• Yilan Hotel Beijing
• Zheng Xie Hotel
• Zhengyuan Business Travel Hotel
• Zi Long Hotel
No matter where you are in Asia there are some services you must seek out and trust others to do for you and one of these is the ordinary haircut, except in Asia haircuts can be far from ordinary which through a look at some regional differences might be entertaining for some. The one thing I realized after several decades in Asia is that my first haircut ‘in each country’ surprised me in one way or the other and in some rather amusing ways. I’ve always been a “live and learn” type of guy so it’s through this trial and error mentality that I arrived in Okinawa at Naha airport as a fairly young man and after a long flight went through customs for my first time in Asia and then through immigration and then proceeded to the baggage pickup where I retrieved one very large seabag, one very large box, and balancing then on a cart made for the nearest restroom where I changed into a pair of cycling shorts and a jersey, shaved, and tried to refresh myself after such a long flight.
You see, from all my research on Asia which consisted of two very old travel books (this was before the internet) the one thing I noticed from the travel books was that everyone seemed to be riding bicycles and the roads didn’t look all that great. I was a bit excited because I thought I’d prepared well. Prior to my military service I was sponsored by Cycles Peugeot and competed in every road race in my area and then some. They had provided me with several very nice road bikes and related gear, my favorite being a PX-10LE made from double butted Reynolds 531 tubing which at the time was pretty trick, and this model even had the newest forks made of the same material. Stronglight cranks, Simplex derailleur’s, Mavic brakes and beautiful 700c wheels with cross-tied spokes and actual silk sew-ups, in my eyes there will never be a more beautiful bicycle even if you consider the Brooks large rivet saddle that took me an entire season to properly break-in and was the cause of many blisters on my butt. From the travel books I knew this model would be of limited use so I had it shipped ahead. However, this was the dawning of the age of mountain bikes and in my large box nestled a specially prepped Specialized Rockhopper, the first one they ever made.
My brother-in-law who I used to race with is in the bicycle hall of fame and then (and now) works as a sales distributor for bike companies and he assured me this large tired heavy bright yellow machine laden with Japanese components was exactly what I needed for Japan and even though I received it just days before my flight out the few rides I took it on were encouraging, kinda reminded me of the balloon tired beach bikes of my youth but with gears and brakes that worked and much better made. I packed it carefully in the box and re-enforced the box so it would arrive safely and even included the 6mm allen wrench, 15mm pedal wrench and 14mm crank wrench I’d need to assemble it. Going back out to the waiting area in my socks I opened the box and assembled my new bicycle under the curious watch of many Japanese. Inside the box were also a new type of cleats where instead of the stiff thick leathered soled shoes with nailed on metal cleats that required “toe-straps” they consisted of nylon uppers, plastic soles and a new “step-in” cleat similar to ski bindings, this (pedals/shoes/bindings) was the new “Look” system. Friends, a lot had changed during the years I’d been stuck in Gitmo..
Shouldering my seabag and slipping my arms through the straps I mounted my bike and after studying a map made my way north to Yomitan where I was fairly certain I’d find Torri Station. It was quite a shock to immediately learn the locals were not very ‘bicycle friendly’ and coupled with all the signs being in Japanese I felt a bit out of my element. A few hours later I’d made the journey a bit worse for wear and very tired and hungry. Soon I had a room assigned and had unpacked, showered and hit the rack with a heavy thud not to awake for over twelve hours. Upon awaking I realized I only had the rest of the day (it was already after 4pm local) to prepare my dress uniform and seek out a much needed haircut in preparation for checking in to my new command the next morning. Borrowing an iron and board I squared away the uniform and taking the Rockhopper set out in search of a barber. The base barber was closed by this time so I set out off-base with a set of vague instructions. As luck would have it I found the place right away and walked into a tiny one chaired barber shop to be greeted by an older Japanese lady who introduced herself as Yuki.
Having barbered many military men Yuki knew exactly the haircut I needed if not the one I wanted. She gave the most precise and symmetrical haircut I’ve ever had taking great care to make everything perfect all the while throwing questions at me one after the other. When she was done with the clippers and scissors out came a straight razor and she cleaned the edges and my neck after applying a hot shave cream. So far this was a normal haircut administered with great care and precision but what came next surprised me. It started with a shoulder massage, followed by chopping blows to my neck and back, and then the surprising part. Grabbing my head she twisted my neck all the way to one side and I heard a loud crack and then she quickly did it the other way and while I was sitting there amazed I could still move my arms and legs she gave me a satisfied grin and asked for her 100 yen. For the next three years she was the only one who cut my hair and I learned a lot about her during that time including much of my Japanese. One day a few months before I was to leave Okinawa I came in and she was sad, her hot shave foam machine had broken and she couldn’t afford a new one and even if she could she didn’t know where to get one. I missed the hot cream as I’m sure many of us who visited her shop did so once back in my room I made a call to a friend stationed at El-Toro air station and talked him into picking up a hot foam machine at a barber supply and getting it on the next C-131 milk run. A few days later I brought it into her shop and she was so happy I think she adopted me. It made me happy to help this lady even if it was only a simple machine. Since, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a precise and proper haircut.. though I’ve certainly had more interesting ones..
One of the three guys I shared my barracks wing with was named Joe. Joe hadn’t “had any” in years unlike the other guy who was a horny fiend who I think I’ll stop and tell you about. I’m going to call him “Fred.” Fred would bring back Filipina girls 2-3 at a time to his room from the local bars and seemed to have a great sex life, no inhibitions at all. It wasn’t unusual to be taking a shower in the community head and have 2-3 young brown women run in and start taking showers right next to me and I’d just say to myself “Fred must have just been paid” and shake my head in wonder. One day at work I was ‘tasked’ with investigating “lewd activities” at a nearby base in the men’s rest room because I had “cracked” a lesbian ring similar to this at my last command. Me and my team hid some cameras in strategic locations and started a month long surveillance. After the first few days we knew this was going to be big so we called in a senior guy from legal we could trust and set about directing our own porn movies. Guys on guys, guys sticking it through the hole in the stall, notes left, etc.. all in a restroom in a park used by the local elementary school with young kids coming in and out during all of this. Folks, this was way before Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” military, this was serious stuff. We were surprised to find all ranks including one flag officer participating. What to do.. Well, I had an idea and the guy from legal agreed. We arranged to have a C-141 passenger plane arrive on a Thursday and “invited/escorted” all the “actors” to the base theatre on Wednesday. They didn’t know why. We’d also prepared their “less than honorable” discharge papers in advance which meant no pensions or benefits. After the actors were seated we killed the lights and rolled the film. I can’t write well enough to describe the shock on these 43 faces but believe me it was something you’ll never forget. They went totally silent and just sat there. The guy from legal went on stage when the movie was finished and the lights came back on (we’d edited together a movie that showed a minute of everyone there) and gave them a choice of signing the papers and getting on the plane the next day and becoming a civilian or fighting it in a court martial and probably being awarded a bad conduct discharge. All 43 got on the plane the next day. That left only Joe and me our wing of the barracks.
Joe had picked up the word “Poon Tang” and wanted to experience it first hand and asked me to take him to Korea. Joe being the sexually oppressed guy he was didn’t attract the local ladies so he brought six months pay and wanted to be shown the ropes in the bars. Landing at Osan Air Base we exited the gate into Songtan City, the small city of evil that services the many troops on Osan AFB. On previous trips I didn’t need a haircut but this time I did. We’d been handed a list of “do’s and do not’s” from the guy whose job it was to lecture us in the MAC terminal and I vaguely remember something about not being allowed in certain types of barbershops, but Joe and I both needing haircuts thought it would be a great way to reduce the stress from the flight as I shared with him how wonderful the massages were that came with the haircuts in Japan. Walking down the street we saw a barber pole and a set of steps leading to a shop upstairs. That should have been my first clue.
Going inside we were asked for our shoes and shirts and given a silk type robe which we thought was strange but when in Rome.. We were both led into adjoining but separated rooms with a barber chair and soon a decent looking lady arrived and started giving me a massage and I’m thinking “haircuts in Korea are great!” Soon some guy came in and in about three minutes cut my hair and I’m thinking it must be a crappy job being done so quickly and a bit pricey for the money we’d paid, but we weren’t done yet. The lady comes back in and starts in on the massage again and unties the robe and starts in on my legs and I’m thinking this is pretty nice. She places what I think were cucumbers over my eyes and tells me to relax as she totally reclines the chair and tells me the “number one massage girl” would be right in. Not being able to see anything I hear a girl come in softy singing to herself and asks me if I want her to “finish the massage” to which I tell her of course as I was really enjoying the massage. Her massage was starting to get a lot more personal and I still couldn’t see and soon she’s unzipping my jeans and grabs me and the next thing I know she’s going down on me with more than a bit of enthusiasm and I practically jump out of the chair in surprise with the cucumbers popping out of my eye sockets and I ask her to leave as I arrange my clothes.. and right about at that time I hear a really loud “I LOVE KOREA OHHH YAAAAA” coming from Joe in the next stall over and I’m standing there with a hard-on stuffed back in my pants and choking back laughter over Joe’s outburst and I’m thinking there’s really no place like Asia. Meeting back in the lobby he paid his bill which was a lot more than mine and while they were all smiles to him I was shot a couple of dirty looks and I led Joe with his huge assed grin back down to street level. Later I took him to the bars and for the rest of that trip he was bringing back at least one girl every night and having the time of his life. Joe was a lot more relaxed back on the job in Okinawa after that and everyone noticed the change. When the asked me why all I told them was we went to Korea to get hair cuts and everyone seemed to understand.
Fast forward a bunch of years and a whole bunch of experience and I’m landing in Bangkok where a friend from the school I wanted to get accepted into was waiting for me. I was there for just 30 days to go through two interviews and check out Thailand to see if I really wanted to move here and start my MBA program. Our flight was a bit early so I figured I’d refresh myself in the toilet and that’s when I had the bright idea of getting a haircut while I waited. Going upstairs I found a place that looked ok and this time when they asked me if I wanted them to finish the massage I declined. Welcome back to Thailand not much has changed. My next haircut was on a US military compound and cost 50 baht and it was a regulation buzz cut administered by a lady who I’m sure had never been to barber school. It became apparent that I really needed to find a proper barbershop.
What I’ve found is that in Thailand you never know for sure if the person cutting your hair really knows how to cut hair or not. You can go to the malls which will be staffed by gay barbers who just love the natural color of your hair and pay 300-400 baht for a gelled up poof-cut while being chatted up by at least two gays, or you can hit the small soi’s near your home and take your chances. We have some shops on the ground floor of my building and I found that for 200 baht I could get a decent haircut, but one day she sold the shop. When I walked in the new owner who was a middle age lady greeted me and introduced to me to her entire family sitting there watching her work in her new shop. It took her over 90 minutes to totally destroy a full head of hair. Imagine her with her tongue stuck out to one side in heavy concentration trying out different combs and scissors looking for the right combination and all the male members of her family laughing their ass off at the crazy farang she was experimenting on. When she was done I looked in the mirror and bore a striking resemblance to Bart Simpson as she held out her hand and asked for 300 baht! 100 baht more for a terrible service.
After finding a baseball cap upstairs I headed down the soi and found a small shop manned by a “princess” and a “tom.” Tom’s in Thailand are like dykes back home, lesbian women in men’s clothes and haircuts who look pretty rough and are anything but petite. They sure give great haircuts though! My Tom cuts my hair every week for 100 baht and really appreciates the 100 baht tip I give her each time. After nearly four years in Thailand I’ve finally found a place to get a proper haircut and I’m going to keep her happy! She always moves me to the head of the line, takes her time, makes sure I get shampooed before and after the cut, and I can tell she’s been studying the technique as she’s getting better and better, one day she might equal the skill of my long lost Japanese barber Yuki. Once I went in and only the princess was there and she didn’t even ask to cut my hair, she told me ‘my Tom’ would be back the next day and that’s the way it’s been for months now. No cucumbers, no hot shave foam, no cracked necks and no special massages.. but a very good haircut nonetheless and I give all the credit for my wonderful grooming to my Tom..
Until next time..
You get your hair cut every week? Wow.
Nice to read a submission on a topic that I don't think anyone else has covered.