A $7 haircut, anyone?

Hello, I’m guest blogging today and I’ve been based in Bangkok for the last seven years (has it been that long already?!?!)

So, one of the most frequently asked questions when new expats come here is, “Where do I cut my hair?” And I always say, “I’m the wrong person to ask – I cut my hair in one of those neighbourhood shops for $7.” And I always get the same reaction: they turn pale, their eyes go big, their mouth drop in disbelief and they hurry away to ask for beauty advice from someone more in the know.

Thing is, I’m not really fussed about hair now. I used to be though, when I was working in Singapore. At that time, I’d search for the best Japanese hairstylist around to make sure I get a spiffy hairdo. But since coming to Thailand in 2004 as a volunteer (which translates in plain English to “no salary”), I’d learnt to adjust my lifestyle, and think of everything in bowls of noodles. For example, a Starbucks chocolate frappe is equivalent to about six bowls of noodles.

Although I now have a full-time job (which means I have some money to spend), habits once formed die hard. And I still happily visit my neighbourhood salon every few months for a wash and trim. I once did an experiment where I went for a $15 haircut in a shopping centre. The result: it looks the same as the $7 one.

My friendly neighbourhood hair salon

But I didn’t always have cheap good haircuts, especially in the early days when my Thai vocabulary was limited. The worst haircut I had was a few months after I first arrived and I thought I’d be brave to “do what the Thais do”. I’d wanted to trim my fringe, so I diligently asked my Thai language teacher how to say “trim” and “fringe” in Thai. I went into the salon and told them what I wanted.

And what a trim they gave me. My fringe ended up being so short that it just stood up and no amount of water or wax could get it down. It truly looked like a toilet brush. But the ever-optimistic me thought, it’s ok, I can still salvage this. I’ll go to another shop (a more expensive looking one in the hope that they’d understand me better) and get them to put red highlights into the fringe, so it’d look like an intentional effort to look funky instead of a haircut gone very wrong.

So I went into the second salon, and told them I wanted red highlights. She appeared to have understood me. When she started working on my fringe, I saw that the highlight mixture look more orange than red. So I asked her again, “Are you sure this is red? I want it very red.” And she assured me that it’d be very red. So I trusted her. I ended up with these very golden-bronze streaks in my very short fringe. It was later when talking to another Thai friend that I realized that the Thai word for “red” is used when highlighting to tell the hairdresser that you want very golden-bronze highlights. So now instead of looking like a toilet brush, I look like a monkey’s backside with a dye job gone very wrong.

For months, my Thai friends called me Chicken Little. But you know what, hair grows.


2 thoughts on “A $7 haircut, anyone?

  1. I ‘feeeeeel’ you!! But kudos to your bravery, not easy when it comes to communicating how things are supposedly to done!

    I once tried to get my hair cut in Bangkok’s street but I ‘chicken’ out when the hairdresser showed me what my hair ‘might have’ looked like – it was a male model!! Because I said I wanted ‘short hair’…

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