Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haircuts in Hanoi Require a Few More Words of Vietnamese

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haircuts in Hanoi Require a Few More Words of Vietnamese

Article excerpt

"OK, today's the day. We're getting haircuts for you boys." I was tired of seeing my sons, Chase and Quinn, with wild hair creeping over their eyes. We were living in Hanoi for five months. I wanted to practice my Vietnamese language skills and also test the skill of local barbers on my two adopted sons' Asian heads. So, we would go in search of "on-the-street" haircuts.

I'd figured about $2 per child would be reasonable, knowing that foreigners always pay more than locals. But our house cook, Ngoc, said, "I pay 3,000 Vietnamese dong for my son; you'll pay much more - at least 5,000 per head." That's less than 50 cents per kid. I pretended shock and promised to bargain hard to keep it no more than that.

So we strolled down the street where eight barbers lined up along the neighborhood park fence. They hung small mirrors and shelves on the fence - the shelves holding scissors, big brushes, and soap for shaving - and placed their chairs in front of the mirrors. They shaved with straight-edge razors, the old-fashioned way.

The barbers were in various stages of cutting or lounging, waiting for customers. They ranged in age from mid-20s to early 40s.

We picked a serious-looking barber. His square face was symmetrical, his eyes were rounder than typical Vietnamese, and his hair was, as one would hope, well groomed, parted on the side, and long on the top. He had just finished with a customer as we arrived and was sweeping the metal chair clear of clippings with a small towel. He smiled and nodded his head toward Chase.

"Shall I cut?" he seemed to say.

"Sure." Chase shrugged his shoulders and sat down as the barber pulled out his scissors and wiped his four inch razor on his trousers. He tilted his head at Chase, like an artist trying to judge a model.

As he cut, a quartet of other barbers and "advisers" closed in around us. They looked back and forth from the boys - who have black hair and olive skin - to me, with my brown-and-silver hair with fair skin. …

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