Saigon barbers abuzz following semi-lockdown ease

By Long Nguyen   April 29, 2020 | 05:04 am PT
A host of urbanites are scrambling for a haircut after the social distancing ease took effect, giving pressured barbers a chance to earn.

Huynh Van Phuc, a 23-year-old barber, worked a total 21 hours last weekend, after three weeks without a job. Last Saturday, Phuc started work at 8 a.m. and served his last customer at 9.30 p.m.

Phuc’s barbershop on Saigon’s Le Dai Hanh Street has welcomed hundreds in the last few days.
"A customer will have to wait up to one hour to have his hair cut," Phuc said, adding many decided to return the following week.

Meanwhile, behind the glass doors, a long line of customers were glued to their phones waiting, with a dozen barbers busy brandishing scissors and sharp razors.

A barber and his client don face masks at a shop in Districtt 1 on April 25, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

A barber and client don face masks in District 1 on April 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

This is a typical scene at many barbershops and hair salons in Ho Chi Minh City as the end of the semi-lockdown period triggered a flood of customers who could not cut their hair for nearly one month.

On March 24, HCMC ordered all its restaurants and barber shops to close over rising numbers of Covid-19 infections. The semi-lockdown kept these shops closed until April 23, when the campaign was eased.

At 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, locals could not find a parking spot on Ly Thai To Street, where a barbershop was brimming with customers.

"I cut my son’s hair last week but he hated it, and now he wants to go to a barbershop before returning to school next week," Tran Hoang, 39, said while waiting behind the glass door.

Nguyen Hoang Tu, a young barber, said he has up to 30 clients a day, double the average prior to nationwide social distancing.

"A month before Tet (Lunar New Year), each of us served less than 20 customers a day," Tu commented, adding everyone has to start work earlier and finish later to meet skyrocketing demand.

After nearly a month without income, with all gyms, pool halls, beauty parlors, and barbershops required to shut, resuming business means earning again, according to Tu.

His colleagues concur, saying they could earn up to VND800,000 ($34) a day if working industriously.
"This is a blessing, the closure created a huge financial burden, we all feel happy and ready to serve as many clients as possible," said Tran Thanh Vu, owner of a District 10 hair salon.

However, standing for up to 12 hours a day is not as much fun as it sounds. Phuc said he experienced numbness in his legs and feet after prolonged standing to serve customers. Some of his colleagues also complain of shoulder and back pain.

"Basically, we do not have a lunch break, so we give each other a back massage whenever we can," barber Le Tuan Hoang, 29, confirmed.

Some talk to their clients and colleagues to avoid fatigue from overworking.

"I told my staff to keep an eye on their coworkers so they can help each other when someone is overwhelmed or tired," Vu said, adding they must be careful and concentrate in order not to "ruin any heads."

Remain on guard

As the Covid-19 threat is here to stay, many barbers and hair salons have adopted strict measures to avoid infection and put patrons at ease.

At Phuc’s shop, clients are required to sanitize their hands right after entering and before using any equipment.

Apart from a mask, barbers also wear a plastic face shield to protect themselves from the tiny virus-carrying droplets in case patients are infected.

Wearing masks is also a must for clients, while having their hair cut.

People wear masks whille waiting for their haircut at a shop on April 25, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

Masked clientele have a scroll before having a cut on April 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

"I cannot see my face in the mirror with the new hair while wearing a mask, but at least I feel safe," said Van, one of Phuc’s clients.

They understand following protective measures is the only way to retain their patrons.

Vu was relieved to open again after a month of closure. But he worried the crowded shop would pose infection risks and worry customers, especially when most are housewives, who tend to be more careful when it comes to protecting their health.

Since Monday, the hairdresser has refused to let more than eight clients enter his shop.
"Some were annoyed, but I told them about the social distancing rules, and they understood," he recalled.

In the next few days, urbanites will have more free time during the four-day national holiday; barbershop and hair salons will attract a myriad of customers, according to Vu.

He has bought more masks and hand sanitizer for his staff and patrons, who are "happy to see each other after a long pause and should be fully aware of the Covid-19 threats."

"We want to have our hair cut, our nails done. But firstly, we want to be healthy in this post-social distancing era," he maintained.

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