Friday, April 11, 2008

“My Indian Mama Barber” by Peter Chan

Harry was in town recently and told me his one wish was to have a hair-cut, not just any ordinary hair-cut. It had to be that “Mama Barber” somewhere in the eastern part of Singapore, and that was because Harry was serving in RAF Changi and had lived in the area some 40++ years ago. Harry tells me that in England, senior citizens pay S$10 whereas others pay S$40 but then, most English barbers are ladies and don’t provide shaving. Harry had already tried out 3 different kinds of barbers in Singapore, a Chinese barber, a Malay barber and of course a lady barber in a span of 3 weeks.

Now in Malaysia, it is not all that difficult to find an authentic Indian barber shop but certainly not in Singapore (except maybe in Little India), and the same barber who did Harry’s hair 45 years ago.



Pic 1: Indian barber shop in Lebuh Queen, Pulau Penang, Malaysia



What is so special about that “East Coast Road Indian barber”? These photos tell the story…………


Pic 2: New Star Hair Dressing Saloon at the corner of Upper East Coast Road and Woo Man Chu Road. Top Photo (circa 1963). Bottom Photo (circa 2007). On the left is the famous Malay frame-maker from a Malay kampong in Jalan Hajijah



Pic 3: From L-R; Reading the “Straits Times”, Hair tonic on my head, Hot towel, and finally that Neck & Shoulder Massage

How much did this hair-cut cost Harry? Only S$8. I asked whether this was a special price for senior citizens or foreigners “Karthigesu Murusamy Poniahchetty” the Indian barber replied that the price was valid for any Singaporean; so long can walk and can talk. Finally his solution for those grey hairs and receding hair-lines (see Pic 4)


Pic 4:”Magic” Hair lotion and hair oil

19 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks to Harry and Peter for this interesting article.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'authentic' Indian barber. But there's one at the basement of Beauty World Centre that looks 'authentic'' judging by the no. of colourful bottles on display.

Anonymous said...

Hm... those that trim you nasal hairs and nearly everyone that comes out looks more or less the same.

peter said...

authentic = "everything never change from those days" like time just stop. The barber chair the same, the shop interior and exterior the same, the barber himself the same, the techniques of hair-cut and shampooing the same, towels like never wash or disposed off for decades.

Victor said...

Peter, you should describe the neck massage and the head twist in greater detail. :) Does $8 include those manoevres as standard?

peter said...

i gave a video to demonstrate all those "neck & head twist" but I think too long for this blog. S$8 covers everything (choice of water, bryclreem or hair tonic) excluding washing.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
I remember the barber who use to cut my hair, I can still see his face, if he was walking down the were I live ,I think I would still recognize him,may be not? he was a Tamil, and he would shampoo my hair dry it with a towel,I go along what Peter said about the towels,anyway after drying my hair he would massage my head,and after the hair was cut army style, then he twist my head left to right wow you felt great,it was realy good, the barbers over in Scotland dont it, when I come out to Singapore,I will try one of the old style Barbers.

Brian Mitchell said...

Well back in Changi in the 1960s I led a very sheltered life at the barbers - there was a barber shop in the RAF Officers Club and so whilst swimming there or canoeing from there I would pop in for a haircut. But really all I recall about it was that it was so cold - apart from a record shop in Changi Village, it was the only place I visited regularly that was air conditioned!

Zen said...

Many people young and old are losing their hairs (mostly males) at a frightening pace in Singapore. If KMP claims that his hair lotion and oil can really work wonder on those balding heads and graying hairs, I am quite sure many purchasers from large departmental stores, hair saloons, hair specialist centres or even the national skin centre would make enquiry for the supplier of his magical hair potions.

Edidas said...

Thanks for the info. I pass by this barber shop during my jogs occasionally and always felt something special about the place. And that frame making shop still very popular today. Nowadays the cheapest barbers are in the army, priced according to your rank and cut according to bowl shape. Applies to any male Singaporeans : )

Lam Chun See said...

Frankly, I don't like Indian barbers becos they are very rough. They like to use a very fine comb to comb away the cut hairs and in the process literally scrap your scalp. I prefer Malay barbers.

BTW, the other night I saw this short documentary (~ 5 min) called Heartlanders. It is hosted by Chua En Lai. This episode featured a traditional barber shop in Potong Pasir, which even MP Chiam See Tong patronises. They charge only $8 per session.

I saw this very interesting leather 'belt' which is used to sharpen/clean the shaving blade. Nowadays cannot find such a 'cool' gadget anymore.

Zen said...

I have already patronised Malay barber for many years for its modern look cut and it no frills feature, reducing time to something like 12 to 15 minutes, very useful for men in a hurry. Now at my age, without a proud crop of hair to show off, I would quickly visit a Malay barber in any venue that is most convenient to me and I need not go to a particular barber because the standard and style of cutting of Malay barbers are rather uniform. There were few occasions I found the barber shaving my facial hairs (using a disposable blake) in a risky manner. I would politely tell him to cut short the process. Recently I told one barber that I wanted to forego the shaving part and he replied: "No problem, I can use a mini battery-operated device (blade-less)which acts like a battey shaver to do the job". This mini touch-up device did a great job and entirely to my satisfaction, putting off my fear of blade-shaving especially round the ears (what would happen when the barber is negligent, off balanced, or someone accidentally knocks him in the crowd shop?)

Anonymous said...

Indian Barbers in Singapore are the only professional haircutters left. They do their job quickly and without emotions. School boys go in looking like "mops" and within minutes they are clean cut short back and sides.

WiFree said...

The "East Coast Road Indian barber" has closed down years ago. Can anyone recommend another traditional indian barber, preferably in the east? Rgds

Anonymous said...

The Indian barber is still there. He just moved across the road. last saw him 2 days ago.

Anonymous said...

the indian barber on upper east coast road used to be on woo mon chew side of the road but has since moved to tay lian teck side of the road.

Anonymous said...

Peter, your definition of 'authentic' is great! may I add that his brylcream pump bottles are all from the time he started the shop. super retro. feel like making him an offer... (teng teng)

Anonymous said...

One Indian Barber Shop you should avoid at all costs in Singapore is New Star at Serangoon Road in Little India. They are old and DO NOT listen to what the customer wants.Over priced at SGD15.00. There are better and more professional shops in Dunlop Street just nearby that charge only $6.00 at most.

Anonymous said...

I have stopped by New Star on and off over the years while transiting through SG. They are quite simply AWESOME! They are an old fashioned, no frills barbershop. Most of their barbers are old. However, all of them are very skilled. If you want a simple, clean men's haircut and shave, this is as good as you are going to get anywhere in the world. As of yesterday (Feb 8, 2012), they charged S$10 for a haircut. If you are looking for metrosexual cuts and coloring jobs, please go elsewhere. New Star works excellently for those who simply say: I want it short, medium or long, and trust the barber to do the right cut for the head -- the way barbers historically did.

Angelica said...

Hi

I'll be having an overseas friend in town soon & thought to bring him to try the traditional hair cut.

Can anyone advise if the New Star barber shop at East Coast still do the massage & neck/head twist or any other traditional stuff? Or if there is any other barber shop that does the traditional stuff?

Also appreciate any other info including operating hours & tel no (if they have).

Thanks!