The Haircut Lady
For the last eleven years, I've gotten my hair cut by the same woman. My wife, who's not Asian, was convinced that most people who work in those ten dollar haircut places have no idea how to cut Asian hair. My guess is that it might have more to do with their working in ten dollar haircut shops. We happened upon this one woman who happens to be a Cambodian immigrant and my wife decreed that I should always go to her to get my hair cut.
I've since followed her to three different salons. Somewhere around year eight after talking about Asian restaurants, vacations, learning that she never learned to swim because she almost drowned in the river as a child when her family was trying to leave Cambodia,her family's real estate misadventure (they bought 6 rental houses at exactly the wrong time, for about a year I kept wondering why a woman who owned 7 houses was cutting my hair). I eventually learned that she sings in Cambodian and performs for weddings, birthday parties, and other gatherings. Most recently someone she didn't really know asked her to sing at her daughter's sixteenth birthday party.
First I was surprised thata sixteen year old living in Santa Clara county would want Cambodian singers at her birthday party. When I was that age, the last thing I wanted was any hints of being that different. Times change and people get smarter I think. I then asked the inevitable American question. "Are they paying you to sing?" link to Khmer singer not my haircut lady
She looked at me, "No, I coldn't charge for singing. I do it because it's fun."
"I'm sure they'd be happy to pay a little bit." She was driving across a couple counties, spending hours at strangers' parties, etc. Surely these people were taking advantage of her.
"They probably would, but I couldn't do that."
But why? I thought. Obviously after going through 6 foreclusures, having to sell your hair salon, etc., she could clearly use a little extra cash.
"I just couldn't charge people. It would change things."
Here I was getting my hair cut by a female-Cambodian vesion of Searchiing for Sugarman.
Somewhere between the time she was aksing me for the 200th time if I wanted gel in my hair (yikes!) and my saying "No, not this time." It struck me that she's maybe saner about what she does than I am about what I do (the writing thing).
She sings because she loves to sing. She only sings in Cambodian. She loves knowing that people appreciate her singing and ask her to share it. She simply doesn't want to equate it with money. I'ts not about that and it's not for that. It's sane, admirable, quite beautiful in a way that I can't quite grasp because I'm maybe too American except for my hair.
I've asked her if she had a CD, Mp3, or something, but maybe it's almost better that I have no idea what her singing sounds like.