I went for a haircut with my stylist Marcus Jiang of Kim Robinson yesterday morning, the 4th day of the Chinese New Year. Normally I keep to myself but this being Chinese New Year, I decided to be social. While I came in for a haircut, I was surprised to learn a lot about who was washing and cutting my hair. Not only who they were but how they felt and the struggles they went through at their jobs. Suffice it to say, I found myself feeling more than just fabulous after a great blow out — I felt appreciation, gratitude and overwhelming sense of humility. Below is a snippet of my conversations wih Marcus Jiang and Alex.
Me: How long have you been doing this?
Marcus Jiang: I've been cutting for hair three years.
Me: And before that?
Marcus: Five years from the bottom — shampooing, drying, and colouring.
Me: Wow. That's a long time. And all along here?
Me: It must have been hard on you being away from home. (Marcus revealed earlier that he's from China) What's the most difficult part of your work?
(We spoke very briefly about handling challenging clients.)
Me: And physically? On your feet all day?
Marcus: Don't you know all of us tend to suffer from neck and shoulder pain?
Me: Oh yeah.. the repetitive motions. What have you tried to do about the pain though? Massage?
Marcus: In the beginning, I used to go for weekly shoulder massage. It helped. But I stopped after a while. The pain is only relieved temporarily.
Me: Does the pain get better as you get used to it though?
Marcus: Not really. Having a good support pillow helps me. If I have a well-rested sleep, it does go away. But it comes back. Even my seniors have the same problem.
Next, I spoke with my shampoo boy Alex.
Me: How long have you been working here?
Alex: 3 months.
Me: Do you want to be a hairstylist like Marcus?
Me: It took him five years! Can you wait five years? Or maybe you will succeed sooner?
Alex: I could speed it up by going for classes. But there is no point in deciding now where is the best place to go when without the experience, I'd still find it difficult to understand what the teacher is saying. There are still a lot more that I need to learn. For instance, it’s not easy to cut in a straight line.
Me: Yeah. I can't even draw in a straight line!
Alex: Use a ruler.
Me: I meant without a ruler.
Alex: Come to think of it, I can't draw in a straight line either! How does one draw a straight line?
Alex: Yeah. Cannot think. Just do. Must be decisive. Need to practice. (Couldn’t hear the rest… he really got into the whole thing about drawing straight lines.)
Me: How much would it cost to study to be a hairstylist?
Alex: The wig we practice on is already $50. And it has to be 80% natural hair.
Me: That's not too bad.
Alex: The stand is $100. To tell you the truth, I got one wig for myself.
Me: Wow, the stand is more expensive than the wig!
Alex: There are lots we can learn from a wig – from washing, blowing, highlighting, to cutting. You cannot go to cutting straight away though. Once you cut, you can only cut shorter. And you might end up with nothing to cut. How come you’re asking so many questions? You want to be a hairstylist too?
Me: It's just that I'm learning today things I never learned before about your industry! That you guys suffer neck and shoulder pain all the time. Marcus started from the bottom like you.
Alex: We also have to buy our scissors.
Me: What? Doesn't the company pay for them? How much do they cost?
Alex: They start from $300. There are even those that are $1,000.
Me: What?! (Going crazy thinking what a huge financial burden this must be on them.)
Alex: No. You use it. You buy your own.
Me: How many pairs does one need?
Alex: Minimum two. There are those who have six.
Later, I continued to my conversation with Marcus while he was blow drying my hair.
Me: How many pairs of scissors do you have?
Marcus: Four. We have to buy our own scissors.
Me: Yeah I know. Alex told me.
Marcus: Is that why you were asking me how many pairs I have?
Marcus: They can cost as much as $3k.
Me: Huh?! How long do they last?
Marcus: Up to 10 years. But if you drop them… (shakes his head)… it can be very serious.
Me: 10 years. That's $300 a year! So unfair right?
Marcus: Swordsmen have their own swords. Assassins have their own guns.
Me: (Jaw drops as I am amazed with the beauty as his analogies)
Marcus: Look at the extension and hairdryer. We have to buy our own, too.
Me: What?! (Can anything else shock me now?)
Marcus: It’s not just here. It’s an industry practice.
Me: He wants to be like you.
Marcus: He's new. Just came out of N.S. (All Singaporean men have to serve two-years of compulsory national service.)
Me: Oh. He's Singaporean.
Marcus: The problem is that a lot of people come and go. High turnover.
Me: Why? They are impatient?
Marcus: That and they have options.
Me: Yeah they are not bounded 'cos they don't need a work permit. Keep reading...
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