A Close Shave in Hanoi

A photo of a man getting a shave at a street barber in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

When it comes to men’s grooming, I think Vietnam has got it figured out. Maybe all of Asia does.

The scene in the photograph you see above is quite common throughout the streets of Southeast Asia. In many small streets all over Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and even China, you’ll see enterprising men set up a portable barbershop. All they need is a mirror they can hang on a wall, some clippers and scissors and a spray bottle, and they’re set.

This is not to say there are no hair salons in the area – quite the opposite is true. Hair salons outnumber restaurants, I think. But for a gentleman on the go, what could be more convenient that stopping for a quick shave or trim on the roadside when you’re out getting some milk at the corner store?

For all the local street barbers I’d see on my walks through the cities I visit, I never once saw a ‘waiting room’ for a lineup of waiting customers. I think this must be the case because there are so many of these barbers around, that when you need one at a moment’s notice, you can just pick from one of many around. No waiting.

Photographing in public

This particular street barber had his shop set up outside walls of the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. This is one of the oldest temples in this super old city in Northern Vietnam. I am sure he gets plenty of walk by traffic, as the temple is very popular to visit. But despite his (presumed) popularity, he was less than cooperative in being photographed. As I snapped away, he looked up and said something in Vietnamese. Based on his demeanour and the velocity of his speech, I took it to mean that he didn’t want to be photographed.

Normally, I take the view that people out in public locations are fair game to photograph. It’s very different when you’re in a private home. But when you’re in a public location, you give up some rights to privacy. It turns out that this particular enterprising barber was just trying to earn some extra dong (Vietnamese currency) as a model.

After voicing his displeasure at being photographed, he pointed to a sign out of view that indicated he charged money for being photographed. I guess it happens so often, that he wants to capitalize on it. I supposed that’s not a surprise, since he’s in a very touristy area.  So I gave him 20,000 dong. Everyone in Vietnam is a millionaire, since $45 USD is one million VND.

Technical: 1/60th sec @ f2.8, 24-70mm lens at 35mm, Nikon D800e, ISO 280, at 1:26pm.

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