Life in Beijing: the Street Barber of Shilipu

Pop-up street barber in Beijing

I was just going through some old photos and found this one of a pop-up street barber near my old place in Beijing. There isn’t much of a travel blog post I can write to go with it, but it shows a side of Beijing (and China) quite different from the grandeur of the Forbidden City or the Greatness of The Wall. That is, the Beijing experienced day-in day-out by millions of people living in it (millionaire fat cats and Party bigwigs not included, living as they do in their own little Ferraris-and-designer-bullshit bubble), all those people hustling day-by-day to make enough to get by using whatever means they have… the tuk tuk drivers running commuters back and forth from the subway stations to the monolithic apartment blocks most call home; the old ladies selling socks and bras on pedestrian overpasses, sat on little plastic stools with their wares laid out before them on dirty sheets over the concrete; the stallholders whipping up portion after portion after portion of delicious bing (savoury pancakes) for the hordes of passers-by; the harried office workers and shop clerks elbowing their way into and out of insanely overcrowded subway carriages, shuffling through the claustrophobic human cattle experience of some seriously shittily-designed platform transfers; and the gruff old gentleman with his pop-up bicycle barbershop near the foul-smelling public toilets on a side road near Shilipu Station, there some days, absent others, wielding his scissors and comb with bare hands even in subzero temperatures.

I always wondered where he was on the days he wasn’t there. Maybe he had a few different spots and rotated around them, maybe he had an entirely different job and did that as a side income, maybe he just did a couple days a week for a topup. Who knows… but I admired his hustle, and I admire all of their hustle, all those millions in Beijing doing what they have to do. It’s a tough place to exist for many, yet it still beats a life of toil in the rice fields, and the opportunities it presents for a better future are a powerful call – despite the Dickensian life of a migrant worker.

Have you been to Beijing? Did you see anything like this? Leave a comment below.

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4 comments on “Life in Beijing: the Street Barber of Shilipu
  1. C Ashton says:

    I lived and worked in Beijing for a year. 2012-13. I am English. I found Being the most aggressive city I have ever been. A dog eat dog society with no brothers or sisters.
    Gormless and robotic people crushed and controlled by the One Party State.
    The Internet may be fast but if you haven’t got a VPN….
    The historic hutongs are getting knocked down so they can build shopping malls, office blocks and high rise tower blocks.
    Chinese want ‘ all new.’ And lots of it.
    ‘ Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ is a metaphor for ‘ Rampant Materialism’.
    No better illustrated than the toxic vortex of the PRC run by the Communist Party.
    Beijing. City without a Soul.
    Give me Bangkok or Phnom Penh anyday.
    Beijing. City Without a Soul.
    Happy New China and your Year of the Dog

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi mate, a full year? You lasted longer than me! I’d also take Bangkok over Beijing anyday (though the present Thai government is hardly a bastion of human rights either, unfortunately), and of all the cities I’ve lived in Beijing is the only one I’d not want to live in again. But with that said it did have its moments and good qualities, for me anyway, and great potential. Anyway, thanks for reading & commenting. Cheers

  2. Chris Ashton says:

    Thanks for reply Simon.
    Beijing does have its good points, agreed.
    Halal restaurant run by Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang Province with 3 very fierce looking but delightful waitresses and a restaurant serving spit-roast lamb owned by a Mongolian family. I used to go to both as an escape from Beijing.
    I have never met a Mongolian I didn’t like.
    Lovely people.
    All the best on your travels.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Cheers Chris, yeah Uighur restaurants are always a good call. I had a Korean place I liked to frequent. Not such a fan of Mongolian food, but a great country to visit & lovely people for sure

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