Mute barber in Hanoi pleases clients with heart, flair

Nguyen Thai Thanh, who cannot speak or hear, has passed on his hairdressing skills and enthusiasm for the craft to a total of 35 youths with the same disabilities

Nguyen Thai Thanh (first left) styles his client’s hair at one of his two shops in Hanoi.

A young Vietnamese man has overcome his speech and hearing impairments to satisfy his hairdressing clients and pass on his expertise and fighting spirit to dozens of students in Hanoi.

First-time clients to two hair salons in Dong Da and Ba Dinh Districts run by Nguyen Thai Thanh, 26, who has a congenital speech and hearing disability, may find it strange to notice the shops devoid of chatter and laughter. 

Thanh, his staff and students all communicate through sign language.

Opened in 2011, Thanh’s first shop mostly serves female patrons who trust the young stylist with their hair and also come for make-up, manicure and pedicure services.

The shop owner and his regular customers understand one another perfectly with nods, shakes of the head and smiles.

However, first-timers may find it slightly difficult to get their preferred hair cut across in the absence of verbal communication.

“They were initially worried that we may fail to trim or perm their hair in their desired style because of communicative stumbling blocks. So we must handle their hair with great care and ask them again and again to avoid letting them down,” Thanh explained in sign language.

He added that he always has a notebook with him to communicate better with new clients, asking them to jot down in the book or in their smartphones how they want their cuts or perms to be.

Thanh always makes a point to understand and fix even the slightest details that his new clients might be unhappy with.

Appreciating the young hairdresser’s skills and dedication, most of his clientele return and introduce their friends and relatives to his shop.

“What I find most gratifying is that my customers continue to visit my parlor wherever I move,” Thanh said with a smile.

His notebook has thickened over the course of six years on the job.

Some clients also leave positive comments on small notes which the coiffeur has always carefully kept and continues to hold dearly.

Nguyen Thi Minh, one 57-year-old customer, decided to lease her ground floor in Ba Dinh District at a low price to Thanh so that he could open his second shop out of admiration for his perseverance and devotion.

He recalled being sent by his parents to schools for children with special needs in his hometown of Bac Giang, a province located approximately 50 kilometers north of Hanoi.

The boy failed to improve as the teachers there could not offer training in sign language.

0pXjfNFd.jpgThe notes conveying positive comments jotted down by several of Thanh’s clients. Photo: Tuoi Tre

After he switched schools twice, Thanh’s parents decided to take him to Hanoi, where he picked up sign language and tried various jobs.

Realizing that he was cut out for a career in hairdressing, the young man applied to multiple hair salons to learn the craft and work as an apprentice.

After several attempts, Thanh was finally admitted to a hairdressing salon.

However, as his impairments kept him from hearing his instructor, the young man had to make considerably more efforts than his able-bodied fellow apprentices.

“It took me two to three years to acquire the craft, while normal learners only need six months to one year. But I remained undaunted and persevered,” Thanh revealed.

Five years later, he set up his own salon and passed on his craft to three friends with a similar disability.

“I found it quite a challenge to impart my experience and skills to my friends through sign language. I persisted though, and later worked out more effective ways to deliver my teaching,” he added.

As the word spread, parents from other provinces began sending their children with hearing and speech impairments to Thanh’s shop.

It must be noted that his shop is also receptive to able-bodied trainees, on condition that they have previously acquired some use of sign language.

His students lovingly dub his shop “Master Thanh’s hair salon.”

At the end of the day, the trainees return to the house which Thanh rents for them.

The loving instructor also shows them how to perform household chores.      

“My circumstance is just like that of Mr. Thanh’s. He trained me and employs me as a stylist at his other shop,” Nguyen Ngoc Quang shared in a text message.

“He’s really kind to us, I’m immensely grateful to him,” Quang added.

Having pocketed national hairstyling prizes in 2013 and 2015, Thanh has provided training for a total of 35 disabled youths and currently employs five hairstylists and four assistants from his seven batches of trainees at both of his shops.

He revealed that his efforts are intended to provide a stable, independent livelihood for his students and help bolster their faith in life.  

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