The Barber of Siem Reap

A short ride from my guest house took me to a barbershop in the old quarter of Siem Reap. It was noon and the barber, 20-ish wearing long black hair with a red streak through it, woke up in his hammock. No Khmer – no English. Sign language suffices in any barber shop wherever you are. I measured about 4 mm between thumb and index finger. He knew enough, took the clippers and got going. “You haih, two coloh”, he said. Indeed black & white. Much like my personality I thought. It looks grey but look closer and those nuances are gone.

Slowly and carefully the curls fell on my apron. I looked at an old face in the mirror. Tanned, burnt nose, a little tired perhaps. No tight skin. No matter, I still have some work to do on the bike. The shop was open at the front, as all Asian shops are and the family, wife and a few groovers all shared the same space. When the clipping was done I got fine-tuned with a few different pairs of scissors. All good. He shaved my neck with a fresh blade and I asked him to trim my eyebrows. Once I walked into a haircutter’s place in the Adelaide Hills and I asked the guy if he could cut my eyebrows and perhaps trim my hair a bit also!

The barber reclined my chair. I knew what was coming. The seat went horizontal, not a very good seat mind you. I knew immediately that the bulging disc is still there. The recline was not similar to that in my Stressless chair at home either. I had to move around a bit and bend my knees as obviously the chair was not set to the dimensions of a big Dutchman. Having found a good enough pose, I closed my eyes and waited for things to unfold.

With the razor he scraped every stubborn hair of my ears. “Why is it, that when you get older, hair grows where you don’t want it, and hairs stops growing where you do?” He eliminated the jungle in my ears, all with the gentle touch of a professional, mixed with the touch of ancient Buddhism of Siem Reap. He pointed at my nose. “Yes please. Get rid of Ta Prohm also”. (Ta Prohm is the jungle temple at Angkor Wat, used in the Tombraider films.) It was like being touched by an angel. He took the scissors out again and balanced my new coup and washed my neck, ears, nose and forehead with a wet cloth. He then put the wet cloth over my forehead and eyes, and put a small towel over it. He massaged my temples and took out some device (2 wooden balls I think) with which he started to hit my forehead, steadily and firmly moving towards the centre of my head.

And that was it. I blinked my eyes and snapped out of a moment of bliss.

Here in Asia, in Turkey and in Gerona in Catalunya, I have had similar experiences. In Spain I walked into a large barbershop in a very busy part of Gerona. The barbers, 6 or so, all wore maroon barber jackets, combs and clips sticking out of the breast pockets. All of them seemed to be over 60 and all took great care of their clients. They understand that a man also cares for a bit of respite, a professional touch, and some space. If they ever had it I don’t know, but somehow the Western European and Australian culture doesn’t allow for this kind of treatment anymore. Time is money right!

I’m in Kompong Cham now. I have taken the bus this morning to save three days of riding. Siem Reap and the Angkor temples were too good and I needed more time there. I have to plan my time. 5 weeks left and still 3000 k to go. Tomorrow I start cycling and hope to be in Kratie in 2 days time. Kompong Cham is on the Mekong and the river here is grand and very wide. I have a room overlooking the water and know what I will draw next. From now on I will be following the Mekong all the way up to Vientiane in Laos, after which I will go east and cross into North Vietnam near Dien Bien Phu. (Where the French lost the Indochina war). Then up to Hanoi, and explore that city and Halong Bay. After that I hope to ride south all the way back to Ho Chi Minh City.

To me it’s a bit like the journey has 2 sections. Section one has been done. I achieved my goals which was to be able to ride without pain. I have done some serious distances and know I still have the grit that’s needed for this kind of stuff. I have no concept of time. I get up before 6 and ride until its get’s hot. Don’t ask me what day of the week it is.

Section 2 is coming up now. I have started to lose weight and I am facing a beautiful stretch of the journey. The Mekong near Kratie and further North is dotted with island where the riding is excellent and where the people are friendly. Up in Laos the mountains will come into play and section 1 was the perfect prelude for that. The legs are good and they have to as I will cross the Central Highlands in Vietnam a few times.

Fantastic prospects.

18 January 2011
Kompong Cham, Kompong Cham Provence.


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