My Jakarta: Budiharjo, Barber

By webadmin on 10:33 am Jun 15, 2012
Category Archive

Mark Vincent Sindhunata

With the substantial price difference between a haircut at an elite hair salon and one at a roadside barber, Jakarta provides a person with many options.

Budiharjo is someone who likes to keep things simple. Every morning, he rides his bike to the barber shop he operates in Jembatan Tiga in North Jakarta. Without electricity there, the setting sun tells him when it’s time to go home.

In his 22 years as a barber in Jembatan Tiga, the 70-year-old grandfather has deterred gangs, stuck to old favorites amid changing fashion trends, and even survived a brush with his own mortality.

How many patrons do you have in a day?

At first, I had lots of costumers. Charging only Rp 3,000 (30 cents) for each head, I could earn Rp 25,000 to Rp 30,000 before midday.

The place was crowded because I was the only barber along Jalan Jembatan Tiga. Now I sometimes don’t have any customers for three or four days, even with the price as low as Rp 8,000, a fraction of the what a usual barber shop charges. Thank God I have my regulars, usually the elderly or some friends of mine who come here every month.

What do you do between customers?

I just sit in my shop, drinking tea and enjoying my cigarettes. Sometimes, I chat with my tukang ojek [motorcycle taxi] friends, shop owners or workers while they have their lunch. I guess working in the same place for 22 years makes you famous [smiles].

Do you cut your own hair?

[Laughs] My son usually did it for me while he was here, but now he’s in Yogyakarta.

What is you favorite haircut style?

I don’t have one. I’m too old so I don’t know the modern haircut styles. The last one I knew was the shaggy and spike style. It really took time to learn it, maybe because I was used to crew cuts, the famous hair style in my old days.

Why did you decide to become a barber?

My family has been doing this for five generations, and I learned everything from my father. I am a primary school graduate, so this skill was the only asset I had. Before I became a barber, I worked as a carpenter, but one day a seer told me that I was destined to become a barber. I became a barber in 1990.

Do you have any difficulties using the old manual tools?

I’ve been using the same tools for 22 years. Amazing, isn’t it? The problem arises when I have to cut thick or long hair. It’s really exhausting and takes a long time. For this reason, I only accept male customers. Even then I only do someone’s hair if it is not too thick. I wanted to get one of those electronic tools to ease my work, but I don’t have the millions that it costs. Meanwhile I have to meet my family’s needs. Besides, there’s no power outlet to plug those devices into, so I forgot it and kept working. But sometimes I am proud of myself because I am different from others. I have kept working and survived until now.

Riding a bicycle everyday to work at 70, you must be really healthy.

Health is indeed the most important thing. It’s useful when you have a long life, otherwise you have to struggle with diseases, you can’t enjoy your life, or play with your grandchildren. I enjoy riding my bike everyday and working as much as I can. I hope I have a very long life to enjoy my health so I can spend it with my wife through her old days, and watching our four sons and 12 grandchildren grow up. But as healthy as I am, I still had a near-death experience [laughs].

Really? How near?

Back home, I was just relaxing on the couch when suddenly I lost consciousness. My sons panicked and said that I didn’t have a pulse for three minutes [smiles]. One of them massaged the back of my neck, and I suddenly regained consciousness. This story was told by my son, since I was passed out the whole time.

What about ‘security fees’ by the local hoodlums?

There were many hoodlums that came asking for protection money here in Jembatan Tiga but thank God everyone here always came and helped me in time. Maybe because everyone here knows me and my family, they always help me when I have a problem. After several attempts, those punks never came to bother me again.

Budiharjo was talking to Mark Vincent Sindhunata.