East of Wanchai (灣仔) on Hong Kong Island is one of the more interesting parts of the world, where over the decades populations have shifted, merged, transformed. Previous occupants have left their traces in the strata, still partially visible to the untrained eye.
During the war, North Point (北角) had been one of the areas where the Japanese incarcerated POWs.
After 1948, there was a refugee camp for Kuomintang soldiers there.
By 1949, the Shanghainese started arriving.
Not all of them were well-off - many had lost everything - but they were determined not to be just generic members of the masses. They were Shanghainese, dammit, they had style!
When these exiles came to Hong Kong, they didn’t consider it a particularly civilized place.
By the early fifties, they had transformed part of the area into 'Little Shanghai'
Shanghai in the twenties and thirties was probably the most cosmopolitan city on the planet. And to its own natives, it was the centre of the universe. Famous restaurants, nightclubs, department stores... tailors... singing girls... theatres... banks, trading companies, and factories... movie studios... and barber shops.
By the late fifties, many of Hong Kong's best restaurants, nightclubs, and barber shops could be found in North Point.
SEUNGHOI LEIFAAT DIEM: THE SHANGHAINESE BARBER SHOP
Once upon a time the Shanghainese barber shop was were all civilized gentlemen went to have their heads examined. And poked, and prodded.
Middle-aged exiles staffed the place, and one of them would cut your hair, clean your ears, comb and trim your eyebrows, then while massaging your neck and shoulders look speculatively at whatever eccentric facial growths you sported, as if to say "surely you don't want to keep that?"
You indicated that despite his superior insight into what the ladies would like (clean-shaven and smooth) you planned to keep your chin fur, and you'd leave feeling like a million dollars, you and your fine beard.
Ladies, and Shanghainese barbers, do not like facial hair - it makes a person look militaristic and thuggish (or, in my case, dashing and scholarly), and somehow it speaks of a lack of self-control (though contrariwise, I radiate measured propriety).
The Shanghainese barber never expressed this too strongly, knowing that you would come back, and in the fullness of time might see the light.
This was also the place you'd visit if all you needed was a shave or shampoo. The barbers would make sure you felt fully human again upon your departure. A Shanghai barber shop was a spotlessly clean temple to your head, and the priesthood in their ironed white shirts, black bow ties, and clean lab coats, had pride in their professionalism.
理髮全套 Lei-faat chyun tou = The complete treatment.
理髮修面 Lei-faat sau mien = Haircut and facial touch-up.
理髮洗頭 Lei-faat sai tau = Trim and wash.
單理髮 Daan lei-faat = Just a haircut.
剃光頭 Tai-gwong-tau = Shave entire head smooth.
小童理髮 Siu tung lei-faat = Boy's haircut.
It was affordable, and very civilized.
When I was in the Philippines, there was a Shanghai barber shop I went to in Binondo after the fancy-pants bakla at the hair palace in the Quad tried to make me look like a latin pop star.
A neat, clean, simple cut is always better than some pompadoured poofty wave, no matter what a pouting Philippino manggugupit thinks.
The Shanghainese barber understood that one wanted, nay, positively NEEDED to look presentable.
Not like dangerous muffin trash.
Plus he had tea, and imported cigarettes in a cedar casket for the customers to enjoy!
[He also spoke real English, with both excellent diction and interesting content, rather than that pretentious pakiklakalak patois I heard in Makati from the flouncy man.]
There used to be Shanghainese barbers in all of the major cities of South-East Asia.
Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown.
Several of them in Singapore also.
Here in San Francisco there are no Shanghai barbershops. What we do have is attentive Vietnamese who went to beauty school to qualify for their licenses. The Vietnamese barber shop around the corner from my house is very nice, and you can tell that the elderly owner was influenced by the Shanghainese, though he probably doesn't realize it.
He trims ear-hairs and combs the eyebrows of his gentlemen clientele.
He also insists on massaging my neck, and I leave feeling ten years younger.
There are few Shanghai barbers left. There's a shop in Kowloon, and one or two scattered around Hong Kong. There used to be one on Whitfield Road (威非路道) near Hoi Kok Mansion (海閣洋樓), before the intersection of Watson Road (屈臣道), But that area is getting more developed, and once Whitfield turns into Electric (電氣道), you're in office high-rise territory.
SEUNGHOI KOKPAN LEIFAAT KONGSI: THE AMBASSADOR'S PARLOUR
One place still holding its own is the Ambassador Barber Parlour (上海國賓理髮公司) at 23 Lan Fong Road (蘭芳道) opposite the Lee Gardens Manulife complex (利園宏利保險大廈) in Tung Lo Wan ( Causeway Bay: 銅鑼灣) near Jardine's Crescent.
It's a celebrated antique at this point.
Get your hair cut before it's too late.
[Lan Fong Road is actually a misnomer, as it is just one block, between Lee Garden Road (利園山道) and Yun Ping Road (恩平道).]
The Ambassador has regular customers who make a pilgrimage at set intervals from distant places and outlying areas, as well as adherents who work or live nearby. Most patrons of a Shanghai barber shop are not Shanghainese, and not all Shanghai barbers themselves are either - some locals learned the craft from exiled masters, and pass it on.
It's about style, a sense of what grooming is supposed to be, and self-respect.
If you look presentable, it will encourage you to act like it. And eventually that will have become intrinsic, instinctive, natural.
Either that or it will inspire the police department to have a less jaundiced view of you and your otherwise suspicious presence.
A sharp haircut, a suit worn with snap and flair, and a fresh pack of imported cigarettes, and you can go stepping! You're looking good!
King's Road (英皇道) between Causeway Bay and North Point (北角) used to be the centre of the Shanghainese settlement. But by the sixties, Fukienese from South-East Asia started moving in, and the Shanghainese language can now hardly be heard anymore.
Since the nineties the entire area has undergone massive development.
The term 'Shanghai Barber Shop' has acquired a different resonance, one that has nothing at all to do with pre-war Shanghai, and isn't particularly decent or proper. So if people look askance at your query, it might be their age.
Or just their dirty minds.
We don't have any of those in San Francisco either.
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Labels: Philippines, Shanghai 上海, 香港