(FLASHBACK PHOTO: (2003) After growing my hair for a year and a half I finally got my hair cut in my kitchen by my mother's hairstylist.)
In Phnom Penh, barbers set up chairs right on the sidewalk and proceed to cut customers hair right onto the ground. Basically in Cambodia you can set up a shop anywhere on public property and conduct business. This goes for all the street side restaurants to the ladies who give manicures and pedicures on park benches outside of Buddhist temples. Every day I would see people getting their haircut and think to myself as I sweated profusely because of the mop on my head, "I really need a haircut."
On the way home from class the other night I finally decided it was time for a chop. As our tuk-tuk sped its way into our neighborhood I began to look for someone who could cut my hair. No street barbers were in sight. However, there was a sign with pictures of women's hairstyles so I figured they must cut hair too. I told the tuk-tuk to pull over and I jumped out. I walked into the salon -- as much as you can "walk into" a place with no front door since the store front is open to the street -- and was greeted with very confused looks by the two girls inside. I said to them, "Hi, I'd like a haircut" and simultaneously made Edward Scissorhands like motions to my hair. The girls looked at each and shrugged as if to say, "why not?" I asked how much it would cost and the girl said, "$1." Generally speaking, most non-English speaking Cambodians have a working English language of about twenty words--"how," "much," "one," and "dollar" being 4 out of their twenty words or 20% of their vocabulary (that math is correct, right, Bier?).
So I sat down in a chair and had a smock put around me. It was at this point that I made a few observations:
1. One of the two girls in the salon wasn't an employee but rather was a customer. I'm also pretty sure she was a prostitute. And if she wasn't a prostitute she was getting ready for a wedding. Sounds strange but I really think those were the only two options the way her make-up and hair were.
2. The shop wasn't a place to get your hair cut; it was for getting your hair styled. And when I say "your hair", I mean women's hair. Every girl that walked into the shop, or past the shop, yelled something out in Khmer during my haircut which was followed by lots of laughter.
3. Because this wasn't a place to really get your haircut, I was about to be experimented on by an amateur stylist.
That said, I had two options:
1. Take off the smock and leave.
2. Get a potentially horrible haircut.
Most people would take option #1. However, I decided to just go for it as I heard my mother's words -- circa 1994 when I walked out of Rocko's with a haircut that unfortunately looked just like his, -- echoing in the back of my head, "It's just hair. It'll grow back."
The haircut last about twenty minutes and it seemed that she used whatever tools happen to be laying near the chair. There was a pair of scissors that may or may not have been for cutting paper. There was some weird tool to I think layer my hair which basically ripped out chunks of hair at one time. Was it painful? Yes. And then there was the blade she used to shave my neck. I'm convincing myself it was a blade and not a tool used to scrape paint off the wall because, well, that's exactly what it looked like. Either way luckily I got a Tetanus booster before I left the states.
After she was all done chopping, pulling, tearing, scraping all the hair on my body above my shoulders she asked me if I'd like my hair washed. Sure, why not? She then proceeded to dump half a bottle of shampoo on my head and then spray me with some water and wash my hair. She did this for about about fifteen minutes creating an extreme amount of soap suds which went all over the floor...and my shirt. She then took off all soap with a towel and dumped the other half of the shampoo bottle onto my head. After another fifteen minutes she washed my hair off in a sink and then gave me a shoulder, neck and head massage. This felt great until she ended it by karate chopping my skull for three minutes--clearly some kind of massage technique. All I could think of as my head was pounded on was, "This isn't the best place to come for someone with concussion problems."
After all was said and done, the whole experience ended up costing me $3. $1 for the haircut and $2 for the massage/head pounding. I know I broke my own rule for not paying more than $1 for a haircut in southeast Asia but it was worth it...my hair looks fantastic.