Massages in Asia are widely available and dirt cheap,but I’m not rushing to get them. I’ve only gotten two professional massages in my life, probably because it’s not something I find relaxing, restorative or pleasurable. I can see why it invokes these feelings in others, it just doesn’t have the same reaction in me. I have found another luxury here that does bring all those feelings, and I think it’ll be something I really miss. It’s getting my earlobes shaved.
Getting a haircut and shave in Asia is remarkable. It’s the grooming equivalent of getting your car detailed. Every element is checked, cleaned, often brought to a never before achieved level. In the states I cut my own hair, a task done over a toilet, often with a roommate double checking and lining me up, before a shower. 25% of the time there’s an area missed that someone has to clue me into. It takes around six minutes.
The works package in Asia takes around 45 minutes and costs two to three dollars. Often the barber isn’t even in a shop, he’s set up on a corner or an alley with a chair and his tools. It’s an extraordinary value for the money. After the discussion of my preferances, the barber shaves my head with the clippers. He switches to the one without a guide, trims extra long facial hair, goes around the ears and lines up the back.
Then he brakes out the warm lotion and moistens everywhere he’s going to shave. This isn’t limited to the face, it’s everywhere. I didn’t know most of these places could even be shaved. The straight razor is a precision tool, and in this case it’s being wielded by a master. The goatee is straightened up and the hairline is shaved to a military straightness. The area around and between the eyebrows is shaved, as are the temples. Sideburns are, if desired, sculpted into geometrically perfect shapes. The cheeks are shaved starting just below the eyes. The back of the neck is shaved all the way to well below the shirt line. An inordinate amount of time is spent on the ears. The insides of the upper ridge, then the outsides. The ear lobes, on both sides. Then the headrest is inserted, the chair is reclined and the neck is shaved. This is a slow, deliberate process, a craftsman who loves his craft.
Next the scissors come out. Ear and nose hairs are swiftly dealt with. The goatee is shaped, trimmed, checked and rechecked. Eyebrows and mustache are taken care of. This is the point where I politely decline the ear canal cleaning, a 15 minute procedure done with a headlamp, tools that resemble dental implements and small cotton balls on the end of delicate six inch long tweezers. Though I’m curious about this part, I can’t stop myself from picturing an early ending to my trip, trying to explain how I punctured my eardrum allowing a man whose name I don’t know to stick a few inches of metal in the canal.
Finally the hair is brushed, checked from all angles, closely inspected. The clippers come out again, and the whole head is shaved again, just to insure a uniform length and no stray bits. The attention to detail never ceases at any point. Aftershave is applied and the head is lightly massaged. A thorough check is made to insure all cut hair has been removed, even though I’ve been toweled down ten times during the procedure. This is a level of grooming beyond anything I’ve ever achieved myself. I rise from the chair and someone immediately takes my place. I hand over fourty thousand dong and then the cycle begins again.
I can’t help but wonder if this is a service I can find in Chicago. I’m going to have to explore Argyle and Chinatown again, this time looking for a barber. I don’t expect the price to be the same, and I won’t be able to go once a week, as I’ve been doing, but I don’t want to go back to the way it was before. I’ve become accustomed to this.