Free haircuts and new friends in Geylang

Free haircuts and new friends in Geylang
Migrant workers getting free haircuts from the Back Alley Barbers, a pop-up initiative in Geylang.

Migrant workers in need of a haircut can get one for free from the Back Alley Barbers, a pop-up initiative in Geylang.

Started last October by Mr Cai Yinzhou, 25, the free haircuts are given out either once or twice a month on a weekend. These usually take place near Lorong 24A.

He and two other volunteers offer about 20 free haircuts a day. Their equipment is simple - red plastic chairs, barber aprons, capes, scissors, handheld mirrors and a powdering brush.

They have done more than 200 haircuts so far. But do not expect anything fancy. None of the barbers are professionals and they try their best to give what the customer asks for.

Mr Cai, an events organiser, says he learnt to cut hair by observing barbers at work. Asked why he is offering this service, he says it was a "personal" activity that allowed him to interact with the workers.

The Geylang resident says that because he has lived in the area all his life, he got to see "another side of foreign workers".

He adds: "I see them going about their activities and how they live."

In March last year, he started an informal community group, Geylang Adventures, as a way for like-minded people to explore food offerings in the neighbourhood.

Geylang Adventures has turned into a platform for him to do social work with foreign workers. There are about 12 people in the group.

The group has also organised Migrant Mail to help about 30 migrant workers pen and send letters to their loved ones back home.

Eventually, Mr Cai hopes that Geylang Adventures can become "a platform for people to interact and communicate with migrant workers, looking past stereotypes to understand them as fellow human beings".

One recipient of the free haircuts is Bangladeshi construction worker Nurul Bashar. He has worked in Singapore for the past seven years, but hardly interacted with Singaporeans before meeting Mr Cai.

He says: "I really like Singapore because it is a very safe country. But many people here don't talk to us. So I am very happy I made a friend."

Mr Bashar, 27, has since spread the word about the initiative, telling friends that the barbers "cut very nice".


This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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