Kaht Sohk – two small Khmer words that I left my apartment armed with today, along with a healthy dose of ‘f*ck it, I can do this’ floating around in my head. Yep, it was time to get my hair cut and kaht sohk (roughly pronounced Ghut soh means cut hair).
Now, I want to share with you here that going to the hairdressers is quite a biggy for me. In the UK I am hugely intimidated by hairdressers, just the thought of walking through the doors to be greeted by young confident, trendy young men and women scares the bejesus out of me let alone having to engage in small talk whilst they try to interpret my requested style (or don’t bother and do their own thing leaving me to lie and say I like it even though I hate the hell out of it but am too scared to say). Thankfully I found the amazingly down to earth Yvonne (and Rebecca who latterly was responsible for my fabulous bleached look) at M3 Hair & Beauty (check them out if you’re local) early into my time in Manchester and so was saved from this torturous process for the last ten years, but here I was faced once again with finding a hairdresser, this time with the added discomfort of sticking out like a sore thumb and not speaking the lingo was not making for a relaxed approach.
The streets of Phnom Penh are teeming with hairdressers and barbers and for a week or so now I’ve been building up to this event, checking out places as I passed and deciding that the local market area looked like a likely place to get the job done.
So I headed down that way and approaching the first place I came to, muttered a confident Ghut Soh accompanied by melodramatic haircutting hand gestures (once an English teacher always an English teacher!) only to be greeted by a shaking of the head. I’m not sure whether this was because the place wasn’t actually a hairdressers and was only a beauty salon (or god forbid a brothel), or, more likely the thought of cutting my weird short foreign hair filled them with dread and so it was easier to just say no.
Whatever the case, undeterred I marched (slowly obviously as it’s very sunny today and as humid as ever) around to the other side of the market where I’d been sizing up a likely suspect whilst on my lunchtime strolls in the week.
I headed in confidently, uttered the immortal words, Ghut Soh, and low and behold was greeted with a beaming smile from the four ladies within and a yes from the one sitting in the chair who was currently in the process of having her beutiful thick long black hair stripped back to add bright pink and purple streaks to it.
I asked how much it would cost (also in Khmer – woohoo get me) and sat down safe in the knowledge that whatever happened in the next half an hour I was only going to be $1.50 poorer at the end of it.
I sat patiently, sweating profusely until one of the ladies kindly repositioned the fan, as the rainbow streaking process was completed and then it was my turn. Towel and gown on, I showed my hairdresser the picture of how my hair looks when it’s just been cut and we kicked off.
This lovely Cambodian lady took so much care and attention it was a joy to watch. The concentration on her face was intense as she gently took a section of my hair, measured it and razored it carefully before placing it down and brushing it with her fingers to see how it lay. At the same time one of her colleagues took photos for me and then for her boss (the rainbow hair lady sitting next to me).
The back completed, more water was sprayed (yes my baby fine hair had dried in the 5 minutes since she wet it for the first time) and the process continued around the fringe and sides.
All the time this was happening the girls were smiling and chatting happily whilst the guy out front played snippets of Cambodian pop tunes at full blast. You can listen to a minute of this annoying tune flipping exercise here (if the sign in or register with dropbox message appears close it and you should be able to play it)
We then moved on to the top and there was much hilarity as she finished cutting a section only for it to remain bolt upright Mohican style. Photos were taken before the sections (there were now 3 Mohawks) were carefully laid back, my hair was brushed gently and the whole process was over.
I happily handed over 2 dollars, refused my change and headed out of the hairdressers happy with the first of many haircuts I will no doubt be getting in Cambodia.