Getting a haircut overseas can be a hairy experience. Hesitant, I delayed getting one in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam until it became an absolute necessity. When the day ultimately came, I gathered my courage, strolled down my street and hopped in the first sidewalk chair available.
Draping a drip cloth over me, my barber stared at me in his mirror, frightened. He seemed not to know what to do with my mop of curly blond hair. Clearly he had never seen such a sight in Thai Nguyen! From where I sat, I could spot the whites of the other barber’s eyes peeking over his face mask at me in the mirror.
Presuming there would be a moment of awkwardness, I came prepared. On scrap paper I had written two Vietnamese words, “short and long”. Showing him the paper, I pointed where I wanted my hair short and where I wanted it longer. Placing the paper in front of him like a road map to my head, my barber began his work. Every so often he stopped cutting, turned off his clippers and consulted my note as if it gave instructions.
Sweaty footballer comes in
Midway through, a sweating footballer arrived, squeezed in between me and the mirror. Lifting a pair of rusty scissors, he began snipping hair from his nose. When the footballer finished, without even a rinse, my barber grabbed the same scissors and began cutting stray hairs around my ears. My cut completed, time for a shave. My barber replaced the old blade with one flick of his extra long thumbnail while staring at my face. Again he seemed troubled. My beard is not super thick, but I hadn’t shaved in days. Compared to the chins of most Vietnamese men, mine looked like a tropical forest.
Contemplating how he would tackle my beard, he took a can of Brut, squirted shaving cream directly on my face. Brush in hand, he lathered my face, neck and forehead! I never realised just how hairy my forehead was before!
Afterwards, he started on my ears, shaving them too, from tip to lobe. The right one must have been especially furry since he trimmed it twice! Before I could protest, the rusty scissors appeared again. They were up my nose and snipping away! Once he finished the first side, I couldn’t refuse the second. I didn’t want to be walking around town with just one well-trimmed nostril! Finished, my barber brushed me down, his long thumbnail scratching my tender shaven skin as he did. Standing, to pay 5,000 dong for a full trim, I realised I had nothing to fear but the rusty scissors.