Near Failures #2

I was walking with some friends down an alley off of Dunhua North Road in Taipei one night when we came across little mom-and-pop barbershop, still open despite the late hour. Light from the brightly lit shop poured out into the street onto the parked cars and noticeboards across the way. Though Dunhua North Road is a fairly trendy, modern part of Taipei, all one has to do to penetrate the lofty veneer is walk into the maze of small alleyways and small, one- or two-story buildings that pack the spaces behind the wide boulevards with their high-rise apartment buildings and offices.

Curious, I peeked into the shop. An elderly man was busy cutting hair in the chair on the left, while his wife worked with a customer in the other chair next to him. The shop appeared to be tacked on to the side of an apartment building, with fake brick wallpaper on the walls, the ancient barber’s chairs upholstered with cheap red plastic trying and failing to look like leather, and the place apparently hadn’t been renovated since its inception. When I looked down, I was struck by the telltale marks on the floor where the couple, working the same two chairs day after day for many years, had worn through the white tile linoleum, right down to the black rubber beneath. The husband’s marks were wider;the wife’s were narrower but just as deep. The sight moved me, and I took a shot of these scars that so vividly bore witness to the couple’s history. My friends reacted with puzzlement to what they probably assumed to be a misfire, wondering why I wasn’t photographing the couple, but as far as I was concerned, I was.

I chatted with the elderly barber couple for a time as they cut the hair of two long-time customers. Theirs is the same story as countless other small businesses in this town, a tale of long, hard work, sacrifice, love, dedication, and the marks they leave.