Sunday, March 05, 2006

About once every two months or so, I have to break down and get a haircut.

I hate getting a haircut and I put it off until the very last minute, because the only lady who I'll allow to cut my hair is housed in an open-air salon off the main highway in Thunglung, and it is hotter than Hades in her shop. This woman, although she is very familiar with me and calls me by name, "Krue Jeeem," which in Thai basically means "Teacher Jim," she cannot speak hardly a word of English.

My mother was a hairdresser for forty years, and I learned early on that hairdressers depend on their tips to make a profit. Well, perhaps this is not so in Asia, but I've continued my tipping practice through the years, and believe-you-me; I've never been refused.

Today, a funny thing happened.

Mam and I went to the hairdressers this afternoon so I could get my hair cut. The woman I choose to go to is quick, and she does a job comparable to any of the best Western salons I've ever gone to, at a fraction of the price. She charges fifty baht, ($1.20 U.S.) and I always tip her another twenty baht (about 50 cents).

Well, today she must have forgotten this, because Mam gave her a hundred baht note (roughly $2.50 U.S.) and the hairdresser returned a fifty baht note ($1.20 U.S.) to us in change. Had she remembered that I usually tip twenty baht (50 cents), she obviously would have given us two twenty baht notes and a ten baht coin ($1.20 U.S.).

Anyway, I told Mam, "Tell her we need change for the fifty baht note," and as Mam did so, the woman replied in Thai...

"I don't have any change."

When Mam reiterated this to me, I said, "Tell her that I want to tip her and I need change."

So, Mam communicated this to her and the woman quickly replied, "Oh!" opened her cash drawer and promptly extracted two twenty baht notes and a ten baht coin. I then handed her twenty baht as her tip, and tried hard to suppress my little chortle at her obvious indiscretion.

Cutting of hair is a good subject when comparing major differences between services and prices-for-services between the West and Asia.

Many foreigners would argue that prices are not different between the distant continents, but these foreigners are most probably part of the elite, who arrive in Asia off the business class and first class flights, and end up staying in Asia during their limited time, in five-star hotels and traveling from site to site in Western luxury.

I have to laugh at these individuals from the West who claim they have "visited" Thailand or "lived" in Asia, because they've only experienced the coveted Western environment present in any Southeast Asian country that caters to rich, fat Westerners.

Get out of that coveted environment, and you'll find out what Asia is all about. China, in my personal opinion, is miles ahead of other Asian countries in the economy hair-cutting business.

I remember well, my haircutting excursions in Xintang and Guangzhou, China.

You can go to these little back alley "dives" that are mere holes-in the-wall shops, where they don't even have a shampoo bowl, but will shampoo your hair as you sit in the barber chair, and then methodically "comb" off all the foam and dispose of it in a trashcan, as they systematically "wash" your hair using spray bottles and combing your hair with their bare hands.

In China, at the very least, you will get a minimum of at least two full shampoos, and a maximum of four, unless you ask for more.

Most shops will provide you with a minimum of two shampoos, plus one of the most incredible facial, neck, shoulder, arm, finger and hand massages you've ever felt.

The shampoo alone is one of the most incredible scalp massages imaginable, not to mention what else is in store for you after the shampoo is finished.

The full "haircut" experience, in China, encompasses at a bare minimum, at least an hour. Whether you just need a trim, or you are really a "shaggy dog" and need a major cut, you will get the full treatment and you'll walk out of that hairdressing shop in sheer ecstasy.

In China, a haircut can range from 5 Yuan in a "dive" and up to 35 Yuan at an expensive salon.

Thailand doesn't offer the massage unless asked, in most shops I've been to, and they usually will charge extra for it. Shampoo, in Thailand is also an option, not inclusive, and although you'll pay extra for this service, it's cheap beyond the Western imagination.

In the small community of Bristol, New Hampshire, where I lived in the Northeastern U.S. for over twenty years, I got my hair cut for a bare minimum of about twelve U.S. dollars, not including the tip.

That's ninety-six Chinese Yuan, or four hundred and sixty-six Thai baht. Compare that to what you'd pay in China (about 5 to 10 Yuan) or in Thailand (about 50 to 70 baht), which comes to either (60 to $1.20 U.S.) or ($1.28 to $1.80 U.S.)

For the price of one haircut in the Northeastern U.S., you can get about 19 good quality haircuts in China, or 9 good quality haircuts in Thailand, without the massage.

So, despite the heat and the faux pas today, I'm a happy camper.



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