What a world we live in today. We wake up to a brand new day only to rush off to work, where deadlines are met with more deadlines, and then it’s another mad rush to go back home — the cycle then repeats itself on and on.
It feels like we are just machines, a minuscule part of a big monotonous culture.
Then one fine day, I chose to disconnect from all of it. I somehow ended up in a barbershop of all places. A place that a friend of mine posted a story of on Instagram; a GIF of someone playing a saxophone in it, which really caught my attention.
Then before I knew it, I was right there standing in front of Hj. Osnam Barber & Gift Shop.
“Hi, do you need a haircut?” someone queried professionally, standing just out of my line of sight as I looked into the barbershop.
“Well actually…” I trailed off as I turned to answer this stranger’s question, before explaining the purpose of my visit.
In that formal, albeit slightly nervous conversation begins the story of 63-year-old Mr Adris Osnam, a musician turned barber.
Tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood somewhere in Yishun, anyone passing by would easily think that Mr Adris’ shop is a barbershop like any other.
But the real beauty is what’s inside. Having been in operation for 20 years, Mr Adris’ barbershop is a place that feels like a time capsule from the past.
The row of vintage barber chairs that have been there since it first opened and the iconic rustic smell of an old barbershop are a true testament to its age.
However, one thing that seems to be out of place within this barbershop, is an electronic keyboard partly hidden at the back.
Throughout his life, Mr Adris has seen and experienced a lot of things. He first started as a musician when he was 21 years old, covering retro songs from artists such as Tom Jones and the Bee Gees, to name a few.
“Being a musician isn’t all that glamorous, it may look like it but it is not. You’re always working on a contract so your life is [dependent] on contract,” he recounted as we hung out in a small room at the back, while his fellow barber tended to a customer out front.
Because of that, during the mid-90s he took up barbering as an avenue to sustain his livelihood. “Back then I was doing three jobs, cutting hair for NSmen, running the barbershop which I set up with my wife in 1998, and playing music in the evening.”
“It was in the year 2000 when I was at a crossroads, deciding whether to run my own business or keep on playing music,” he reflected, after spending three months playing at the Western hotel.
So, Mr Adris left in that same year to focus on his barbershop. To this day, he still plays for gigs from time to time but as a passion, rather than a livelihood. Sometimes even during the downtime, he just jams in his shop for entertainment with his fellow barbers.
“Back in the day, the moment you mention that you’re a barber, people look down upon you; because it’s not a glamorous job.” He recalled thoughtfully, “But it is a satisfying life”.
Throughout that period of time until now, Mr Adris has become more recognised and respected as a barber, with people coming in to feature him in books and newspapers.
Now, old-fashioned haircuts are back on trend, with barbershops run by a younger generation that charge from S$30 – S$50 per cut.
“In the history of barbering, you would never have a haircut for S$30 to S$40. Never. People would never ever imagine that,” he said, considering how expensive it is these days. “But it is bold, and I respect them for that.”
While getting a haircut in retro barbershops is gaining popularity once again, Mr Adris, being an old-school barber refuses to raise his prices to match the new ones.
This is simply because he has been cutting hair for decades. “So if I’ve been cutting [for] you since kindergarten for S$7 or S$8, suddenly I put a price of S$30, would you [still] come?”, he queried thoughtfully.
Our conversation ended with that question, and we both left the small back room. It was a wet, late Friday evening, and the barbershop was quiet for a moment.
“Come, you can record us!” Mr Adris exclaimed, as he moved to the keyboard while his friend moved to the microphone. Out came the beat and they sang a cover of the Bee Gees, To Love Somebody.
Sure the cover was not the best cover of the Bee Gees. But the imperfection of it, the heartfelt connection it made created a beauty that cannot be expressed through words. And for a briefest of moments, time stood still while the world went by outside.
“It’s been quite an interesting life”, concluded Mr Adris with a smile.
Reality once again reasserted its presence, ending the moment a new customer walked in. And just like that, the barbershop went back to its original state.
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