Sep 7, 2004

Haircuts as a kid

When I was younger, from nine years to about eleven years old, we used to live in Dubai, in a part of town called Deira. I was pretty happy there, for the most part. At that time I really liked going for my haircuts. My father and I would go for a walk to the barbershop, which was moderately close. Maybe sometimes we'd take the car.

So I would sit in the barbershop, which was spotlessly clean, and cool and dry, and have the accoutrements of the haircut put on me. First came the universal inner towel and white cloak. Then, unique (as far as I could tell) to this barbershop, one of the Filipino barbers, they were young chaps, would roll out some length of plasticky cloth, cut it off at the end, and wind it around my neck, holding up the white cloak. This was probably to make sure no hair fell in through the cracks.

Then would commence the snip, snip, snippety-snip. And voila, we were done. I think once or twice after a cut, we would go to a nearby public library, which to my great regret I didn't spend more time in.

Later, we moved to Sharjah [Sharjah and Dubai are cities in the United Arab Emirates]. So I actually became a teenager growing up in Sharjah. But anyway, when I was still a pre-teen, by that time I was trying to throw off the tyrannical yoke of my mother and her enforced mushroom cut. She thought it was cute, but by that time I had developed enough sentience to realise it was ghastly. OK, it was really more suited to the Western or Filipino kids, but by then I couldn't really pass for either, so I decided the best cut for me would be a fully natural cut -- in other words, just let it grow however it will, and trim it if it starts getting uncomfortable. And to this day I've kept to that style.

So anyway, back then, I was this kid in Sharjah, trying to outgrow, literally, my mushroom cut. And there were a couple of barbershops pretty close to my place. In fact, probably there was one in the next building. Finally, shortly before I turned twelve, I managed to get there alone and gave strict instructions to have it cut evenly. I was quite pleased with the result, but my mother was noncommittal at best.

Still later, we had moved to another house in Sharjah, on another street. And there was another barbershop on this street, and I used to get my haircuts there from then on. This one had nice black leather chairs -- rather like I car's, I thought. Once, on my way to the place, I popped open and started drinking a bottle of Pepsi. Then when I got there, I had to wait while the barber was finishing with another customer. In an accident, I clumsily tipped the bottle of Pepsi and it spilled. Now what I should have done was let it all spill onto my lap, because I was sitting in a leather chair. And I knew that. But in a reflex action, I had opened my lap, and most of the Pepsi went on the leather.

The barber was mad. He went nuclear, really. He was a youngish (well, late thirties) Iranian guy, and he had a temper. He started yelling at me. Luckily my father showed up and it was exit, stage left. And no haircut that night. And I didn't go back there for some time, for good measure.

Actually the one thing I appreciate about those haircuts is I got into the habit of getting a standard `medium-length' cut which just about any barber can do, so it doesn't take me long to describe what I want when I have to go to a new barbershop. And that's great because I hate describing how I want my hair cut.

Sep 2, 2004

On My Faith

I am not a religious person. In fact, I consider myself an atheist. I never was very religious but as I grew up I saw no point in pretending to be a Muslim if I didn't think of myself as such. I distinguish between religion and morality and am content with that. I try to be tolerant of all religions. That may not always have been the case, but I think now it's more important in most cases to empathise with people rather than emphasise your difference from them.

When you say you're an atheist, you come to the problem of what you think will happen after death. Most people obviously think their souls will go on `living', thus preserving their consciousness and their memories and experiences. And I automatically put myself against this when I say I'm an atheist. But I do accept that when I die, that will be it, the end of the universe as far as I'm concerned -- no soul, no afterlife, nothing but the void. And I accept that. It doesn't depress me terribly because, and I know this isn't the secret of eternal bliss, I'm not terribly obsessive about such things.

I do like to think of myself as a philosopher, but not really a seeker of spiritual truth. What I'm more interested in is a sort of sociological perspective of human civilisation for the past ten thousand years. Somewhere in all of human history there must be the clue that helps us to deal with the advances our civilisation is making as we move to the next level. Or perhaps it is present at the macro level as the patterns fall into place.

All I know is there are some things that are terribly wrong with our civilisation as it is, and we are all too stuck in the human mindset, the one we've had for the past ten thousand years, to put our fingers on it. We need to get out of this rut to make the advances we need to live up to our potential.

I think of myself as a liberal, having been influenced by Isaac Asimov, Harper Lee, Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Anne Rice, Carl Sagan, Khushwant Singh, Voltaire, and many others I can't think of right now. I am more or less totally liberal in attitude. And I think the basis of that is a kind of fierce tolerance of others, their behaviour, their attitudes, meanners, customs, whatever. For the most part, people don't want to get in my way, tell me what to do, and so on. And I love that and I act exactly the same way. Let everyone live their lives as they will, as long as they don't tell me what to do.

Finally, on a personal level, I have this attitude which I have decided to adopt of complete imperturbability. It's a kind of attitude where you're polite and somewhat kind and maybe even generous but you don't let anybody push you around, and you never get angry -- and even if you do feel anger, or pain, or whatever, you don't let them see it -- because you don't let yourself get hurt by anything anyone says. If one becomes totally insensitive to negative criticism (but not constructive criticism), derision, you know, all kinds of negative attitudes, I think one can find the world a much easier place to live in.

What I mean to say is, I have a very simple measure of whether somebody is trying to hurt me. Are they making fun of me, spreading lies about me, etc. etc.? Then they're not hurting me. Are they coming after me with a knife? Then they're going to hurt me. It's that simple. OK, maybe it's not, but for the most part I can deal with people by simply refusing to let anyone hurt me with words. The way I look at it is, all that's coming out of their mouths is shit at 60 wpm [words per minute]. But even then, try to understand where they're coming from, never let them feel that you're disturbed by them, but rather that you understand how they feel, but you don't feel the same way, and you simply don't care what they think. And the best part of it is, this will drive them nuts!

This is my favourite maxim: `Don't suffer fools gladly, but gladly make them suffer.'