hair cut and probably by then he had forgotten about his trauma of having his precious locks cut. Was he Samson reincarnated?

What about a shaven head? Only monks had shavened heads and only the not so mentally sound Foochow men had their heads shavened. Perhaps this was due to the traditional attitudes of the Foochows towards a shaven head. The Tarters were the rulers who made the Chinese shaved their hair as an act of servitude. "It was a humiliating mandate".

A visit to a Foochow barber in Sibu would include a warm face towel and a shave with a very very frighteningly sharp razor. Then the barber would take out his tweezers to pull some hair from the nostrils. Very few Foochow men grew a moustache then so it was not necessary for the barber to trim the moustoche

No shampooing was carried out and then the hair cut was given.

In the 50's and 60's a barber would have two or three barber's chairs with three mirrors in his little half shop or quarter shop. Some of them operated at the back of a shop lot so they were quite hard to find but they would have charged less too because their rents were cheaper. Usually the barber would have an apprentice or two to help him, thus the three chair set up. sometimes, the barber has a partner and then they took in only one apprentice.

There were not many styles to choose from. You could have a coconut style, a student's cut, a normal man's cut or a crew cut and very rarely a kwan tow or bald head shave. The Foochow men were not adventurous.

When the nightclubs came to Sibu and the Taiwan singers were a rave, the Foochow men started having their hair permed and their hair washed by young shampoo girls. This was one of the reasons why the young and handsome enterprising hairdresser Anthony became a household name as a man's hairdresser and a woman's saviour in Sibu. He went on to operate a few salons in Sibu, Miri and then Singapore. He has since then become a millionaire.

One day I remember my mother coming home with a new hairstyle and my father asked, " Is that done by Anthony?"

I think my mother never went to Anthony's out of propriety.

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