Thais from a Farang point of view appear to be a very laid back and tolerant nation of people. Although many aspects of life are taken quite seriously, the defusing effects of Sanuk soon kick in and bring things back to natural balance.
One issue that I find Thais take quite seriously (and yet is still a Sanuk event) is personal hair care. In short, you won’t stay in business long as a hairdresser or barber in Thailand if you give lousy haircuts.
Irrespective if they are rich or poor, Thais pay great attention to personal hygiene, neatness of dress and above all a well-groomed hairstyle. As such Thai Cities, Towns and even some villages abound with hairdressing establishments. Hair Care even comes with its own traditions and superstitions such as Monday being a propitious time for a haircut whereas Wednesday is deemed to be unlucky for a cut.
Another aspect is the scattering of cut hair over water for luck. It would be rare for me to visit Thailand without being instructed by a female member of the family for me to take a plastic bag full of their freshly cut hair out to the rice fields and scatter it over a river or canal.
But next to the mechanics of hair care and lets start with the Ladies first. When Mali and our daughter Natalie visit the Kingdom several trips to the hairdresser are usually involved. Mali revels in this and will go to one hairdresser one day just to get her hair washed and visit another a few days later to have it styled and cut. When she has it done at the village hairdresser, she can also catch up with all the local gossip, who’s sleeping with who, the weather and listen to another opinion on Thaksin.
Through all the professionalism at the hairdresser “Thai Time” still reigns supreme and many hours can be whiled away in the hairdressers chair. My daughter had her hair straightened a few years ago, which involved a six hour process including a meal brought in from a local restaurant.
And now for the men. One aspect of male haircuts that I find endlessly fascinating is that more often than not is that you tend to end up with not the cut that you asked for but the one the Thai barber subtly believes you should have. As such at times I have emerged after 45 minutes with my hair much neater but still the same length. Other times the barber has whooped so much off that I have ended up looking like a mature aged schoolboy.
But I don’t want to sound like a whining Farang. For a relatively small outlay in Baht, you usually get a very meticulous haircut, your neck and shoulders massaged, the hair in your nose cut and sometimes your ears given a perfunctory cleanout. When I am standing at the cash register I think of how much a haircut in Australia costs (more than having the oil in your car changed).
Of course like a pub or a bar you sometimes find a hair cutting establishment that you keep gravitating back to. Mine is a barbershop in the Isaan town of Phimai. It can only be described as a real “Blokes Barbershop” – crud on the walls and ceiling, the obligatory “men’s magazine” calendar on the wall and the chairs a bit worse for wear.
My favourite anecdote of this shop (run by a two man partnership) was about 5 years ago. I had ridden into Phimai from the village for a haircut, but when I arrived at the shop I found the senior barber dead drunk and sleeping in the doorway of the shop. He wasn’t in any physical distress and had the contented look of a tomcat on his face.
I stepped gingerly around his body (careful not to step over it) and entered the shop. I was soon followed in by two more Thai males. One of them was smiling broadly while the other was poker faced (although I suspect not out of disgust but simply because he had seen it all before)
The person who seemed to be the most amused by it all was the junior barber who was left to shoulder the wheel that day. A few days later I was walking past the barbershop and I noticed that the formally prostrate barber up on his feet, bright eyed and bushy tailed as they say and giving superb haircuts.