A cut above: Hanoi's street-side bar­bers

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

SHORT back and sides, a beard trim and a thor­ough ear clean­ing: There is lit­tle Hanoi’s street-side bar­bers won’t do.

In the city where in­creas­ing num­bers of West­ern sa­lons cater to dap­per ur­ban­ites with cash to spend, the city’s old-school side­walk coif­feurs still do a brisk trade thanks to loyal cus­tomers and US$1.30 hair­cuts.

Across Hanoi, day or night, le­gions of en­tre­pre­neur­ial bar­bers like Nguyen Van Tu are hard at work snip­ping and shav­ing, of­ten with lit­tle more than a few groom­ing tools and a small mir­ror – in Tu’s case, hung up on a sin­gle rusty hook.

“This job is re­lax­ing. I work freely with an OK in­come, and I didn’t have to in­vest [in the busi­ness],” said the 53-year-old bar­ber, stand­ing at his stall next to the weath­ered yel­low wall of a pri­mary school.

Tu used to work in a fac­tory but switched pro­fes­sions a decade ago.

He rel­ishes be­ing his own boss and has even made a few friends along the way, like Ger­man de­signer To­bias Kuester-Cam­pi­oni, a ded­i­cated client since 2014.

Kuester-Cam­pi­oni turns up at Tu’s stall every 10 days, of­ten bring­ing him new blades to add to his stock­pile.

“It’s a lo­cal tra­di­tion here in Hanoi. You see so many bar­bers on the street and I guess every­body has his own one and I found mine,” he said, af­ter be­ing shorn clean with a fresh blade as mo­tor­bikes whizzed past. “I like the lo­cal taste, the lo­cal flavour.” He said he’s not shy about hav­ing his man­scap­ing done in pub­lic view – a com­mon sight in a city where so much daily ac­tiv­ity hap­pens in the street, from eat­ing and cook­ing to child rear­ing and ex­er­cis­ing.

By some ac­counts, the tra­di­tion of cut­ting hair on Hanoi’s side­walks dates back gen­er­a­tions, and to­day a hair­cut costs about $1.30, with a bit ex­tra for an ear clean, still af­ford­able to most peo­ple in Viet­nam where the av­er­age an­nual in­come is around $2100.

The bar­bers have proven to have stay­ing power, even as the for­mal hair care in­dus­try grows, with sales in the sec­tor nearly dou­bling in value between 2010 and 2015 to $220 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional.

But the side­walk bar­bers are so in­grained that many pre­fer them to in­creas­ingly com­mon West­ern-style sa­lons which charge as much as $40 for a cut in the fast-de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nist cap­i­tal of Viet­nam where the mid­dle class is bur­geon­ing.

“I went to the salon for a hair­cut once or twice, but I felt un­com­fort­able there,” said freshly trimmed day labourer Ho Tien Dung.

“I am in the street all day long, with dusty clothes, dirty hands and legs, so I don’t feel com­fort­able en­ter­ing the salon. Also cut­ting hair here is cheaper.”

Photos: AFP

A bar­ber waits for his next cus­tomer.

Street-side hair­cuts cost only US$1.30.

A Hanoi bar­ber trims away.

The trade con­tin­ues in the face of rapid mod­erni­sa­tion.

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