Memories of old barber's shops

Shanghai Star. 2003-03-06

Congenial greetings, affable smiles, steaming towels to wipe sweaty brows, newspapers or magazines to help beguile away the time, a cigarette (if no one objects), rhythmic patting on the back to energize the customer and all at a charge affordable to the man in the street.

These are the things stowed away in my memory that flash across my mind every time I walk past a barber's shop with its candy-stripped pole in front.

But gone are the days when customers, old and young, male and female, would sit on a bench waiting their turn and engaging in lively chit-chat. Those were the days when a crying child twisting, writhing and kicking with might and main on seeing the white-robed barber was finally calmed with funny expressions or antics, and cajoled into concentrating on a rattle-drum or a whistle provided by the barbershop, thus enabling the barber to hurriedly fulfill the difficult task of juvenile hair-cutting in the shortest possible time.

Today, the barbershop I used to patronize has been transformed into a beauty parlour, with deluxe facilities, a chandelier in place of the former common-place light bulbs, with bottles of exotic perfumes and shampoos arranged prominently in rows, and a shimmering television perched aloft right under the ceiling, and so on.

Though I have never set foot inside one of these glamorous salons, I figure that the majority of its clientele is composed of young people, an important section of the population who would sooner follow a new trend in hairstyles than care about somebody clipping their wallets.

What is the result of all this? It has resulted in the elderly, children and those who live on a tight budget being nudged out of the places they used to frequent. In the end, they finish up in shanty-like, poorly-equipped barber-shops scattered around in residential communities.

Given that young people, especially those with fat bank accounts, represent only a small portion of the whole population and that competition has become increasingly relentless, the chic salon can't avoid having to face a slump in business.

Aside from this, my heart sank when I learned that among the new-style barber shops there are a handful of depraved operations practising prostitution with some of young girls, supposedly hairdressers, in fact being whores looking after the carnal desires of male customers.

Making money, it seems to me, has a set of rules to follow. Keeping the broad mass of consumers in mind is a top priority for adminisrators at all level, I think.

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