“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, September 26, 2005

Service Culture

It’s been a while since I paid a lot for a haircut, and even when I do, it’s usually not much more than a trim. I went for my regular cut today and got a relaxing glimpse of how Myanmar do things—all I can say is no wonder they’re so relaxed and seemingly at peace! This is what I mean by a service culture. The last haircut I had in the west was done in less than 10 minutes. What happened to the personal care and individual attention that we used to have in the west? I was treated so well today, but I suppose that is because the labor is cheap. This is an argument against money and capitalism, because it symbolizes the mad drive to make more of it, faster.

As haircuts usually do, they started with the shampoo. But, wow, so much more, as massage was included. And not just one… about five! Before I even had shampoo on my head, the assistant was rubbing away at my dry head. I doubt that in the entirety of my life, that my hair has ever been that clean. Two sets of shampoo, and gently massaging to rub it in each time. I think I sat in that chair for around 40 minutes, being gently massaged, washed and rinsed. When the conditioner had gone in and been washed out, and was sitting in a towel to drip dry, she moved to massage my shoulders, arms and hands! I had each knuckle cracked and no doubt she didn’t miss a single acupuncture point anywhere in the region. Believe me, I could tell she was definitely a right handed person—those thumbs could be dangerous! As I was sitting there, I was enjoying the time—but I have the time. I did think that if I was a busy Western businessman, I would be yelling at someone in impatience by now. When did time become a commodity? We should take time to relax, and if that occurs during our haircuts, so what? Perhaps that’s why we don’t have lovely service like this left.

So the haircut itself was an interesting experience. The hairdresser was a young guy from Hong Kong, who, logically, only speaks Chinese. So it went from me, in English, to a Myanmar girl whose English was not so great, to a little discussion in Myanmar, to someone finally explaining it to him in Chinese. A lot was lost in the translation. I wanted a layered cut, with my bangs trimmed a bit. I said that, which she seemed to understand, and much later after much back and forth, she asked “All one length?” and I thought it was a question referring to something like did I want a ‘V’ at the back or the front sides shorter than the rest, so I said, “One length.” As you can probably guess, layered went out the window! When it came to my bangs, he laughed at me, and the translation came across as “Who cut your bangs?” I guess even they noticed that I trimmed them myself. Oops. It ended with “Your hair so soft,” and, “Your hair nice color,” while they all took turns fingering it. Lovely.

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