LNII stands for Lower Ngau Tau Kwok (II) Estate, the last resettlement estate to be redeveloped in Hong Kong. You may wish to read first four instalments of this series here, here, here and here. The photos presented in this series were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. Today, we visit an old barbershop in LNII.
Shanghainese this and Shanghainese that are a rather nostalgic, sentimental way of naming things passed down by the older generations. The utterance of the word Shanghai alone was powerful enough to evoke a reminiscence of its glorious past until the late 1940s, a time when Shanghainese flocked to the south for a reason we know very well. There was such a large amount of them fleeing to Hong Kong that all the Northerners became indiscriminately taken as Shanghainese.
Therefore, these parlours assumed the prestigious "Shanghainese barbershop" title although the old hands working there mostly came from Yangzhou, a city further north from Shanghai.
It is said that hairstyling was a novelty brought to Hong Kong only in the 1950s, thanks to the Shanghainese barbers for the enlightenment. All of a sudden, the simplistic matter of having a haircut evolved into a full-fledged fashion of hairstyling like Flattop (Ping Tou Chung), Comb Sideway (Sai Chung Tou or White Collar Style), Egg Tart Style (Dan Tart Tou, or comb sideway with think gel) or Teddy Boy Quiff (Fei Gei Tou, or Flight style).
There is something quintessential about the Shanghainese barbers. A modern hairstylist gives you a haircut after the assistant washes your hair. The Shanghainese way of doing it is in reverse: cut and wash afterwards.
The other thing is, unlike their modern counterparts, the Shanghainese old-timers wear smocks which has become a tradition of these time-honoured barbershops.
And the best tool of a Shanghainese barber? It is not a hair trimmer or a pair of scissors but a shaving knife. The old saying goes that Shanghai and Yangzhou are most famous for the kitchen knife, the pedicure knife and the shaving knife, meaning that Shanghai and Yangzhou are best in catering, beauty and barber services.
The special shaving knife feels (a video at bottom) rather heavy in your palm and really requires skills to use it safely. Of course, the Shanghainese barbers have no problem in shaving your hair or beard with their skilful hands and a sharp shaving knife. What matters most is that you must sit still.
An account given by one of the Shanghainese barbers, Mr Cheung, reveals some unknown aspects of the trade. Mr Cheung was first into the trade some 40 years ago when he was in his twenties.
"First things first, austerity. This is the quality of a barber to start with," Mr Cheung reminisces. The Shanghainese barbershops attach great importance to service. So, for the first three years, the young Cheung had not been given any chance to handle a shaving knife. Instead, he had to learn by practising how to serve a customer, wash hair and run trivial errands. Naturally, all rough works went to him.
After the three austere years, he learned to shave beard and, finally, shave hair.
There is a whole array of services in a modern hair saloon. But in the old days, reveals Mr Cheung, it was the Shanghainese barbershops which pioneered in services.
Back some fifty years ago, massage service was a luxury to most people. So, the Shanghainese barbershops came up with a haircut package with which customers would be given earwax picking, massaging, and beard trimming in addition to a haircut. There were skilled hands for every part of the job: some barbers for haircutting, some for shaving beards and the junior ones for washing hair. These were all novelties back then.
That was not the only clever thing. The Shanghainese barbershops served customers with magazines, newspapers and even cigarettes for free. Radios and televisions were standard items to entertain customers. Frame your mind in the 1950s when most households could not afford magazines and newspapers, much less radios and televisions, and you know that the Shanghainese are rightly said to be entrepreneur minded.
Well, every medal has its reverse. There is something backward about these old barbershops. With a few exceptions, the Shanghainese barbershops provide man-only service. The reason for this should not be required making when you think about the social status of women in the old days. Some years ago, I heard an old folk recalling how people flocked to a department store to see the first saleslady behind the counter in yesteryear.
These Shanghainese barbershops are fast disappearing in Hong Kong. The first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR Government, Mr CK Tung (the OOCL freight tycoon), had been a frequent patron of Sun Man Wah, one of the remaining Shanghainese barbershops. Note that it is "had been" because Sun Man Wah closed business in 2008. Sadly, it seems that they are destined to vanish completely soon.
With the demolition of LNII, this Hei Lin Wah Beauty Parlour is following the same footpath. These Shanghainese barbershops are over, done with, finito. This is a shame.
The following video report on the closure of the Sun Man Wah gives a glimpse of the nitty-gritty inside a Shanghainese barbershop.
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