Singapore Day 15 – Wednesday, May 25 (Trip Day 51)
1. The Shampoo/Massage – The shampoo and massage I recieved today at Kim Robinson before my haircut were the best of my life. As I was relaxing into my shampooists amazing hands I found myself wondering how it was possible that this pre-haircut experience could be so much better than any other I’d ever received, whether in London, New York, San Francisco, etc. And although I’m 80% sure my shampooist was gay (a 20% possibility he was just trendy Singaporean) and I wasn’t remotely attracted to him, I found myself envying his boyfriend. It was that amazing. Even the shampoo used lathered into a perfect foam within 3 seconds of being applied to my hair (how did they make it do that??) And although I couldn’t place the smell at first, on the second lathering I realized it was Earl Gray scented shampoo. Transcendental. The room was darkened so I didn’t have to stare into bright lights. And the sink/basin used to wash my hair was so comfortable I could have fallen asleep. You know how usually when you’re getting your hair shampooed the sink edge sort of hurts the back of your neck because either it’s too narrow and sort of jabs into it or it curves too much so it hits the base of your skull in an uncomfortable way? Not the case at Kim Robinson. Even the towel used to wrap my wet hair was flattering.
2. The Hair Stylists are Excellent – The number one fear of westerners when getting their haircut in Asia is that the hair stylist will not know how to cut non-Asian hair and they will end up looking like they were attacked by sheep clippers. My stylist, Carmen, was a cute Malaysian woman who was about 7 months pregnant. She was so much more skilled and professional than the guy who cut my hair in Shanghai that I feel sort of sorry for him. The guy in Shanghai gave off the same energy I give off when I’m cutting people’s hair. Which is, “fuck, I hope I don’t screw this up”. And although I ended up looking fine, I remember feeling surprised that I did. In addition, the fact that I needed to get my hair cut again about 5 weeks later is vexing (though my hair does grow prenaturally fast in warm humid weather). Carmen obviously knew what she was doing. She had confidence and skill. By the end of the cut I felt like she was finishing off an art piece rather than cutting my hair. It was great watching her in action.
3. Human Hair Clips – You know how generally when you get your hair cut (if you have longish hair) they use hair clips to pin up layers so they can cut the hair underneath? Well, at Takashimaya they don’t use hairclips. They use humans. The same guy who shampooed my hair then was in charge holding pieces of my hair out of the way so Carmen could cut. In essence he functioned as a human hairclip. At first it was a little weird. By the end I sort of liked it.
4. Beverages – Before my haircut I was asked what I would like to drink. Although I ordered my old standby (water with no ice) my sense was that if I had ordered Thai iced tea, champagne or even warm yak’s milk, they would have bent over backwards to get it for me. (Let it be noted that when I ordered water they asked if I wanted warm, room temperature or cold and then served my room temperature water in a goblet with a straw and a clear plastic protective seal over the top to ensure no hair got into the cup while my hair was being cut). Not bad on the customer service.
5. People with Western Hair are a Novelty – So besides the human hairclip/shampooist/massagist watching Carmen cut my hair (I’m assuming he was an assistant/trainee), there was a whole group of people giving special notice at various times throughout the cut. My guess is since I have curlyish western hair and they are more accustomed to dealing with straight Asian hair, they thought by watching they could learn a thing or two.
6.The Blow Dry – At one point I had 3 round brushes wrapped in my hair. The human hairclip/shampooist/massagist held 2 of them and Carmen held a third with her left hand as she positioned the blow drier with her right. This went on throughout the entire process, so essentially the brushes were moved around my head by two sets of hands, enhancing curls and adding poofiness. I’ve never had my hair dried by two sets of hands before. It was far out.
7. Overall Very Cool, Very Surreal Experience – From the minute I walked into the reception area and everyone greeted me like I was a dignitary (the first question I was asked was “what may I call you?” not “what is your name?”), through being led down the bamboo-lined hallway, seated, wrapped in a gray linen robe, asked what I wanted to drink, shampooed, massaged, cut and dried, there was never a moment I didn’t feel welcomed, respected and comfortable. I’d often heard that Japanese customer service far surpassed all other hospitality in Asia, and although the people working at the salon all seemed to be Singaporean, the fact that the salon was in Takashimaya (a Japanese high-end department store) really showed. Jenn also gets her hair cut in a Japanese salon and says the service is great (although she doesn’t have a human hairclip where she goes).
I took no photos, although I did think about whipping out my iPhone a few times to snap some, especially when the guy started acting like a human hairclip and then again when I had all those round brushes sticking out of my head…
Just another cultural experience from my time in Singapore.