Monday, 20 June 2016

Of First Hair and Cords

As I am on no-pay leave this year, I have a lot more time on my hand. I got into the undesirable habit of surfing the net too much, I must admit.

One morning, I was either surfing on one of the forums or Facebook when I chanced upon some mummies discussing making hair brushes out of their babies' first hair and making name stamps out of their babies' dried umbilical cord.

I was curious. During my time, the 'trend' was to create hand and footprints as mementos of the baby's first few days or first month. Hair brush and name stamp were virtually unheard of.

However, I had kept both my babies' first hair and dried umbilical cords, for 15 and 7 years respectively.

Now, why would I do that?

I kept the dried umbilical cords at my mother's advice. She claimed that keeping the dried cord helps ensure that the child have a good memory. I don't think highly of myself in the memory department so I had to keep it for my babies.

There is no logical or scientific explanation to my mother's claim, of course. It's probably an old wives' tale but I kept them anyway, in a small empty Obimin bottle made of darkened glass.

As for the hair, I had always loved their incredibly soft hair.

I took the girls to the hairdresser at their fourth month for the shave as a traditional practice.

Why fourth? I don't know the traditional belief behind that mysterious number. My mother said babies' hair is shaved at first or fourth month. They looked too fragile to be touched at the first month, and I wanted the hair to be intact for as long as possible.

Having kept these two items for each of my babies, I never knew what to do with them. The umbilical cords were in the dark little bottle sitting in a cabinet; Baby's hair was in a plastic bag in a drawer and what little I could save from Coco's traumatic hairdressing experience was contained in the tiniest ziplock bag in her baby album.

So I took an extreme interest in my new-found treasure!

With due diligence, I did my research on the experts in the matter.

There are only two companies in Singapore that create these products: Huaxia Taimaobi Centre (华夏胎毛笔) Huatsing Baby Souvenir 华新胎毛笔). Both companies also have active Facebook accounts that allow potential clients to inquire about their products and prices.

In the typical fashion of the research-obsessed, I went down to both the centres to make my enquiries. And anyone who knows me knows I am an asker who asks the weirdest questions.

I chose Huaxia in the end as I felt that I liked what I saw and the lady was able to educate me on the differences among the authentic liuli (coloured or glazed glass), crystal and artificial liuli.

Huat Sing had the geographical advantage over Huaxia but I felt that the Mainlander salesperson attending to me was not very used to having visiting customers. We had arranged an appointment prior to my visit but he was unprepared. The only samples he could show me were the ones in the display cabinet that were very limited. He also recommended the supposedly popular emperor-seal stamps to me and I did not fancy the size nor the designs. Compared to the lady at Huaxia, I felt that he was a little more pushy about his idea of 'good' or 'nice'. There was no mention about the hair brush samples.

I took a month or so to deliberate on what the girls and I wanted before I went back to Huaxia (KK branch) to place my order.

Welcome to the world of choices!

These are the hair brush samples and they are not exhaustive.

The decisions to make:
- the material (cloisonne, purple sandalwood, red sandalwood)
- the size (very small, small, medium or large)
- the design (full or half engraving, with or without camel bone, with or without accompanying name stamp at one end of the brush, with or without silver thread)
- the couplets or phrases to be imprinted on the brush
- the type of cap (normal transparent plastic or a matching brush cap)
- any other addition (child's lunar birth date)

The multitudes of baby hair brushes alone dazzled me. I was getting confused by the different makes and prices so I noted down the prices for the ones I was interested in and went home to think it over.

As for the cord stamps, there were three main choices: 
crystal (水晶)
$128 w/o GST
authentic liuli (全琉璃)
$228 w/o GST

artificial liuli (仿琉璃)or in Huatsing's words 'amber crystal' (琥珀水晶)
$88 w/o GST

I like the transparent element of crystal as it gives the clearest possible view of the umbilical cord but it looks the cheapest as it bears a striking resemblance to clear glass.

Obviously, the girls' eye for details have been well-trained. They set their mind on the most expensive product.

I made many requests:

- I wanted the liuli's three colours to be balanced and of equal mix. Some liuli had one or two dominating colours which I didn't like.
- I did not want the liuli's colour to block the view of the cord. I wanted the cord portion to be cleared of colours so that I could see it clearly.
- I wanted the colours to be somewhat light and not too dark.
- I wanted as little air bubbles as possible in the liuli.

The nice saleslady, Joyce, wrote down all my requests on the envelopes and said they would try to accommodate my requests as far as possible. But she also told me that none of her customers has made these requests. They only choose authentic liuli and the rest is taken care of by the workmanship master.

Coco's baby hair was too little so Joyce also cut some of her current hair on the spot to make up for the shortfall. Joyce said that the master would place the current hair on the inside while the baby hair would be on the outside as a wrap for the hair.

After about a month, the call to pick up the goods came. 


The brushes came in boxes beautifully wrapped in Chinese-print fabric.
The umbilical cord stamp boxes. 
Gorgeous and expensive-looking, don't you think?
How they look resting in the boxes
Each stamp has the girls' Chinese names engraved in 小篆,an ancient Chinese word form, at the bottom.
Baby's stamp

Baby's cord
I was more excited than anyone to see it!
'cord' in Hokkien is pronounced as 'zai' which sounds like 'cai' (财) in Chinese.
A little bit of baby hair (发) is added for the auspicious meaning of 'prosperity' (发财)
Coco's stamp
Therein lies the oval-shaped ink pad
Coco chose the full gold or yellow stamp as she thought the ones with coloured swirls were too childish for her liking (grrr ...).
Coco's cord up close
By the time I took it out from the Obimin bottle for the making of the stamp, the cord was beginning to disintegrate with some powder forming.
Baby's choice: red sandalwood with half engraving of phoenix (size: small)
$228 w/o GST
Coco's choice: red sandalwood with half engraving of phoenix on camel bone (size: small)
$228 w/o GST

I am very pleased with Huaxia's service and products. No doubt the stamps and brushes added up to quite a fortune, but I thought there isn't a better way to keep these two items as keepsakes.

I will definitely recommend Huaxia to anyone who wishes to keep their baby's hair and umbilical cord as mementos.

The pretty and younger lady who attended to all my enquiries at my first trip at Huaxia was helpful and informative while the nice and accommodating lady who attended to all my fuss was Joyce. 

What will I do with the stamps and brushes?

When the girls become independent adults or get married, they shall be given to them as invaluable presents or dowry.

This is what happens when you are getting on in age. You think about such things.  

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