Lessons from a hairdresser

It’s hard to find a hairdresser and when you are comfortable with one, you tend to stay with him or her as long as possible. 

I used to have Bert for many years until I lost him to the casino. He was a very good stylist and shaped a crop really nicely. But on his bad luck runs, he was Edward Scissorhands without a conscience. I had to leave him.

After several years experimenting with various salons, with most trying to push hair products and over-priced service packages, I finally found Patrick, a tattooed hair stylist with bleached hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. 

Never mind if he looks like a Korean celebrity, Patrick struck me as someone who knows his place in society and more in touch with the world than most people in his industry.

Every month, I visit him for a trim or a treatment but mostly to talk to him. It’s nice to talk to someone who doesn’t know you at all, doesn’t probe about your background or your past, doesn’t gossip about people, doesn’t wince about the world. 

One visit, he told me about how he arrived in Singapore 20 years ago from a small town in Malaysia. As a shampoo boy, he worked his way up to be the lead stylist training and managing younger people.

Another visit, we spoke about what happiness meant to different people. Patrick meets all kinds of people everyday and spends about 30 minutes chatting with each client.

Its hard for Singaporeans to be happy, he concluded. The happiness we sometimes feel is usually short-lived. Affluence has created a sense of achievement and yet eroded our sense of contentment. 

Patrick has four siblings, all of whom worked and saved for the past ten years to buy a small house for their parents. He noted that it’s the reverse in Singapore. The parents are buying or helping children to buy houses. Inflation and rocketing property prices aside, shouldn’t we repay our parents once we’re grown up and independent? Asian values such as filial piety has been replaced by parents’ desire to give their children the head start in this competitive city state.

Sometimes we drift into current affairs and social media. Patrick doesn’t have time to read the papers but the salon is a sponge for all kinds of news and of course, rumours and gossips. The younger staff needs to be told what to believe, he said.

To Patrick, information is a double-edge sword. In his profession, it is very easy to succumb to baseless gossips and that will breed misunderstandings and accumulate mistrust. 

And by the way, there are very few Singaporeans taking up hairdressing as a profession. If Singapore is to stay a service hub, professions like hairdressing should be a credible consideration for young people. It’s not just about shampooing and cutting hair. It’s about people management and relationship building based on trust and integrity.



2 thoughts on “Lessons from a hairdresser

  1. Amen! My husband and I have moved out of state 9 times in the last 15 years….that’s a lot of new stylists! I’ve always said I’d rather find a new doc than a new stylists! I usually hate all stylists…fortunately, in my midlife years curly hair has been accepted by and even specialized in by a few stylists and they’ve become easier to find, thanks to the Internet….

  2. Well written. Yes I missed out going to a hairdresser when I was in the Netherlands preferring instead to have friends cut my hair. Now that Zi can afford it I think I shall start again, though I’ve had 6 different ones in less than 3 years!!

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