Big write-up in the Travel section of today’s newspaper about Kuching: says it is the next big thing [‘cos it’s so unspoiled!]. Right, well there’s a terrific reason for recommending it to a couple of million rich European tourists.
I had a haircut there once. I always try to have a haircut wherever I go in the world: I have had haircuts in tiny, remote Scottish Highland villages; in Northern Norway and in Stockholm; in El Paso, Texas; in East Berlin when it was East Berlin and quite a few all over Italy. Italian hairdressers make the most ostentatious fuss and bother, hot towels, half-an-hour to lay-out all their scissors and towels. They also charge the most, presumably to justify the prices. And best not be in a rush. If the guy in front of you is a regular customer, you can reckon on a minimum one-hour wait before you get any attention.
The hairdresser in Kuching [it’s in Sarawak, by the way] was an ancient Chinese guy, definitely not a local Malaysian Dyak. We saw his shop while aimlessly wandering around the backstreets and I spotted his red & white barber’s pole. They are always red and white poles no matter where you go: even in Kabul; even in East Germany. He first of all put a pudding bowl over my head . . . honestly . . . then shaved everything up to the bowl with a pair of hundred-year old mechanical hair clippers, then he took the bowl off and held up his mirror. That was it. Finished. The hair that I wanted cut, the long stuff on top of my head was completely ignored.
Actually, one other very quick recollection: I once had my hair cut in Glasgow’s tough East End by a guy who didn’t use scissors at all . . . he worked only with an electric shaver. Honest. Couldn’t believe it. But . . . it was a pretty good cut. Incidentally, they all use mirrors held up to the back of your head for approval. The regimen varies; towels in Venice; bowls in Kuching but every one without fail, has a barbers pole outside; never asks you how you want it; chats incessantly . . . yep, even in Pashtun and holds up a mirror to the back of your head and waits until you have deliberated.
Just how this universal practice became universal beats me; you certainly can’t attribute it to the Empire