The hair business in Myanmar: for money also for religion

A child carries a water pot on her head to pour at the foot of a banyan tree to celebrate the full-moon day of Kasone, also know as Buddha Day, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Sunday, April 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

When facing the trouble of growing bald, a lot of people are willing to buy a wig for cover from being noticed. Most of the high-level wigs are made up with the real hair and manufactured in the factories in China. However, Chinese people’s hair is not suitable for wig process. As for Myanmar, China’s neighboring country, is one of the biggest place of origin of hair for wigs in the world.

According to CNN, in the north of Yangon, the biggest city of Myanmar, Aye Aye Thein, a 55-year-old barber is relying on hairdressing for living, but she is not a normal hairstylist because she never charges. On the opposite, she pays. She pays for customers’ hair.

The barber’s of Aye Aye Thein is located between a green grocery and a betel nut shop in Insein market. Asked why such a hair-selling business emerges in Myanmar, she proudly said that’s because of the unique advantage for Myanmar people. “Burmese people’s hair is the softest and the most popular among Asia’s.” She took a piece of hair and described it: “Look at the hair carefully. It’s really good. The hair is not greasy but also not too dry. It’s also soft, thin and shiny.”

In this photo taken on Nov. 5, 2010, a Myanmar girl fixes hair of a woman at a tourist spot in Mandalay, northern Myanmar. (AP Photo)

In fact, human hair is also one of the global trading products just like precious metal and oil. The number shows that in 2016, the global turnover of human hair reached 87.4 million U.S. dollars. Among the exporting countries, Myanmar is the third largest exporter of hair after India and Tunisia. Most of the hair that has been cut off will be transported to China, where it will be processed into wigs and then exported to Western countries.

The price of human hair totally depends on quality and weight which is measured in Myanmar’s tradition unit “viss.” A viss approximately equals 1.5 kilograms. After cutting off the hair, Aye Aye Thein will test hardness and smoothness by sliding the hair with scissors, and put the hair on the steelyard, paying clients by weight.

Generally, over 10 inches of hair can be sold for $15,000 MMK (about $14.5 USD) to $200,000 MMK (about $195 USD). To Burmese, it’s a huge income, because the local minimum wage is only a daily salary of $3,600 MMK. (about $3.5 USD)

According to Aye Aye Thein, there are averagely 7 to 10 clients coming for her to sell hair. Most of them are female, but in this industry, there is no sexual discrimination. Although it’s not common, there are still some men keeping long hair and cut it off for sale.

However, what more interesting is that although selling hair is regarded as a kind of business, the sellers in Myanmar don’t sell it not only for money but also for religion. First, in Myanmar, a Buddhist country, hair is considered as a sacred thing. For instance, one of the relics which are enshrined in famous Shwedagon Pagoda is the hair of Buddha. Besides, a lot of women choose to shave their hair as a tribute for Buddha and become a monk for a short time in the local Buddhistic New Year ceremony.

Yangon, Botataung Pagoda Photo by: Christoph Mohr/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

From the economic view, Burmese generally live in poverty, so selling hair is good way for them to earn more money. A 21-year-old student Phyu Phyu mentioned in the interview that she sold her hair for $45 USD, and she not only bought some new clothes for herself, surprisingly but donated the left money to the monks she met on the road.

In this April 28, 2018, file photo, Rohingya refugees rebuild their makeshift house, in preparation for the approaching monsoon season at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar during a brutal crackdown now face a new danger: rain. The annual monsoon will soon sweep through camps where some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims live in huts made of bamboo and plastic built along steep hills. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)