The US$280 (plus S$10) Singapore Haircut


Ever since my first barbershop haircut at Jack’s in Vernon, Texas, when I was just a wee Midwestern tyke, I have had allergic reactions to the kinds of places I have to go to get a decent haircut in Bali. In fact, I haven’t yet had a decent haircut in Bali. I’ll accept that maybe I go to the wrong places, but it just galls me to pay 50,000 rupiah or more for a bad haircut when the standard potong rambut hole-in-the-wall charges 10,000 rupiah, and even that’s a bule’s price.

So, I have been holding out since my last shearing – at the Aldridge Hotel Barber Shop in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a manly kind of place, with talk of rebuilding Chevys and lesser cars in the background – until I can get to Singapore and an Indian barber.

Nothing beats the Indian barber in Singapore, unless there is still one of the old street barbers in operation somewhere in an unreconstructed corner of Chinatown (not the faux old time street shop at Singapore’s Clarke Quay parody of itself). Now I don’t know why Indians have monopolized the barber shop trade (as opposed to the salon and stylist trade) in Singapore, but it is a fact that if you want an old-fashioned barbershop experience – no appointments, first-come-first-served, and proper barber chairs, just like God intended – it is to the Indian barbers you go.

I got off the train at the Lavender MRT Station, near the intersection of Victoria and Lavender Streets, and started working my way north and west toward Serangoon Road and a barbershop I know. I remember this shop mainly because after one brutal buzz cut, as light chuckles began in the waiting line behind, the barber leaned over and said, “They say you look like Gandhi.”

And so I did, if you can judge by colleagues who called me Mahatma until my hair grew to less razored proportions. This time, I knew I had returned to the right place when I told the man I wanted it cut short, and he waggled his head and said, “You mean like the army?”

The shop – no discernible name and to my chagrin mislabeled a ‘hairstylist salon’ – charges S$10. My suggestion to any similarly inclined barbershop men is not to go below this price. I went once to a more robust Little India shop – no air-conditioning, one rusting, shaky barber chair, and a hand-painted scrawl on the door ‘haircut $5, shave $4’ – and got a decent enough haircut. At the end, though, my face was also swabbed down with the same damp, foul-smelling towel that had been swabbing faces all day. Spend the few extra dollars for the clean towel.

Drop at either the Lavender MRT or Farrer Park MRT Stations (Farrer Park is closer) and walk to Mustafa’s expanding retail empire along Serangoon Road. Walk back toward town on the left-hand side of the road and look for the traditional barbershop pole. Once done, try lunch at Khansama Tandoori Restaurant, on the same side of the road just a bit closer to town, or at the relocated Komala Vilas Restaurant (vegetarian Indian fare) on Buffalo Road on the other side. Get back on the MRT system at the Little India Station at the end of Race Course Road.

Hotel update: The New Seventh Storey Hotel (www.nsshotel.com, Border Run, Jan. 17) indeed lives up to its billing as a decent, reasonably priced traveler’s hotel near shopping malls, MRT stations, and many little eateries. If you take a dormitory room or a standard room, the common baths on the hall are kept clean and are generally available. Try, though, to avoid Room 209, which is right next to the common baths, and is more spartanly appointed than the other standard rooms. Ask at the desk to be directed to the Internet café along North Bridge Road. Book at least two weeks in advance over the Internet.

Copyright © 2007 Tropical Tramp