Report from Tomorrow - Vol 17

1USD = S$1.70 (S$1 = 0.60USD)

Haircuts

Getting a haircut here is another unique experience. The first time I went to a place near us and just asked them to "cut my hair" (seemingly simply enough, I thought), they wanted to wash my hair. No, I don't need it washed. This clearly was not SOP and while they complied, they clearly thought it curious. The owner of the place (a man) who cut my hair said, "I know you're in a hurry (I wasn't really), but this is the way we do it. Life is to be experienced, try it next time. If you don't like it, we'll just cut your hair after that."

Well, with a philosopher to cut my hair, I agreed my second time in. What a lot of fuss! First they bring you a glass of pop and a magazine. I should have taken this as a hint - I was in for a long session. It starts out with a person who only does shampoos who squirts a little liquid soap on your scalp and starts a finger massage. By the time they are done, they've massaged your scalp and you have a head of soap, but surprisingly, no water has run down on your face.

Now off to a special area where you lie down and put your head in a sink and they rinse you off, followed by a quick towel down. Now we're ready for the cut. My philosopher shows up and chats with me while he cuts my hair (at least that was the same). The guy offers to cut my beard "since I'm a regular" (this is my second time) which I agree to. We've spent so much time together, I figure there's some sort of male bonding thing going on here. Actually this was a good thing, as he could cut my beard the same length, something I cannot do myself. I'm getting close to finishing, I figure.

Now the shampoo guy shows up and leads me over for another rinse (don't want those loose hairs I guess). Another head in the sink and quick dry and I'm back in the chair. Now they get out the hair drier and blow dry the few hairs I have left. What else can they do - I gotta be done now.

Nope. My philosopher returns and carefully restyles my hair and snips away again for 5 minutes, catching those few single hairs he might have missed the first time. Finally, he declares it acceptable. Over an hour later, we settle up and I'm charged the standard fee for a "haircut" - S$25. I even got a 10% discount because of where we live.

Actually I did not mind the experience, but it was pretty weird bonding with your barber like that. Gee, I sorta miss him :-)

Names

Getting used to names here is a continual effort. Chinese/Malay names are usually of the form "last-name first-name second-name", as in "Lim Bak Wee", the executive vice president of the bank division I work for. It is proper to address him formally as "Mr Lim" or "Lim Bak Wee". His first name is "Bak Wee". Three-part names are very common. Only occasionally will you see just a single first name.

Curiously, I'm told that not in at least one area of mainland China, the two "first names" are written in English as one word. But if one of these folks comes to Singapore, their first name is split into two words (e.g. Xao Xiyuan becomes Xao Xi Yuan).

The three words making up the name are almost always 3-5 characters long - originating in the names for various Chinese characters. The last name is the name of the father as we would normally expect. The first name follows no set rules. Sometimes it is the last name of someone significant in the family.

Well, that's all true for many Chinese, especially the older ones. It is also very common for a Chinese person to adopt a Western first name. This is often done in the early teen years and is more like a nickname, since it has no legal status. So my work world is filled with first names like James and Mark and Mary etc. In this case the person takes the Western form and a name might be "James Tan", while his real name might be something like "Tan Siow Boon".

The younger S'porean generation has been reversing this somewhat and giving their children Western first names, in which case then the legal name might be "Elizabeth Lim". In this case the parents usually also provide a Chinese name to keep the grandparents happy, but the legal name is the Western one.

And then just to confuse the heck out of me, I met "Julia" - only later to discover her name was Tan Ju Lia. In my work world we always refer to a person by their first name (even Bak Wee our VP or Frances the President of the bank). What makes this difficult for me is hearing sounds properly, like "soo choo" (spelled Siew Chiew), confused by any accent. I usually can't make anything out until I see it written down.

Indian names are both more difficult and easier. Indian names are of the same format, last-name first-name, where the last name is the father's last name. Very often the last names are quite long, filled with vowels. Most Indians will adopt one or two short syllables as a nickname, so "Masrudyn Bin Main" becomes known as "Mas" and "Rajasimba A M" becomes simply "Raj" (you just know he abbreviates "A M" because it 30 characters long :-)