I was sauntering across the link bridge from Marina Bay Sands Hotel to Gardens by the Bay, admiring the scenery when I almost jumped out of my skin to see a man plastered on the building’s glass panes as I turned my head to the side. We must be about 10 storeys above street level! With urbanization, most buildings opt for glass façades for a modern feel. The cleaning though – is not easy at all; cleaners such as this Indian have to risk their lives to do their jobs.
Some of us complain incessantly about our air-conditioned office jobs. Before I do that now, I will remember our humble high-rise building cleaners, how some of them left their homes to find work, and risk their lives doing such a tedious job that no one wants to do – just to provide better lives for their families. One tip I took away from this brief encounter – Crocs are great on slippery surfaces. :)
Armed with makeshift awnings, a reclining chair and mirror, street barbers used to do brisk business offering fuss-free trims during our grandfathers’ time. Street barbers were commonly found along Barber Street, a backlane between Jalan Sultan and North Bridge Road. Armed with just a few simple tools, the services the barbers provided were all-encompassing – a haircut came with trimming of eyebrow, facial and nostril hair, as well as ear digging. All for the price of S$6 (current price; it was S$4 20 years ago. If only the rate of inflation was at that slow a pace).
Every barber has a different tale to tell of how he entered the profession. Most of them honed their skills by working as apprentices under an established barber or were self-taught. They would then start their career along the five-foot way, or be called to homes to provide haircuts. After the development of public flats by the Housing Development Board in the 1960s, street barbers were often seen along the corridors of housing blocks, crying out “cut hair” in various dialects. And to think it is an absolute luxury now getting a haircut in the comfort of our homes – how ironic!
As Singapore progressed, old buildings were torn down to give way to high-rise modern buildings. The street barbers lost their space and were gradually replaced by modern, air-conditioned hair salons. All that Singapore is left with now are four elderly street barbers, faithfully holding on to their trade, snipping away , rain or shine.
Young entrepreneurs have recently started to set up shop to preserve the art of the back alley barber, wooing then men with luxurious male grooming and dandy-looking shops – with prices more than 10 times the street barber. With the current trend being retro, I wonder wouldn’t it be even more cool to go to the real-deal street barber? It’s so much cheaper, and most of my guy friends just want a fuss-free cut anyway. Maybe I shall drag one of them (you know who you are, heh) to try a street barber soon.
The National Heritage Board interviewed street barber Mr Lee Yong Tong who has been in plying his trade for the past 50 years to document Singapore’s traditional trades. Mr Lee attends to about 6 to 10 customers a day and is busiest on Saturdays when office workers visit him after their half-day work. He earns about $800 a month. Working hours are from 10AM to 4PM. Most street barbers have rest days now as they are already in their 80s. They are never lonely – their friends sit around the ‘shop’, drinking coffee and chatting the time away (they help to welcome customers too). Most of them have their own family who give them an allowance, but still want to retain their financial independence – and sanity (meaning get outta the house!).
I think Mr Lee has a great sense of humour:
“Nowadays, the young people think that it is art with their hair looking one side longer than the other, or with ‘holes’ in them…In the past, mothers brought out the cane to get their children to get a proper haircut. But now, the parents bring in the law when the teachers try to cut the students’ hair.”
Why not go say hello to Mr Lee at the back alley of Boon Tat Street (Tanjong Pagar) and get a haircut from him today before he hangs up his scissors for good? You may not have much time left before he does that.
More on Taiwan:
Taiwan – Blooming Delights and Cultural Richness in Daxi 大溪
Taiwan – Nature’s Wonders at Yehliu Geopark 野柳地質公園
Taiwan – Jiufen’s 九份 Golden Nostalgia
Taiwan – Urban Respite at Beitou Hot Springs 北投溫泉
Taiwan – Tamsui 淡水：Of Romantic Sunsets & Tantalizing Snacks
Taiwan – Jingguashi 金瓜石：Goldmine of Yesteryear
Taiwan – SHIFEN十分放天灯: Sending Wishes to the Sky
Taiwan – Sun Moon Lake 日月潭: Picturesque Nature
Getting to Shifen
MRT Muzha Station (捷運木柵站) -> No. 15 Taipei Bus (台北客運15路公車) -> Shifen (十分)
1. Take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) at the Taipei Railway Station (TRA). It’s where Taipei Main Station is – follow the underground signs to get to TRA. Train schedule: http://twtraffic.tra.gov.tw/twrail/English/e_index.aspx
2. Alight at Ruifang Station and buy tickets for the Pingxi Line (平溪支線). Take the train to Shifen Railway Station (十分火車站). Rides are unlimited on the Pingxi Line.
Taking a Taxi from Ruifang Station
You can save some time by taking the train to Ruifang Station, and taking a taxi there. The prices are regulated by the authorities and clearly indicated, so the taxi drivers cannot overcharge. Save even more by sharing a taxi with other travelers going the same way.
Single destinations: Jiufen (九份): NT180; Jinguashi (金瓜石); NT240, Shifenliao (十分): NT480; Shuangxi (双溪): NT600
– Package A (NT$1,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街)
– Package B (NT$2,300)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
– Package C (NT$2,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Yehliu Geopark (野柳风景区)
– Package D (NT$2,800)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
*Prices for reference only. Check the prices when you are there.
If you are looking to hire a driver, you can consider Mr Liu 刘先生. He’s a burly uncle who used to be a truck driver, and very honest. He charged us a very reasonable per day rate, brought us to all the places where the locals went, and none of those touristy crap. And we felt safe with him. You can give him a try if you wish. Mr Liu’s Mobile: (0)988-121-529.
Another contact you can try is Lucky Zhao +886 913 185 157, slightly pricier but good service and speaks well.