Published Date: Issue Sep/ Oct 2019
Behind the neat, ordered facades of HDB blocks is a living compendium of lives, people and stories; some more colourful than others, but all unique and interesting in their own special way. A barber offers more than just haircuts in her heartland shop, as she seeks to bring people closer together and make a difference in her community.
Tucked away in the quiet neighbourhood of Bedok North Street 3 is Limpeh Barbershop. It sits along a row of heartland shops, and it is not just a barbershop for elderly gentlemen, as its name suggests (‘limpeh’ is a Hokkien term which means “your father”). This is a barbershop for the community. At its helm is Siti Rafidah, who chose to set up shop in the town that she has called home her entire life. Her barbershop is a stone’s throw away from the bustling Bedok town centre, nestled amongst a range of shops that serves the community’s daily needs, such as a traditional bakery and a convenience store, and in an area where life moves at a comfortable and leisurely pace.
Amidst Familiar Faces
The familiar faces, sights, and sounds of Bedok made it easy for Rafidah to decide to ply her trade there. “I know who’s who in this neighbourhood. And most of them know me as well, especially the aunties and uncles. They recognise me as the only woman running a barbershop around here, and the only person with such striking blonde hair!” says Rafidah, pointing to the top of her head. She adds that she often bumps into her customers at the supermarket or coffee shop when she is off duty. “It’s always nice to chat with them. I can’t think of a more perfect place than Bedok to run my barbershop.”
Rafidah and her team of barbers serving customers amid the vibrantly colourful walls of the barbershop
Bringing People Together
Barbering is something Rafidah fell into by chance and grew to like while doing research on men’s grooming for her final year school project at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. She now sees a stream of regulars, including those who have been with her since she first started out 5 years ago. She speaks fondly of an elderly wheelchair-bound customer, who would insist that only Rafidah cuts his hair. When he started missing his monthly Friday snips, a worried Rafidah enquired after him, only to discover that he had been hospitalised. “When he came to my shop again for a haircut, he had actually come straight from the hospital!” she recalls with a laugh. Since then, Rafidah regularly checks in on the customer’s condition. This, Rafidah believes, is what makes heartland shops like hers so important — they have the power to bring people closer together. “Here, we look out for one another,” she says.
Rafidah’s favourite tools of the trade
More Than Just a Haircut
Through Limpeh Barbershop, Rafidah has been able to grow her passion for barbering and also give back to the community in a way that she knows best.
Particularly close to her heart is a group of boys she often sees walking past her barbershop. Having seen them grow up and being familiar with their disadvantaged backgrounds, Rafidah took it upon herself to play barber — and confidante — to the boys.
“I cut their hair for free and sometimes my barber chair becomes a counselling chair, where they tell me the problems they are facing at home or in school,” she says. “I don’t ask for anything in return — other than that they finish school and get a good education. Through this simple act of giving them a haircut, I want them to know that there is someone out there who cares and looks out for them.”
Rafidah is not just the boss of Limpeh Barbershop — she is the heart and soul of the place as well.
Photos of Rafidah with her loved ones and customers adorn the mirror