by C. D.
Traditional Shanghainese barbers have long held a special place in the hearts of Chinese and the local Hong Kong permanent residents. They were very popular in Hong Kong during the period of 1950 - 1970. Besides cutting hair, they also provided other services such as clipping nails, shining shoes, cleaning ears, combing and trimming eyebrows, massaging head, neck and shoulders. They were also licensed to shave with a straight razor.
I personally have been visiting Shanghainese barbers since the 60’s. Sitting in an old barber chair while the barber clips away with the traditional clippers - stirring up nostalgic childhood memories. The best part is after a haircut, the barber normally gives you a vigorous head and shoulder massage. It sure is a relaxing feeling. A clean shave would leave my facial skin smooth as a baby’s bum for at least 2 days. The barber is normally a friendly chap with a strong Shanghai accent and willing to chatter and gossip away and not allowing you to move your head.
Shanghai-style barber shops were different from modern salons. They would give newspapers instead of magazines, and also hot Chinese tea, towel and cigarettes which modern salon would not provide. Male and female services were separated, there were gentlemen’s section and ladies’ section.
While the Shanghai style barber shops were once the bigwigs in men’s grooming in Hong Kong, their numbers have declined as they are unable to compete with new style hair salons these days. Gone are the red-blue-white barber’s pole which once got your attention to enter.
In the past few years I had managed to find a good old Chinese barber in Singapore during my visits. I make it a point to visit him whenever I can. I am not sure if he is Shanghainese, but he sure does the full routine like any Shanghainese would. Unfortunately, these days, being grounded in Hong Kong and with my sparse hair growing long at the edges, I decided to visit a hair salon (yes, not a barber shop) and had a stylist (not a barber) cut my hair. Once in, I was given a choice. Hair stylist? Hair designer? Hair care specialist? apprentice? and on and on! Stop! All I wanted was a simple trim. Finally I was assigned to an apprentice. He was gentle and handled my hair like he was trimming a bonsai tree! On returning home, I asked my wife how she liked my haircut. The answer I got was “What haircut? Doesn’t look like you had one”