Roadside barbers



Roadside barbers used to be a common sight in Singapore, operating mainly out of makeshift sheds with walls of wooden planks, and wooden roofs or awnings.1 Also known as street barbers or five-foot-way barbers, they offer fuss-free trims in back alleys.2

History
Roadside barbers were commonly found along Singapore’s streets and back lanes.3 In the 1950s, the bustling side lane in Bugis was dubbed “Barber Street” as many barbers vied for customers there.4 They were also found along a cobbled lane that served as a link between Jalan Sultan and North Bridge Road. The lane was called the “Barber Row”.5 Most barbers were either Malays, Indians or Chinese.6 The barber shop often had a small, beaten tarpaulin canopy for a roof, below which was the shop.7 The space between two canopies acted as a territorial boundary. The shops usually consisted of a few old-fashioned chairs, a box-like cupboard hung on the wall, a small wall mirror and a few plastic bins filled with water.8 Most barbers were usually self-taught, although some picked up the trade by working as an apprentice under an established barber.9


Job scope
Barbers usually started work in the morning and continued to work until dusk.10 When it became too dark to continue work, they packed up for the day.11 Their daily earnings depended on the weather, as rainy days saw fewer customers.12 Their charges went up during the Chinese New Year season, as it was customary for the Chinese to begin their new year with a fresh haircut.13 The Chinese have a tradition of shaving a baby’s head bald in the initial few weeks or months. On such occasions, the barbers usually made a home call and were paid extra for their service.14

Roadside barbers also cleaned ears.15 They used a five-centimetre-long metal ear cleaner that had a hook at one end to fish out the ear wax. After that a small fluffy brush was swished around the middle ear for the final clean-up.16 Apart from cleaning ears, Chinese barbers also used to clean the tongue and nose.17 Indian barbers gave their customers a good massage with their strong fingers and palms on their scalps.18 They also massaged their clients’ faces and shoulders.19

Developments
Roadside barbers are almost non-existent today except for an odd stall or two in locations such as Katong, Kim Keat Lane, Chinatown and Amoy Street.20 Their haircuts are inexpensive and very affordable, which is why they still attract a loyal clientele.21 These traditional barbers face stiff competition from unisex hair salons.22 Upscale barber shops offering haircuts and other grooming services have become the popular choice among men in their mid-20s to 50s.23



Author

Thulaja Naidu



References
1. Boey, K. C. (2001, June 11). Hair and now. The Straits Times, p. 7; Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Tai, J., & Goh, S. H. (2012, October 19). Singapore’s last street barbers. The Straits Times, p. 6; Tay, B. C. (1993, December 14). Dying breed of street barbers. The New Paper, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tai, J. (2012, October 19). He cuts a lonesome figure. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 19. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
6. Dying occupations of Singapore. (1978). Singapore: Raffles Interact Club, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 331.70095957 RAF)
7. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 19. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Boey, K. C. (2001, June 11). Hair and now. The Straits Times, p. 7; Lim, R. (1980, May 6). Barbers’ row. New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 19. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
9. Tay, B. C. (1993, December 14). Dying breed of street barbers. The New Paper, p. 14; Tai, J., & Goh, S. H. (2012, October 19). Singapore’s last street barbers. The Straits Times, p. 6; Low, A. (1986, August 22). No shortcuts for roadside barber Hong Yang. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 19. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Leong, J. (2015, May 19). Dying trades in Singapore: Of snake charming, roadside barbering and songkok making. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
13. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
14. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
15. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Barber Row. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
17. Singh, R. (1995). A journey through Singapore: Travellers' impressions of a by-gone time selected and arranged in a complete narrative. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 162, 164. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 REE-[HIS])
18. Boey, K. C. (2001, June 11). Hair and now. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Teo, J. (2014, April 7). Big Picture 2013/14 Week 32 Finalist #3. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
19. Boey, K. C. (2001, June 11). Hair and nowThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Teo, G. (2002, July 19). Receding heritage. The Straits Times, p. 14; Tai, J., & Goh, S. H. (2012, October 19). Singapore’s last street barbers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leong, J. (2015, May 19). Dying trades in Singapore: Of snake charming, roadside barbering and songkok making. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s Resources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
21. Tai, J., & Goh, S. H. (2012, October 19). Singapore’s last street barbers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Yong, H. (2005, November 3). Cutting losses. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chung, G. (2014, April 18). Grooms men. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment>>Vanishing Trades
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services
Barbers--Singapore
People and communities>>Fashion and grooming
Vanishing trade
Street vendors--Singapore