Cutting through Chinese New Year traditions

Cutting through Chinese New Year traditions

Chinese New Year is a very busy period for many people and in the frenzy of pineapple tart eating and hongbao collecting, it is sometimes easy to forget what the festive season is all about.

That's why I feel it is my duty to remind you what Chinese New Year is about: It is about reunion dinner selfies.

For those of you not in tune with the times, let me quickly inform you that tradition now mandates that all Chinese New Year reunions should be commemorated with a selfie.

For good luck, that family-selfie should then be uploaded to Facebook and Instagram almost instantly.

Your prosperity for the Year of the Goat will then be determined by how many family members you manage to squeeze into that one selfie and how many likes or shares it ultimately receives.

The family selfie thing is a new tradition but it holds the same power as all the old traditions.

Having to take a reunion dinner selfie is now on a par with not sweeping the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year, wearing new red clothes, eating your body weight in pineapple tarts and almond cookies and not cutting your hair for 15 days.

Don't ask me who came up with this new selfie tradition. It's just one of those things. You're just supposed to do it.

It's like how most people don't really have a good idea why it is good luck to hoist raw fish and thinly sliced salad ingredients into the air.

Of all the traditions, I must say the one that has bugged me the most, and the one I want to spend the rest of this column talking about, is the ban on haircuts.

I have a genuine medical need to cut my hair very often.

I'd say I cut my hair once every other week. Before you gasp at what a spendthrift I am, let me just issue the disclaimer that I happen to go to a barber that charges me $0 and is open 24 hours a day: Me.

I have been cutting my own hair for well over a decade and I have become an expert hairstylist.

I have mastered a wide variety of styles.

I can do a crewcut with the number one blade on the hair trimmer or even, in a pinch, execute a flawless crewcut with the number three blade.

Every time my wife sees me just after I get a haircut, she gasps.

"Wow," she says, catching her breath. "You've missed like a whole section on the back. Are you sure you don't want to go to a barber?"

Okay, but that's not the point. The point I am trying to make is that I need to cut my hair.

It's not like I schedule my haircuts. I will just wake up one day and my head will suddenly feel wrong, almost as if it's too heavy.

It's my hair's way of saying "Cut me".

After I hack it off, my world order is restored and I can carry on as usual.

The big worry I have is that my hair will issue the "cut me" bat signal at some point during the two-week Chinese New Year haircut moratorium.

I've always wondered who would come up with such a rule.

I have recently decided that it must have been women.

Call me ignorant but I've only realised that a significant proportion of women do not care for the haircuts their men get.

I came across this information while at a party recently when one of my friends mentioned in passing that he would get a haircut the next day.

His girlfriend instantly intervened to shut down the haircut plan.

In the ensuing conversation, it turned out that four of the five men there - myself included - were either previously under or currently facing women-imposed haircut restrictions.

A quick poll failed to turn up any consensus on why the women did not want their respective men to cut their hair.

"Men are generally ugly, so it's good to have more hair to cover up the general ugliness," one offered helpfully.

"When men get haircuts they look very young. I don't want my guy looking younger than me," another said.

Now, what am I supposed to make of this? My conclusion is that there are many, many women who are generally unhappy about the haircuts on their men.

To be clear, it's not as if they necessarily dislike the hairstyle, it's just they don't like how it looks fresh, straight out from the barber.

The thing is, you can always tell when a man has just received a haircut.

It's always very obvious. Men typically do not go to a hairdresser and ask for a "trim".

They also do not come from a haircut and have to ask: "Notice anything different?"

A man goes to a barber, spends about 10 minutes there and in the process leaves about one-third of his hair on the floor.

Haircuts for women are an altogether different undertaking.

A woman can spend upwards of three hours in a salon, emerge and appear to a man as if she had spent the whole time doing nothing in there but reading magazines and drinking tea.

Of course, a man with long, untidy hair will still be made to cut his hair, but my theory is that women generally want to minimise how often they have to deal with the fresh-cut look.

A guy wants to cut his hair at least every month. A woman would rather the haircuts happen quarterly.

It is therefore logical to conclude that women came up with the no cutting hair during Chinese New Year rule. (By the same token, it is reasonable to conclude that it was me who came up with the rule that people aren't supposed to buy shoes during the same period.)

It is entirely possible that my theory is completely wrong and I would certainly like to hear from people with personal haircut restriction experiences.

But I will say this to women: Outside of the Chinese New Year tradition, no amount of nagging can stop a male haircut.

He's going to get it anyway. It's inevitable, just like a reunion dinner selfie.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 23, 2015.
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