The days of those professional home visiting barbers began to fade when my generation of Shahs  began to patronize the modern hair salon down the street from our home. Equipped with high adjustable chairs and mirrors on the walls. Soon, they sprouted up in every neighborhood, symbolized by the round vertical drums of red, white and blue striped flags that twirled non-stop.

My image of the barber shop. When I first noticed  similar shop fronts in Taipei, Taiwan, they didn’t look anything like typical barber shops with the hairdressers hovering over heads snap-snapping. They were wide shop fronts with clear glass walls behind which would be a well lit modern reception desk and staring at the computer screen would be a pretty young thing. A huge vertical tube of the traditional barbershop flag continuously turning inside round glass drums, some as tall as the height of the mostly revolving glass door entrances.  Displayed credit card decals indicating the acceptance of Diner’s Club, American Express, Visa, Master Card and other local bank cards. Uhm, Fancy! I think to myself. But little did I know!!

Unlike European and South American business dinners that can begin as late as eleven, with meeting for drinks at nine, in the Orient, dinner takes place earlier, most of the time soon after leaving the offices. Even the most elaborate meals are done by nine or latest by ten. But when you’re being entertained, that’s when the real evening begins. Normally they took me to their usual hangouts, small cozy bars in obscure alleys and buildings. The place we most frequented was Hsilang Bar – a cozy hole in the wall. I still remember one of the hostesses by the name of Michelle. Since she spoke the most English and also we had taken to liking each other, whenever she could get away from other customers, she would come and sit next to me and we would talk. The most we would ever do was tenderly hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. Confide in little things. I would be happy just to stay home, have a couple of kids. Cook for my family I will always make myself pretty and be there for my husband, for whatever he wants to do with me. At the time Carolyn and I had recently split, and often I couldn’t help but fantasize about being that husband to her. While there may have been some hostess bars where you could take one of them home or to a motel room, neither Hsilang Bar nor a couple of others that Playboy team frequented were anything more than bars with hostesses, who sat with you and served drinks, like Saqi in the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib. Neither were they exclusive men’s territories. Half of Taiwan Playboy  staff and contributors were females, and they too would hang out with us. And then I would either grab a cab or someone would drop me off to my hotel.

But one evening, when everyone else had left I find myself alone with Winston (Tsui), an executive and the editor-in-chief,  Henry (Jen). I think it is Henry who is driving both Winston and me back to our respective hotels, when Winston says: It’s still early to go home. Why don’t we stop at a barber shop and get a proper massage? We’ve been working so hard, we deserve one!

Suddenly, I am standing with the two of them in front of well lit and sophisticated reception desk with the young pretty lady holding in her hands a long piece of paper looking like the one they give you at Dim Sum restaurants, to check off whatever, for when the Dim Sum carts come by, they can glance at the list and serve you accordingly. We order full body massages. And then she asks something in Chinese. Henry and Winston consult each other and then ask me, how I want my massage to end? Sensing confusion on my face, one of them explains, it has to be pre-ordered and paid for in advance and the price they charge is based on whether following the massage you wanted to have an intercourse with the woman, or perhaps just a blow or a hand job. Though I had suspected something of the sort, I haven’t given any thought to it. I certainly didn’t want to have an intercourse or the blow job. Something I just didn’t do. Plus, as a defense I would always say in jest, you know what you went in with, but never know what you might come out with!

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