Globalization on my head, from Cuba to Cambodia

Edward-ScissorhandsCan you think of a better movie for the barbershop TVs than Edward Scissorhands? I couldn’t, but then again, in the heat of Santiago de Cuba, and with the gummybear feeling in my bones after two days of food poisoning, I wasn’t up to much in the way of active thought. I was just happy to sit in the classic chrome barbershop chair and let the dude chop off the hair that had been holding in heat like a hammam for my noggin.


Lydia was more reluctant. “You can’t get your hair cut in Cuba!” she had initially prohibited. She’d enjoyed the story of my previous Cuban barbershop visit, but didn’t love the cut itself. “He gave you The Haircut!” When she met me, I was fresh off a The Haircut in Malaysia, and it was sufficient, as were later iterations from Peru and Venezuela, but her standards had been raised in a teeming and clattering market in Phnom Penh.


Phnom Penh street vendor travel photo, Cambodia

This lady was on to something, mid-afternoon in Phnom Penh

It was Day One in Cambodia, we had been up since the jetlaggy hour of 4:00 AM, and sweat was rapidly soaking through my store of T-shirts. We were hiding from the sun and seeking the Cambodian in one of the labyrinthine markets that crop up like callicks throughout the developing world. They are sometimes a good place to buy items, usually a good place to buy food, and always a good place to be among the locals living their normal lives. I’ve slurped soup and sampled sandals in these markets, but I couldn’t remember ever getting a haircut in one.


One of the ways you can tell whether a market is for tourists or locals is if anyone speaks English. In this bustling corner of snapping scissors and dripping dye, no one spoke a word. Good for authenticity, bad for communication. In short, it was exactly the sort of place where I always get The Haircut, inevitable when your request is articulated in fingers held close together while pointing to the sides, then a little farther apart when pointing to the top.

Not a lot of English in this place

Not a lot of English in this place


I don’t mind The Haircut. I do mind Feeling Like My Head Is A Long-Burned Candle. So I took a seat, pointed, measured, and sat still for the scissors. He cut. He tilted. He bobbed and weaved. Floated like a butterfly and snipped like a….barber. Flat razor for the neck hair, always appreciated, then he was done. In the Mekong-hazed mirror I saw…a slightly different haircut!


In our smiling and faltering attempts at communication we'd gotten to be buds, and he asked for the photo

In our smiling and faltering attempts at communication we’d gotten to be buds, and he asked for the photo


It had a little spiky zone towards the front! Variety! Nice! Lydia, with her more assessing eye, informed me that the whole thing was more shaped and well done. That’s extra bonus; the only criterion for me was shorter.


So in the Cuban chair, watching Johnny Depp produce topiary, and feeling hair tickle my ears on its way to the floor, I was already satisfied. When I presented the finished product to Lydia she squinted for a moment. “He cut everything the same amount shorter…so he basically returned you to the same cut you got in Cambodia, minus the front flip flair thingy. I like it.”


It was a Cambo-Cuban haircut, multicultural coiffure, globalization for the cabeza, but I was just happy to let the heat stream up less impeded. Now where can I get a bowl of soup?