Can a Haircut Be an Adventure?

The best place to get a haircut in rural Cambodia.

The best place to get a haircut in rural Cambodia.

A haircut for most of us is just another thing we do in our lives when the need arises. A task. Depending on your hair it may be a monthly thing or less frequently. As the years go by we become comfortable with those that clip and style our hair. But what happens when you are taken out of your element and you are faced with the need to get your hair cut in a place that is unfamiliar? Is it at this time that a haircut becomes an adventure?

Many people who know me wonder why I even bother getting my haircut. The days of a full head of hair are a thing of the past but for me getting a haircut is soothing and therapeutic even though the time required for the process has diminished linearly with the decrease in coverage. The fact that I could shave off what little is left or clip it on my own denies me that little pleasure in my life.

Moving to Siem Reap I had to find somewhere to get my haircut. Even after six months I don’t believe I have seen a single barber pole anywhere in the country. Finding a barber is easy, until you have to actually need one. I see barber shops all over but they seem to disappear when I need my hair cut.

While riding around Cambodia I started seeing one man barber shops hidden along the dirt roads that crisscross the countryside. I started to notice these sparse structures with a single barber chair inside along with a mirror hanging on the wall, or what would be a wall if the structure actually had walls.

I decided that it was time to get a haircut so I pulled off the road and got off my moto. The barber looks at me with wide eyes and our inability to converse made us resort to hand signals. I can tell that he hopes I am not actually there to get a haircut. Maybe I am just confused or lost. The look in his eyes make it clear that I was probably the first foreigner to stop by his shop for a haircut. He looks nervous. I wouldn’t doubt that he would have shut the door on his establishment when he saw me coming if only there was a door.

His friends are speaking to him in Khmer and laughing. They are probably giving him a hard time for his newest customer. The kids from the nearby homes come over to get a look at the barang in the chair. The barber lets out a nervous laugh as guys riding by on their motos, shout in Khmer and laugh as they see the white guy sitting in the chair. He probably won’t soon forget this haircut.

The neighborhood kids watch as the 'barring' with a camera gets his haircut.

The neighborhood kids watch as the ‘barang’ with a camera gets his haircut.

As you can imagine by the looks of the barber shop there is no electricity to run clippers. Everything is done by hand, no motorized equipment in this neck of the woods. No need to sweep the floor – all of the hair will just blow away on a windy day.

The cost of a haircut? Seems to be two bucks. I had a haircut in Battambang last year and it was a dollar. Considering that a haircut for me in America runs about fifteen dollars this is quite a deal. The cheapest haircut for me was seventy-five cents. What a deal!

Throughout the last few months I have had my hair cut at a number of these establishments. Each time I am met with the wide-eyed look of a slightly confused local barber instantly engaging in the flight or fight physiological response. Each time it turns out to be a fun experience for me and I would imagine for the barber also. I get some pictures and a cheap haircut and they get something to tell their friends and laugh about.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Photo Courtesy Karl Grobl.

Barber and his family.

Barber and his family.

My cheapest haircut so far. Seventy-five cents.

My cheapest haircut so far. Seventy-five cents.

Can you see my hair on the ground? Neither can I.

Can you see my hair on the ground? Neither can I.

One day I stopped at the Prasat Sanlong Pagoda looking for a small temple when I came across a young monk shaving the head of another young monk. At first it looked like he was giving him a mohawk but soon all of the hair was scraped from his head – including his eyebrows. I never knew monks shaved their eyebrows along with their head so now I will have to take a look at all the monks I see to find out if they have eyebrows or not.

Young monk gets a shave at the pagoda.

Young monk gets a shave at the pagoda.

He seems to enjoy being a barber.

He seems to enjoy being a barber.

I thought this would have been a great opportunity for a haircut but giving that it would be an all or nothing proposition I decided that bald was not going to be my look today.

And I’ve always been somewhat attached to my eyebrows.

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