Amid all the chaos, people try to carry on life as normal. And important milestones cannot go left un-noted, but they are not untouched by what is happening in Hong Kong.
The Barber Shop in Central is closing its doors. And I was The Last Cut.
Since 2003, Max has been working his magic hands on my head, miraculously making me 10 years younger every time I came to see him. Found after a long, frustrating search, I knew he was my guy from The First Cut. It was the same year I got my permanent residence in Hong Kong. It was the year I knew I was committing to Hong Kong after riding out SARS. After seven years, Hong Kong was now home for me, my wife, our first child and the next to come.
It was the year I committed to engaging with the community through policy, finding three lifelong compatriots in Simon Lee, Andrew Shuen and Bill Stacey who were the founders (3 founder-lads and one Chairman) of The Lion Rock Institute, Hong Kong’s free-market think tank. Since then, I’ve voted in every election in Hong Kong. I’ve had another child and seen both children them grow up true Hong Kongers. I’ve established deep and heartfelt roots in many diverse parts of society and the city.
I don’t know if it was the kids, the think tank, SARS, Occupy, Harbour Times, or the businesses that started and closed (or still ongoing) – but the hair turned white (ahem, silver) over the years. I know it wasn’t Max who made it that colour – but he always made it look great. Visiting The Barber Shop in a hidden alleyway in the heart of Central was an oasis of chrome and leather calm – a real man’s barbershop. A coffee for morning visits or a beer in the afternoon; 30 minutes in and out looking good was the perfect escape from whatever was happening in the city.
I finally met the owner during The Last Cut, who turned out to be a Montrealer like me. The sale of the premises wasn’t connected to the protests (I gathered) and he is reopening in Quarry Bay. Life and business go on.
But it felt odd to have a definite end to a part of my life here, now, in 2019. In 2003, my attachment to Hong Kong deepened personally, socially, politically, and yes, coiffure-torially. After leaving the Shop to see images and reports of police beating young people, journalists, and first-aid responders in an environment of political paralysis brought on by the unresolvable tension of people versus the Communist Party, I couldn’t help wonder if The Last Cut at The Barber Shop wouldn’t signify an end of another sort.
I attended a local dinner with family and about 50 dragon boaters and their families that evening, with the usual lots of people shouting in languages I can’t understand while ganbei-ing rounds of Blue Girl. I advised my wife not to let anyone open my bag, lest they see the journalist gear, yellow helmet, gas mask and vest. I’d always – always – felt comfortable everywhere in Hong Kong, but with every TV in the restaurant on the protests and uncertain of which way this crowd would lean, for the first time in 23 years here, I felt like I had to keep part of my life undercover. There was a lot of love and hugs around like in the past – but also a sense of anxiety sitting just under the surface.
The Barber Shop will reopen in Quarry Bay. Max will keep cutting and working his magic hands in Hong Kong. But if I can’t vote this year due to suspended elections, if I can’t confidently call the police when needed, it’s not the same. If I have to start hiding my identity or start cutting parts of Hong Kong out of my life, it does start to feel like The Last Cut of the Hong Kong I know and love.
We all know that life will go on in some form. Hopefully, Hong Kong can find a way through to The Next Cut. It won’t be the same and it probably won’t make us look 10 years younger. But as a bit of a historian, I know Hong Kong has a long history of pushing back on oppression from afar and finding a new path. And yes, this is different. But the people of Hong Kong are adaptable, smart, and brave. If there is a way around, over or through an impasse they will find it.
I was The Last Cut for The Barber Shop in Central. Maybe The Last Cut will only mark the end of a brilliant hidden gem in Central. Maybe everyone will flourish in new ways moving forward. And maybe The Next Cut will be the first of many to come in Hong Kong, with magic hands creating calm, composure, and cool, cool cuts.
Right now we just don’t know. But today, here’s to Max, The Barber Shop, and the Hong Kong magic that made this a perfect part of my life.
Photo and video support from daughter #2.
Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong