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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PhnomPenhasides: The Western man and the PPenh barber

PhnomPenhasides: The Western man and the PPenh barber

PhnomPenhasides

FOR Western men in general, and the Anglo-Saxon man in particular, one of the things about living in Phnom Penh that can be life-changing is the easy and affordable access to high-quality personal grooming services. Yes, I'm talking about the barbershop on the corner of every street.

Aside from haircuts, the average Phnom Penh barber offers a range of maintenance services that Asian men usually take for granted and many Anglo-Saxon men treat as something that will undermine their masculinity, sap their energy and drain their manhood.

Most western men have never been shaved by a stranger (unless they've been hospitalised, and then it's just a quick buzz with a battery-operated razor), but barbers here offer a cut-throat shave as well as ear-cleaning, nail care and facials as standard procedures for men.

Although you can see the practice of ear cleaning pretty much everywhere, it always seems like a medical procedure rather than the kind of poking and prodding that is acceptable outside a clinic.

There never seems to be any sterilisation of instruments, and the idea of having that long sharp thing inside your ear in the middle of a busy barbershop with customers and staff jostling around seems like a bad idea.

Wide range of services

If you go to the barber just for a haircut, however, you're missing the point.

After your barber finishes the hair-cutting part, his uniformed staff start the ancillary parts of hair care - washing. The process includes a seated shampoo head massage that should last for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by a further shampoo and conditioner wash on a bed in front of a basin.

The large number of balding Western men running around the world stressed about their lack of hair is a sad indictment of the lack of importance given to scalp massage in the Western culture.

haircuts are actually only a small part of the capital's barbershop industry.

Fingernail care is not as stressful as it may first seem. Most Western men don't even know that they've got a cuticle, never mind that it needs trimming. But once you've had this bit of minor maintenance, you get to like the frivolousness of it all. Having your nails trimmed, filed and then your cuticle trimmed is a very simple form of pleasure.  

Having your toenails done is another big step along the road to becoming a New Age metrosexual.

Toenails are not a part of the anatomy that usually get a lot of attention. They're usually tucked away deep in the sticky, fluffy end of your shoes and don't often get inspected.

Most men only chop at their toe-nails now and again with a rusty clipper, hoping that bits of cut nail won't fly in the wrong direction and blind them, or that their womenfolk won't actually find out what they've been doing and insist that clippings on the bed/sofa/kitchen table are cleared up.

As for facials, although most men shave every day, they wouldn't consider this as grooming, just a necessity to avoid getting itchy.

However, to lay back in the chair and have a caring attendant give you four rounds of face massage, each with a different mystery product from an unidentifiable jar, is pure heaven.

During a good long massage you can feel wrinkles vanishing under the gentle, rhythmic pulse of the finger tips, you can feel the signs of age and stress, nicotine and alcohol all being swept away from your face.

Then the face-pack arrives, cold and fussy with holes for your nose and eyes. It's usually a concoction of rice-water and fragrance, held in a cloth to keep its cooling effect for as long as possible.

Although barbershops are scattered all across Phnom Penh, there is a whole street of them between the Central Market and Monivong all offering a similar package. You should pay US$3 for a haircut from someone who knows what they're doing, $1 or $2 for your manicure, the same for your pedicure and around $12 for your facial.

 
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