It’s called “number 1” and explained by the barber, it means there is just 1mm of hair. “Cannot be any shorter” says the man who has seen many heads.
It was a Sunday afternoon and the Malay barber shop was busy with more than 1 young man getting his hair shorn. Apart from the army barber who will be on hand to buzz every boy, the Malay Barbershop is probably the best and the safest bet for a good, clean and approved haircut.
It is a rite of passage and one that seems to resonate with all male citizens who has been called up for National Service. As our young man was getting his head shaved, another slipped in the chair next to him and grinned as he gestured to his barber – been there, done that, haha… before getting his hair neatened for booking back into NS camp.
Another barber with hair just as short as the NS boys (which prompted me to jokingly ask “and when are you enlisting?” but he didn’t get the punchline) told me how much NS changed him. The grey-haired Malay gentleman said “NS is good. The boys learn so much. They come home better. You probably took care of everything for him. Later, he can take care of himself. They even make their own beds!”
Having been a regular, the barber ‘uncle’ was happy at being given the chance to be part of his first step into NS (“I was going to shave his hair off in a pattern”, he told me. “I would have done it if you were here a few minutes earlier”, he said with a grin).
All cleaned up, they shook hands as ‘uncle’ wished him well and reminded him to “take care”.
Getting the Number 1 cut is not necessary before enlistment, it’s just more comforting.
It won’t mean the young man won’t need to sit in a plastic chair in a hall littered with hair as men with hair trimmers run their buzzing ‘saws’ over their heads (in case there is a stray lock over 1mm in length).
Those who choose to have the NS barber service pay $3. Those who go to their Malay barber uncle pay $10. Those who go to the salon need to sober up for the new life they will soon experience.