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A Saudi Haircut and Shave


     All barbers in Saudi are men, as are almost all the workers. These workers are not Arabs, but foreigners.  Mostly Indians and Filipinos but some other nationalities in a near perfect gradient of color. Darker skin being relegated to the menial and physical jobs and the work becoming more office and air conditioning based as one gets paler.

     These men do not hold certificates from beauty academies or a license of any kind. They appear to learn by doing, which can be a bit unnerving when one first puts a straight razor to your throat, but I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me start from the outside.  

     A Saudi barbershop looks like any other Saudi building.  A tan strip of run down little shops next to a petrol station with a heavy sliding gate that indicates if the shop is open or not,  which is needed since they do not keep hours but open when they feel like it. Trash is piled up near the door unless the wind has blown it away.  The door might fall off the hinges when you try to open it but most of the time it decides to stay on and just give an ear splitting screech as you enter.  The barbershop itself is a small, high dingy room with two chairs for those being served and a few filthy sofas for waiting guests. There might be a strong odor in the room or not, mostly depending on the temperature outside. A small, old television located in the corner fills the room with Bollywood programs.  














     As you sit for your turn you cannot help but notice that there are no disinfecting sprays or liquids.  The towels used to shield you from your own hair are stained and were perhaps washed, once.  A haircut is like a haircut anywhere. Straightforward with scissors, water, and a brush.  All of which bring previous victims hair along to mingle with yours. When the gentleman is finished you realize that it was all so easy and fluid, that you might as well get a shave.  You will need one since a beard is mandatory in the Kingdom. He leans you back, wraps you in the condemned towel, and then proceeds to disinfect the razor. This is accomplished by lighting it on fire with what appears to be perfume.  It is the only sterilization performed, and yet it is done with such show that you cannot help appreciate it. After this he puts a new razor blade into the razor and proceeds to go to work.  Some people fall asleep, some watch in the mirror, while I personally choose to drift through my own thoughts.  

     After you have paid the barber a modest sum and walk out the door a few things cross your mind.  Is that the best haircut and shave I've ever had?  What exactly does a certificate prove?  Has anybody ever gotten sick, ill, or even had a rash from a barber here since they are so dirty and don't clean the instruments?  These are questions you will have to answer for yourself.  They are yes, obviously nothing, and not to my knowledge.




     Greeting from Riyadh.  That fine and mysterious Muslim month of Ramadan is upon us. I very rarely claim to be an expert on anything, and Muslim holidays are no exception.  I have not read any books or watched any videos about this special month but have discussed it with the Arabs that I work with. 
     Let us step back a few days in time.  Saud, Nayef, and I are lounging on the couches in our break room.  Eating dates and drinking the off-putting and terrible Arabic coffee.  This “coffee” is a foul mixture of spices and has no relation to the coffee bean it supposedly comes from.  I always try to be a good guest though, and power through the tiny cupful that my hosts, or co-workers if you please, keep re-filling.  As I hide my disappointment with each sip these two energetically explain the month to me. 
     For this turn of the moon, as the Muslim calendar is based on the moon, the followers of Allah must fast while the sun is showing.  This means no eating, drinking, smoking, or pretty much anything else you can think of.  Shops and restaurants are closed all day the streets look like an abandoned ghost town.  They claim the purpose of this is to allow every person to feel and understand the suffering of those that are doing without, so they can have a better appreciation of the difficulties the poor and downtrodden face and be appreciative of what they have.  


     This all sounds very nice and I approve, but there have been some doubts raised in my mind as we have gotten a few days into it.  I have seen that the restaurants and shops aren't closed all day, they simply changed their hours to be open at night.  It always happens during summer, which is incredible luck considering the days are boiling hot but the nights are satisfactory.  The citizens feast as soon as the blazing sun disappears under the horizon and then go to cafes to smoke and converse. Companies even change their work hours so their employees can sleep during the day.  
     Now it is true that my doubts may be unfounded or incorrect since I have not thrown myself into the fasting, but this sounds a bit like just flipping everything 12 hours and becoming nocturnal.  Sleeping during the day and doing all manner of normal human activity all night does not constitute a sacrifice or make one pious in my mind, but if it makes them happy I shall just smile and let them get on with it.


Hong Kong Through a Childs Eyes


     My first trip was when I was one year old.  My family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from Colorado for my Fathers work.  I don't remember anything of those days so let us leave it. 
     We moved and traveled quite often but the first time I traveled solo was flying from San Francisco, California to Miami, Florida.  I believe I was fourteen years old.  Perhaps older, perhaps younger, but fourteen is close enough.  My Father was a pilot, and I could fly for free.  So I decided to take a day trip to Miami.  I cannot tell you why I chose Miami but there I was.  A boy dressed in Khakis and a nice button-up shirt, as employees and families had to dress up to fly in those days, flying across the country.  No hotel reservation, no car, no friends or family waiting.  A few dollars in my pocket and a small backpack full of dreams.  I was ready to take on the world.  
     I wish I could tell you that this trip is imprinted in my mind.  That the bright lights, beaches, and colorful people are all shining memories in my head.  But it would be a lie. My little white cells consist of riding a city bus with vague impressions of colorful Art Deco buildings, and of walking into a hotel lobby that was on the beach.  I didn't spend the night in a hotel and ended up sleeping on the beach, so why I walked into that hotel or what I did in there is as unknown to me as it is to a perfect stranger.  I have either blocked that trip out of my mind or it was so uneventful that I never formed any memories.  I have no desire to ever go back so let us leave this as well.  
     Shortly after this jaunt of mine my family took a trip to Hong Kong.  My father, mother, brothers and I flew across the massive Pacific Ocean to a strange land. Of the flight I remember nothing save the landing, but oh how that landing will be imprinted on my mind until I am dust. 
     Kai Tak airport was famous for it's approaches, and rightfully so.  I remember looking out the window, as I always had to have the window seat, and seeing buildings on both sides of the plane rising above the wings.  A tunnel of buildings big enough to swallow a 747, the Queen of the Skies, is not something a young boy will forget.  












     Our hotel had an exquisite doorman, and the lobby was extravagant, but details I cannot give.  I believe all five of us stayed in the same room, but I must have had a cot to myself, because early the next morning I couldn't sleep and got up before sunrise.  I quietly escaped without waking anybody to see what this city had to offer. I bowed to the doorman and set off on my adventure.  No money, no map, mobile phones were still unheard of, and I had not told anyone where I was going.  I was an American child walking alone in a strange new world. 
     It was quiet at this early hour, save for a garbage truck and two men cleaning under a bridge.  My feet lead the way as my head leaned back and my mind admired the sheer number of gigantic buildings that seemed to reach into eternity.  Soon enough shop fronts began to open and people filed into the streets.  When I got tired I sat down on a bench, picked up a newspaper that was laying next to me and pretended to read the illegible characters  on the page, as if that would somehow fool the people into thinking I was a local. 
     I walked on, passing electronic shop after electronic shop until I was stopped dead in my tracks.  I, as a city boy, was staring into a shop of nightmares.  Red and white items were hanging in the window, which looked to be animals, but my mind could not accept it.  This was a boy that had once been served a chicken leg for dinner by his mother, started crying and naively asked, "Where is the rest of the chicken?" as if the rest of it could be found, it could somehow be put back together and walk and live again. 
     They resembled ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, and others.  Strung up by their necks or dangling from hooks in their backs. It was a scene of butchery this man wishes he could forget.  After staring for some time and imprinting the full scene deep into my memory I put my head down and walked on in a trance. 
     Somehow I crossed a bay that separates two parts of the city.  If I sneaked on a ferry I cannot say.  Not because I fear being arrested or fined by the authorities, but because I lack the memory.  What I do know is that I got to the other side where I was presented with a steep hill.  There was a tram going along the road up the hill but I decided to walk, perhaps to show these people how strong an American boy is, but more likely the reason being that I had no money to pay for the tram and was unable to sneak aboard. 
     At the top of this hill was a shopping area, and an ancient old man pulling a rickshaw.  He came up talking some crazy made up language and pointing to his transportation device.  I tried to wave him off but he was having none of it.  He took my hand and put me in the passenger seat.  Off we went around the market.  One simple loop and then he gestured me to get out, which I happily complied with.  His palm then opened up hoping for the clink of coins.  Since my pockets had not jangled in quite some time I tried to take some consolation in the knowledge that I may just have taught him a valuable lesson in picking his marks.  As it was I just turned and walked away.  Back to my hotel, and a ghost white mother, I went, having seen all of Hong Kong I needed to see. A towering city where foreigners of all ages can sight see unmolested and get free rickshaw rides. 

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