SOME of the most interesting stories I hear are during my visits to the hair salon round the block. The exterior of the salon is nondescript. There is nothing plush or swanky about the fittings or furniture here. There are no certificates on the walls bearing testimony to the hair stylists’ qualifications.
But, it is my favourite salon because the all-female staff are friendly and able to squeeze a place in for me, even when they are crowded.
I like the girls’ pleasant chatter, the cosiness, the almost family atmosphere of the little room, and the seemingly endless banter in various local dialects.
|Ask the Subject Matter Experts (SME) .... kuang ! kuang! kuang!
Apart from a few words, I don’t understand most of what’s spoken, but every now and then, one of them would act as interpreter for my benefit.
When your head is under the dryer or tilted back in the rinsing basin, you have the privilege of listening without having to say anything, even if it is just an exclamation of surprise.
Over the years, I have gathered quite a wealth of information ranging from ways to heal a persistent cough, get back at an unfaithful lover, to telling when someone has had a botox job done.
Occasionally I also hear hearty opinions on national policies, the economy and what our country’s leaders should be doing.
This would without fail include at least a “discussion” on the nation’s education system.
Well let me say that it isn’t usually a healthy discourse since most of the time I attempt to nod or smile, considering that I am at some point of cutting, washing or drying my hair.
The scenario wasn’t any different two weeks ago, when I went in for a hair-cut.
The tallest of the girls who was also usually the best-dressed, popped me in my chair and announced, “wash, cut, blow” even before I had said anything.
I smiled and asked her why there were still no English magazines to cater to customers like me.
“Haiyah, forgot lah,” she said good-naturedly, and proceeded to tick me off as my hair was in three different shades.
I tried to look apologetic and concentrated very hard on the Chinese pop magazine in front of me trying to see whether after the 100th time of viewing the same pages, any of the characters made sense. Meanwhile it had started raining very heavily outside.
The door of the salon then opened and two ladies walked in.
They lived in the same neighbourhood and I recognised one of them as a school teacher.
The other lady I remembered, worked in a bank.
After instructing the salon staff on what they wanted done, they settled comfortably into the chairs next to mine.
“I wanted to ask you,” said the bank lady to the teacher as they waited to be attended to.
“What is all this HOTS questions my son is always talking about? He says that nowadays it’s not like before.
“To get an ‘A’ in their exams they must be able to answer the HOTS questions correctly. I told him during my time we didn’t have this HOTS thing, that’s why I wanted to ask you. New subject ah? Got anybody giving HOTS tuition or not?”
“It is Higher Order Thinking Skills which is part of PT3 ... you know the school-based assessment.” the teacher said and explained that HOTS was the abbreviated term.
Behind her the salon girl supressed a giggle for she obviously had different thoughts about HOTS.
“HOTS questions means one needs to think and reason before answering,” explained the teacher.
“Nowadays we want our students to be able to think critically, you know ... not just memorise facts or methods like robots.
“Higher order thinking means not just giving answers but being able to evaluate and analyse.
It is also about being critical and creative, or even asking whether the answers you gave were the best choice,” said the teacher.
“Oh, really is it like that?,” asked the bank lady.
“When you have tests and ask questions, the important thing is to get the answers right. Right answer, you get marks ...wrong answers no marks ...”
“Well, said the teacher, “that’s the whole point. Sometimes it’s more about how you get the answers,” although she sounded a little doubtful.
“Actually there are more things about HOTS. Students have to learn how to analyse.”
By then, the hair stylist had returned with two different bottles in her hands.
“This one,” she said pointing to the container in her right hand, “very good and it can make your hair soft ... easy to manage, no need to blow dry. Some customers like it very much but some say their hair looks dull.”
Of shampoos and shine
Pointing to the other shampoo bottle on her left hand, she said, “hair not so soft, but got shine and nobody complain about hair dropping. Price both same. So how? You want which one?” she asked.
“Aaah,” said the teacher quickly. “See, if I ask you which shampoo makes your hair soft, that is a simple question.
“But if I ask what the benefits are from each shampoo, then it is a little bit more difficult right?
“So is that higher order thinking?” asked the lady from the bank.
“You’re getting it,” said the teacher. “Hmm,” said her friend. “I see a lot of thinking, but really is all that necessary? If it’s me I’ll just pick what works best for me why bother with all that analysing and evaluating.”
The teacher sighed. “That was just an example.”
“Maybe not a good one. But frankly just between us, I must say that I’m not completely clear about the whole concept myself ... even my collegaues have said so. “
By this time, the other hair stylists were ready to attend to both the ladies and the conversation stopped.
The girl who had just finished blow- drying my hair turned around and said to me, “Don’t know why they must argue over the type of shampoo.”
She added that if she were to encounter such a situation, she would try the shampoo on her customers many times, then ask them their opinion.
“Then maybe I will be able to tell the what type of shampoo is suitable for what type of hair.
“ Maybe I can mix and match the different types and come up with my own shampoo,” said the girl. She went on prattling happily about all the things she would add to her own brand of shampoo.
I paid the bill and thanked her. The rain had stopped and I left.