A Singapore Adventure by Snipped Sam
Reading all these nostalgic stories and haircuts in days past, I remember when I was 16 back in 1971, it was the summer holiday and had had the chance to leave England and stay with a great aunt in Singapore for six weeks she was defiantly an old colonial, I had met her some years before. Her home was very impressive and she had a number of staff including Mr Chen. He was married to her cook and he seemed to be in charge of looking after everything a sort of personal assistant/secretary especially overseeing her magnificent garden. She explained to me that she hoped I would really enjoy my stay with her; it had always been her wish that her relatives in England should have the opportunity to visit Singapore. Then she outlined here her house rules which I was expected to observe. She then called in Mr Chen and reintroduced him although we had already met.
"Now young Dominic, I appreciate that you are sixteen but I must insist and also ensure that good behaviour is maintained and my rules are observed, I believe that a boy of your age may still need on occasion some discipline, rather than have to worry about this myself, I have appointed Mr. Chen to look after that side of things , I'm sure you understand”
"When you say to look after that side of things what do you mean Aunt Mildred?”
"He will take care of any punishments you may need to have, should you misbehave, I am quite sure you would rather Mr Chen gives you any beatings you are in need of, of course If my late husband was still alive it he would be taking care of all these arrangements.”
I looked at Mr Chen and he smiled
"Check through his clothes and remove anything unsuitable, I suggested he had shorts and short sleeved shirts and sandals with him when he came "
"There are some in his chest of drawers madam; I will remove his jeans and all other unsuitable clothes”
"Excellent I knew I could rely on you”
So began a very strict regime, a lot of my clothes were removed and replaced with some shorts and short sleeved white shirts, Mr Chen would usually decide what I should wear each day. The good part was,. I started seeing the sights of Singapore, I very had mixed feelings: travelling to Singapore on my own was a massive adventure and it had been really generous of Aunt Mildred to pay for my trip, seeing this totally different world was amazing, Aunt Mildred was fascinating with all her stories of her travels. I kept out of trouble and was always respectful to Mr Chen however I felt more like I was six than sixteen.. One afternoon in the second week I was in the sitting room with Aunt Mildred, I was reading a book and she was writing some letters. Mr Chen came in; I noticed that he had had his hair cut since I saw him earlier. Aunt Mildred looked up,
"You have come for Dominic, Mr Chen”
"Yes Madam, we are ready for him”
"Go with Mr Chen, Dominic”
"Where am I going Aunt Mildred?”
Mr Chen gave me a stern look, and Aunt Mildred just repeated her words to go with Mr Chen.”
I followed him through the house and into a room just past the Kitchen, there sat, Ling who was the young servant boy who did all the odd jobs, he had a white sheet draped round him and an elderly Chinese man was cutting his hair, the man looked up at me and he smiled to himself. I immediately knew what was planned for me
"Please Mr Chen ,I don't want to have my haircut”
"All males in this house have to see the barber when he comes”
"But I am not a servant Mr Chen”
"You are not a servant Dominic, but you need to have your hair cut”
My hair certainly was not long for the day, blond wavy hair, the longest part would not be over two inches in length, and I really did not want to part with it.
"I don't want my haircut Mr Chen”
He said something to the barber in Chinese and then told me to follow him, we went back out into the corridor, by one of the doors a rattan carpet beater hung from a hook, and he took hold of it by the handle
"you must learn to do as you are told Dominic "he placed his hand on the back of my head and bent me over, he started whacking me really hard with the carpet beater, what was really humiliating , all the servants could hear me getting the whacks, it really hurt and I cried out a couple of times.
"Stand up Dominic...turns round ..... Are you going to be a good boy and have your haircut or do you want to bend over again and have some more of this? "He said brandishing the carpet beater
"I'll have my hair cut”
"I'll have my haircut please, Sir”
I repeated what he said
"That's better, I may work for your aunt and in your eyes I'm a servant, but I think it is usual to call a man sir, if he has the authority to beat you "
"Yes sir "
"We shall now go back to the barber, and I will tell him how I want your hair to be cut”
When we returned to the barber, Ling which was short for Lingfeng was off the chair and sweeping up the hair from his haircut, he looked up at me a gave me a kind smile. We waited until he finished and then the barber gestured for me to sit on the wooden chair. I sat down, feeling the extreme discomfort from Mr Chens whacking, the barber then draped the white sheet round me and tucked it in tightly, he then placed some cotton wool at the back of my collar. I was sitting in front of a cheval mirror; there was a small table at the side which had a small case which the barber carried the tools of his trade around in. The barber combed my hair and then spoke to Mr Chen in Chinese, he then stepped forward and started pointing to my head, he ran his finger in a line close to the top of my head, then talking in Chinese he pointed to the area above my ears. In the mirror I saw Ling standing. The barber picked up a long handled soft bristled clothes brush, I knew they were soft bristled because he brushed them over my hair, he then picked up a set of electric clippers he switched them on, the barber placed them to the front of my head and started moving them back, I must have really jerked, The barber stood back and Mr Chen gave me a slap with his hand on the back of my head
”Keep your head still "he barked ,he then turned to Ling and said something in Chinese, The barber carried on and Ling returned a short while later with the carpet beater, he handed it to Mr Chen. As the barber clipped off my hair he kept brushing my head. This was quite a nice sensation, I thought to myself that I had always wondered what I'd look like with my hair really short..It would have been nice if had made that decision myself..The barber spoke to Ling in Chinese and he left, shortly after he came back with a jug of water and a small china bowl. The barber went into his case and brought out a shaving brush and some shaving soap. I watched him as he produced a lather on the shaving brush, I was feeling very alarmed. Mr Chen again ran his finger along my head about two inches above my ear. He was clearly telling the barber what he wanted, the barber then started to apply the shaving cream above my ears and to the back of my head. He then took a straight razor and taking a firm hold of my head he shaved the hair off above my ears where he had applied the shaving cream. I wanted to wriggle, I wanted to shout out, I wanted to kick the barber, I had to keep still and stay silent. Eventually the job was complete, the barber wiped my head and face with a dry towel, he then applied a preparation to the shaved areas of my head, it certainly stung but it smelt really nice. I was taken off the chair and Ling stepped forward to sweep up my hair
Mr Chen walked with me back to see my Aunt, I was told to turn round, and so she could see the entire haircut.
"Very good Mr Chen, Dominic will be staying here a bit longer than first planned and going to school here .It's a very strict school so I will need his hair to be kept this short”
"Very good madam, shall I arrange for the barber to come more frequently. ?”
"Of course Mr Chen, have his hair cut whenever you see fit, and I see no reason why Young Lingfeng should not have his cut this short as well.”
"Yes madam, I will see to it”
"Young Dominic looks rather grumpy; I am at my bridge club tonight, but I think he may be in need of one of your special laxative preparations, see has one, and make him have a cold bath and an early bed tonight”
"Very good madam”
"Mr Chen, I've been told that Lingfeng broke one of the tea cups from my best china”
"Yes Madam, the money will be deducted from his wages for a replacement cup and saucer”
"Good, he has been rather careless lately”
"I have already caned him so he learns to be more careful, madam”
"Jolly good, the discipline for the young gentlemen of this house is in safe hands, thanks to you Mr Chen.Now Dominic, I am going to set you a little homework to do for me, you are to write me an essay of not less than five hundred words about the importance of a smart appearance and why a boy's best friend is his barber”
1971 seems a long time ago now, and sometimes I wonder if this really happened or did I dream it?.