An unexpected feeling as I sat on the Throne.

The second little bottle of shampoo from the hotel in Istanbul emptied much faster than the first. Must be time for a haircut again.

Signs all over town advertise “The French Touch: Bakery, massage, pastry, haircut, internet.” Looks like a mutation in the evolution of tourism to me. Let’s find a local place.

Nampan marketNear the market where old women crouch by piles of chili peppers and purchases are weighed on ancient scales I found barbershop alley. The first was empty, but a passing man with a great smile told me where I could find another.

On a whim I asked if he worked in the tour place next door. He did, and that’s when I impulsively signed up for the overnight trek that got back yesterday. But that’s another story.

I passed the storage-unit-sized shops where various men were cutting various other men’s hair until I found one with an open chair. And what a chair it was. Made of wood, arms with hand-carved embellishments curving with dignity despite the repair-job nails sticking out, it was the Throne of Haircut. I took my place, feeling the presence of Burmese butts stretching back…how long?

Men were farting in this chair when the country was still sealed to tourists, and they probably still will be when the town finds its new character as a major tourist destination. That day may already be here…especially since it was my American posterior occupying the chair that day.

In Peak Season the steps of Mandalay Hill must be packed with gringos.

In Peak Season the steps of Mandalay Hill must be packed with gringos.

I recommend Myanmar in the Off Season. That’s when you can still get the illusion of pathbreaking.

(Note: I would prefer to put photos that are more relevant to this post, but my computer, as with everything I own, is f*****g breaking, and the port for my memory card isn’t working. So no new pictures! F-ing great! I hope I don’t see anything else beautiful any time soon. F-ing technology! This computer is 4 months old!)

The wizened fellow outside turned out not to be the barber, and I admit to some disappointment at that fact. But he summoned a young guy with hair like Ringo who spoke some English, though he didn’t need much since he already knew what I wanted.

“Side shave, left and right, top little shorter,” he informed me, giving me the opportunity to contradict him,which I did only enough to specify “Top longer” with my customary inch-finger gesture.

He was fast and efficient, wetting my hair with a grungy old sponge dipped in water, but brushing the hair off my neck and temples at the end with a fresh new one straight from the package, dry and powder blue.

Haircuts are simple affairs for many in this country.

Haircuts are simple affairs for many in this country.

The horsehair brush was another heirloom, and as it spread shaving cream on my face and between my lips I again had the sense of continuity with Burmese history, or at least the lips of it. For a second I considered stopping him, since sweat drying in the sun has not been particularly kind to my skin, and the expert panel of one ex-girlfriend informed me that I look better with scruff than clean-shaven, but it’s part of the experience, so I let him shear away my stubble.

He lathered me up then felt my jawline with a thumb. The rasping sound of my nascent beard. A grunt. “Very strong.” He said. Burmese men don’t have a lot of facial hair, and I gained an appreciation of the novelty as he strained to scrape the hair from my face, arching his back like a gymnast and frowning in concentration before coming back to do the whole thing a second time.

Then he was done, smiling with the satisfaction of one who has done a familiar task for a new clientele, a look I have seen before and is a major reason I enjoy getting haircuts abroad. I’ll never be the first tourist in a hotel or on a trek, but maybe I’m the first one in the Throne of Haircut.

I asked if I could take a picture, and he immediately pointed at the chair. “This chair very old. Made Myanmar.” As with most people here, he did not smile when I took his picture, but grinned like the sunrise when I showed it to him.

It was another nice cut, but different in one big way. The whole time I was aware that the last one was in Istanbul, with K looking on. That seems like so very long ago. But I guess it’s a new haircut for a new me, one moving forward alone.

I’ve never felt lonely in a barber’s chair before.