“Always go first class. Why? Because you can’t afford not to and it’s actually cheaper in the long run” - David J Schwartz, ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’
This is all about getting a gentleman’s haircut in Bangkok.
A couple of years ago, I sang the praises of Truefitt and Hill, a magnificent vintage barbers shop that has two branches - both in upmarket Bangkok shopping malls (The Emporium and Central Embassy). However, it’s a place where 5-star service and a professional haircut comes at a price. 1100 baht (plus tip) for forty minutes in the chair to be precise.
When people read the blog, opinion was divided. There was a percentage of Bangkok expats who were regulars at Truefitt, appreciated the price of a great haircut, and who sang from the same hymn sheet. And not unexpectedly, there were those expats who said “1100 baht for a haircut? In Thailand? Are you insane?”
I refused to get drawn into one of those all-too-common, on-line pissing contests. If you were happy getting a hair cut for 50 baht from the old boy down at the end of the soi, then good luck to you.
I continued to be a regular customer at Truefitt and Hill and continued to be well looked after by my regular barber, Khun Sawad. Few things are more important in life than the relationship between a guy who cares about his hair and his trusty barber.
But although I always looked forward to my monthly appointment with Khun Sawad and his cut-throat razor, the hour’s journey to get there and the hour’s journey back home had started to wear me down. If felt like I was wasting a precious half day simply just to get a haircut.
Then I discovered that not one but TWO vintage barber’s shops had opened almost within walking distance of my home. My Thai friends at the gym had tried both places out and each time came away with great haircuts – and at just 150 baht a pop as well.
I wanted a slice of the action and decided to give one of these local barbers shops a try - but with something of a heavy heart.
I felt terribly disloyal towards the wonderful Khun Sawad. In fact, I felt like calling him up, not only to say goodbye to a friend but to tell him that this wasn’t about the money. It was only ever about the convenience.
So off I went. Actually, it had been a long time since I had stepped into a local barber’s shop, where no one speaks a word of English and as you push open the door, the staff all stop what they’re doing and greet you with blank, slightly nervous expressions that convey one solitary thought – “shit, there’s a farang in town”
However, fast forward forty minutes and I left the premises well pleased with the results. The tall, quietly spoken young man had given me just what I had asked for – ‘a number two clippers on the sides and back and the top left fairly lengthy’. A great haircut for 150 baht. Yes, it was beginning to look like my Truefitt and Hill days were over.
I was back at the local barber’s again a month later. But where was my tall, quietly spoken young man?
“He’s gone back home upcountry” one of the cutters said, a fearsome looking fellow with arms adorned with tattoos and sporting a hole in each of his ears the size of a ten-baht coin.
“Do you know when he’ll be back?” I enquired.
“Not sure” came the reply. And anyone who has been in Thailand long enough knows full well that this translates as ‘actually, he’s quit and won’t ever be returning’
But I was here now so I may as well have a haircut. I was invited to sit in the chair and go over my requirements once more for another new barber. ‘Number two clippers on the sides and back and a little off the top if you don’t mind’.
The haircut took about an hour. Ten minutes was spent on actually cutting and trimming my hair. The rest of the time was taken up by the barber attempting to get his clippers to work properly. I don’t know what was wrong with them. Did the electrical supply keep cutting out? Were the teeth getting old and worn? I have no idea. It wasn’t my problem.
But credit where it’s due – I ended up with a very satisfactory haircut.
A month later, I was back again. I was prepared to forgive the time wasted fannying around with the clippers because so far, the haircuts had been decent. Thankfully I got the same barber as on the previous occasion so I was spared the anguish of having to explain how I wanted my hair. But we were still having big problems with the tools of the trade and every couple of minutes, the barber would have to stop cutting and inspect his clippers. It was beginning to get VERY tedious.
As for the other barber – the menacing-looking guy with the tats and great big holes in his ears – he sat sprawled out on the sofa behind me, playfully canoodling with a girl young enough to be his daughter. And then the clippers failed for the umpteenth time that morning and I glanced in the mirror as the tattooed man tried to slip a hand up gymslip mom's skirt. This was the pits! You don’t get this at Truefitt and Hill.
To add final insult to injury, the haircut was spectacularly average. I wouldn’t be going back.
I decided to try the other recently-opened vintage barber (remember I said that two shops had opened up in the neighborhood at the same time)
Regular Thai customers had already given me the skinny. ‘He’s a very good barber’ they all said, ‘but he’s also a one-man show. He doesn’t employ any staff. If you go in the morning, you won’t have to wait - but expect a queue if you go in the evenings or on weekends. He opens about ten ‘o’clock’
‘About’. That single word that strikes fear into your heart whenever it’s associated with Thailand and scheules, appointments, meetings and deadlines.
I stood outside the barber’s shop at five minutes to eleven. It was closed. The steel shutter firmly padlocked and not a sign of life from inside.
I returned a few days later but this time in the early afternoon. Shutter. Padlock. Closed.
A nearby food vendor saw me standing there and shaking my head. “He was open yesterday” she offered. “But generally he doesn’t open if he doesn’t feel like it”
The regular customers must love this guy. And if this is what’s meant by ‘doing things locally’ then quite frankly, you can stick it up your jacksie.
Next Tuesday, I shall catch a taxi and sky-train into Bangkok and in Truefitt and Hill’s plush reception area, I shall fall to my knees and beg for Khun Sawad’s forgiveness. How could I ever have doubted you?
I only hope they’ll take me back.
Always go first class. You can’t afford not to.