When your hair is your fortune

Mum and her bee-hive hairdo in 1963

Walking along Jalan Trus, I paused at the entrance of an obscure looking shop-front when I read "Corina Hair Beauty Saloon" on the signboard. Hair salons or beauty parlours are typically named after girls so I would guess this shop opened around 1960 when Ray Peterson made the song "Corinna, Corinna" popular.

There's nothing spectacular about the narrow, steep steps that led upstairs but I stood there reminiscing because this is where I experienced my first salon shampoo. 

I remember we were going out to a party and my friend, Siok, who lived in nearby Jalan Dhoby, brought me along for this indulgence before heading for her house to dress up for our night out.

I am familiar with beauty salons because since we were little girls, my sisters and I would go with granny, mum or our aunties to our regular hairdresser located in a block of shops close to the former Rex and Lido cinemas in Jalan Wong Ah Fook.  I don't know this salon's name but I do recall it was run by a hairdresser and her seamstress sister who were both married to the same man.

Here's where I had my first salon shampoo
Since we usually went in a group, there were always long waits. I remember watching in awe as mum and other tai-tai's had their hair washed, rolled and set under a helmet blower, and then elaborately coiffured into a beehive.  It was then very fashionable to back comb bunches of hair to add body. I remember how I had to pinch my nose to shut out that noxious smell of the hair spray that was spritzed on generously to hold the bouffant.

This hairdresser was particularly skilled at styling granny's hair that was curled not with rollers, but using an archaic method, called tah soi por in Cantonese, that probably no longer exists today.  Small bunches of granny's hair would be wound into tiny coils and secured by hair-grips all over her scalp before being wrapped in a hair net. After her ears were protected by plastic covers, her hair was set under a helmet blower.  At the "ding" that signaled the end of the setting session, the hair grips were removed leaving tight coils of hair that were combed out and styled in neat waves with the help of heaps of hair spray.

Grandma's hair neatly coiffered using the
tah soi por method
Last week my sister asked me to take her to my hairdresser. I was surprised and wondered why because she had her own regular hairdresser in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah.  Then I learnt that it was because she couldn't get an appointment as her because her hairdresser was fully booked.  After her recent trip abroad, my sister desperately needed to restyle her hair so when her hairdresser turned her down for the second time, she decided to go to my hairdresser.

In the days prior to the Lunar New Year, I know that hairdressers enjoy a peak season because the Chinese traditionally make it a point to visit the barber or hairdresser to get a haircut or a new hairdo to complete a whole new look for the new year.  I guess my sister's hairdresser was more focused on helping those keen to have their annual hair makeover as opposed to my sister who was only after her routine haircut.  So I brought my sister to my hairdresser who gave her a most satisfactory new hairstyle.

Mum still with her
bee-hive hairdo in 1967
A few days later, I met my friend who had a new experience with his hairdresser.  After his haircut, he would usually enjoy the relaxing ministrations of the shampoo girl but this time, instead of having his hair shampooed while seated on his chair, he was asked to recline on a seat with his head on the washbasin for a quick shampoo and rinse. 

When told that this was due to the peak season long queue, he could understand, but when he was charged an additional RM10 on top of his usual haircut and shampoo fee, he was stunned.  My friend, a non-Chinese spending his first Lunar New Year here after living abroad for years, was rather miffed.

Sensing his confusion, his hairdresser explained the Lunar New Year tradition of premium prices and how it augurs well for the Chinese who traditionally pay more for hair services because tow fatt" Cantonese for hair, has the auspicious sounding word fatt meaning "prosperity" in it.  He added that the extra charges also helped hairdressers through the following low season.

So, in spite of higher charges, we can expect long queues for shampoo and styling just before the Lunar New Year because the Chinese believe that abundant fortune and prosperity in the new year are also tied to how well their hair or fatt is groomed.  Even if you don't need a haircut or don't want to pay premium prices, remember to shampoo before the start of the Lunar New Year because traditionally, no one will shampoo on the first day.  It has nothing to do with being too busy eating or entertaining.  It's because the Chinese don't want the good fortune to be washed away!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 27 January 2011

1 comment:

  1. Ministrations are before the haircut, not after ;P