Traveling for over five months has given me the choice of looking like a scraggly wolfman or visit local barbershops on the road. I chose the latter (though maybe not as much as Kelsi prods me to). Most of the time I come out looking sharp or at least reasonably respectable and sometimes with a fun story to boot.
Barbershops are relatively simple place where you should be able to communicate more or less what you want from the barber even with a language barrier. I've had my hair cut and beard trimmed in China, Malaysia, India, and Nepal without incident, but scams do exist. In the southern China city of Kunming there is an ongoing barbershop scam so common that the police have a setup a special task force to deal with it. In the scam a tourist enters the barbershop and is quoted a price for a hair cut. The tourist is then given a locker to secure his or her belongings while they are getting trimmed. Once they are in the chair and having their hair cut, an older manager type person walks in, quotes a much higher price for the haircut claiming a language misunderstanding in the original quote, and then leaves. The tourist's belongings are then held hostage in the locker until they pay the higher price. We made sure that the Chinese barbershop we visited did not have any lockers.
The majority of the barbershops I've visited on the road have been what would sort of feel old-timey back in the US. Most shops use scissors more than clippers and wet shaves are done with straight razors. I usually watch the barber give someone else a shave and check to make sure that they change straight razors between uses before I sit in the chair myself. Thus far I've not been cut or nicked by a barber, although some are definitely able to cut closer than others.
What is more interesting things is that the shops in India and Nepal I visited included shoulder, face, and head massages. I've heard that head and shoulder massages used to be standard at US barbershops, though I've never seen it myself. In Nepal my shave and haircut came with a decent massage of the shoulders and back, a twisting of my arm and shoulders that felt a lot like one would wring out a towel, and a pounding of the head that I think was to pass for a massage. In India, my face and head massage included a lot of lotion and special barbershop massaging appliances that jiggled and shook my head. One of which could understandably be mistaken for an iron.
Visiting the barber has been a fun part of the trip that I didn't really consider before I left. It's been cheap, too, with the most expensive visits costing no more than $5-6, including the special face iron massages. Perhaps there is a business opportunity back home... If medicine doesn't work out for me, maybe I should go into the face ironing business.