Getting a haircut in Hong Kong is expensive.
But then, it's a pleasurable experience. Each time I set foot in the salon, I'm reminded of the first time I had my lid trimmed.
I was shocked at the high prices; I'd have to cough up more than double the amount I was used to paying, and that seemed a huge rip-off. I get a hair cut often as I keep it tight; not quite bald, but close. Keep your damned skinhead jokes to yourself. The high price was less justifiable, yet most salons charged about the same amount.
But appearances can be deceiving; I left pleased and didn't mind shelling out the extra bucks. I've been a regular ever since. Let me tell you why.
A haircut imparts more than the fee suggests; I was taken aback at the level of service, given the shoddy service I've grown accustomed to most everywhere else.
It began with the preparation for the haircut. Each stylist has a junior assistant who handles the initial work. Instead of throwing a cape around my neck, she helped me into a short-sleeved smock. It covered my back and opened in front, like a reversed hospital johnny. Then she seated me at the stylist's station.
The next step was the careful placing of soft cotton around my neck, followed by a thick towel placed at the back of my neck. She directed me to the sink area for a wash. This was where the fun began.
As I lay back on a comfortable lounge-like couch, she gently lowered my head into the gap in the sink, with the towel acting as both cushion and water barrier. Running the water to a nice, warm temperature, she softly rinsed my hair through several times.
Then came the shampoo; not a simple wash-and-go. Washing was a minor part of the process. After a minute of mild scrubbing, she massaged my scalp. Her strong fingers rubbed circular patterns in my hair from front to back.
She progressed to a more vigorous kneading with her fingertips and thumbs, massaging my forehead, temples, and the muscles of the neck behind my ears. The rubdown took three or four minutes, after which she rinsed the lather from my head, not allowing a single drop to run into my eyes. When she lifted my head to rinse the back, she was cautious to ensure no water would get past the towel and wet my shirt collar.
I was amazed when she applied shampoo a second time. This time, the massage was more meticulous, more focused. Another rinse, like the first, and I thought I was ready for the cut. I was wrong.
I swear this was the longest hair-washing I'd ever received, but she wasn't finished. Still to come was conditioner. Again her strong fingers rubbed and kneaded, working the conditioner into my hair. I was ready to hire her to wash my hair for life. It took well over ten minutes to complete the entire ritual, and her final touch was to rub the excess water from my hair with a fresh soft towel.
I was ready for a haircut, but after being spoiled I was so relaxed I hardly cared. She replaced the cotton around my neck and covered me with the cape. The stylist went to work.
In 15 minutes, he clipped, buzzed and snipped my lid, making certain it was how I wanted it. He took great pains to brush out the hairs that had fallen around my neck, then had his assistant give me a rinse to guarantee no stray clippings would fall down my shirt and make my back itch.
A few minor adjustments, one final check in the mirror, and the cut was done. I paid the bill and left, looking forward to my next appointment. Now that's a haircut: the kind that keeps you coming back for more, and not just because your hair has grown.
One of life's simplest and greatest pleasures is having another human being wash your hair and massage your melon. It was sensual, exotic, soothing, and delightful. Wouldn't you pay a little more for that kind of treatment? So would I.
Hell, I'd go even if I were bald.
November 25, 1999
Next Tale: Welcome Home